How to pack better with packing cubes

I purchased packing cubes a few years ago when I started traveling for work. While shopping for my first carry-on bag I came across them. Although I was unsure of how they worked, I added them to my cart and eagerly awaited my new purchases. They turned out to be the ultimate game changer when it comes to packing for any length of trip. I quickly became dependent on these pouches when packing because they fulfill my endless need to be organized in everything I do and keep my things compact so I can pack more with less space. 

You might be wondering... what are packing cubes?

Packing cubes are small bags, usually zippered, that help organize and compartmentalize your belongings in your luggage or bag of choice. 

Why should you use them?

How many times have you woken up on vacation to find your suitcase exploded in the corner of your room? Your belongings in a large, unorganized pile of chaos that you can’t find anything in? This was me too, pre-packing cubes, but not any more! I use them like drawers at home, everything I pack has a spot it belongs making it easy to find and access. Each article of clothing is neatly packed in these compact pouches creating space to pack more or to use a smaller carry-on bag. It sounds too good to be true although that’s why packing cubes are becoming so popular. 

How to choose the right packing cubes for you

There are so many packing cube options available. Ultimately, you want to find ones that fit best in your luggage to maximize space. They come in different shapes, sizes and structured vs non-structured. The cubes easily stack inside the largest compartment of your luggage and can also be squeezed into small free spaces. While the garment folders (or packing envelopes) are structured and can be packed in luggage pockets or laid flat on top or bottom of the inside. 

I started with an Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter starter set. It comes with three pieces, two unstructured cubes and a structured garment folder. This set is made of ultra-light silnylon ripstop which makes them durable and super light, I’m adding just over half a pound to my luggage when using them. The garment folder can pack more articles than the cubes. Also, they keep clothing wrinkle free with a structured bottom and includes a handy removable folding board. Rather, the cubes are perfect for rolling additional clothing and other smaller articles. 

I purchased a wheeled duffel carry-on from Eagle Creek (similar to this one), as well, so my cubes fit perfectly inside. When searching for packing cubes, make sure the largest cube or folder dimensions fit inside your luggage. I found it’s easier to pack my cubes in different bags where as the garment folder only fits in my carry-on or larger luggage. 

If you’re looking for a more versatile option, unstructured cubes are best because you can compress them to fit in most bags. If you have one piece of luggage you always use, try a structured garment folder that maximizes space and keeps your clothing wrinkle free.

How to organize your clothing

First decide how you would like to organize your clothing. Most often, I organize my clothing by category putting all the tops together, bottoms together, etc. You can also organize clothing by outfits. This is especially useful if you’re on a longer trip where weather could vary by location. Packing cold weather items and warm weather items separately will eliminate unpacking items you don’t need at that time. Also, I use this method when I’m traveling for multiple occasions. Sometimes I travel for work then will extend my trip for personal travel. In this case, I’ll have my clothes for work packed separately from my personal clothes.

How to use packing cubes

Starting with the garment folder, I pack all of my casual tops by using the included folding board to get a uniform fold. I stack these in the folder by the day I will wear them, so the first top I pack will be for my last day of the trip. Once I finished folding all my tops, I place the folding board on top so my tops are sandwiched between the two boards. I like doing this because it gives the folder more structure.

Using garment folder for packing tops
Pack tops in garment folder using included folding board

Next, I pack the medium cube with bottoms and activewear. I start by rolling all my bottoms and then placing them in the cube. Once I place the first item in the cube, it gives some structure to the sides of the cube so they stay upright. Again, I try to place the last item I will wear at the bottom. Not all my bottoms are the same size when rolled so I fill empty spaces with other smaller articles. 

I like that these eagle creek cubes only unzip 3/4 of the way because it makes it easier to zip up when overstuffed, which definitely happens. 

Roll bottoms in medium cube
Roll bottoms and pack in medium sized cube

Lastly, I use the small cube to stow undergarments, socks and swimwear. I’ll roll each of these items and place in the cube. Sometimes you’ll have extra space in the corners or sides of the cubes. Socks are great to fill these remaining spaces if you’re strapped for space and don’t mind a little spontaneity in your organization. 

Packing cubes and garment folder
Use the small cube for packing socks, swimwear and undergarments

Check out my post, forget the carry-on fee, pack your personal item to see how I used my packing cubes to pack everything I needed for a weekend in Portland in my free personal item! 

How to pack in your luggage

Packing your luggage will take some trial and error but eventually you’ll find the best fit for organizing the cubes inside. In my carry-on, which I use most often, I start by laying the folder flat on the bottom (I pack winter jackets under my folder to keep them compressed during travel) then I stack the medium cube horizontally and the small cube vertically on top of the folder. This leaves me room on the sides for shoes and top for my toiletries. I use a shoe bag for sneakers or dress shoes and tuck it on the side of the luggage. My toiletry and make up bag stack nicely on top making it easy to access when going through security. 

Start with packing garment folder
I start by placing the garment folder on the bottom
My shoe bag fits nicely in the extra room on the side of my luggage
Medium and small packing cubes on top
My medium and small cubes stack on top leaving room for additional items


A few packing accessories I added to my packing cube line up include a toiletry kit and shoe bag. My toiletry kit from sea to summit consists of their traveling light see pouch and traveling light clear zip pouch with bottles. Both are TSA carry-on compliant so when going through security I just throw both pouches in the bin, with no need to take anything out. The traveling light clear zip pouch also includes leak-proof bottles. Since I started using them I have ceased all shampoo explosions during travel. I also added their traveling light shoe bag in large which gives me enough room to pack a pair of hiking boots.

full suitcase
My go-to packing cube set up including tolietries.

Don't forget to pack an in-flight bag

Lastly, I always have an in-flight bag ready in my backpack. This is a small pouch, that fits in the seat pocket, with everything I need during my flight. It includes headphones, phone charger, portable charging battery, wipes, and tissues. This prevents me from storing loose items in the seat pocket (you never know what’s hiding in there) and I never leave anything behind because everything is consolidated in one pouch! 

in-flight bag
My in-flight bag includes everything I use during my flight which stows in the seat pocket

Now that you’re an expert packer, where to next?