Friday, September 12, 2008

Question: How are you packing?

I’ve been experimenting a bit with packing methods as an element of streamlining my travel without looking (in my buddy CA’s immortal phrase) “like a bag of donuts” when I arrive at my destination.

Bundle packing

Many experienced travelers have become fans of “bundle packing”. It offers the twin benefits of avoiding wrinkles while reducing luggage volume. Two useful explanations of bundle packing:
Basically, you wrap all your clothing around a single central core item and place the resulting bundle in your bag. Without folds, the clothing stays unwrinkled. The bundle is also compact and malleable so it reduces the size of your bag.

Bottom line up front:
Bundle packing works great when you are traveling to a single destination or staying for lengthy periods at each of multiple destinations. If you are changing location each day, however, bundling is less than useful.

The strengths of bundle packing (avoiding wrinkles and reducing total volume) rely on having all your clothing in a single mass. If you are living out of your bag, however, that single mass of clothing quickly becomes cumbersome. You are left with two poor choices for actually using your clothing over multiple stops.

  1. You can extract the entire bundle from your bag each day, unwrap it, take out the clothing you need, and repack the bundle. Repeatedly unpacking and repacking the entire bundle just to extract a single day’s clothing is a pain in the butt.
  2. You can slip the individual clothing items out of the larger bundle as needed each day. Pulling individual items out of the larger bundle without unpacking it ensures upsetting the integrity that is the key to wrinkle avoidance. By day two of a trip you’re going to have a mass of jumbled clothes.

Neither one of these approaches works in practice. The bundle is a tool for moving a mass of clothing from one point to another efficiently. It’s poorly suited to organizing, extracting, and reinserting subsets of the mass.

Enter the Cubes
I’ve been doing a lot of trips recently that involve living out of a bag while making multiple short stops. For these trips, I’ve found Eagle Creek’s packing cubes ( to be a real help. They allow me to compress my stuff and maintain organization, all while keeping wrinkles at bay.

As an example, here’s the clothing I took on our recent 3 week west coast road trip,

along with what I wore on the flight.

I wanted to fit the clothing in my Outdoor Products’ Essential Carry-on along with some gear (camera, maps, GPS, etc.). Since we’d be moving around a lot in a car, I wanted to avoid the weight of a wheeled bag.

Tops and bottoms each went in their respective packing cubes. Two smaller cubes held socks/underwear and odds&ends.

Everything fit in the Essential Carry-on with room to spare
Clothing plus the gear brought the bag to 22 pounds according to my nifty new luggage scale (thanks GL!!). Add to this main bag a 12 pound daypack with laptop, liquids, and some personal items and I was carry-on friendly for the flights out to California.

While Pleen and I were on the road, we stayed in two houses and ten hotels. I found that it was always easy to extract one piece of clothing from the bag without unpacking everything. Clothes stayed wrinkle-free and organized throughout the trip.

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