Last updated on May 19, 2023
Before I left to travel the world in 2008, I knew that I would need a way to been make packing easier and more efficient. I was only carrying a 65L backpack on my yearlong trip, so I needed a way to both organize my belongings and maximize space. That’s when I discovered packing cubes. I hadn’t even left to travel yet, but I thought these lightweight little cubes had the ability transform how I packed. But boy were they pricey. I was a budget traveler and couldn’t help but ask: Are packing cubes really worth the upfront investment?
I’ve been traveling and living outside of the U.S. since 2008, and I’ve found packing cubes incredibly helpful in keeping my bags organized. I travel with a toddler now too, and they not only make it easy to find specific items without having to dig through my entire suitcase, but they also make unpacking and organizing our hotel room a breeze.
That said, everyone’s travel habits are different. While I personally find value in using packing cubes, their usefulness ultimately depends on each individual’s preferences and needs as a traveler. If you’re considering incorporating packing cubes into your packing routine, really assess if you have a tidy soul that is willing to be contained into a handful of rectangular cubes wrangling your clothes and travel gear. Only then can you determine if packing cubes are truly worth it for your travel needs.
What Are Packing Cubes?
Packing cubes are simply containers that hold your clothes. You pack your clothes into these containers before then slipping the packing cubs into your luggage—packing cubes fit like Tetris cubes into a suitcase or backpack. While the number of packing cubes you need varies greatly based on what and how much you’re packing, if you go all-in on packing cubes, you’re looking at needing four-to-eight cubes and packing sacks to organize clothes, toiletries, and extras for one person on a trip.
All mainstream packing cubes are made from durable, lightweight materials and are designed to fit perfectly into any suitcase or backpack. These essential organizational tools for travelers come in various shapes and sizes, but they usually have a rectangular or square shape. All packing cubes are usually closed with a zipper—sometimes two zippers if you buy compression or expandable packing cubes.
The great thing about using packing cubes for luggage organization is that they work with both the rolling and folding method of travel packing. They’re ideal for organizing clothes, but they also sort other items like camera gear, electronics, toiletries—just about anything you plan to pack in your bag can go in a packing cube.
How is a packing cube different than a compression bag?
Packing cubes are a lot more versatile than nylon or plastic compression bags. Plastic compression bags have a place in packing, but not usually for day-to-day trips. A good hybrid for those needing to save a lot of space is compression cubes—these are packing cubes that compress like a bag, but they can also hold and organize any other gear on the road.
9 Benefits of Using Packing Cubes
I’ve been a packing cube evangelist since that first trip 2008, when I bought a set of Eagle Creek packing cubes to fit everything I had on my long-term packing list. I used the cubes religiously to organize my bag—I could pack and unpack faster than any other backpackers I met along my travels because everything had a set place and a set way to fit into my bag. Even now that I travel with a rolling suitcase and a toddler, I use packing cubes to ruthlessly organize everything.
Here’s why packing cubes work for many travelers:
One of the primary benefits of using packing cubes is the organization and convenience they provide. By grouping similar items together (such as pants in a large cube, tops in a medium one, and socks/underwear in a small one), it’s easy to locate the exact piece of clothing you need without having to rummage through your entire suitcase. Having a designated cube for laundry is also quite helpful for keeping my clean and dirty clothes separated.
As someone who travels frequently, packing cubes have saved my sanity on countless trips. Without packing cubes, my luggage would become a jumbled mess of clothes—instead, I can easily pop out the cubes and lay them on a surface or in a drawer to easily access each type of clothing without digging through my entire suitcase.
When I travel with a small under-the-seat backpack, I can fit shorts, tops, and undergarments into one large packing cube that slides into my slender backpack. That’s essential with just one small bag because I need to be able to slip my laptop and toiletry kit out during security without my underwear flying out of the bag as well.
But on most trips, I use a larger carry-on backpack or suitcase. For that, I use one packing cube for my shirts, another for my pants and shorts, and a third for my undergarments and socks. Additional packing cubes and sacks hold my cords, snacks, and other bits and bobs.
2. Space efficiency
Packing cubes make the most of the available space in your luggage since they allow you to pack your items in a more compact and organized manner. This can be especially useful if you are trying to minimize the size of your suitcase or backpack, or if you are trying to pack for a longer trip and need to fit more items into a smaller space. To really get the most out of a packing cube if space efficiency is a priority, you’ll need to invest in compression cubes. Why? Because they really cinch down your items into a flatter cube.
But wait, do packing cubes actually save space?
In truth, no, packing cubes don’t save space! If you are looking to use every single inch of spare space in a suitcase or backpack, then you need to tightly roll your clothes into evenly-sized sausages and stuff your bag tight like your life depends on it. Doing this, you will fit more than any other method of packing, no matter what anyone else says.
But! And this is a big but, packing cubes save more space than just folding clothes into piles and laying them in a bag—the way most people approach packing. And while the sausage rolls are more space-efficient, it’s super time consuming to roll each item to the same size and then into a tight roll, so it’s not practical on most trips. I’ve used this method when I’ve bought too much on a trip and just need to get it all home—when taking out smushed, wrinkled clothes that explode from the bag is not a concern.
Besides organizational benefits, packing cubes can also offer protection for clothing and electronics if you buy the padded, studier packing cubes. Some packing cubes are also made from water-resistant materials, which provide an extra layer of protection for electronics like smartphones, tablets, and laptops. This feature gives me peace of mind knowing that my devices are safe from potential damage due to spills or leaks in my luggage.
4. Easy access
With a packing cube system, easily access the items you need without rummaging through your entire suitcase. This is especially useful if you need to find a specific item quickly, such as a pair of socks as you run out the door to catch a tour. Given that most packing cubes come in a range of sizes and colors, you usually know from a glance which cube holds your t-shirts vs your underwear.
Many packing cubes are made of durable materials, such as nylon or polyester, which can withstand the wear and tear of travel. Since buying enough packing cubes to really make your suitcase organized like a pro is price, buying a durable packing cube is essential to ensure this investment lasts for many trips. In fact, I still have an use my original packing cubes from 2008—that’s more than 15 years of use and they are all still going strong, with working zippers, no holes, and organizational genius.
Packing cubes come in a variety of sizes and shapes, making them suitable for a wide range of travel needs. You can choose from smaller cubes for organizing smaller items, or larger cubes for packing bulkier items like sweaters or jackets. Basically, you can customize your packing system to suit your specific needs. That’s why it’s usually an investment though—you want enough cubes to cover the range of trips you might take. Maybe you only need medium and small cubes for a beach vacation, but the larger cubes and compression cubes are necessary when packing for a winter trip.
I also love having packing sacs as part of my collection—these hold my electronics cords, and also plane snacks, documents, and whatever else I need.
Using packing cubes has always saved me time when packing and unpacking. Since I’m accustomed to my packing cube system, there’s not wondering how I got everything to fit—shirts go in my medium cube, socks and underwear in the small rectangle, and bottoms in a medium or large cube, depending on the type of trip.
I never have to spend time searching for items or re-organizing my belongings when I use packing cubes. This is especially helpful when I’m in a hurry or on a tight schedule—my bag comes together in under 10 minutes.
8. Increased packing flexibility
How you decide to use packing cubes varies by the person, but some travelers choose to use packing cubes for more flexible with packing and unpacking. Here are some ideas:
- If you need to pack for a specific activity or event, you can simply grab the relevant packing cube and add it to your suitcase.
- If you’re on a shorter trip and you’re flush with packing cubes, you can use one cube for each complete outfit—then you just grab a cube for the day and your top, bottoms, socks, undergarments, and accessories are all in one spot.
- If you’re packing for two or more people, use colored packing cubes to make sure each person knows exactly where to find their clothes! One color per person makes dressing kids and families a breeze on the road.
9. Contains the stick of dirty clothes
Maybe one of the most pivotal reasons to use a packing cube system—every day you can lock away the odors from dirty clothes and keep the rest of your bag smelling fresh. I use two methods for this: I often carry an empty, sealed cube (no mesh) and then begin filling it with the dirty items. Or, I use my Eagle Creek clean/dirty cube, which is one cube with two sides.
Cons of Using Packing Cubes
There are some potential drawbacks to using packing cubes. They add additional weight to your luggage, and they may not be necessary if you already have a well-organized packing system. Some people also find that packing cubes can be a bit of an investment—they’re generally more expensive than traditional packing organizers.
1. They don’t come cheap
Packing cubes are an investment in your travel future. I’ve had my packing cubes for more than 15 years and now I own at least 15 different cubes—I’ve collected a large range of sizes to match various types of trips, and to pack for myself and my toddler son. Given how long each cube lasts, it’s an upfront investment that will pay off over at least a decade—so long as you buy quality cubes at the start.
The fact is, packing cubes add additional weight to your luggage. Eagle Creek makes a lightweight line of packing cubes that are super thin. For those concerned with minimizing the weight of a suitcase or backpack, those cubes are tablestakes to truly lightweight packing using packing cubes—no other brand on the market makes ones that long-lasting. But again, these lightweight version doesn’t come cheap, and because they’re thin they don’t hold shape the same way as normal packing cubes—a con for some.
3. Unnecessary for some travelers
Look, some travelers just hate using the packing cube system—they usually already have a well-organized packing system and the cubes just disrupt their tried-and-true process. In this case, packing cubes may be an unnecessary expense. Packing cubes are ideal for new travelers, or those who are just fed up with the mess that comes from a suitcase full of untamed clothes, shoes, and accessories in one bucket.
4. Limited space
Those traveling with a small suitcase or backpack may not have enough space to accommodate packing cubes, especially if trying to pack a lot of items. As noted, if space is truly at issue, rolling is the best method. But note that I use packing cubes even when I’m only packing an under-the-seat bag—usually just one large packing cube that holds all of my clothes, then another toiletry kit cube, and a third packing sack with cords, chargers, adapters, etc.
Main Packing Cube Features
When choosing packing cubes, it’s important to consider the materials, features, and functions that best suit your needs. Lightweight fabric or plastic, compression or regular cubes, and waterproof or water-resistant options all offer different advantages, while ventilation and carrying handles are additional features that can improve the user experience.
Lightweight Fabric versus Plastic
When it comes to packing cubes, there are two common materials to choose from: lightweight fabric and plastic. Lightweight fabric cubes are usually made of nylon or polyester, which provide durability and tear resistance without adding much weight to your luggage. On the other hand, plastic or plastic-coated cubes are more rigid, which can make them less flexible in accommodating your items, but they can also offer increased protection for fragile items.
Compression Cubes versus Regular Cubes
Compression packing cubes are designed with an additional zipper to compress the contents of the cube, potentially saving more space in your suitcase. Regular packing cubes do not have this extra feature.
In my experience, compression cubes can be beneficial when packing bulkier clothes—but not sweaters! I think compression packing cubes are not ideal for sweaters. The fact is, sweaters are always going to eat up a lot of space, I usually use a compression sac for these, or I pack them last and lay them over the top of my cubes and compress them with the lid of my suitcase. And keep in mind that overstuffing compression anything usually means exceptionally wrinkled clothes or possibly damaged zippers.
Waterproof versus Water-Resistant
Another important consideration is whether you prefer waterproof or water-resistant packing cubes. Waterproof cubes are usually made of plastic or treated fabric, providing complete protection from water. While water-resistant cubes may not prevent water from entering completely, they can still protect your belongings from light moisture. Personally, I find water-resistant cubes offer a good balance between protection and breathability, but waterproof cubes may be a better fit if you anticipate being exposed to heavy rain or want to protect electronics.
Ventilation is an important feature when considering packing cubes, as it can help prevent odors or mildew from forming on your belongings. Mesh panels on packing cubes provide good ventilation, allowing for airflow while also making it easy to see the contents of each cube. In my experience, mesh panels are the way to go if you’re buying new cubes—they really keep my clothes fresh, especially on longer trips.
Carrying handles are a convenient feature found on many packing cubes, which makes it easy to transport them from your suitcase to your accommodation and back again. Having tried packing cubes with and without handles, I find that handles do add a level of convenience and make it easier to keep my packing organized when I’m on the go.
How Much Do Packing Cubes Cost?
For those who are on a tight budget or new to using packing cubes, there are affordable options available with prices generally ranging from $20 to $40. These budget-friendly packing cubes can still offer organization and convenience, often without sacrificing too much on quality. Some examples of budget packing cubes include:
- Basic sets with 3 to 4 cubes in varying sizes
- Light and breathable material
- Single or double compartment options
While these cubes may not be the most durable or have all the advanced features, they provide a cost-effective solution for keeping your travel gear organized.
Investing in High-Quality Products
If you’re willing to invest more in your travel gear, there are high-quality packing cubes available, often costing upwards of $100. These products are known for their durability, advanced features, and premium materials. High-quality packing cubes typically offer the following:
- Durable, reinforced materials such as nylon or TPU-reinforced mesh
- Compressible options to save space in your luggage
- Unique shapes and sizes to cater to specific types of clothing or items
- Advanced organizational features such as compartments or pockets
Top Packing Cube Brands and Costs
I started my travels with a selection of Eagle Creek packing cubes. They are the OG packing cube company and still make, arguably, the most innovative and high-quality bags. But they are also among the priciest. Other top brands include eBags, Amazon Basics, and Away. They each have their unique features and benefits, so here’s how to decide which brand fits you and your travels best.
Well Traveled is a newer brand that’s launched onto the scene with sleek, high-quality packing cubes designed to fit seamlessly inside suitcases. I own a set of eight packing cubes from Well Traveled, and I like that the eight-pack gave me various sizes that I can Tetris into my backpack, including large and medium-sized compression cubes.
These packing cubes are water-resistant and made from a strong twill fabric. Since there is no mesh panel on the cubes to help you know which is which, the company includes labels that slide right onto each cube. It’s a good looking line of packing cubes and I use them regularly alongside my beloved Eagle Creek Reveal cubes. I find the mix works to have one mesh one for breathability, and others that contain stink, or hold loose items.
Eagle Creek packing cubes have always been exceptional in terms of quality and durability. They offer a variety of packing cubes, and I think my Eagle Creek Pack-It Reveal Cube Set is the one that would work best for most travelers. Their cubes are made of high-quality materials that are lightweight, water-resistant, and easy to clean. The Reveal set has the mesh panels I love and have held up beautifully to use over the past few years. I own Reveal cubes, as well as many of the predecessor cubes for this line, and all none of them have ever ripped or stopped working.
The Eagle Creek Pack-It Isolate series is another excellent choice—this is the company’s ultra-lightweight line (previously called Specter and Specter Tech) and is made from durable, ripstop material. These cubes are perfect for those looking to reduce weight in their luggage without sacrificing organization. Note that the thinner material meals you need to be more careful when using—it’d be much easter to puncture the Specter line than the Reveal line.
And one last nod to Eagle Creek—the company has the most sustainable business practices of all of the brands making packing cubes, so it’s a win for the world when you buy them.
The reason Eagle Creek is listed second on this list though? The company is under new management as of 2021, and it’s been rocky. Some have reported changes in the packing cube quality, and the newest lines of packing cubes are harder to find than their old lines (Specter and Classic).
For those looking for budget-friendly yet reliable packing cubes, Amazon Basics offers a collection of packing cubes that are ideal for occasional or light travelers. The Amazon Basics 4-Piece Packing Cube Set is a popular choice due to its affordability and decent quality. While they may not be as durable or feature-rich as some of the premium brands, they still provide sufficient organization and ease of use for most travelers.
If you’re not sure if packing cubes are for you, then going with a budget option now is a good idea—you can always add more to your collection in various sizes and styles once you fall in love with them.
eBags is known for its well-constructed and functional packing cubes. Like all companies, it offers packing cubes in various sizes and colors to fit different suitcases and packing preferences. Classic Packing Cubes are a similar price to Amazon Basics and are also made from durable, high-quality fabric and zippers.
Who Should Use Packing Cubes?
Packing cubes are useful for anyone who travels frequently or who travelers with a lot of small items that they need to keep track of. They can be particularly helpful for people who:
- Have trouble keeping their belongings organized when traveling: Compartmentalize your clothes and other items, thus making it easier to keep track of what you have packed and where you have packed it.
- Pack a lot of small items: If you’re traveling with a lot of small items, such as socks, underwear, or toiletries for multiple family members, packing cubes keep your items organized and easy to access.
- Want to maximize the space in their luggage: Make the most of the available space in your luggage while staying organized.
- Have limited luggage space: If you’re traveling with a small suitcase or backpack, packing cubes can actually help you travel more efficiently, with a tetris-like system that slides easily even into a 25L backpack.
- Need to pack for a specific activity or event: Easily pack and unpack the items you need for a specific activity or event, such as a business trip or a beach vacation.
Carry-On Only Packing with Packing Cubes
I opt for carry-on only packing for most of my trips. I even do just an under-the-seat bag when it’s a short week in a sunny climate. When packing for carry on though, you’ll need to start with a well-organized packing list to strategically plan your luggage.
I use a combination of packing methods, like a Ziploc bag as my laundry bag, compression cubes for my clothes, and I rolling some things. To maximize available space, I make fill in all gaps inside my backpack or suitcase with smaller items that are stored in packing sacs. This, in turn, allows me to carry everything I need without sacrificing organization.
Remember, it’s essential to explore different alternatives to find what works best for your travel preferences and needs. Whether it’s using Ziploc bags, packing envelopes, rolling clothes, or opting for a carry-on only packing method, there are numerous ways to keep your belongings organized.
Are Packing Cubes Worth It?
Packing cubes are worthwhile for the vast majority of travelers. Because the way you use them can be adapted to your own travel style and packing preferences, most travelers find a way to enhance their packing organization using cubes. The sheer versatility of packing cubes and sacks guarantees that most travelers appreciate the investment.
As an organized traveler, I appreciate the convenience packing cubes bring to my travels. While they may not be the most space-saving packing method, they undoubtedly assist in maintaining order throughout my trips.
Ultimately, however, whether or not packing cubes are worth using depends on your personal preferences and needs. Not everyone loves them, and whether or not they are worth using comes down to personal preferences and the needs of each trip you take. If you’re like me and value organization over strict space-saving techniques, however, give packing cubes a try during your next adventure.
How to Pick the Right Packing Cubes for Your Travels
Many different packing cubes are available on the market, and the best option for you depends on your specific needs and preferences. Some factors to consider when choosing packing cubes: size, material, durability, and price.
As noted, I own upwards of 20 cubes, so here are my few tips on how to decide which size and type of packing cubes you need.
- Consider the size of your luggage: Choose packing cubes appropriate for the size of your luggage. If you regular travel with a larger suitcase, you may want to opt for larger packing cubes, with just a few smaller ones. On the other hand, medium and smaller packing cubes are usually more suitable for a smaller suitcases or backpacks—those who travel carry-on or with under-the-seat luggage.
- Look for durable materials: Packing cubes are subject to a lot of wear and tear, so it’s important to choose ones that are made of durable materials, such as nylon or polyester. When you’re poking around Amazon you’ll see a ton of cheaper, knock-off brands, but some of these won’t even last a single trip before the seams fray and the zippers break. Eagle Creek and REI are trusted brands, and I also use this brand’s cubes for a cheaper version.
- Consider the number of packing cubes you need: Think about how many packing cubes you will need based on the length of your trip and the number of items you need to pack. Some packing cubes come in sets, which can be a convenient option since you usually receive a bit of a discount buying them in sets.
- Read reviews: You may opt for a brand I haven’t recommended—totally fine!—but read the reviews from other customers to get a sense of the quality and performance of the packing cubes. There are a ton of cubes now at every price point, and you want to find cubes you can afford that also don’t compromise on quality.
- Consider the price: Packing cubes can range in price from relatively inexpensive to quite expensive. Determine your budget and look for packing cubes that meet your needs within that budget. Know that opting for cheaper cubes now simply means they usually don’t last as long.
Packing cubes can revolutionize how you pack, but you do have to go “all in” when using them, otherwise you don’t really see the true benefits of organization. Sure you could buy one packing cube for your shirts, say, but if the rest of the things in your suitcase are flopping around, you haven’t really succeeded in organizing much.
Once I learned how to pack my essentials into cubes, it simplified both packing and unpacking so much that I don’t see a world where I ever go back to packing without them.