Most people don’t use any packing organizers at all. Instead, they just stuff everything inside their suitcase and call it a day. But it’s much different for people who are traveling more often, whether it’s for work or leisure – most of them use some kind of packing organizers. But which ones are better – compression cubes, packing cubes, or Ziploc bags? In this article, we break down the differences between them, so hopefully, you can decide which option is better for you.
Pros and Cons of Using Ziploc Bags
A lot of frequent flyers swear by using Ziploc bags over packing cubes. It’s like they’ve been divided into two groups – those who use packing cubes and those who use Ziploc bags, and both of these groups think that their choice is the best one. But which one is right?
Let’s start by breaking down the pros and cons of using Ziploc bags.
Benefits of Using Ziploc Bags
- Cheap. Out of all three options, Ziploc bags are definitely the cheapest ones. If a packing cube set usually costs about 30$, packing everything in Ziploc bags will cost you less than 5$.
- Available anywhere. Even if one of your Ziploc bags tears during your vacation, you can find new Ziploc bags in any convenience store. They come in all kinds of varieties and models, some with regular seals, some with sliding sealers, and in various different sizes. Any of them will do, as long as they’re in the right size.
- Efficient at compression. If you’re smart about how you’re using Ziploc bags, they can actually save a lot of space in your suitcase. Before sealing them fully, leave a tiny opening for the air to escape, and use your hands or knees to compress your clothes. Doing this on all of your Ziplocs will save you about 15-20% of the total space.
- Waterproof. One serious advantage over packing and compression cubes is that Ziploc bags are 100% waterproof. So if you get caught in some rain and your suitcase gets damp, you don’t need to worry.
- Isolates smell from dirty clothes. Bringing one extra-large Ziploc for your dirty clothes is actually a really good idea, even if you’re using packing cubes because this will isolate your dirty clothes from contaminating your clean ones.
- Organized in smaller bits. From my own experience, I find it more pleasing when everything’s packed in smaller packing organizers, instead of three two or three larger ones.
- Transparent. Another important advantage of Ziploc bags over packing cubes is that you can see what’s packed inside each bag, so you don’t have to open up each cube to find out where you’ve packed that special Friday night t-shirt you’re so desperately looking for.
- Adds close to zero weight. Probably the most important advantage to Ziploc bags is that they don’t add any weight, which isn’t true for packing cubes and compression cubes. If you find yourself always maxing out on the weight restrictions for luggage, Ziploc bags might be the right choice for you.
Disadvantages of Using Ziploc Bags
- Less durable. In my opinion, the largest downside to using Ziploc bags is that they aren’t very durable. You’ll be lucky if they survive a few trips.
- Not friendly to the environment. This ties into the weak durability of Ziploc bags – If you keep switching to new ones after every other trip, you’re wasting a lot of plastic, which isn’t good for the environment.
- More wrinkles. Because Ziploc bags are small, because they have a pretty tight opening, and because they’re compressing everything inside, your clothes will become pretty wrinkled. Out of all three options, Ziploc bags leave the largest amount of wrinkles.
- Leaves a faint smell of plastic. If you’re using a new Ziploc bag, your clothes will come out with a faint smell of plastic. This smell eases out after each use, but because Ziploc bags aren’t too durable, you’ll be switching between new bags quite frequently.
- Harder to use. Ziplocs aren’t really meant to be used as an alternative for packing cubes, so they’re a bit harder to get used to. With packing cubes, unzipping the main zipper gives access to a pretty spacious opening, which is easy to pack into. But with Ziploc bags, you have to stuff everything through a smaller opening, and after that compress them, which is much harder to do.
- Suitcase ends up looking like you’re transporting something illegal. I don’t know if it’s just me, but in my opinion, having your whole suitcase organized in plastic looks a bit weird.
Pros and Cons of Using Packing Cubes
Other frequent flyers prefer using packing cubes over Ziploc bags. But generally, packing cubes are more commonly used by people who are traveling for leisure, just because they’re so easy to use.
Benefits of Using Packing Cubes
- Relatively cheap. You can get a cheap packing cube set for about 20$-30$, which usually comes with four to six pieces. (Check out our guide for choosing the best packing cubes to find out which ones should you get.) It’s not too much, considering you’ll be using them for years to come.
- More durable. Compared to Ziploc bags, packing cubes are a much more long-term option. You don’t really put them through too much stress either, so it’s unlikely that they’ll break anytime soon. We found the eBags packing cubes to be the most durable ones (Full review over here).
- Environmentally-friendly. Compared to Ziploc bags, using packing or compression cubes is a much more environmentally-friendly option because you aren’t switching to new plastic bags after every other trip.
- Commonly available. Nowadays, there’s a wide variety of packing cubes that you can choose from, as they’re gaining more popularity among travelers.
- Odor-free. Unlike with Ziploc bags, your clothes won’t smell like plastic.
- Results in the least amount of wrinkles. Out of all three options, packing cubes results in the least amount of wrinkles, especially if you roll your t-shirts, and learn how to properly fold your shirts, dresses, and trousers. Compression cubes and Ziploc bags end up with more wrinkled clothing because of compression.
- Rectangular. Because packing cubes are kind of rectangular, they’re a pretty good option for utilizing the space in your suitcase efficiently. Compression cubes and Ziploc bags end up being more ball-shaped, which means that you’re losing some space in the corners when you pack everything inside a rectangular suitcase.
Disadvantages of Using Packing Cubes
- No compression. I’ve tested that for myself, and I came to the conclusion that regular packing cubes don’t save any space. They’re only useful for organizing everything inside your luggage. For instance, t-shirts in one cube, socks and underwear in another, and so on.
- Not waterproof. I have yet to see a packing cube that’s 100% waterproof. Some are water-resistant, I’ll admit, but most of them will soak up some water through the fabric or the zippers.
- Not fully transparent. If you’re going to get packing cubes, definitely get ones with zippered mesh panels on top, such as the Amazonbasics compression cube set (full review over here), so that you can easily determine what’s inside each packing cube.
- Adds some weight. Usually, a full packing cube set will add 7-14 oz / 200-400 g to your total weight, which isn’t too much, but if you’re always struggling to stay within the weight restrictions, you should maybe go for Ziploc bags instead.
Pros and Cons of Using Compression Cubes
The third option for organizing items inside luggage is compression cubes. They’re very similar to packing cubes, except they come with an additional zipper, with which you can compress all of the items inside.
Benefits of Using Compression Cubes
- Good at saving space. I compared the space savings between packing cubes and compression cubes, and I concluded that they save about 15-20% of the total space in your luggage.
- Easy to use. Compression cubes are very easy to use. You just pack everything inside a seemingly regular packing cube, close the main zipper, and then finally close the compression zipper.
- Durable. Similar to packing cubes, compression cubes will last you a long time. That said, because of all the compression that’s going on, they might tear a bit sooner near the seams or the zippers if they aren’t properly manufactured.
- Environmentally-friendly. Compared to Ziploc bags, compression cubes are a much more environmentally-conscious option, because you aren’t switching between different plastic bags after every trip.
- Odor-free. After being packed inside compression cubes, your clothes won’t end up smelling like plastic.
Disadvantages of Using Compression Cubes
- Most expensive out of all three options. Although there are some cheaper compression cubes available, such as the Leantravel compression cube set (Full review), generally they’re pricier compared to regular packing cubes. In total, expect to pay about 25-40$ for a 2-4 piece compression cube set.
- Limited options to choose from. Compression cubes aren’t as popular as regular packing cubes, so there are much fewer models and brands that you can choose from. If you want something reliable, the Eagle Creek compression cubes (Full review) are a pretty solid option.
- Results in some wrinkles. Naturally, when you compress your clothes, they result in more wrinkles, which is why compression cubes end up with wrinklier clothes compared to regular packing cubes. That said, I found them to result in fewer wrinkles compared to Ziploc bags.
- Adds some weight. Similar to packing cubes, compression cubes add some weight. On average they add about 7-14 oz / 200-400 g to the total weight of your suitcase.
- Not waterproof. Although the Eagle Creek compression cubes are pretty good at resisting water, they aren’t 100% waterproof, which is a disadvantage over using Ziploc bags.
- Zipper sometimes gets stuck when compressing. One issue that I find a bit annoying is that on compression cubes, usually the zipper gets stuck in the fabric if you aren’t careful.
- Can’t see what’s packed in each cube. Most compression cubes don’t come with a zippered mesh panel on top, so you can’t really tell what’s packed inside each cube. If you’re getting compression cubes, definitely try to get ones with zippered mesh panels.
Which One Is Better: Ziploc Bags, Packing Cubes, or Compression Cubes?
There are advantages to all three options – Ziploc bags, packing cubes, and compression cubes. All three of them are solid choices. It just depends on which style of organizing is most comfortable for you.
If you’re looking for the easiest way of organizing your luggage, go with packing cubes. They’re cheap, they’re very easy to use, they result in the least amount of wrinkles, and they do a very good job of organizing everything. The only downsides are that they don’t save any space and that they add some weight. If, however, you want to save some space, you should go with compression cubes or Ziploc bags.
Compression cubes are great because they’re very easy to use, they’ll last a long time, and they’re a perfect option if you’re storing your stuff inside a backpack, instead of a suitcase. Your clothing will get a bit more wrinkled, but not as much as compared to Ziploc bags. They are the most expensive option out of all three, but they still aren’t too expensive when you look at the big picture – you’re paying 25-40$ for something that’ll last for a very long time, and make your vacations more enjoyable.
The last option – using Ziploc bags – is the most difficult one. If you’re willing to tolerate wrinkled clothes, a slightly more difficult way of packing and unpacking, and having your whole suitcase wrapped in plastic, then using Ziploc bags is the right choice for you. If you tolerate all of that, you get many benefits in return, such as waterproofing your stuff, saving a good amount of space from compressing your clothes, not adding almost any weight to your suitcase, and using Ziploc bags is the cheapest option out of all three. That said, in the long term, I think that the price ends up being very similar to packing and compression cubes because you have to swap out your Ziploc bags for new ones after every other trip.
Personally, I use a combination of all three options. I use compression cubes for my t-shirts, underwear, socks, hoodies, and other clothing that I don’t mind getting a bit wrinkled. For folded shirts and pants I like to use one regular packing cube because it results in fewer wrinkles. And for my toiletries, chargers, and some other smaller items, I like to use Ziploc bags, because they’re waterproof and my smaller items don’t end up being scattered all around the suitcase.
How to Pack Your Luggage Using Ziploc Bags
If you do decide to pack everything in Ziploc bags, here are some tips that might help you out. First of all, when buying Ziplocs, try to find ones with sliding sealers, as their easier to use multiple times. Regular ones will also do, but sliding ones will be better.
Next, you need to decide what to pack in each Ziploc, which depends on how large Ziploc bags you have on hand. For clothing, go with 5-10 liter Ziploc bags, and 1-3 liter bags for smaller items. Because Ziploc bags are harder to open and close, try separating your outfits between different days. For instance, in one Ziploc pack everything for Monday, in the second one everything for Tuesday, and so on. In a carry-on, remember to pack your toiletries in a 1-liter Ziploc. Separate your smaller items into smaller Ziploc bags like this – chargers and electronics, dry toiletries and medicine, documents and valuables, snacks, and socks and underwear.
To maximize the amount of space, compress the Ziploc bags. You can do that by packing everything inside the bag, then closing it about 4/5 of the way, then using your hand or knee for compressing everything, and finishing off by quickly sealing the bag.
How to Pack Your Luggage Using Packing Cubes
Packing cubes can be a bit tricky to get used to when you first receive them. That’s because you don’t know how many of them actually fit in your luggage, and how much space is left. You have to do some testing yourself, to find out how many you should use. In general though, in a regular carry-on, about 3-4 packing cubes is enough.
I usually pack my stuff in packing cubes like this – socks and underwear in one smaller packing cube, rolled up t-shirts in another smaller or medium packing cube, folded up Shirts, pants, and shorts in a medium or large packing cube, and if there’s some space left I’ll pack extra-large items in the last packing cube, such as bulky sweaters, winter jackets, e.t.c.
It’s easy to pack and unpack when using packing cubes, so sorting everything by the type of clothing is fine, instead of sorting everything by day. If you want to save some extra space, try rolling your t-shirts, shorts, and pants because this will result in only a few wrinkles, it makes it easier to sort through everything in the packing cube, and it saves some space.
How to Pack Your Luggage Using Compression Cubes
Packing in compression cubes is fairly straightforward, and doesn’t differ much from packing inside regular packing cubes. The only difference is that you have to compress everything after they’re packed full. Remember that this usually results in more wrinkles, so if you have the option to choose between a packing cube and a compression cube for your folded shirts, dresses, or dress pants, always choose packing cubes.
Also, compression cubes tend to work better when used in backpacks. In the picture above, you can see that they end up being ball-shaped, which isn’t too efficient for rectangular suitcases. Personally, I use compression cubes for all the stuff that I don’t care about getting wrinkled, such as hoodies, rolled-up t-shirts, underwear and socks, jeans, and shorts.
By now you should have a good understanding of which packing organizer is better for you – Ziploc bags, packing cubes, or compression cubes. Personally, I like to use a combination of all three, but if you’re hardcore about saving every gram, then you should definitely go with only Ziploc bags. If adding a bit of weight doesn’t matter too much to you, go for packing cubes if you just want to organize everything, and go with compression cubes if you also want to save some space.