Packing Cubes: Frequently Asked Questions

Aeronaut 45 Travel Bag with Packing Cubes by TOM BIHN
The Aeronaut 45 with its Aeronaut 45 Packing Cubes.

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re often asked about Packing Cubes. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com If you’d like to see all of our Packing Cube offerings, go here.

What are the main benefits of Packing Cubes?
What are the downsides of Packing Cubes?
How do I use Packing Cubes?
How necessary are Packing Cubes?
Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?
Are Packing Cubes only for clothes?
How do the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack and Laundry Packing Cubes work?
Travel Stuff Sacks vs. Packing Cubes: can you explain the differences, and which should I choose?
How do the Packing Cube Backpacks work?
What are the differences between All Aether and Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes?
Will you ever make “compression” Packing Cubes?
Could you make Packing Cubes out of the fabric used to make your Pocket Travel Pillow? It’s light and silky.
Some bags have Packing Cubes specifically designed and sized for them. Which Packing Cubes do I use for bags that don’t, like the Synapse 25 or Maker’s Bag?

What are the main benefits of Packing Cubes?

Packing Cubes Help Keep Your Clothes Neat and Tidy

Depending on the bag that you use, you might find that your clothes end up unfurling inside of your bag.  Packing Cubes corral your clothes in a neat fabric cube.

Packing Cubes Organize Open Space in Your Bag: They Are Additional Compartments

Packing Cubes help to divide the space inside of your bag and ensure what you pack doesn’t shift too much (provided that the Packing Cubes you choose are sized to fit the bag that you use). This is especially important if you carry a bag that has a clamshell opening, in which the zipper zips all the way down, allowing the bag to “butterfly.” While clamshell designs open all the way and give you a good look at the contents of your bag, they also tend to allow stuff to fall out.

Packing Cubes Offer You the Ability to Craft a Packing Strategy

Our Packing Cubes are available in a variety of colors, which allows you the option of color-coded organization. Perhaps socks and underwear go in a Small Packing Cube in the color Wasabi and t-shirts/workout clothes go in a Small Packing Cube in the color Island; when you zip open your bag, you’ll see Wasabi or Island, and know immediately which Packing Cube to grab to get the clothes you need.

Ever feel paralyzed by the choices of which clothes to take on your trip? Packing Cubes can help offer structure that makes that decision-making a little easier. Depending on the size of clothing, you may find that you can fit three pairs of slacks and two t-shirts in one Aeronaut 45 Large Packing Cube. In effect, Packing Cubes can serve to curtail the number of clothes you pack. Limit yourself to one Large Cube and two Small Cubes and you might just be amazed at how you were able to take enough clothes (but not too many!).

What are the downsides of Packing Cubes?

The downsides of Packing Cubes that we can think of are:

They add weight to your bag—but not all that much. For example, a pair of men’s size medium cotton briefs weighs 2.8 ounces. The Small Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube weighs 1.8 ounces.

They are an additional cost and you might not find them useful. FWIW, Tom travels quite a bit and hardly ever uses them. Conversely, Darcy always uses Packing Cubes (now, anyway).

You might be convinced you need them because they’re all the rage when really you don’t need them: they’re just one more thing to deal with. Some people use Zip-Lock plastic bags or plastic grocery bags and that works for them.

An Aeronaut 30 using built-in organization; zip-lock bag for toiletries and a plastic grocery bag for packing shoes

How do I use Packing Cubes?

Such a good question! With so many organizational options, it can be difficult to know where to start. Below is a quick guide / our recommendations. We plan to expand this into its very own blog post in the future.

Aeronaut 45

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one End Pocket Cube (for running shoes / a second pair of shoes). Use the tie-down straps to secure slacks/shirts and roll t-shirts to put in one of the end compartments. Use a zip-lock bag for toiletries*.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Two End Pocket Packing Cubes (one in each End Pocket Compartment), and either two Large (regular or Laundry), one Large and two Small (regular or Laundry), or four Small. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Aeronaut 30

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one End Pocket Cube (for running shoes / a second pair of shoes). Use the tie-down straps to secure slacks/shirts and roll t-shirts to put in one of the end compartments. Use a zip-lock bag for toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Two End Pocket Packing Cubes (one in each End Pocket Compartment), and either two Large (regular or Laundry), one Large and two Small (regular or Laundry), or four Small. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Tri-Star

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one Medium Packing Cube. Use a zip-lock bag for liquids and toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: One Small and one Medium Packing Cube in the front main compartment, one Large Packing Cube in the back compartment. You can either put another Small and Medium Packing Cube or one Large Packing Cube in the middle compartment, or use that compartment to carry your laptop in a Cache. Use a 3D Clear Organizer Cube (attached via a 16” Key Strap) as a 3-1-1 liquids/toiletries bag.

Western Flyer

Minimum Packing Cubes: None, or one Small Packing Cube. Use a zip-lock bag for liquids and toiletries.

Maximum Packing Cubes: Four Small Packing Cubes (two in each compartment), two Large Packing Cubes, or two Small and one Large.

*The notes on packing liquids/toiletries assume you’re traveling via plane; if you’re on the road or traveling by rail and don’t have restrictions on liquids, check out our Spiff Kits, which offer more space and organization for toiletries than the 3D Clear Organizer Cube.

How necessary are Packing Cubes?

Tom designed our travel bags to make Packing Cubes optional; that’s why he added tie-down straps (useful for cinching down / keeping flat folded pants, shirts, or even a blazer) to our Aeronaut 30, Aeronaut 45, and Tri-Star travel bags.

If you don’t want to use Packing Cubes, we’d recommend the Aeronaut 30 or Aeronaut 45 over the Western Flyer or Tri-Star.  Tom designed the Aeronaut to be a bag you could basically live out of and never have to unpack. Its end pockets do a great job of keeping rolled clothes neat and you’ll find that folded clothes don’t shift around too much in the main compartment. Unlike bags with clamshell openings, you can set the Aeronaut on the bed/chair, zip it open, and have full and entirely visible access to your stuff—without worrying about it unfurling or falling out. In short, we think the design of the Aeronaut especially lends itself to packing sans Packing Cubes.

The Tri-Star and Western Flyer, on the other hand, are designed to be checkpoint-friendly laptop travel bags that offer you the ability to carry up to a 17″ a laptop in a Cache—in addition to your clothes and toiletries.

So, really, it’s up to you: some folks swear by Packing Cubes and others find them unnecessary.

Should I fold, roll, or bundle pack my clothes in Packing Cubes?

Your call on this one. Rolling and bundling are popular methods and with good reason; they’re clever ways to keep clothes neat and utilize space that would be difficult to utilize with folded clothes. Still, many of us continue to use good old-fashioned folding as our primary method.

There are lots of great videos online that offer tutorials on the main packing methods; our video for the original Aether Packing Cubes demonstrates folding, rolling, and bundling:

And we love this video which demonstrates some really clever ways to maximize space with folding techniques.

Are Packing Cubes only for clothes?

Our Packing Cubes are designed primarily for clothes and shoes and are made of light, garment-weight fabrics. Most people put cords/cables/chargers, toiletries, make-up, hair thingies, snacks and the like in our Organizer Pouches, 3D Cubes, or Travel Stuff Sacks—or just in the built-in pockets of the bag itself. That said, there’s no rule about not mixing clothes and those other items; if that’s what works for you, go for it. It can be a smart strategy nestle delicate items or souvenirs in between layers of clothes. However, it’s worth noting that it’s easier for the TSA to screen bags in which items are segregated by type—no mixing of clothes and cords, for example. Theoretically, you can do your part in making the TSA line go faster by organizing your stuff.

How do the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack and Laundry Packing Cubes work?

Tom designed the first version of the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack back in 1981 during a trip hosteling around Europe. A few years ago, we brought the design back from the archives; it’s now available in sizes for the Aeronaut 30 and Aeronaut 45.

People like the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack so much we decided to make Laundry Packing Cube versions for the Aeronauts too.

The idea is this: you’ll start your trip off with the sack full of clean clothes, and as they become dirty, put them in the other end of the same sack. A floating divider midway keeps the clean and the dirty clothes separated. The volume of the clothing doesn’t change, but the ratio of clean to dirty does. You don’t need separate sacks for clean and dirty laundry anymore! Yeahh!

Laundry Packing Cube and the Laundry Travel Stuff Sack

Travel Stuff Sacks vs. Packing Cubes: can you explain the differences, and which should I choose?

Travel Stuff Sacks excel at utilizing little nooks and crannies of space in your bag that would otherwise go unused. They’re great for stuffing (and somewhat compressing, but more on that below…) underwear, swimwear/workout clothes, rolled t-shirts or a rain shell or down or synthetic vest/jacket. Picture this: stuff your down jacket in a Size 2 Travel Stuff Sack and wedge that guy into the far corner of your Aeronaut main compartment (behind a Large Packing Cube).

Packing Cubes are, generally speaking, what you’ll want to use for packing slacks or pants, skirts, dresses, button-down shirts, or any clothes that need to be folded to kept neat.

Travel Stuff Sacks make use of nooks and crannies of space in your bag

Use Packing Cubes for folded or bundled clothes and Stuff Sacks for rolled or compressible clothes

Some people find that a combination of Packing Cubes and Travel Stuff Sacks is ideal.

How do the Packing Cube Backpacks work?

It’s pretty nifty: once insided-out, the Packing Cube Backpacks become Packing Cubes that you pack with your clothes / put in your larger travel bag. Upon reaching your destination, you unpack the Packing Cube Backpack, turn it right-side out, and voila: you have a light, minimalist daypack to use sight-seeing, museum-hopping, mountain or urban hiking, or shopping.

We make three varieties of Packing Cube Backpack:

Aeronaut 45 Packing Cube Backpack

Aeronaut 30 Packing Cube Backpack

Tri-Star/Western Flyer Packing Cube Backpack

What are the differences between All Aether and Mesh/Aether Packing Cubes?

We primarily make All Aether End Pocket Packing Cubes so people can put shoes or other typically dirty items in them; the 100% fabric walls help keep those items separate from everything else and help you keep the inside of your bag clean to boot (ha ha… meh). We also make our Laundry Packing Cubes with one Aether/Aether side for that same purpose; that’s where dirty clothes go so they’re separate from the clean clothes on the other side of the Laundry Packing Cube.

The majority of the Packing Cubes that we offer are Mesh/Aether because Mesh allows you to see what’s inside of your Packing Cube and it potentially encourages air circulation to keep your clothes from getting musty (especially important in tropical or humid climates.)

Will you ever make “compression” Packing Cubes?

If you’re looking for a way to compress certain clothing items, we’d recommend taking a look at our Travel Stuff Sacks. They excel at compressing rolled t-shirts or underwear or items that are big and floofy when not compressed (a down or synthetic puffy jacket or rain shell). Basically, you put your jacket or rolled items in the Stuff Sack and use your brawn to cinch it as tight as possible. Note that when using a Travel Stuff Sack in an effort to compress clothing, it’s important to choose the right size: if you put your down jacket in a Travel Stuff Sack that’s too big, it won’t compress as much.

We don’t have plans to offer compression Packing Cubes. Here’s our thinking on this: first off, it’s seldom a good idea to try to use a zipper to force a bag shut, as you’ll be likely to bust the zipper (or the seam, depending on the quality of the item and its sewing) before its time. This may not matter as much in a less costly and more replaceable Packing Cube as it does in, say, a backpack or travel bag, but we’re a bit stubborn and old-fashioned on this point—we don’t want to make disposable products.

In our humble opinion, the ones we’ve seen and used add weight without adding much function: they allow you to take a stack of clothing and, using a zipper, squeeze some air out of it. It seems like a really cool idea, but in our tests, compression cubes don’t seem to do much more than what can be achieved by loading your cubes into your bag and pushing down lightly before you zip your bag shut. To each her own with compression cubes: they may totally work for you—they’re just something we don’t see worth the added weight. That said, maybe someday we’ll come up with a clever way to better achieve the intended effect.

Could you make Packing Cubes out of the fabric used to make your Pocket Travel Pillow? It’s light and silky.

The uncoated and breathable 20d Nylon Ripstop fabric we use to make our Pocket Travel Pillow is indeed light and silky; it’s exactly the kind of fabric we’d want to use for a pillow. But it’s not the kind of fabric we’d want to use for a Packing Cube.

When we made a sample of one of our Packing Cubes out of the 20d Nylon Ripstop fabric, we found the Packing Cube felt slippery and flimsy—and that made it difficult to pack. Conversely, the Aether fabric is very lightweight while offering a paper-like structure that allows us to make Packing Cubes that provide enough structure to make packing easier yet aren’t overbuilt or over-engineered. Packing a Mesh/Aether Packing Cube is almost like packing a small (and ultralight) dresser drawer:

Structured Packing Cubes Can Make Packing Easier

In effect, we can rely on the natural structure provided by Aether so we don’t have to put a lot of excess material, stitching, or structure into the Packing Cube itself. This is all why we’re so crazy about the Aether fabric (can you tell?)

Some bags have Packing Cubes specifically designed and sized for them. Which Packing Cubes do I use for bags that don’t, like the Synapse 25 or Maker’s Bag?

That’s a great question. We’re working on a guide to which Packing Cubes, Stuff Sacks, and Pouches fit in which bags, so stay tuned! In the meantime, you might want to check out this post which recommends specific sizes of Packing Cubes and Pouches for bags that previously had their own dedicated Packing Cube sizes.

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TB Crew

We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.

7 Comments

  1. Siobhan on 14 March 2018 2:02 pm at 2:02 pm

    Will you be making a laundry packing cube for the Western Flyer? I’d love a small.

    • mm TB Crew on 14 March 2018 2:45 pm at 2:45 pm

      At this point, we don’t have plans to, but your request is noted! In the meantime, the Aeronaut 30 Small Laundry Packing Cube works pretty well 🙂

  2. Cazique on 14 March 2018 7:51 pm at 7:51 pm

    Love this guide, love the new sizes, love the new Island Aether. Any thought of a Large Laundry for Tri-Star?

    • mm TB Crew on 14 March 2018 8:26 pm at 8:26 pm

      So glad! No imminent plans to make a Large Laundry for the Tri-Star, but we’ll note this as a vote for one 🙂

  3. Barbara on 18 March 2018 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm

    We use the packing cubes in our small Class B campervan. One set holds our biking clothes, a different colored set holds our street clothes. We travel for months at a time & this is the only way to keep our small space organized. (Don’t even get me started on the other TB products that are indispensable to this lifestyle).

    • mm TB Crew on 19 March 2018 1:29 pm at 1:29 pm

      That’s a great point, Barbara. We know from personal experience how chaotic the inside of a campervan can get if stuff/gear isn’t organized. Would love to see a photo of your Packing Cubes in your campervan!

  4. Christopher on 10 April 2018 12:47 am at 12:47 am

    Tom spent time hostelling, and yet the list of reasons for using packing cubes didn’t include keeping clothes clean? Those are either some really upmarket hostels or the type where the rats shake your hand when you walk in the door.

    The inside of bags will eventually get dirty, with dust, sand, glitter, sunscreen, food, actual dirt, what have you, so packing cubes for me started as a way of keeping my clean clothes in a mostly clean state. Over time I’ve come to love that I can use a duffel and not have to fish around for clothing, can provide structure to bags which are essentially a ridiculously overengineered sack, and even provide a backup layer of water protection in case of spillage or sudden torrential downpour.

    But the first reason I used them, and the reason I’ll happily take the weight cost even living in Australia (our airlines are less than accommodating for carry on luggage) is knowing that my clean clothes will be clean when I get them out at my destination.

    Or I’ll have a really good reason why they’re not, either way.

    It’s also why I’ll never use mesh cubes. Organisation just isn’t good enough by itself for the weight to be worth it.

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