DIY – How to Hack $30+ Travel Packing Cubes
How to make your own DIY Travel Packing Cubes (and reinforcing them if needed), no sewing required! Plus, see our review and what worked best after 18 months of long-term travel as digital nomads across 24 countries and 65 cities!
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We have a love/hate relationship with retail (store bought) packing cubes!
Love Retail Travel Packing Cubes
- Convenience – Simply buy them and enjoy them
- Weight – Ultra light versions are awesome
- Compartmentalization of our bag – Turns our main compartment into an organized space
- Pack More – Compression packing cubes help fit more stuff into our pack
Hate Retail Travel Packing Cubes
- Weight – Standard packing cubes weigh our bag down
- Cost – Ultralight packing cubes are expensive
- Added complexity – If a seam rips or a zipper breaks while we’re on the road chances are we won’t be able to repair (or warranty claim) a retail packing cube.
- Fit – Square peg into a round hole (usually)
If you know anything about us, we research, plan, discuss, and then research and plan a bit more. Therefore, to prepare for our long-term travel and digital nomad adventure, with just a 36 liter backpack each, we researched online for tips on gear and packing. A large percent of bloggers we read recommended using packing cubes. The idea is that travel packing cubes organize and compartmentalize your travel bag, allowing you to easily find what you're looking for. Plus, with a better utilization of space and in the case of compression packing cubes, you get the added benefit of being able to fit more stuff within the same space.
With that in mind, we set off on a search to find the best travel packing cubes at the greatest value (Pareto's Principle)...
Retail Packing Cube Options (Not DIY)
- Eagle Creek - These are ultra-light, highly rated, but very expensive.
- LokSak – Officially, these may not be marketed as packing cubes, but they’re sealable, durable, water resistant, and dust proof. These are also expensive but considering the advantages they have over conventional retail ultralight travel packing cubes, they may be worth it!
- Off/Store Brand – (Bagsmart, Uncharted, Amazon Basics) - In the case of eBay , we found some pretty in-expensive travel packing cubes, but durability and weight is often a gamble. Again, a ‘middle of the road approach’ might be to buy from a reputable seller like Amazon or Ikea.
Features We Want From Our Travel Packing Cubes:
The best travel packing cubes will be the ones that have all (or most) of the features we're looking for that won't break the bank.
- Odor locking
We really like the idea of Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cubes. Every time we’re at a travel store, usually REI, we’re drawn to these. However, we can never get past the idea of spending so much on what’s essentially a bag. Plus, even if you can get past the cost, they don’t keep smells or moisture in, and they don’t compress down to make their contents smaller. So, while we like them, they aren't the best option for us.
Eventually, on one of our joint daily walks where we chat, brainstorm, and just clear our heads, it came to us. The ingenious DIY (Do It Yourself) project of making our own packing cubes! We thought we were being original, but like many things, a quick internet search brought us back to reality. It turns out that Ziploc bags have been used by backpackers for ages as travel packing cubes. Instead, what we decided to do was improve on the idea by increasing the durability of a conventional Ziploc bag, hopefully making it the best travel packing cube!
DIY Travel Packing Cubes: Reinforced Ziploc Bags
By using economically priced Ziploc bags, we can reinforce what seems to be their weakest points (seams and the top sealing mechanism) with the 'all incredible' duct tape. If successful, this would result in a travel packing cube that's water-resistant, durable, lightweight, odor containing, compressible, and inexpensive!
DIY Travel Packing Cube How To (No Sew!): Version 1.0
- Ziploc Bags (choose your size(s): snack, sandwich, quart, one gallon, two gallon)
- Duct Tape
- Clear Packing Tape (used in Version 2.0)
Follow along by your preferred method! Watch the DIY Travel Packing Cube Video Tutorial for a detailed walk-through or follow the written overview below.
- Measure and cut your tape to the length of the bottom of the bag, adding an additional 1-1.5 inches to each side.
- Lay the tape flat and then apply the bottom of the bag to the upper half of the tape, applying it horizontally.
- Cut out the corners of each side of the tape (the 1-1.5 inch of excess tape left on each side). This prevents excess hangover, think gift box wrapping.
- Fold in each side of tape on to the bag.
- Fold over the bottom of the tape to the opposite side of the bag.
- Cut two pieces of tape equal to the length of the height of the bag.
- Apply each piece of tape to each side of the bag, horizontally, with half on one side of the bag.
- Fold over the tape to the other side of the bag.
- Cut a piece of tape equal to the width of the bag and apply to the top of the bag on or below the zipping/seal mechanism of the bag.
- Pat yourself on the back, you’re done!
DIY Travel Packing Cube How To (No Sew!): Version 2.0
First, thanks to everyone for your comments and feedback! Between your clever points and our real world use, we’ve since updated a few things:
- Duct tape is opaque (DUH!) and so it doesn’t play well with TSA and other inspection agents. Our new 2.0 DIY travel packing cube bags are reinforced on their edges with strong clear packing tape only. This insures that inspection agents can see completely through the bag and noticeably cuts down on weight.
- Our DIY travel packing cubes started to show tears and stretching on all areas of the bags. So even though the weakest points seem to be the edges and seams, we also see plenty of value in lining the rest of the bag with clear packing tape, including taping over the seal/zipping mechanism of each bag.
- Our backpacks (Osprey Manta AG 36 and Review) are round but our DIY travel packing cubes are square. This equals wasted space in our packs! Our conclusion is that while we initially were packing all of our stuff in these packing cubes, we’re now only packing select items in them. Here’s how we’re packing now:
Don't miss our ultimate gear and packing list to see how we have room to spare in our OneBag 36L backpacks and how we stay around 15 pounds (7 kg)!
DIY Travel Packing Cube Tips and Additional Thoughts:
- Sharp scissors will make your life so much easier when trying to complete this project. If you don’t have brand new, super sharp scissors, try cutting with the part of the scissors where the two blades join for an easier cut.
- Clean your scissors. As you work through reinforcing your DIY packing cubes, periodically clean your scissors using a bit of rubbing alcohol and a napkin (or cleaning wipes). The tape tends to leave a sticky residue on the scissor blades that builds up over time and causes more difficulty and less sharp cuts over time.
- Patience! As with most DIY projects, patience is key. All the videos and tutorials make DIY projects look so easy. However, they’re usually more challenging than they look. Cutting the tape to the right length, applying it without ripples and bubbles, and getting it straight can be challenging. Take your time and soon enough you’ll be doing this project like a pro. Perfection is overrated, remember Pareto’s Principal, 20% of the effort will get you 80% of the results. Begin with the end in mind and focus on your ultimate purpose: reinforcing your DIY packing cubes. Your first bag will most likely look like a sad/comical version of your last bag.
- TIP: During our initial gear and packing research, we noticed that long-term travelers and digital nomads recommended plugging up a sink with a drain stopper to wash our clothes. However the idea of packing a drain stopper wasn't appealing. So when we heard a suggestion to use a large LokSak bag to wash clothes in, we realized that we could do the same thing with a large two gallon Ziploc bag. We love this idea since it’ll leave the sink free, allow for easier washing (think shaking/whooshing like a washer) and you don’t have to worry about the cleanliness of random sinks. To top it off, the same bag doubles as our dirty laundry bag!
- For those of you that prefer a commercial of the shelf wash bag, you can use the Scrubba. We haven’t tried one yet, but it's a no-hassle off the shelf alternative, and at 0.31 lbs (5 ounces), it’s relatively light weight.
Whether we're talking retail travel packing cubes or DIY travel packing cubes, there are pros and cons to consider. It's important to look at what you're packing, the shape of your bag, and your travel style, to determine which method will work best for you. When we consider how many individual Ziploc bags and tape, we can purchase for the cost of just one retail packing cube, the choice between retail and DIY is obvious for us.
Using the DIY Reinforced Packing Cubes over 18 months of travel taught us a few things. Be sure to check out our review and update! (coming soon!)