PACK UP YOUR TROUBLES
Why cells are the solution to your luggage woes
Packing cells are the greatest travel innovation to hit the tarmac since wheelable suitcases were invented almost 50 years ago. But which brands are best, and do you need to spend big bucks to separate your knickers from your knick-knacks? On a recent two-week family trip to Fiji, I road-tested five popular brands – from the bargain basement to the Rolls Royce of clothing compartments.
Five people, two suitcases, three planes, four boats, two mini-vans, three resorts and a freight-load of cells later, I’m a convert.
Here’s the lowdown on each brand.
These guys scream durability. In fact, you could safely sequester your smalls in them, bung them on the luggage conveyor, and be quite confident your clothes would arrive intact at the other end, albeit a little dusty.
Zoomlite, an all-Australian brand, is about strength and simplicity.
The classic four-piece set comes in x-small, small, medium and large cells. Each has a strong mesh lid (so you can see what’s inside and squeeze out extra air) and double zips.
We road-tested the classic set. You can also get toiletry and shoe bags, garment folders and travel pouches.
The husband mostly used these and, despite defying prevailing wisdom to “roll not fold”, his shorts and T-shirts travelled mostly wrinklefree. The compartments are a little deeper than some, as the cells are not double-sided, so rolling really is the way to go if you don’t want to rummage through layers of clothes, which defeats the purpose of using cells.
I love that these retain their shape when packed in a suitcase or unpacked in a hotel cupboard.
4-PIECE SET, $49.95, ZOOMLITE.COM.AU
The Imelda Marcos of packing cells, Lapoche has a solution for every sojourn. The homegrown range, created by Melbourne designer Beth Richards, covers traditional packing cubes and shirt flat packs, to jewellery organisers, tech packs and spillageproof toiletry pouches.
These cubes look smart and have some lovely girlie touches (disclaimer: they had me with the his and hers jocks and lingerie cells; the latter has a cute bra and undies-shaped mesh window). Looks aside, they’re super functional with a structured but compact shape (to keep items snugly in place), breathable peek-a-boo mesh and two-way zips. My daughter used the double-sided cell for rolled-up dresses on one side and shorts and Tshirts on the other. I used the single cells in similar fashion.
I found the two-sided lingerie cube a little squeezy for bras, yet bulkier than some of the other brands. We sprung a small hole in the mesh on one cell as the fabric isn’t as tough as Zoomlite or Kathmandu.
But overall, I loved these, not least because $1 from every online sale is donated to the world Hunger Project. SINGLE CUBES FROM $22.95, LAPOCHE.COM
The New Zealand transplant we love to call our own, Kathmandu is no lightweight when it comes to packing solutions. There are a range of soft cells and hard (for protecting your fragile bits on the fly).
Similar in design to Zoomlite and Lapoche, the classic cells have breathable mesh and double zips but are softer in structure, with funky patterned designs. I used a medium cube for swimwear and beach gear (they also have double-sided cells).
The standout is the Packing Cell Ultra Double, which functions like a miniature hard-shell suitcase; there’s a rigid garment folder compartment on one side, a regular cell on the other, with compression straps to smoosh it all together. You may need a geometry degree to perfect the shirt fold, but it’s a clever design nonetheless.
What we did like was the “odour destroying” packing cell, which kept footwear funk out of clothes.
Kathmandu gets bonus points for sustainability; classic cells are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, the equivalent of one plastic bottle. CLASSIC CELLS FROM $19.98, KATHMANDU.COM.AU
I was dubious about these at first. They can be scrunched into the ball of your fist and have little more structure than a plastic bag.
But this makes them super lightweight, versatile and great for compression. That means squeezing that extra pair of dacks into your luggage even though you don’t really need them.
My eldest daughter and son used the small, medium and large sizes (including the double-sided range) – colour-coded by kid – and we fitted a surprising amount of clothes into a relatively small space.
I wasn’t a fan of double-sided cells to begin with but I’m a convert because they enable you to multitask compartments without bulking up on multiple cells. This is handy for little people’s fiddly bits of clothing (you can also use them to separate clean clothes from dirty) .
As far as compression goes, they’re a winner, but that silk blouse may pay the price because they’re not the best for keeping clothes wrinkle free. That said, Osprey is a US outdoor adventure brand, and these are spot-on for their market – think hiking backpack or duffel bag more so than suitcase.
They are made of tough nylon, with a single, halfway-opening zip.
We also found these useful in our carry-on luggage to keep jackets and changes of clothes separate from drinks, snacks and other onboard anti-boredom paraphernalia. 3-PIECE ULTRALIGHT SET, $39.95, OSPREY.COM
If you’re wheeling Louis Vuitton on your travels, these bargain-basement cubes might be out of place among your designer duds.
But don’t write them off too quickly. They are super lightweight, with two-way zippers and breathable mesh, and the three pack (small, medium and large) folds away neatly into a teensy tote.
We used these for stowing the kids’ shoes and packed the largest bag for our dirty laundry.
They’re not as robust as the other brands, and I can’t vouch for their longevity on a round-the-world trip, but for $9, they’ll separate your jocks from your jumpers and give cell cynics a trial run without breaking the bank.
3-PIECE SET, $9, KMART.COM.AU
KATHMANDU MEDIUM CUBE