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Airport Packing

How Much Extra Space Do Compression Cubes Actually Buy You?

I decided to pit three space-saving packing aids against each other (basic packing cubes, compression cubes, and plastic space-saver bags) to see which would be most useful in my travels.

Some people are natural minimalists. They can travel the world with nothing more than a change of underwear and a toothbrush. And then there are the rest of us who need a little help to reap the benefits of the carry-on-only lifestyle.

Happily, help is easy to come by in the form of packing aids that allow us to fit a little more stuff into a little less space. Being a non-minimalist by nature, I decided to pit three space-saving packing aids against each other (basic packing cubes, compression cubes, and plastic space-saver bags) to see which would be most useful in my travels. Here’s what I learned.

The Baseline: Packing Cubes

I filled large and medium Eagle Creek packing cubes with rolled clothing to capacity to establish the baseline. Stacked, the cubes stood eight inches high and took up most of the space of the clam-shell 22-inch Eagle Creek AWD Tarmac carry-on.

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The Contender: Compression Cubes

I then transferred the items to Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Specter Compression Cubes and saw immediate improvement. The same items stood only 6.75 inches high once I loaded them into the bags and used the zippered compression system. And I freed up a significant amount of space in my suitcase as well.

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The Upstart: Plastic Rolling Bags

Moving the items for a third time, I deposited them into two of the carry-on-sized Travis Travel Gear Space Saver Bags. These bags use human-powered rolling to squeeze out the air, offering an on-the-go compression alternative to vacuum compression bags. Once again I saw a volume improvement: The items were a bit more spread out, but now stood only 5.75 inches high at its thickest point. That freed up even more suitcase space.

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RELATED: How to Fit More Stuff in Your Suitcase

The Verdict

But … I wasn’t ready to declare a winner just yet. While each level of compression freed up more suitcase space, there were also practical matters to consider. Because the more you squish stuff, the more wrinkly it will be when you arrive at your destination. Are a few inches of extra space worth the time at the hotel ironing board?

In my opinion, no. But a mix of packing aids could yield more space and fewer wrinkles. Here’s how:

  • Pack items that wrinkle easily—linen, 100 percent cotton, silk—by rolling in a packing cube. Or, combat wrinkles like a pro with a garment folder or sleeve.
  • Use compression cubes for items that are less prone to wrinkles, for instance knits, lyocell, polyester, cashmere, and pieces with spandex or other stretchy fabrics.
  • Reserve the plastic rolling space-saver bags for bulky items that don’t wrinkle—jackets, sweaters, and other fall or winter wear. You’ll free up a huge amount of space without any added hassle at your destination.

Considering compression cubes? Check out The Best Travel Compression Bags, Plus How They Work.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis loves to stay organized when she travels. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

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By Christine Sarkis

There's a 95 percent chance Senior Editor Christine Sarkis is thinking about travel right now. Follow her on Instagram @postcartography and Twitter @ChristineSarkis.

Christine Sarkis is an SATW-award-winning journalist and executive editor at SmarterTravel. Her stories have also appeared on USA Today, Conde Nast Traveler, Huffington Post, and Business Insider. Her advice has been featured in dozens of print and online publications including The New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, and People magazine. She has also shared travel tips on television and radio shows including Good Morning America, Marketplace, and Here & Now. Her work has been published in the anthologies Spain from a Backpack and The Best Women's Travel Writing 2008. She is currently working on a travel memoir.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: The Trtl Pillow. It's easy to pack and comfortable, and makes it so I can actually sleep on flights.

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: Seeing the Aurora Borealis from the comfort of somewhere warm, like a glass igloo or hot spring.

Travel Motto: Curiosity is an amazing compass.

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: Aisle all the way.

Email Christine Sarkis at editor@smartertravel.com.