Updated May 20, 2017
Packing folders, cubes, pouches, bags and envelopes bring order, convenience and efficiency to packed luggage. Squeezing socks, underwear, and charging cords into shoes or nooks and crannies can make great use of pockets of unclaimed space, but packing organizers contain and compress stuff, freeing up extra space in the process. I love them.
Having a wide selection makes it easier to find just the right ones for each packing experience. Yep, I admit it. I’m a packing organizer junkie. In the event it’s useful, here’s a description of my collection.
Packing folders. I like the way a packing folder keeps clothing together in one compact bundle. If a packing folder fits your packing style, choose a size that’s compatible with the dimensions of your bag. For example, the width of my Eagle Creek Pack-It Garment Folder matches the width of my convertible carry on, and the length of my handmade folder also mirrors the width of my bag. The Eagle Creek folder fits snugly “landscape” style while the handmade folder fits “portrait” style. Leaving the folding card and removable base of the Eagle Creek at home lightens the load.
When I choose to take a packing folder, I’m partial to a “fold-and-stack” approach to organizing clothes. I tried the “bundling” method but found it too inconvenient to access an item by having to unbundle everything around it. Mind you, bundling works just fine for a one-stop destination where the intention is to unpack.
Cubes and envelopes. For packing organizers containing several items of clothing, mesh or see-through cubes or envelopes allow you to see what’s inside.
For shirts and socks, my preference is to roll ranger style to achieve a nice tight roll. Rolling clothes in this way takes up less space. It’s also an efficient use of space within a packing organizer because the width of the roll can extend to the entire width or length of the cube or envelope. Because clothes are packed side by side, a quick glance reveals how many clean pieces are left. Von Malegowski does a good job of demonstrating the ranger roll technique in How to Pack Clothes for Traveling. For panties, I use the method described by Elektra King in How to fold underwear quick and easy.
Compression bags. These are especially useful for bulky clothing. I always travel with one or two Eagle Creek Pack-It Compression Sacs that take up no space or weight when empty. The medium size accommodates outerwear and cycling gear, and a small is used for dirty/damp clothing. Each one has one-way valves at one end. I find sitting on a packed sac releases air, and then rolling it squeezes out the rest. Stretch out the crinkles and you’ll have a thin flat package.
I love the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Compression Cube Set. Each set, available in a variety of colours, consists of a 7.5-litre cube and a 3-litre half cube. Each one expands to twice its volume, while compressing an amazing amount of stuff. They’re ultralight and strong, made of silnylon ripstop with a durable zipper system that gets the job done. They’re fantastic when travelling between colder and warmer climates, and outdoors and indoors. For example, on a cold winter day in Ottawa, my friend and I stuffed our bulky outerwear in the cube when touring indoor sites, and I especially liked the way the packed cube sat comfortably against my back in a daypack. They pack just as well in a standard carry-on bag, and the variety of colours allows colour-coding for what’s packed.
Handmade packing organizers. The advantage of tailor-made versions is that the fabric, design, size and type of closure are within your control. Here are some of my favourites:
- A small zippered pouch keeps my in-ear noise-reducing earphones protected, and easily accessible during a flight, road journey or restless night.
- A satin drawstring bag protects an Icebreaker zip carried in my personal carry on for layering up or down. Both combine to serve as a comfortable pillow during a long journey.
- A padded pouch protects my iPad mini, and a zippered outer pocket stows the camera connector kit.
- Two of the stalwarts of my anti-pickpocket gear are two zippered pouches for a phone and wallet. Each one has a sewn-in cord with a plastic swivel clip at the end to fasten to a plastic o-ring attached to the inside lining of a pocket or bag.
- A comfort pack with a few internal compartments is perfect for a collection of personal care products. If you carry tissues, sanitizer, wipes, lotion and the like, create a travel comfort pack to keep them together.
Zip-lock bag. Ziploc® and other zip-top bags are really handy as packing organizers, but they’re prone to rip when subjected to the rigours of travel. And they’re hard on the environment when discarded. Try reinforcing them with duct tape. The lifespan of my swimsuit bag has been extended using this approach. Seventy hours after a morning swim and a flight home from Singapore, my damp swimsuit was in perfect condition in its airtight bag.
For a commercial alternative, aLOKSAK makes a durable leakproof airtight bag in four different sizes.
Plastic envelopes. Sometimes, carrying printed documents is a matter of necessity. Some countries require an e-visa to be printed, or some airlines will charge a fee to print a boarding pass at the airport. Or, a transportation company requires a printed ticket so an agent can mark it in some way. On international trips, it’s wise to carry a printed copy of your itinerary. A plastic see-through durable zippered envelope is ideal for this purpose. It’s also a great place to store credit card receipts until you’re able to review your credit card statement. And it’s perfect for stowing printed material picked up along the way. That said, it’s surprising how much paper weighs, so aim to carry as little paper as possible.
Drawstring stuff sacks. There are plenty on the market. I like the Tom Bihn Travel Stuff Sack. It’s durable and compactible. The extra small version at 6.3 x 3.8 x 2.6 inches (160 x 100 x 65 millimetres) packs a huge punch when it comes to capacity. I use it as a gadget bag. It accommodates the charging cords for my iPhone, iPad mini and camera, AC to USB power adapter, Anker 3200mAh Astro Mini external battery pack and charger, SIM card remover, SIM card, and microfibre wipes.
Shoe bags. I prefer lightweight breathable shoe bags with a little stretch to them, and small enough to house just one shoe (or two sandals or shower thongs). A one-shoe bag provides the flexibility to separate each shoe to make the best use of packing space. For those rare occasions damp shoes need to be packed, a plastic bag or shower cap can be pressed into service.
Hanging toiletries kit. There’s no need to unpack products and line them up on a bathroom counter of questionable cleanliness. Stow toiletries in a hanging bag and return them after use. Checking into a hotel room? Hang the bag on a hook, shower rod or towel rack. Staying at a hostel? Avoid disturbing others by rummaging in your locker for stuff. Hang the bag on your bunk and once in the shower, on the back of the stall.
My kit of choice, with one reservation, is the Baggallini Hanging Cosmetics Bag. It has clear zippered pockets that keep items visible and well organized, and enough of them to accommodate toiletries and other small items lined up side-by-side. With the detachable bottom compartment removed, it mirrors the length and width of the main compartment of my carry-on bag. It fits perfectly when laid flat on top of other items, taking as much depth as the diameter of the largest item in the kit (3 centimetres/1 inch or so). The downside is that the empty Baggallini weighs 9 ounces/250 grams, with the detachable bottom compartment removed. On trips where shaving excess ounces and grams is a priority, the Baggallini stays at home and I make do with my 3-1-1 bag.
3-1-1 Bag. The Tom Bihn 3D Clear Organizer Cube was designed as a 3-1-1 bag and has served me well as such at dozens of airports around the globe. Just in case, I carry an empty one-litre zip-lock bag as a backup. Its clear sides reveal the contents, and the built-in hook converts it to a hanging kit.
Little helping hands. Use these travel gear hacks to bring even more organization to the way you use your packing organizers.
- Unruly charging cords? Forget twist ties or packing grids. Tame them with dollar store hair clips. Use different colours so reaching for the correct cord is a breeze.
- Travelling with earrings? Keep each pair together with a button. Slip each earring post into one of the holes in the button.
- A roll needs tightening? Dollar store Stretch Utility Straps might just become your new best friends. Each pair comes in two different lengths (12 or 18 inches/30 or 45 centimetres) of awesome stretch-i-ness with a Velcro tab at each end. Wrap a longer strap twice around a small bundle, or if you need a longer strap, combine two sizes. Carry a few extra with you on your travels.
- Tangled ear buds? Use a credit-card-sized hotel key or depleted gift card. Cut a groove in each end to create a wrapping channel.
For cheaper packing organizers, use repurposed items such as a zippered pillow case packet. Cruise dollar store aisles for travel products. Check out cloth pencil cases, plastic filing envelopes, and bags designed for cosmetics and laundry. These can be viable alternatives to the more expensive packing organizers from travel stores.
If your carry-on or day bag feels like a bottomless pit cluttered with individual items, packing organizers might be the solution. They make it so much easier to find things in a hurry. Getting into the habit of returning each item to its packing organizer (and designated place in your bag) immediately after use lessens the chance of losing things.
Another advantage of packing organizers is that you may feel less inclined to unpack on arrival. This is useful if you’re staying for just one night, there’s limited space in your surroundings, or you figure your bag is a more hygienic location for your belongings. By “living out of a suitcase” (an organized one at that), you’re less likely to leave things behind when it’s time to move on.
Now it’s over to you. Are you a fan or foe of packing organizers? If you’ve written about them, please include a link in your comments.
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