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Will I regret using Ziploc bags instead of packing cubes?

I've read that many people endorse using packing cubes when travelling to keep things organized. It seems like a great idea, but my travel budget is limited so I don't want to spend money on something I don't really need. I was thinking of using large Ziploc bags instead, but don't want to regret it while I'm travelling.

has anyone used Ziploc instead of packing cubes?

Posted by
2284 posts

I actually prefer ziplocks. You can squeeze the air out easily - Most packing cubes don’t adjust in that way, so if you only have half a cube of stuff you can squish it but there’s a limit, where with ziplocks they can adjust more easily to what you want to put in it. Also you can fold them up when not in use, and you can pack extras in case you need to reorganize. AND they are clear so you can see what’s inside.

Posted by
11497 posts

Karen, ziplocks are just fine but another economical option - should you have any laying around - are the clear, zippered pouches new pillowcases and sheets often come in. While I also have some packing cubes, I always save a few of these pouches for misc. storage and for packing items that might not fit well in the cubes. Should you have one, a mesh bag for machine-washing delicates can also double as packing container.

Posted by
2361 posts

Kathy, what a great idea! Karen, I don't like zip-locs because they look messy in my luggage, but that's the only problem I see with them. Kathy's idea would be a great compromise.

Posted by
3356 posts

Hi Karen,

I use packing cubes (RS mesh for underwear, 2 Eagle Creek Shoe Sacs for clothes), but I bring some Ziploc bags of various sizes for misc items sometimes. I find them perfect for anything wet, so if you plan on swimming or in a rainy climate, they’re also great for that use.

I would bring an extra one to keep totally clean clothes separate from pants worn a day since the plastic doesn’t allow any air circulation. And I use a gallon size for my dirty clothes.

The plastic bags tend to slide around more in your suitcase- not a big deal; just cinch your straps down a little tighter.

Posted by
440 posts

You could regret using ziplocks but you won’t ever regret getting cubes.

Cubes are cool, colorful, fun to zip, but relatively expensive at $20-75 for a set. Ziplocks are clear, squishable, waterproof, easily punctured or ruptured, they catch in your bag’s zippers, but they are almost free. What’s not to like? When I was a bicycle camping tourist, ziplocks were great tools, highly functional and easily disposable. In my experience, you want to get the heaviest bags you can afford and get the bags with those little sliding zippers. When you sit on the bag, the slider is easier to operate than trying to line up the seams on those cheap bags.

Traveling budgets are weirdly evolving things, functioning, as they do, using trans-dimensional mathematics. Funding for, say, espresso and croissant, is extracted from a different accounting universe than, say, money requested for Aunt Judy’s souvenir beer steins. When you return from your trip, you can see this multidimensionality demonstrated: put a dollar in one of your used ziplocks every Saturday. In six months, you’ll find the cross-dimensional flux has functioned as predicted and you will have a ziplock full of money you can spend on a set of cool cubes. It’s not magic. It’s physics!

Posted by
6147 posts

I want my clothes to breathe even inside luggage, so for that reason I wouldn't use ziplock bags. I think you can still pack well without either packing tubes or ziplock bags, so don't feel the need to use ziplocks (as a substitute) just because everyone seems to be on the packing cube craze.

Posted by
20599 posts

...You could regret using ziplocks but you won’t ever regret getting cubes....... I doubt that. We have used zip lock bags for years if not decades with no regrets or problems. Never encountered any problems of getting stuck in zippers, or ripped, or anything. We do like using a magic marker to id what should be in the bag. In the days when we two sons and a wife in the same room, that was handy. Most of our zip locks are the 2.5 gal freeze bags but the quart bag is handy. And we always throw in a couple of extras just in case something didn't dry overnight or we need to packing something else. And seeing what is in the bag quickly is useful compared to packing cubes that are not transparent.

Posted by
11497 posts

Yep, you can certainly pack without cubes or ziplocks, which I would assume most of us did before cube packing became a thing. The reason I've become a bigger fan is that I've had TSA inspect a checked bag a couple of times over the past 5-7 years and left it sort of a mess. It's been less of a mess if at least most of the clothing and toiletries are bagged/cubed 'cause (so far) they've only tossed the mesh/clear bags themselves around but not what's inside them.

Editing to add: if using mesh cubes - I pack all tops together, all underwear/socks together, all bottoms together, etc. and they're different sizes so seeing what's in them isn't really an issue.

Posted by
151 posts

ziplocs easily lose their seals with repeated use, so they may be ok on the way out but not on the way back.

i found an ebay seller who sells a medium sized Lewis & Clark compression packing cube for $7, free shipping. I bought two. I fit 7 pairs of shorts into one and like 10 shirts for a trip to London this summer. WELL worth the $.

Posted by
472 posts

You can purchase packing cubes in a wide range of prices. I bought Amazon basics for myself and like them because they have many options in terms of sizes. Most others are bought either singly or in s/m/l sets only. With Amazon basics you can get that or a set that's all the same size. That's handy for those who want to use a cube to hold one or two days clothing in each cube.

I also bought my husband a cheap set of cubes at a big box store($10). They work just fine. Maybe if we traveled more frequently we'd need something pricier or if we wanted compression cubes which need pretty strong zippers.

I do still use ziplock bags for some things mostly to keep them clean or kept together. I also pack several empty ones in sizes from snack to 2 gallons. Lots of uses for.

I find that the 3d shape of cubes are a bit more efficient in using space in my luggage. Certainly i know that if my cubes are all full it's time to stop adding things to my suitcase.

Posted by
872 posts

Before I started using packing cubes - back when I was just using ziplocks - I found that because I tend to pack tightly, the ziplocks lost their zip after a few uses. No matter what brand I used, if I packed them full and tight with clothes, they tended to break by the end of a two-week trip, thus defeating the purpose, which for me is space-saving. I have now been using the same set of some 6 packing cubes for many trips (at least 12-15) and those cubes are still going strong.

Posted by
2409 posts

I used to use ziplocks. They work fine. As other's have said, they do slide around a bit. You could also forget them altogether and roll just in your suitcase. There's no need to have packing cubes. That being said, I love my cubes and would not go back to zip locks. There are many ways to find cubes. Just watch what comes through your house via linens, etc. Also, if you wash delicates in a delicate bag...that bag works for packing. Do you need new sheets? Buy ones with linen covers as they work also. You could also make (sew) some cubes from worn out clothes...all you'd need to buy is the zippers.

I will say, my husband's suitcase was always a bit of a mess. Last year or so, his personal item/suitcase was searched, which means unceremoniously dumped. He had things flying every which way. He now uses packing cubes religiously and loves how much he can fit in a little EC expanse tote because of it. I'm verbose as usual. Use what you have and keep an eye out for the future.

Posted by
573 posts

use small cotton bags (made from my stash) for pant, sock/tights and electrical stuff and that's all. Some how have coped for the last 20 years plus travel with hand luggage. Oh I will take an old plastic bag in case any hand washing isn't dry through. But would spend money on something just for that purpose when that money could be spent on happy things like wine and cake!!!!!

Posted by
3226 posts

I use zip lock bags for the things I want easy access to in my suitcase -- small electronics, cables, plug adaptors, and similar. I don't use cubes for clean clothes, just roll my clothes tightly and all is good. I have a huge ziplock to put my dirty clothes in to keep those from dirtying the rest of the stuff in the suitcase. I have started carrying my prescription meds in their original pharmacy containers inside a heavy weight gallon zip lock as well.

Never had any issues with the zip failing or loss of compression ability, never had any of the bags get caught in the suitcase zipper, never had my bag look disorganized. I am using the same gallon freezer ziplock for toiletries since 2005 (more than 75 trips!) and other than the printed ziplock label on the bag where you are supposed to write the contents wearing off, it is as good as new.

Posted by
151 posts

most of us are talking about losing the compression capability of a ziploc after a few issues, not specifically the zip ability..

Posted by
1932 posts

Like others have mentioned, I have used both packing cubes and gallon Ziploc bags. I pack a large and medium cube for tops and pants. Years ago I took a packing class at RS Travel Center and the presenter recommended using a gallon Ziploc bag to pack lingerie. She recommended squeezing the air out and placing it in the outside zippered part of my Travel pro luggage. It fits flat and works perfectly after years of travel.

Posted by
573 posts

hang on, a 'packing class'????? Now that is a first for me ;-)

Posted by
3978 posts

I don’t use cubes or ziplocks. I just use normal supermarket thin plastic carrier bags folded over - one for t-shirts, another for trousers etc and a small bag for each pair of shoes. You can squash the air out of the bags. It’s tidy and easy to pack.

Posted by
2687 posts

I have tried both, but prefer the packing cubes as I do tend to use them as compression bags to a point. That being said - there is no need to invest a ton of money in 'official' packing cubes.
In Canada, my Dollarama (dollar store) sells cubes for $3-$4. We also have Value Village which is a large supermarket sized thrift store. I have used free make up bags (the biggest ones) for underwear, socks, swim or sleep wear. I searched out ones at the thrift stores that were a more round shape which worked for underwire bras and other lingerie. And I have used the zip pouches from sleep sets.
So, consider a combo of zip locs and any type of zipped bag you can find and compare them when you have returned. That will let you know which you may prefer without investing a lot (or any) money.

Posted by
1556 posts

I love my packing cubes for many of the reasons others have posted but also because they have handles and I can pull them easily out of my suitcase to take clothing out for the day and then place the cube back in my suitcase. Hotel rooms tend to be small in Europe with not a lot of space for storage. Especially on trips where I'm spending 2 nights in a place this is handy.
I was on a trip with a friend who used ziploc bags for her clothes and they slid around and made loud crackly noises which I found somewhat annoying.

Posted by
2513 posts

I’ve tried zip-locks and compression bags and finally invested in Rick’s $18 travel cubes. Sign up for his Weekly Deal Alert because they often go on sale. What I like best about the cubes is the easy accessibility to their contents. I can take them out of my suit case, unzip them and put them in a drawer or on a shelf and easily find anything I need. Time to leave? Zip ‘em up, toss them in to the case and away I go. As far as squeezing air out of zip-locks or compression bags, the cubes are flexible and will crush most of the air out when you close your suitcase or backpack. Even if you travel infrequently, you’ll be glad to have made the modest investment in them.

Posted by
17647 posts

I've never used packing cubes, and I don't regret it.

But then, I don't use many Ziploc bags, and I don't use the ones I do as a substitute for packing cubes either. I carry one Ziploc bag (not 2½ gal) for all the paper records - rail tickets, restaurant receipts, etc - I accumulate over the trip. The other bag I hardly ever use; it's just there in case I have to travel on a day when my hand wash is not dry by morning (so far it's never happened, but I have the plastic bag to put damp clothes in, just in case). I can also use it to hold dirty clothes if I don't have a chance to wash the night before traveling.

That doesn't mean that I'm not a proponent of organized packing (putting clothes in individual packages that can be easily unpacked and packed), but I'm not a "packing hog". I've learned to pack light, and I take advantage of it. Half of what I take with me to Europe for 2-3 weeks would fit in one packing cube - their size is overkill for me. I use a variety of smaller, mostly mesh, containers. I have a small mesh bag that I got with something from RS, for my underwear, a larger, flat Tide wash bag for my folded shirts, and a nylon stuff bag for my electronics. I find it more convenient to use my travel bag as the container for my slacks, folded, first in, on the bottom. My "toiletries" are already in a case that I hang up in the bathroom.

Hotel rooms tend to be small in Europe with not a lot of space for storage.

if I packed them full and tight with clothes, they tended to break

Both comments indicate you are trying to pack too much. As do the comments about trying to push out all of the air (note: this decreases the volume, but not the weight).

Posted by
1168 posts

I used them for years (and still do). I use freezer weight.

Ziplocks are lighter than the lightest packing cube.
Ziplocks are cheaper than the cheapest packing cube.

The down side is that they are lumpy.

Also consider laundry wash bags and sheet containers.

Posted by
4949 posts

before I got packing cubes (more for compression than for organization), I just used plastic shopping bags, sometimes using rubber bands to compress them. The cheap shopping bags have other uses, such as laundry bags, trash bags, etc. The "locks" on ziplock bags don't stand up under stress, IMO. But if it works for you, great.

Posted by
70 posts

We use both packing cubes and ziplock bags. The ziplock bags are useful because they can be stuffed in-between the cubes and don't slide around. Regarding the price, we purchase a set of 3 cubes for 10.00 at TJ Maxx. We also use the free shower caps from hotels to wrap up our shoes.

Posted by
1932 posts

@Caro, yes! RS offers free classes at the headquarters in Edmonds, WA. (15 mins.) from our home. The current "packing presenter" is the knowledgeable and personable RS guide Sarah Murdoch. We feel very fortunate to take classes at the Travel Center. We use several tools in researching our travel plans. It's an advantage to ask questions face to face.

Posted by
5019 posts

I own a bunch of packing cubes. I stopped using them on trips. I do find them handy for storing travel gear at home. For me, Ziplocks are far, far superior. Before closing up my pack, I always grab a handful of large ziplocks, roll them up, rubber-band them into a tight roll, squeeze that into the bottom of my pack. They weigh nothing, take up virtually no space, and are soooo useful for a million things. Inevitably, while traveling, I find an unanticipated need for a ziplocks, and am thankful to have them along. One of the most important things I pack, actually!

Posted by
555 posts

I take and use a variety of sizes of ziploc freezer bags, but not usually for clothes --- I wear almost a uniform when traveling and don't need much organization. I don't ever want to compress my clothes, either, because then my suitcase would weigh too much for me to handle. Also, if you pack your suitcase really tightly, then it's too hard to get to stuff without removing practically everything.

But there are two exceptions: clothes for my first day and clothes for the trip home. The first day clothes are because I can't sleep on airplanes and I know I will have very little brain power to decide on and find what I need in my suitcase the day I arrive. The trip home clothes are put into a 2 gallon ziploc bag the last time I do laundry abroad so that I know for sure I will have a complete, clean, dry outfit to travel in. Can you tell that the second use for a ziploc bag is the result of one bitter, bitter experience?

Posted by
1424 posts

I use a variety. I like (dollar store) mesh laundry bags for underwear because they stay secure in the bag but can conform to any space in the suitcase.

Posted by
264 posts

Ziplocks forever. You don't need to zip them unless it's bitsy items or you want an air cushion to minimize wrinkles. You can i.d. everything at a glance, a big one's a great waterproof bathroom bag for when you have to balance it on the sink, you can use littles for pills & extra security for liquid-y stuff, you can put edibles in your daypack, damp laundry in your big bag, on & on.

Posted by
19 posts

Hot topic! Two considerations, size and number of wears.

1.) I think packing cubes work much better for larger pieces of clothing (shirts and trousers). Squeezing jeans into a gallon size Ziplock is a real pain. Ziplocks big enough to hold jeans are harder to come by and not cheap. Underthings it is not such a big difference.

2.) If you are re-wearing clothes multiple times between washes you may regret it when you pull the already worn a couple days garment out of a tight plastic bag ;-)

I would absolutely advise you to save up a few dollars and get at least one packing cube. Or borrow from a friend. Or check out a local secondhand store or dollar store - I often see them pop up there. Or a mesh laundry bag can also fill in. Or even a pillowcase.

Posted by
6752 posts

I much prefer large zip locks. If you want your clothes to breath, don’t zip the bag. If you want to compress you can. I dumped packing cubes after a couple of trips but my husband still uses them. I’ve also broken my toiletries down into smaller ziplocks: one for meds, one for make up, and the toiletry bag for everything else. So no more big toiletry bag to pack but a small one and one zip to squeeze into a small space and meds in carry on.

Posted by
5288 posts

I buy Ziploc bags in bulk (Costco !) and packing cubes when they show up at the thrift store for $2 so neither approach is going to break our travel budget.
I use mostly cubes, DH uses Ziplocs and we are each happy with our choices. Big (2.5 gallon) Ziploc to squish the air out of my down jacket, snack size to keep Euros sweat-free in my money belt, sandwich size for my passport. And a fistful of varying sizes for on-the-road emergencies.

Posted by
1009 posts

It is not an "either or" decision, in my opinion. I use both. Ziplocks are best for lots of little things and especially when seeing what's in the bag is helpful. Example: I have a ziplock with things I need just for the plane trip (chewing gum, eye shade, alcohol wipes, and so on). I use packing cubes mostly for clothes and for heavier things. I agree that plastic bags aren't the best for holding bulky items. I do use a small rectangular packing cube to hold heavier things that might trigger an inspection such as phone chargers and assorted cables and plug adapters.

Ideally, I do not carry anything that isn't organized in a container of some sort.

Posted by
2234 posts

Karen, different strokes for different folks, each to his/her own drummer, and all that. I own packing cubes but have never used them, go figure. I use some packing ziplocs that I bought at a Samsonite outlet store. They are heavy-ish compared to food bags, and come in different sizes, the large ones being quite large, bigger than 2-gallons. They are made so that once you fill and seal them, you sort of squeeze and roll them, all the air goes out, and they become a lot more compact (but, of course, no lighter). I bring an extra one for dirty clothes. Some people like to put shirts in one, underwear in another, etc., but I prefer to pack so I have say one or two days clothes in a bag, and can just open that bag for a short stay, or to begin a longer stay. i also bring a few regular or freezer ziplocs in various sizes (very small up to 1-gallon), to pack odds n ends, purchases, receipts, food items, damp or wet items, etc.

Posted by
7126 posts

“Squeezing jeans into a gallon size Ziplock is a real pain. Ziplocks big enough to hold jeans are harder to come by and not cheap.”

I wouldn’t squeeze jeans into a 1 gal ZipLoc, you need a 2 gal size for jeans. They’re super easy to find at Target and they’re not expensive... twenty 2 gal or 2.5 gal for about $7.

I’ve used ZipLocs for 18 yrs and they work great for me. As others have said, i’ve never had a problem with the zip failing, them tearing or getting stuck in a zipper. I like them best for all the reasons already mentioned.

Posted by
963 posts

Because I travel with carry on only Packing cubes are a must for me. I take a lot of clothes (compared to most people on here), accessories, hair products and the cubes allow me to pack more into less space and keep me organized. The ziplocks seem way to slippery, like things would not stay put if I was stacking them, plus way to see through. If my bag is opened at the airport i don't want all my business hanging out for all to see. On the other hand my husband hates packing cubes, won't roll his clothes and generally just does his own mumbo jumbo thing when packing, I look away (at times I have had to leave the room) and keep my mouth shut.

Posted by
1 posts

I'm a recent convert to travelling with only a 7kg (15lb) carry-on suitcase for my travels. I've just returned from 17days in Japan with only that. I use a combination of packing cubes, vacuum bags and a compression cube. It's a challenge but doable - especially the 7kg weight limit.

Now with the vacuum bags I've found the regular supermarket ZipLock bags somewhat useless as a travel vacuum bag - the vacuum achieved isn't particularly strong and doesn't last long at all. But you can buy the dedicated travel vacuum bags - they're thicker, stronger, reusable vacuum bags that work MUCH better than the supermarket variety - and they hold/keep a solid vacuum! They have a sturdy, secure double ziplock on the top and a one way valve to expel air on the bottom. The medium size are best for carry-on packing.

Posted by
153 posts

Another tip: I use a trio of mesh cubes but always take some zip locks, ranging from tiny to gallon size for all sorts of things along the way.
But my tip is using a large compression style bag for accumulating laundry. I have been reusing the same one for several years now. It goes flat in the bottom. I have also started wearing the same clothes, especially pants/ skirt, for 3-4 days in a row.
Then it goes in the compression bag.
I only hand wash underwear, I take 3 pr Tommy John and 3 bras.
The last few days of a trip I actually compress the laundry into a wrinkled brick, and then have done space for purchases.
It's brilliant to keep one completely clean outfit for the voyage home, separate. I do that, too.
I often check the carry-on for the trip home, using an expanded duffel for more expensive gifts. All that's in it is the laundry!

Posted by
90 posts

I learned an interesting and helpful use for zip loc bags if you have access to a sewing machine and want a snack size bag that is sturdier and easier to open. Take a quart size freezer ziplock style bag with a zip-top. Fold up the bottom to the size desired, sew along the fold and cut off the flap that is created. You now have a see-thru easy to open bag to hold small items in your daybag. I made one to hold a few electronic items (charger, extra cable, small portable battery) and one for the few make-up items I take when traveling.

Posted by
5288 posts

To follow up on Nancy's suggestion, if you have access to a sealer it's also easy to make a shorter Ziploc out of a heavier-duty freezer bag.

Posted by
1507 posts

I also use a combination of ziplocks, packing cubes, and a packing folder - it just depends on what I'm packing and how much moving around I am doing. If I stay in just one location, the need to organize is less important than if I move around every two nights.

I just returned from a trip to Iceland and realized that it is quite important to buy freezer-style, good quality ziplocks. I had several blow outs on my store brand ziplocks (no biggie, but annoying). A friend gave me some very cute slider top bags that looked like the perfect solution to replace single use ziplocks. Sadly, they weren't durable either and two of three fell apart after just a 5 day trip. Trial and error!

Posted by
63 posts

Large Ziploc bags are perfectly fine. When our kids were little I would pack each day's outfit, including socks and underwear, for them in a separate Ziploc bag, and hand them the bag after their bath. So much easier for them to dress themselves if the items in the bag were all they had to deal with in the moment. So they'll work perfectly well for you.

I wonder if you are in a family that exchanges gifts for holidays or birthdays? If so, packing cubes would be the perfect thing for them to get you. Not totally justifiable for you to buy yourself on a limited travel budget, but great utility and something you would enjoy using which = a perfect gift idea. if I got a text from a sibling or in-law that said "If you ever need a gift idea for me, I'm eyeing those XYZ packing cubes but can't bring myself to pull the trigger" I'd be all over that!

FWIW, my favorite brand is Amazon Basics.

Posted by
83 posts

DH and I do a combo. We bought a set of 3 packing cubes at Academy sports for $10 and I have bought them at TJ Maxx for about the same price. I like them because they are breathable and colorful. I saw an excellent suggestion here about putting a change of clothes in a cube at the top of your checked bag. take it out before you check the bag so you kow you have a set of clean duds in case your checked bag takes the scenic route to your destination. I did not like the compression zips we bought---too bulky and too much work when traveling but I use them at home to store stuff. I always take an assortment of ziplocks for incidentals along the way--snacks, left overs, damp items.
So take what you like or can afford. No one will judge you!