If you believe — like we do — that packing cubes are the secret to the perfectly packed family, then you’ll be psyched to see the wide variety of cube-tastic possibilities — fat, skinny, tall, short, mommy, baby and more!
Here’s what we look for in a basic clothes cube for each family member:
- Depth – Our favorites are 4″ deep.
- Length – You’re gonna need a minimum of 10″ in length to accommodate a week’s worth of clothes for each person.
- Opening – To easily get items in and out without dumping the entire contents each night, you need a zipper that opens on 3 sides. The cubes that only at the top or one-third of the way around the middle are best saved for backpackers who use cubes like stuff sacks.
The clothes cubes we have used for years is actually a “shoe” cube – the Eagle Creek Pack-It Shoe Cube (our vintage version shown below). Its depth, length and opening makes for a perfect mini-dresser drawer.
- Both this Bago set and this Hopsooken set are generously sized, budget priced and would work well for families (though I would recommend having a large bag for each traveler’s clothes.)
- REI’s packing cubes are made of a combo of mesh and nylon, which makes for a lighter weight bag. And each one has a zipper to expand the depth when needed. The set is a bit pricey but you can also buy individual bags.
- Eagle Creek’s Specter line cubes feel so light you could practically blow them off the top of a birthday cake – yet they’re made of super strong fabric (“silicone-impregnated nylon ripstop”) so they won’t tear. They come in lots of colors which helps know which bag is holding what. The only bummer is that they are all quite slender – max 3 inches wide – and the zipper only moves around the top half of the cube. These are a must for the well-packed backcountry hiker but maybe not as critical for a family vacation.
- The line of basic Eagle Creek cubes is also uber thin. They are max-3-inches-ish deep with a shorter zipper which makes them not near so easy to pack as the older models we own and love. But price wise, these are much less expensive than the ultralight Specters and uber useful.
- The original heavier Eagle Creek Packing Cubes are a bit shallow for clothes (in my opinion) but their tough construction makes them a good choice for organizing electronics, extra toiletries, and games/books.
- There are a variety of narrow bags available – like this set from eBags. This shape lends itself to becoming a home for underwear, socks and other small clothing items, as well as being able to be stowed in a skinny corner of a bigger duffle or backpack.
- We are huge fans of the new Patagonia Black Hole duffles. If you are too, you might want their uber-awesome Black Hole Cube to match your bag – though I can’t imagine why a packing cube would need to be so sturdy. Maybe if you were climbing Everest and had your wallet packed in one and accidentally dropped it down an ice fall and needed to retrieve it after the spring thaw? Dunno.
- For toiletries, we like to have one kit that fits everyone’s evening/morning essentials for toothbrushing, face washing, and showers. That means only unpacking one bag if you’re overnighting in transit or making a quick stop. We sometimes use a small, traditionally-sized kit like this Eagle Creek Pack It Quick Trip that is easy to pack and store other toiletries needs in other bags.
- When all of our family’s toiletries snowball into one big kit, we prefer the freestanding versions to the hanging versions because they are easier for kids to get in/out of. This standing version from Airlab is a roomy top loader, while the kits from MBM and 42 Travel are massive and hold anything a family could hope to bring along.
- Increasingly offered are flat toiletries bags, like this eBags version, though I am not sure the flat shape would really end up any easier to be the last item jammed into a suitcase after an entire family’s toiletries were packed inside.
- One must-buy for our family packing set this year will be the Eagle Creek Clean/Dirty Cube. The cube’s two sides are separated by a waterproof/coated liner, with one side having a mesh top providing a spot for the wet bathing suits and/or dirt-encrusted items we typically have to stow in plastic shopping bags and tie to the outside of our packs.
by Maryann Jones Thompson, updated May 2018
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