hack it

Are Packing Cubes Ever Worth It?

Another thing to add to the packing list? We know, but hear us out on this one.

Originally Published: 
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Courtesy of CalPak; Getty Images
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If you're gearing up to take the family on a trip, there's a good chance you're responsible for packing everyone's sh*t. And if your kids are little, there's an even better chance it'll be you hauling much of it along the way, which means smart packing is high on your priority list.

Enter packing cubes: the smart traveling hack you might not have heard of (or, at the very least, tried yet).

On the surface, they might seem like one more thing to spend money on and more precious space taken up in your luggage, but two travel pros gave Scary Mommy the scoop on why you might just want to stock up before your next getaway.

The 411

Wondering what packing cubes even are? Sarah Huff, BabyQuip's baby gear product expert and senior manager, community and customer, is here to explain. "Packing cubes are lightweight containers that make packing easier and more organized," she says. "They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, often nylon or some other strong, water-resistant fabric. You can often buy packing cubes in a set, with a variety of sizes and shapes, which help to keep all your items compartmentalized and separate."

They're also meant to keep your clothes more compact so that they take up less space, as Kristin Secor, the author and owner of World on Wheels, adds. "Traditional packing cubes are square in shape and may have a clear window so you can see what's in them."

"Another type of packing cube is a compression cube," says Secor. "Compression packing cubes are typically rectangular or square and compress the air out after you fill them." More on these in a minute.

OK, but do I really need them?

If you're still not convinced they're worth the coins and/or suitcase space, hear the pros out. "Packing cubes can help organize outfits on trips, keep laundry or wet items separate from clean and dry items, and eliminate the need to take everything out of a suitcase or bag getting ready in the mornings while traveling," says Huff. "They help eliminate wrinkles and fabric damage by keeping clothing rolled or folded nicely in a suitcase; they can keep shoes or other yucky stuff away from clean items, and reduce stress while on vacation when trying to find items in a huge messy suitcase."

"When I'm not traveling, I use them to keep a variety of items organized and compartmentalized, like socks, hair accessories, or bathing suits," she says, noting that they're extra helpful for packing a beach bag and keeping things sand- and moisture-free.

Since many sets come in different sizes and colors, you can assign each family member a color or size, and they'll know exactly where they can grab their stuff amid a sea of suitcases.

"They also come in handy to stay organized at your destination," says Secor, noting that it's especially helpful when unpacking in small spaces like a cruise ship or smaller hotel room. "You just take out the cubes and put them either in a drawer or on a shelf. If drawer space is limited, having my clothes organized on a shelf is really convenient."

She adds, "Also, as someone with a physical disability, it helps me conserve energy since it's really simple to unpack and can be done quickly. I have used my packing cubes on many trips and have found they come in handy both on land trips and during cruises."

Both pros recommend packing full outfits for each family member in each cube, but you could also separate cubes by items: one for beach/pool gear, one for casual outfits, separate cubes for wet/dry clothes or clean/dirty laundry, and the like.

And while they might sound like a miracle invention, Secor notes some downsides. Since they add so much space, you might find that you end up overpacking just because you can. Compression cubes also "don't keep a flat shape once you've squeezed the air out," potentially making them "oddly shaped" and difficult to manage. The compression process can be tedious and challenging, and it might end up causing creases or wrinkles in your clothes.

Which ones should I buy?

Plenty of packing cube sets at various price points exist, so you don't have to spend tons of precious vacation money to try them out. Huff likes the five-piece set from Calpak, particularly due to the water-resistant nylon pouch for wet swimsuits or potty training mishaps.

Secor likes the wallet-friendly eight-piece set from Veken. "They are affordable and hold up well to the normal wear and tear of traveling," she says. "So, even if you need to buy multiple sets for the whole family, they won't break the budget and will hold up for long-term use."

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