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Airport Packing Weekend Getaways

How to Fit More Stuff in Your Suitcase

We packed the same bag three ways: rolling, folding, and with packing cubes. Which method saved us the most space? Find out!

When it comes to packing, there are two types of people: the rollers and the folders. I’ve long been Team Rolling, but I recently found myself wondering—does it actually save space?

It’s certainly accepted wisdom (both here at SmarterTravel and among other travel experts in general), but I couldn’t find any hard data on whether rolling is truly more space-efficient.

So I decided to put it to the test. I pitted folding against two types of rolling, and then threw in a wild card just for fun. Will the results surprise you? It depends on your team.

Test 1: The Basic Fold

As my baseline, I filled a carry-on bag to capacity with folded clothes. This is how much a 19-inch rolling carry-on could fit.

As you can see, the suitcase is full to the zipper. It’s densely packed as well; I used socks to fill spaces and slipped in a stack of tank tops sideways to abide by the folding rule while filling all the available space.

Test 2: The Fold-Roll Hybrid

When I started rolling, I realized for the first time that my default technique has evolved into a hybrid fold-roll. I take folded items from the drawer and rather than unfolding them to reroll them (which adds an extra step and more time), I simply roll the folded item. This probably isn’t the best for wrinkles, but since rolling is best used on items that don’t wrinkle easily (clothing like denim and stretch knits like t-shirts and light sweaters), it’s never been a deal breaker.

RELATED: How to Pack Really (Truly) Light

So before testing the purist rolling technique, I tried my time-saving fold-roll hybrid method. As I tucked the last item into the carry-on, the results were clear: Rolling saves space. Using even this adapted rolling method, I freed up about 10 percent of my suitcase.

Test 3: The True Roll

Happy with this early success, I committed to a true roll—in which I would lay each item flat before folding in the arms of shirts and rolling, and folding pants in half lengthwise and rolling. This method yielded pleasant stripes across the suitcase, and gave me an amount of room similar to the fold-roll technique. If pressed, I’d say the true roll gave me another percent or two of space compared to the fold-roll technique. But it also added at least 10 minutes to my packing time.

RELATED: Practical Magic: Travel Clothes That Do Double Duty

Test 4: The Wild Card

Packing cubes can be used in conjunction with rolling or folding. They’re great for staying organized while traveling, but could they save space in a suitcase as well? I loaded the rolled clothing into packing cubes and arranged them in the suitcase again. The results were similar to folding—the suitcase was full.

RELATED: The Best Packing Cubes Ever

The Verdict

Rolling saves space, especially when you approach packing with Tetris-like precision. Packing cubes are fantastic for staying organized, but they don’t actually free up space. And folding? Folding can be useful when you’re packing items you don’t want to wrinkle, but in terms of sheer space-saving, it’s no match for the mighty roll.

More from SmarterTravel:

Christine Sarkis thinks so much about packing that she considers it an actual hobby. Follow her on Twitter @ChristineSarkis and Instagram @postcartography for more advice about making every vacation the best vacation.

(Photos: Christine Sarkis)

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.