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The Best Way to Pack Clothes

Stefan Loble

The online world of luggage packing tips is an intense and often overwhelming place.

Unexpectedly heated debates rage on about the cost-benefits of “bundle” packing, and passionate soliloquies wax on how to pack light. Some suggestions are surprising: “make your own laundry machine,” “mail your dirty laundry home,” and “wear only disposable undies.” (Yes, really.)

Every member of the massive population of online travel writers seems to have a take on packing, from new bloggers to bigger publications.

At Bluffworks, we think a lot about packing, and design our travel clothes to be lightweight, wrinkle-resistant, machine-washable, and stylish so you don’t need to own a lot – or carry as much when you travel.

But you still have to find a way to get your clothes into your bag (see here for our roundup of best carry-on travel bags). We believe that it really doesn’t need to be so complicated, and you should follow whatever method works best for you.

Our Approach to Packing Clothes

A few basic principles help set a good foundation (read more of our packing strategy) before you even focus on the details about how to physically get your stuff into a bag.

  • Start with the essentials. A good rule of thumb for a reasonable clothing load (though this is merely a guide – take what works for you): a week away shouldn’t require more than two pairs of shorts or pants, four tops, two pairs of shoes, and a hat. A swimsuit and exercise gear may be needed too.

  • The right stuff. Pick lightweight travel clothes that resist wrinkles. This can be challenging with nicer outfits and more formal wear, which is why we created the Gramercy Suit – it is designed to pack well, no suit bag needed. (Best to fold the blazer in half or pack flat, if your bag is big enough.)

  • Use a smaller bag. Just like no one ever eats half an ice cream cone, most people will never pack half a suitcase. (But you also don’t want to pack your bag to the gills.) One way to ensure you won’t bring too much is to limit the physical capacity of what you can take. Bags less than 22 inches on their longest side are generally international carry-on approved.

  • Reduce. Arrange what you think you’ll need, then cut it down. Way down. If there’s something you’re packing just in case you’ll need it, you don’t need it. You can probably buy it there if it becomes critical, but you also probably won’t have to.

How to Pack Clothes

Once you have the what to pack, it’s time to address the how.

Here’s where controversy lurks. There are several methods to prepare your clothes to go into your bag, and people can have diehard opinions about which way is the right way.

1. Folding Clothes for Travel

This classic method remains most common among travelers. It’s quick, easy, and familiar.

Overall, folding means you won’t have to change much from how you store clothes at home, which may make it easier earlier in the process, but it may not be the most efficient use of space in your bag.

To maximize a bag’s cargo room, folding clothes for travel often means arranging items where they fit most snugly, not in the order of that you may want to access them. That means you’ll have to flip through and basically unpack every time you need something.

Some experts encourage layering folded clothes in order of outfit, from most immediate on top to last outfit on the bottom. Others recommend a “filing” style fold approach (think Marie Kondo), with shirts and pants packed vertically rather than stacked horizontally, which frees up a little more space.

2. Rolling Clothes For Packing

The world of packing information gets so rigorous that military training comes into play. Seriously.

Learning how to apply an Army Ranger shirt fold is a space-saving way to pack (not to mention a satisfying sort of fabric origami). And it does keep shirts compressed and discourages wrinkles.

Essentially the gold standard of rolling, the “Ranger Roll,” involves a precise method of converting your garment into a clean rectangular shape, and then roll it into a tight little burrito.

Rolled clothes save space while packing.

Rolled clothes save space while packing.

Rolling clothes for packing typically condenses items and reduces wasted luggage space. It also makes identifying the garment you need quick and easy.

Plus, rolled clothes fit more functionally in packing cubes, which further aids organization and efficiency. Once you arrive, the cubes can go into drawers quickly and conveniently.

Many experienced travelers use the rolling method because it’s a good use of space and tends to facilitate easier access during the trip without having to redo the whole project.

3. Packing Clothes for Travel in Bundles

A loyal tribe of travelers swear by this method for its propensity to prevent wrinkles.

Bundling starts with a core of things that can be wrinkled, like socks and underwear, and wraps them with progressively more wrinkle-prone clothes into one big wad of clothes.

The big downside: tying everything up in one nesting doll of outfits means unpacking everything to get to one item at its core. Not the method we’d personally use or advise, but it’s good to know your options.

A man in his bedroom with a open suitcase on the bed, in the midst of packing.

A last note for efficient travel: keep toiletries accessible. Pack liquids, ideally in a clear bag, near the top of your luggage or in an external zippered pocket so they can be easily presented at airport security.

Regardless of your specific approach, visualize Hanoi traffic – every single speck of space is filled with scooters, often with at least two people on them. Great packing is similarly effective at leaving no space unused, while also keeping enough space that you haven’t overpacked your bag.

But, as much as optimizing your packing strategy can improve your trip (and be a point of pride), it’s most important to get it done however works best for you, and focus instead on enjoying your journey.

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