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When backpacking for the first time, SPACE is going to be one of your greatest limitation (especially if planning to travel for a long period of time).

For most of us, we end up carrying all of our luggage ourself. Therefore, you’ll want to pack smartly, frugally and lightly.

Before I’d been introduced to the power of packing cubes, I did a 1-month solo trip around Indonesia. Upon arriving, I realised that I’d packed way too much!

The whole time, I felt like an overburdened donkey and I vowed to never make the same mistake again. 

Pack horse meme

Since then, I’ve gained a lot more experience and knowledge from being on the road. Spending a solid year backpacking does that to you 🤪

One of my biggest learnings was using packing cubes to organise my bag and save space.

Packing cubes are a great way to reduce and compress what you pack, helping you to save space in your backpack whilst also keeping it organised.

However, a common issue is that many newbie backpackers don’t know how to pack a packing cube properly. This means that they never get full use out of them.

In this article, I’ll be sharing:

  • A step-by-step guide on how to pack a packing cube
  • 3 simple space saving hacks to help you prepare for your trip
  • 4 great packing cubes & packing cube sets to help you organise your things and save space in your backpack

A Step-by-Step Guide: How to Pack a Packing Cube/Cell

1) Packing long-sleeve tops, jumpers, t-shirts and singlets

 

Step 1: Lie the piece of clothing flat on the floor

Wondering how to pack a packing cube? The first step is to lie your piece of clothing flat on the ground. Try to smooth out any bumps and wrinkles.

I usually like to face it away from me as I find this is easier to roll.

packing a packing cube

Step 2: Cross

Cross the arms into the centre of the item. Then position the sleeves evenly across the item, with most of the material focused in the centre.

Rather than having the ends of your sleeves touching the corners of your garment, I prefer to position them closer to the centre so that when I roll, the material has even thickness.

how to pack a packing cube: crossing the arms

Step 3: Fold

Fold the sides of the garment over. The size of the fold will depend on the size of the clothing item and your packing cube. Generally, I’d aim to fold the sides so that you have 3 even thirds.

How to pack a packing cell

Step 4: Roll

The final step of packing your packing cube involves rolling the item from one end to the other. The aim here is to create a roll that has even thickness throughout.

You want to avoid having really thick ends and a thin centre. Otherwise, it will be hard to pack your rolls evenly in your packing cube.

How to pack a packing cell: RollingAiming for an evenly rolled clothes item

Step 5: Compress

Pack your rolled clothing items into your packing cube and compress them as you go. That way you will be able to fit more rolls in the limited space.

Try to avoid overpacking as you don’t want to put too much pressure on the zips. Otherwise the packing cell could rip and tear before you’ve even had much use out of it.

If your clothing items are too short to fit from top to bottom of the packing cube (leaving an awkward space) you can slot some smaller pieces of clothing (tank tops and singlets) into the gaps to ensure no wasted space.

If you are packing something thick or that contains a lot of air (eg. a puff jacket or rain jacket), I’d suggest wrapping an elastic band around it to prevent it from unrolling or puffing up once packed. 

I wouldn’t do this for every item as it will make it a pain to unpack, however for 1 or 2 items per cube, it can be handy.

A fully packed packing cube and cell

2) Packing pants, skirts and shorts

Step 1: Lie the piece of clothing flat on the floor

If wanting to pack pants, shorts or skirts into your packing cube, start by lying the item flat on the floor. I often find it easier to roll it when you have the thickest part (the waste band) closest to you.

This will give the roll a strong centre foundation as the thickest parts is in the middle rather than on the outside.

How to Pack pants into a packing cube

Step 2: Fold Twice 

Depending on the size and length of the garment, the next step is to fold it – once if small, twice if large.

If folding twice, you’ll want to fold it once horizontally and then once vertically. This will help to make rolling easier and also promote evenness throughout the roll.

how to fold pants into a packing cell How to roll pants into a packing cube

Step 3: Roll

Now that you’ve folded your garment, the next step of packing pants in your packing cube is to roll.  I prefer to roll away from myself and compress along the way. 

The aim is to start rolling from the thickest end first and end where the material thins out.

As you go, push down on the roll with a degree of pressure to compress any air out before packing it into your packing cell. This helps to make the roll as small as possible.

How to roll pants into a packing cube How to Pack pants into a packing cube

Step 4: Compress

Once you have rolled your clothing, pack it into your packing cube but continue to compress to save as much space as possible.

Similar to what I mentioned for puff jackets, I’d suggest wrapping an elastic band around larger items (eg. tracksuit pants) to prevent them from unrolling or puffing up once packed.

This will help you to pack as much as possible into your backpack.

How to pack a packing cell with pants

Related: 

3 Easy Hacks to Save Space When Packing

 

Tip #1 – Don’t Fold. Roll!

When packing your backpack, the trick is to roll your clothes, not fold. 

Doing so decreases the degree of creasing that happens to your clothing when packed for longer periods of time and also allows you to compress any excess air out of them. 

The packing cubes can then compress your clothes further depending on which ones you get. A double bonus! 

Rolling is particularly advantageous for larger pieces of clothing like pants, puff jackets and jumpers. But is also extremely useful for smaller clothing like tank tops, shorts and underwear. 

There are some packing cells (eg. compression packing cubes), which tend to perform better with folded clothes over rolled clothes. This is because the cubes are able to compress further air out of them so rolling isn’t as necessary.

However, If packing a standard packing cube, I’d suggest rolling over folding any day.

To read more about the different types of packing cubes and a detailed review of different brands, you can check out the article below:

Space saving hacks for backpackers

Tip #2 – Use Bulky Shoes as Extra Packing Pockets

If planning to go hiking or do adventurous activities whilst travelling, it’s likely that you’ll need to pack a pair of bulky and durable hiking boots or runners. 

Given their bulkiness, these items can take up a TON of packing space in your travel backpack.

A little tip I learned was to use the inside of the shoes as a packing pocket for items such as:

  • Socks
  • Toiletries
  • Cleansers/ Moisturisers
  • Pads/Tampons and
  • Any other small items that can fit

If you haven’t been doing this until now, you’ve been leaving some prime real estate empty in your backpack. 

If you have tried this but your hiking shoes / boots are still taking up WAY too much space, another option is to pack them into a dry bag and clip it onto the outside of your bag.

This is a strategy I frequently use during my travels, particularly when my boots are wet or I wasn’t wearing them. Simply clip your shoes onto your carry-on luggage or your backpack as you walk between destinations.

It’s a really handy space-saving tip!

Related: 

 

Tip #3 – Wear Layers When Flying Between Destinations

Another space saving tip for newbie backpackers is to wear multiple layers and as much heavy clothing as possible when flying between destinations. 

Sure, you may temporarily look like a semi sumo wrestler or even the Michellin man BUT this trick works. Especially, if wanting to save travel money by having carry-on luggage as what you wear doesn’t count towards the weight of your carry-on. 

Michelin Man Joke

Wearing multiple layers can also ensure that you stay warm and have options depending on the weather.

Wearing extra layers is beneficial in preventing you getting caught out if the weather has taken a turn in your target destination since the last time you checked. 

I also tend to freeze on flights so always pack something warm or a blanket.

Why is it always so much colder in the plane than on the ground? 🤔  I swear that they just love to BLAST the air conditioner to watch us squirm! 

When gearing up, I usually start with a light layer first (eg. Tank top & exercise pants), a middle layer (eg. a jumper) and finally tie it off with a puff jacket. If you’re travelling to a warmer destination, you may simply want to pack a light blanked as an alternative option. 

Yeah I know it’s not glamorous, but it’s practical. 

Wearing layers when on the plane

When I’m backpacking, I’m all about practicality, convenience and comfort over how I look.  

Sometimes the pain of wearing too much is worth it if you get to save money on your flight, due to not needing checked baggage.

If you are planning to checkin your luggage, that’s cool. 

There are a couple of other simple things you can do such as wearing your runners / hiking boots on the plane. Even doind this can save you significant space in your luggage.  

So there you have it, 3 space-saving tips when packing for overseas or domestic travel.

 

 

Don’t Own Any Packing Cubes?

If you don’t own any packing cubes, I would highly recommend that you get some. They are super handy to help protect, organise and compress your clothing, particularly if backpacking and space is going to be limited.

I’ve written a very detailed article on packing cubes that i’ll link below:

In this article, I do a deep-dive of 12 different packing cubes, and share my Top 4 packing cubes winners based on:

  • Quality
  • Value for money
  • Customer Reviews
  • Brand Reputation

If you would like to read the full article you can click here.

For those who just want a summary of my findings, here are the top packing cubes I would recommend for backpackers.

 

Packing Cubes: What they are and how to use them

 

The 4 Best Packing Cubes & Packing Cube Sets for Backpackers 

1) Kathmandu Packing Cell (Classic)

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Although Kathmandu’s packing cells are often more expensive than comparable cells, they are one of the most renowned travel brands globally, and particularly in Australia. 
  • The cells are made from mesh material and polyester created from recycled plastic bottles which is awesome. I, myself, am an eco-conscious traveller and support companies that make an effort to make travel more sustainable and have a positive impact on the environment
  • These packing cubes pack into their own pocket which is handy to save space when you’re not using them.
  • 91% of the reviews are 5 star which indicates that the product is high quality, with no customers complaining about the quality of the zips or stitching which is a positive
  • I like it when packing cells have some degree of structure before packing your clothes into them. However, I dislike rigidity. These cells look to be flexible enough to be squashed into your bag and re-shaped.
  • They have a 60 days return policy which makes the purchase risk-free. If there is something wrong with the product or it is not to your liking, you can easily return it.

If you’d like to save yourself some cash, I would suggest picking these up in-store to save on shipping fees (if you live in Australia).

I’d also suggest just buying one large/medium high quality cell from Kathmandu, and then buying 1-2 cheaper packing cells online for smaller items (eg. socks and undies).

View on Kathmandu AUS

Best Standard Packing Cell - Kathmandu

Image source: Kathmandu 

 

2) Tripped Compression Packing Cubes 

Key Features and Benefits:

  • Made for travellers by travellers.
  • They are not as expensive as similar compression cubes
  • The sizes of the two packing cubes are ideal – one medium size for standard clothing, and a smaller option for underwear.
  • Made of durable, light-weight and water resistant material to protect your clothes from the elements and any leaks in your bag.
  • The translucent features of the material also allow for you to have an idea of what’s within each parcel, without having to necessarily open it every time.
  • 79% of their 3000+ reviews are 5 star

View on Amazon AUS | View on Amazon.com

Best Compression Packing Cell: Tripped

Image source: Amazon.com.au

3) Bagail & Shacke Pak Packing Cube Sets

Key Features and Benefits of the packs:

  • They both come with different shaped and sized packing cubes
  • They are made from quality Nylon and have 2-way zippers for easy opening and closing
  • They are between $40-45 AUD which is an incredible price a set of packing cells. In my eyes this is great value for money.
  • They average around 84%-87% 5 star reviews, of total of 11,500-13,000 customer reviews.
  • The packing cubes come in a variety of colours and patterns

Differences between them:

  • You get 6 packing cubes within the BAGAIL pack and 4 within the Shacke Pak.
  • BAGAIL’s set offers a lifetime warranty. I can’t see whether Shacke Pak offers this too.
  • BAGAIL’s set provides 3 entirely different shapes of cube. Shacke Pak’s set are the same shape despite different sizes.
  • Shacke Pak’s packing cubes have double stitching and the material is water-repellent to keep your clothes dry in the event of a leak in your bag.
  • Shacke Pak’s set also comes with a free laundry bag. BAGAIL’s doesn’t.

If a solo traveller, I feel that getting a set of 6 packing cubes is overkill (BAGAIL), especially given you’d be getting two of each size. However, this is extremely valuable if travelling with someone else because you can go halvies on these packing cubes and save a ton of money between you both.

BAGAIL 6-Set:         View on Amazon AUS | View on Amazon.com

Shacke Pak 4-Set:   View on Amazon AUS | View on Amazon.com

Best Set of Packing Cubes - BAGAIL & SHACKE PACK

 

In Summary:

I hope that you have found this article valuable including:

  • A step-by-step guide on how to pack a packing cubes following the roll, fold and compress technique
  • 3 simple tips to help you save space when travelling and packing your bags
  • An overview of 4 great packing cubes that you can buy which are great value for money, particularly if you don’t own any packing cubes of your own.

For more information on packing cubes and travel gear, you can check out our other articles below:

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Hey guys, I’m Ash & welcome to Adventure Travel Pro!

As a seasoned traveller, I share knowledge, advice and inspo for newbie solo travellers and thrill seekers.

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