After testing seven more sets of popular packing cubes, we still think the Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set is the best choice for most travelers for the third year running, thanks to its functional design and excellent build quality. Its simple design features high-quality fabrics and allows you to easily organize and access your clothing and small items.
Our pick: Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set
The three-piece Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set keeps a week’s worth of clothes organized efficiently to move easily from suitcase to hotel dresser: The full-size cube is great for shirts or insulating layers, the half cube is perfect for socks and underwear, and the quarter cube is the perfect size for travel extras like chargers, batteries, and cables. They’re made of 300-denier polyester lined with nylon so they feel nice to the touch and stay upright when empty, for easy packing. The Pack-It’s windows are made of the finest woven mesh we tested—better for resisting snags—and its smooth zippers close easily around all corners, even when the cube is overstuffed. We also like that they open all the way so you can easily access everything inside if you place them in a drawer. They’re available in black, blue, red, and usually a few limited-edition prints at any given moment.
Runner-up: eBags Packing Cubes
The eBags Packing Cubes are available in more colors (12 as of this writing) and are functionally every bit as good as the Eagle Creek cubes. They stay upright when empty, zip smoothly when overstuffed, and open all the way for easy access. But the overall feel of the eBags cubes isn’t as nice. The nylon exterior has the crinkly slick feel of a rain jacket, the mesh on the top panel is coarser and prone to snagging, and the protruding plastic logo cheapens the overall look. However, if the Eagle Creek cubes are unavailable, or if you want a color that Eagle Creek doesn’t make, the eBags cubes are a good option.
Upgrade pick: Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set
At about a 50 percent premium per cube, the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set is a good ultralight option that weighs half as much as our other picks. A medium Specter Tech cube (equivalent to the Pack-it Original full cube) weighs 1.8 ounces and packs down to the size of a single ankle sock, whereas our other picks weigh about 4 ounces and pack down to the size of a balled-up tank top. The translucent 30-denier ripstop nylon exterior looks fragile, but holds up well over time. It’s both tear- and water-resistant and we’ve used the original version for two years now with no issues. Besides their higher price, the only trade-off is that the thin sides can’t stand up on their own, which makes them slightly finicky to pack.
Budget pick: AmazonBasics Packing Cubes
The AmazonBasics Packing Cubes are a good budget-friendly choice because you can typically get a set of four cubes for the same price as a three-pack of our other picks. However, the zipper doesn’t go smoothly around the corners when the cube is full. And its coarse mesh panels, crinkly exterior material, and protruding rubber logo further detract from its overall finish. Packing cubes last a long time, so we think it’s worth spending a few more dollars to get nicer ones, but the AmazonBasics felt much sturdier than other top-rated cheap cubes we tested from Shacke, TravelWise, Bago, and Bagail.
Why you should trust us
As a journalist and filmmaker, I frequently travel with too much gear that needs to stay organized. Packing cubes have become one of those key items I don’t leave behind. In researching this guide, I also spoke with several regular business travelers about the features of their favorite packing cubes and why they use them.
Who should get this
Packing is full of decisions. What do you absolutely need to bring on your next trip? What can you leave behind? Should you roll or flat-pack your clothes? In any case, a bit of organization up front saves time and reduces frustration down the road so you can focus on the adventure at hand. Enter the packing cube: a simple fabric-and-mesh bag that tidily zips away your clutter.
Packing cubes are basically bags to hold your clothes that you organize within your larger luggage. If you imagine your suitcase as a dresser, you can think of packing cubes as individual drawers: All your underwear and socks in one container, all your shirts in another, and another for workout clothes. Pull out only the cube you want. Similarly, when airline security determines that there’s a situation among my socks that requires further scrutiny, they can pull out a couple of tidy packing cubes from my luggage instead of creating heaps of textile carnage at the checkpoint.
Regular business travelers likely already own a few packing cubes. But they’re also lightweight enough for backpackers, daytrippers, and weekend road warriors. If you’re the type that needs to repack frequently, wants to quicken an anticipated airline security search, or wants to keep groups of items separated, you’ll find packing cubes are eminently useful. Very organized packers, parents wishing to keep the kids’ and the adults’ clothes separated, and fans of Tetris will also appreciate the tidiness of packing cubes.
How we picked
There are dozens of nearly identical packing cube sets out there, with little variation in design or use (three-sided zipper with some mesh on the top panel). We tested seven popular packing cube sets, paying close attention to construction and material quality, ease of use, visibility, and overall value.
• Weight, size, and capacity. There’s no need for overkill. If you’re going to shell out $25 for fabric, mesh, and a zipper, it had better be lightweight yet able to store a reasonable amount of clothing and gear. We looked for sets that could handle a long weekend’s worth of clothes, towels, gadget cables, toiletries, and medical supplies. There should be at least one 12-liter “medium” cube—which fits about a week’s worth of T-shirts—and two or three more cubes of various sizes. Typically, you’ll either run into “standard”-weight cubes, which should weigh about 4 ounces for a 12-liter cube, or pricier “ultralight” cubes made of 30-denier siliconized nylon that weigh about 2 ounces for a 12-liter cube.
• Visibility and ventilation. It was not supposed to rain. But now you need to locate and extract that jacket from your luggage with as quick a search as possible. The more mesh on the top panel, the more visible the contents will be, but because mesh is easily damaged, you don’t necessarily want the entire panel to be mesh—some nylon is a good idea for strength and support. The best designs expose just enough of the interior for ventilation and visibility without sacrificing strength of overall construction.
• Ergonomic features. Packing cubes need to be easy to open and close. Zippers should not be prone to catching on the interior of the cube itself or hang up when rounding the corners as you close the packing cube. Handles are convenient for carrying and hanging, and are included on all the designs we tested. The ability of a cube to stand up on its own—generally because the fabric is thick enough to support it while packing—adds a touch of convenience.
• Fabric quality. Generally some form of nylon or polyester, rugged enough not to tear, without adding unneeded ounces. No need to be waterproof, but a little water resistance can help in case you have to repack on a wet curb.
• Zipper quality. YKK has been the global standard of zipper quality for generations. Though there are competitors with reliable zipping mechanisms, this brand is always a solid choice for closure.
• Mesh quality. Most designs have a mesh lid for visibility and to let moisture out. If the mesh weave is too loose, it’s easier to snag and tear on keys, cables, pens, and other pokey items.
• Durable construction methods. A key point of failure on packing cubes is where the mesh meets the zipper, because it will inevitably be strained when overpacked and either tear the stitching or the mesh.
• Overall value. Though packing cubes are super useful, again, there’s no need for overkill (you can achieve the same basic organization with a 10¢ Ziploc bag). The sets we tested ranged from three cubes to as many as five per set, and were all priced between $20 and $30.
How we tested
Because most packing cubes have the same basic design, it came down to build quality and practical, real-world use. I packed for overnight work trips over the course of several weeks, and made notes as zippers stuck or mesh snagged or when obstructed visibility slowed down the process of finding a particular item.
Though I tested all the sizes included in each set, most tests were performed on the medium size (approximately 10 by 14 by 3 inches). Into each of these medium cubes I packed things I might bring on a typical weekend away: a rain jacket, two T-shirts, two pairs each of socks and boxer shorts, two polo shirts, a thin fleece pullover, and a small travel towel. When overstuffing to test seams and zippers, I added a lightweight down jacket and a pair of jeans.
I used various packing methods (mainly rolling and flat packing, sometimes just stuffing as much as could be made to fit) and generally straining the zippers beyond what they would generally be required to contain.
To test mesh quality, I threw in a set of keys and noted how commonly the mesh got stuck or ripped. To check that dyes were fixed, I soaked each cube in water and noted if there was any staining of a white t-shirt when left in contact with the wet fabric.
Our pick: Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set
Eagle Creek is the company that popularized packing cubes, and despite the recent proliferation of more-affordable competition, the company still makes the best around. The Eagle Creek Pack-It Original Cube Set doesn’t have any frills, but overall, every part of it feels a bit nicer compared with the competition.
Solidly built from quality materials, the Eagle Creek Pack-It cubes are made to take years of abuse on the road. In particular, its mesh weave is finer than that of any of the other cubes we tested, and so is less likely to snag or tear as it gets tossed around by an indifferent TSA agent. On the top panel, fabric is placed toward the sides with mesh in the center, keeping contents visible and reducing zipper strain on the seams. This is especially beneficial at the corners, preventing the zipper getting stuck, and should help these cubes last as long as you need them to.
The Pack-It cubes are made of 300-denier polyester micro-weave fabric that is stiff enough to hold its shape, which makes it easier to close the zippers when the cube was full. A medium 12-liter cube weighs 4 ounces empty, which is right in line with other cubes we tested. The zippers themselves felt solid and easily rounded the corners without hanging up—even when we overstuffed the cubes.
We’ve owned previous generations of the Pack-It cube with logos from decades past, and those cubes still look as good as new. But should anything go wrong, Eagle Creek’s lifetime warranty has a reputation for generosity.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Although the Pack-It cubes were the nicest overall, we would prefer that they give you more cube for your money. The largest cube in the standard three-piece set we tested measures 10 by 14 by 3 inches (WLD), which would be a medium in many of the other sets (Eagle Creek does sell a large-size cube separately). And the smallest size is just long enough to fit a few pairs of socks and underwear.
The Pack-It cubes typically come only in black, red, and blue, with a few different limited-edition colors and prints rotating through. This might not be enough for people who want to match their luggage perfectly.
Long-term test notes
Wirecutter editor Tracy Vence reported, “I’ve used the Eagle Creek packing cubes at least once a month for the last six years. They’ve held up beautifully—no issues with the zippers, netting, etc. Really, they’re just great.” Another of our editors, Tim Barribeau, said, “We’ve had the Eagle Creeks for years, and they’re great. Use them all the time, and they’ve given us no drama, even when sometimes aggressively overstuffed.” Senior staff writer Chris Heinonen concurred: “I have a set of 15-year-old, or so, Eagle Creek cubes that are still great.”
Editor Winnie Yang and her husband have been using both our main pick and our upgrade pick, the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set: “We had the Specter picks first and now also have the Original in the largest size. I use the Original cubes to separate stuff by person, because it’s easy enough to identify what I’m looking for through the window. The Specter I like for packing by item type, assuming I remember what I put where. I already know what’s going to be inside, and I can easily identify which cube I need to grab from a larger suitcase by what color it is (we have orange, white, blue, and yellow). The Originals are well-constructed and zip easily because of the thicker-gauge material. I find that the Specter material can sometimes get caught in the zipper because it’s so lightweight. We’ve had the Specter cubes for probably five-plus years and the Original for maybe a year. They get used about once a month and are all in great shape—even the Specters, which have been through the wash.”
Runner-up: eBags Packing Cubes
eBags’ Packing Cubes are also great, and we wouldn’t hesitate to buy them if the Eagle Creek cubes were unavailable for whatever reason. The three-piece set comes in larger sizes than our top pick, the largest being 17½ by 12¾ by 3¼, so it might be preferable for those carrying more or traveling longer. The top-panel design is the opposite of the Eagle Creek’s, so the fabric that supports the panel is in the center and the see-through mesh is toward the sides. In theory this should add support in the center of the zipper’s path, where the most strain would occur when overstuffed. However, in practice, the eBags cube’s zipper was slightly more likely to hang up as it rounded the corners of a fully packed cube.
The eBags cubes are made of Techlite Diamond nylon, a slicker, more crinkly sounding material—think rain jacket or thick windbreaker. For bags, we think nylon is better than polyester because of its abrasion resistance, but packing cubes are for interior use only so we prefer Eagle Creek’s more pleasant-feeling Pack-It cloth. We also don’t like that the eBags cubes have a sewn-on protruding plastic logo that looks tacky.
eBags cubes do have one leg up on Eagle Creek: They use YKK zippers, widely accepted as the best around. That said, we couldn’t tell any difference between the eBags and Eagle Creek zippers even with a magnifying glass, and their performance was indistinguishable. (For what it’s worth, an Eagle Creek product manager assured us that the proportion of zipper-related warranty claims hasn’t changed since they made the switch from YKK.)
The eBags cubes also come with a limited lifetime warranty and are available in 12 colors as of this writing—so you’re almost guaranteed to find something to match or complement your luggage.
Budget pick: AmazonBasics 4-piece Packing Cube Set
The AmazonBasics 4-Piece Packing Cube Set gives you four decently made cubes for less than the cost of three of our other picks (about $6 a cube vs. $9)—and even includes a truly large bag that’s bigger than the largest from Eagle Creek’s three-piece sets. This makes it an excellent value for more-budget-conscious travelers willing to sacrifice some of the Eagle Creek and eBags finishing touches. It gets the job done, just not quite as elegantly as our other picks.
Overall, the AmazonBasics cubes appear well-constructed, but the zippers tended to get hung up around the corners when fully packed, whereas the Pack-It cubes’ zippers closed smoothly when overstuffed. We liked that the AmazonBasics cubes have a large mesh panel that allows for clear visibility of just about everything inside. But the mesh weave is a bit loose; it will definitely snag on keys. We also didn’t like the unnecessarily protruding plastic logo that’s likely to eventually snag on something.
However, be wary of the red color scheme, which some user reviews point out can stain white clothes when moist. We didn’t find this to be the case in our testing, but it’s better not to risk it if you have other options.
Ultralight upgrade: Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech
If you want the organizational benefits of packing cubes with almost no weight or packing space penalty, the Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Tech Cube Set is a great upgrade. They weigh about half as much as regular Pack-It cubes of the same capacity (1.8 ounces vs. 4 ounces for a medium 12-liter cube) because they’re made of a 30-denier ripstop nylon material that’s tear- and water-resistant. Whereas our other picks take up about the same packing volume as a balled-up pair of boxers, these compress down to the size of a single ankle sock. There’s no mesh, but the exterior is translucent enough to see what’s inside.
We’ve used the original Specter cubes on dozens of trips over past two years now, so we know the fabrics hold up over time. But the new Specter Tech line is a huge improvement over the older Specter design because you no longer have to choose between saving weight and easy packability. The old design had a half-length zipper that kept the cube from opening all the way. Packing them felt more like packing a stuff sack than a packing cube and they were a poor choice for folded clothes. The new Tech cubes open all the way—just like the Pack-It Original cubes—because the zipper extends across three sides.
However, at about a 50 percent-per-cube premium over the Pack-It Original cubes, you have to really want the weight savings to justify the cost. Also, the material is light, but it doesn’t stand up on its own, which gets a little irritating while packing. It’ll stand up well enough with a few shirts layered in, but the Original cubes’ walls can stand up while empty.
Bagail 4 Set Packing Cubes have thicker nylon panels, making them a bit heavier than the competitors, but perhaps more robust. The top panel uses an interesting design: alternating diagonal nylon and mesh strips, which looks cool but impedes visibility a bit. The zippers (manufacturers claim they are YKK but they do not show the logo) hang up only occasionally around the corners. Overall, this set is a good value—in spite of the reduced visibility—and includes a free laundry bag.
The Bago 4 Piece Packing Cube Set includes two large and two medium packing cubes, with a mostly mesh top panel for excellent visibility of contents. The mesh is treated to make it a bit stiffer than the others we tested, which might help its longevity. The diamond ripstop fabric is reasonably stiff so that the cube holds its shape while packing. The zippers tended to hang a bit rounding the corners and some of the seams felt a little cheap compared with the others.
The TravelWise Packing Cube System includes more total cubes (five) for your dollar than other options, and is fairly lightweight, but lacks a bit in construction quality. Although having a similar top-panel design to our top pick’s—with the fabric on the sides to protect the mesh center—the loose-weave mesh covers the entire inside of the top panel. This is likely easier to manufacture, but seems like it would snag easily on internal contents and is unnecessary excess material. The fabric was stiff enough to stand up, but the zipper tended to slip open when overstuffing. Seams were strong but showed inconsistency in the stitching.
We tested the extremely popular Shacke Pak in a prior round of testing and were unimpressed by its material’s quality. The mesh was loose and prone to catching, and the solid nylon panels felt stiff and scratchy to the touch—similar in hand feel to a lunchbox you’d find at a dollar store. And the free laundry bag included in the purchase price feels similarly cheaply made—we’d rather not get it than have to toss it when it breaks. Our other picks are better-made, and the AmazonBasics cubes are a better value now, so there’s not much going for these guys.
Compression cubes, like Eagle Creek’s Specter Pack-It Compression Cubes add an extra zipper around the perimeter that you can leave unzipped while packing, and zip up when you’re done to squeeze out the excess air. However, zippers aren’t the best way to compress clothing. Zipping the second zipper is a bit fussy and once you’re done only the perimeter is thinner; the middle stays just as thick—like a football shape. If compression is your top priority, our compression sack picks will do a better job.
Read the original article on The Best Packing Cubes.