DIY – How to Hack $30+ Packing Cubes
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We have a love/hate relationship with packing cubes!
- Weight – Ultra light versions are genius
- Compartmentalize your bag, turning one big main compartment into organized storage
- Fit more stuff into your pack (in some cases)
- Weight – Standard versions weigh your bag down
- Cost – Ultra light packing cubes are expensive
- One more thing to worry about
- Square peg into a round hole
If you know anything about us, we research, plan, discuss, and research and plan. Seriously, why figure it out on your own starting at ground zero, when someone has done it before you and can launch you way ahead of the game? So, in an effort to prepare for our backpacking extravaganza, we read about 20 blogs with tips on gear and backpack packing. A large percent of what we found highly recommended using packing cubes. The idea is that packing cubes allow you to compartmentalize your backpack, allowing you to stay organized, to easily find what you're looking for and even to pack more in your bag. With that in mind, we went on a search for the best packing cubes at the best value, by using Pareto's Principle.
We Found Two Retail Packing Cube Options
- Eagle Creek - These are ultra-light, highly rated, but very expensive.
- Off-brand (Bagsmart, Uncharted, Amazon Basics) - We found some pretty in-expensive ones on eBay, but durability and weight is often a gamble.
Features We Want From Our Packing Cubes:
- 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 couldn’t get past the idea of spending so much on a bag. Plus, they don’t keep smells or moisture in, and they don’t compress down to make the contents smaller. 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. Instead, what we decided to do was improve the idea by increasing the durability of the Ziploc bag.
DIY Reinforced Ziploc Bags
Using economically priced Ziplocs, we can reinforce their weakest points (seams and the top sealing mechanism) with the 'all incredible' duct tape! If successful, this creates a product that is water-resistant, durable, light weight, smell containing, compressible, inexpensive, and organizing as a packing cube.
Thanks but no thanks – DIY projects aren’t for you? After finishing our DIY Ziploc bags someone suggested we could use LokSak bags. These are middle of the road pricing when compared to packing cubes, but expensive when compared to plastic ZipLoc bags. If you don’t want to spend the time or energy on this DIY project, buy these! They are water-resistant, keep in the smells and moisture and are ready to go out of the box.
Here It Is (Round One):
- Ziploc Bags (choose your size: snack, sandwich, quart, gallon, 2-gallon)
- Duct Tape
- Clear Packing Tape (used in Round Two)
Watch the DIY Video Tutorial for a detailed walk-through. However, a written overview is 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 2 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!
Improved (Round 2):
Thanks to everyone for your comments and feedback! Between your clever points and our real world use, we changed a few things:
- Duct tape is opaque (DUH!) and TSA and other inspection agents don’t like this. Our new bags are now reinforced on the edge with clear and strong packing tape.
- Our bags started to show pokes and stretching on all areas of the bags. So even though the weakest points seemed to be the edges/seams and the top sealing mechanism, we also saw plenty of value in lining the rest of the bag with clear packing tape, including taping over the seal/zipping mechanism of the bag.
- Our backpacks (Osprey Manta AG 36 and Review) are round. The bags are square. This equals wasted space! Our conclusion is that while we initially were packing all of our stuff in these cubes, we’re now going to only pack a few things. Here’s what changed:
Improved (Round 3):
We aren’t at round 3 yet, but since we’re always looking to improve, we’ll probably make some modifications down the road. Post your ideas, comments and questions for us. We want to hear them, and of course appreciate that many minds are better than just ours alone!
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 inner part of the blades for an easier cut.
- Clean your scissors. Use a bit of rubbing alcohol and a napkin to clean the sticky residue off your scissors. The tape tends to leave a residue on the scissor blades that builds up over time and causes more difficult and less sharp cuts over time.
- Patience! As with most DIY projects, patience is key. All the videos and picture walkthrough’s make DIY projects look so easy. But they’re always more challenging than they look. Cutting the tape to the right length, applying it without ripples and bubbles, and applying 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 the purpose and functionality first and foremost. Your first bag will most likely look like a sad/comical version of your last bag.
- TIP: We’re planning to use these reinforced bags as washing bags as well. Many travelers plug up a sink with a stopper or a sock and use it to soak and wash their clothes in. We read a blog post that suggested using a large LokSak bag as an alternative. 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. (For more detail, visit Expert Vagabond)
- The non-DIY version is the Scrubba. We haven’t tried this, but it's a no-hassle, no-work alternative and at 0.31 lbs (5 ounces), it’s relatively light weight.