The Science of Packing

by Jason -- January 7, 2010

Greetings from Saigon, Vietnam, our home for the next few (and the past few) days due to Visa extension issues. We initially tried to extend the Visa ourselves, which unfortunately failed after a day of jumping through hoops. Our cheap and fast Vietnamese hookup in Dalat had issues as well. Now, our Visa is getting extended by someone here in Saigon, but it’s taking 5 business days and costing a bit more than we had hoped. But nonetheless we should have no issues leaving Vietnam and hopefully on Saturday we’ll add another stamp in our passports as we head to Phnom Penh, Cambodia by bus!

From time-to-time, Sharon and I will be sharing some of the travel tips we’ve learned. Our first “tips post” discusses the science of packing our backpack.

A concern we had about traveling for an extended period of time was becoming annoyed with “living out of our backpacks”. I’m happy to report back that with some extensive trial-and-error, this is no longer much of a nuisance.

The key to the way we pack is that everything goes in a bag before going into our backpack. Essentially, nothing in my backpack is just stuffed into the pack by itself. Stuffing individual items leads to disorganization, inefficient use of space, and takes much longer to pack and unpack.

The best packing accessory we purchased were ITW’s Space Compressible Travel Roll Bags. They’re essentially large see-through compression “Ziploc” bags. They’re cheap and awesome! All of my clothes now fit into one large and one small bag – pants, shirts and jacket in the big bag and underwear and socks in the small bag. To use them, you roll-up the bag and while you do so, air is released from the bag out of the bottom, creating an air-tight bundle of clothing – it saves a ton of space. It also makes unpacking all of my clothes easy; I simply pull out two bags.

Another great packing accessory purchase was the Eagle Creek Pack-It Stuffer set. The largest one is a perfect place to store laundry and the other two I use to store some random smaller things – locks for our laptops, my snorkel gear, etc.

Sharon’s favorite purchase was Eagle Creek’s Koala Hanging Toiletry Kit. I bought a small, basic toiletry bag which works just fine, but I must admit, I do get jealous when Sharon just hangs up her toiletry bag in the bathroom.  It’s pretty darn convenient.

Not all of my packing related purchases worked out well.  Here are a couple of items I regretted packing and ended up shipping back to the states:

  • Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Folder – I think this would be a great accessory if you were traveling with a regular suitcase for a week of business meetings where you needed each shirt to be crisp. For backpacking though, it was bulky and frankly a burden to fold my t-shirts and 1 collared shirt each time.
  • Eagle Creek 2-Sided Packing Cube – I had the great idea to use this to store my workout clothes, underwear and socks, which it did just fine. But similarly to the Pack-It folder, it’s pretty bulky and didn’t fit nicely into my pack. Space is at a premium and unfortunately I didn’t think the cube saved space. It does make organization easier though.

In all, including my toiletry bag, I have 10 bags which go into my backpack- three of which rarely leave my bag. So, packing and unpacking essentially involves 7 bags. When they’re out of my bag, they feel like drawers-I can open, close and put them away. Most of them are see-through or are a different color so it’s easy to tell what’s inside.

If you have any packing tips you’d like to share, I’d love to hear them. We’re constantly striving to make it an easier process.

Note: All links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you like something we mentioned, we’d appreciate your support of using these links to purchase-we’ll get a small cut. Every little bit helps us keep our travel dreams going! Thanks

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8 Responses to “The Science of Packing”

  1. So you did like the Eagle Creek Travel Gear Pack-It Folder, even though it didn’t work for your trip? I was looking into getting one. I will buy yours from you if you still have it. Or take care of it for you until you need it again.

  2. Hello! I heard about LAC from my cousin Nathalie. This is the first post I’ve read and I can’t wait to follow along on your adventure, especially to read about Cambodia. We are planning a very “American” trip there of just 2-3 weeks (wish I could say to heck with it and go for longer…) ourselves in November!

  3. Awesome! Thanks for sharing. I haven’t even begun to think about how or what to pack (or a backpack for that matter), so this is useful. I’ve got until the end of March, though.

  4. Ben - The travel gear pack-it folder was good, but it’s a little bit of a pain to carefully fold each shirt using the board. You’re more than welcome to mine, but it’s at my parents house. They sell them at North Face too, so you could just ask Pat.

    Sobrina - Welcome! I’m really looking forward to Cambodia, unfortunately we’re not going to be able stay there long either, probably just going to hit the major cities, but we’ll definitely blog and tweet about it!

    Adam - Again, good luck! My backpack finding has been that if you pack in compression bags the way we do, it really doesn’t matter what kind of pack you have, because you just pull out a couple bags and you’re done — I’ve read other advice on the subject though, and they have some very strong opinions on the subject. Let me know if you need some links.

  5. My husband and I LOVE LOVE LOVE the eBags Packing Cubes - 3pc Set ( We use them on most trips. They came in REALLY useful when we carried the backpacking packs (like you’re using). We packed all the like items together in each one and then only had to pull out each big pack instead of having to sift through the whole bag to find a single item. It helps if you overstuff them too.

    They’re also super durable (and look like they would withstand more wear and tear than your ITW’s Space Compressible Travel Roll Bags might)…

    Anyway, I reviewed them on my blog if you’re insterested:


  6. Meliha - Thanks for the comment. Those cubes do look very cool. It looks like it would be great to use as a whole system too, rather than piecing together things like we did. Cool blog by the way.


  7. […] reason choosing my pack was not a big deal is that everything goes in a bag before it goes in my main pack. The space bags are great because they vacuum out the air and are […]

  8. […] looking for that one pair of clean underwear or one pair of clean socks. Everything in my pack goes into a bag before it goes into the pack. It keeps things organized, clean and it’s so much more efficient to […]

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