On the first version of this Practical Travel Gear blog and here I’ve reviewed a bunch of different packing cubes, some from Eagle Creek and some from Tom Bihn. Magellan’s also has their own brand of packing cubes and if that’s not enough to choose from you can also buy an eBags set…at Amazon.
So obviously these little rectangular pouches are pretty popular. But just because something is popular doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone (witness Twitter, reality TV shows, or the latest Michael Bay movie.)
I’ve used packing cubes on some trips and have left them behind on others, so I guess I’m on the fence overall. The people that love them really love them though, the same way people who love the book Getting Things Done see its teachings as something almost spiritual. Sometimes they’re the same people: those clean-desk types who love it when everything is in its place. The key thing is, with these packing aids you can group similar items together and keep the dirty clothes separated, making it much easier to find what you’re looking for.
The anti-cube crowd has a point too though. If you are a one-bag carry-on packer who is trying to make the most of every inch of available space, packing cubes can be a hindrance rather than a help. It’s a lot easier to stuff rolled t-shirts, socks, and underwear in the remaining cracks after you’ve packed everything else than it is to confine them to a blocky cube, leaving wasted space on the sides. The exception is an integrated bag like the Tom Bihn Aeronaut one I reviewed earlier, where a packed long pouch fits perfectly into a paired side pocket—nothing wasted.
The way I see it, the cubes’ main benefits are in the unpacking rather than the packing. When you get to a hotel room, you pop the cubes out and you can unpack in a minute flat. If you are moving from hotel to hotel (or hostel to hostel) this can be a great time saver. You’re not as likely to lose a stray pair of undies or a single sock either, plus some cubes are designed with two sections, for dirty clothes and clean. Most have mesh on one side so nothing gets mildewed by being confined.
To decide whether packing cubes would be useful for you or not, see how many of the following questions you can answer with a “yes.”
1) Will you be moving around a lot on your trip?
2) Are you carrying a rectangular suitcase or bag?
3) Do you have room to spare in your bag?
4) Do you have trouble keeping track of your clothes while traveling?
5) Will you need to pack up quickly to catch a flight or train?
6) Do you have an inordinately large Tupperware collection at home and a credit account at The Container Store?
If you only answered yes to one or two, you’re probably better off jamming and rolling. If you scored three or above, however, go shopping for some packing cubes:
Tim Leffel is founder of the Practical Travel Gear blog, as well as the Cheapest Destinations blog and the narrative webzine Perceptive Travel. He is the author of The World's Cheapest Destinations (now in its 4th edition), Make Your Travel Dollars Worth a Fortune, and A Better Life for Half the Price.
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