Traveling Light: Packing Aids

Packing cubes, packing rolls, stuff sacks — you usually don’t need them.

Editor’s Note: I’m going to be writing some posts about how I travel light. I’ll pull them all back together at the end with one larger post and hopefully a video. I am not a super minimalist packer, I am however a light packer. This will also be very geared to men, sorry to all the women — I just have no way of writing about that.

Packing cubes, packing rolls, field pockets, stuff sacks — every where you turn there’s no shortage of people offering smaller bags to put inside of your larger bags. The promises range from the mundane of being more organized, to the comical of offering ways to keep your clothing wrinkle free. I’ve been fortunate(?) enough to try most of these, and after that testing there’s only a handful of them I would recommend.

Of all the systems I have tried, the only ones I regularly use are: Tom Bihn’s packing cubes, Tom Bihn’s travel laundry stuff sack, GORUCK’s GR1 Field Pocket. Even then, I typically use these very sparingly as they add weight and bulk which is often not necessary.

Packing Cubes

Tom Bihn sells two varieties of the packing cubes: Halcyon and Aether. I strongly recommend buying the latter, as the material is much thinner and lighter overall — it barely feels like there is material there. Despite any claims to make your packing better, I’ve only ever found packing cubes to increase the space needed to pack the same amount of clothes.

However, I do use them from time to time. There are two situations I find packing cubes invaluable for: keeping stuff clean and keeping things contained. Both uses are very similar, but slightly different.

My first use is typically when I am needing to pack a white dress shirt (something I try to avoid) and I am worried about it getting dirt on it in my bag — in that case I will use a packing cube as a way to insulate the shirt from any debris which might soil it. Likewise, whenever I am packing shoes (or anything else that isn’t really clean) I place them in a packing cube to keep them from dirtying my other clothing.

Either way: I look at packing cubes simply as a way to keep my gear compartmentalized from each other when I need it. Either to keep something clean inside the cube, or the keep things which are dirty from spreading it to other stuff in my bag.

What I don’t do is look at packing cubes as a way of getting more space in my bag. They might be able to perform that function for some, but I have found it is much easier to pack less, than to try and cram more into something smaller.

Travel Laundry Stuff Sack

I’ve written about this great stuff sack before. The premise is one stuff sack to put your underwear in, with one side of it being used for clean goods and the other for spoiled items (it’s not divided in the sense that it is half and half, but instead either side can use 100% of the volume). This truly speaks to the OCD freak inside of me: “of course I want this”. Who wouldn’t want this?

It makes a lot of sense.

In practice, it takes up a lot of room. I hold out hope for an Aether version of it, but until then I hardly use it. Still, if you are the type of person that this appeals to, it does make a lot of sense. For now, I use it for my kids when I travel with them — they can have some gross clothes.

GORUCK GR1 Field Pocket

I am specifically mentioning the GR1 field pocket, and not the GR2 model, as the latter is just too awkward of a size to be of use to me. The GR1 Field Pocket is a very heavy and bulky travel accessory to pack with in general and thus I use it sparingly. Typically, I only use these if I am hauling my X100T, or for a toiletries bag.

I doubt most people would need the GR1 Field Pocket, but it is a very well made piece of kit. GORUCK does make simple field pockets in the same sizes, which are much lighter, but I would rather use the Aether packing cubes from Tom Bihn if I am going to go with something less padded. Ultimately what I like about the Field Pockets are the thick padded nature of the bags which also hold their shapes very well.

For the most part, these types of accessories are going to work against you traveling light, and not help you travel lighter. They aren’t going to keep your shirts wrinkle free, ((I’ll touch on how to do that later.)) nor are they going to net you more space. They take up room, add weight, and don’t help much.

If you use them, make sure you have a good reason to use them. They are all very nice and well made, just not necessary. Beyond how I use them, I think the best other use is if you want to hide what you have in your bag a bit. Either way, those are my picks if you must use them.

See the rest of the posts here.

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