Wednesday, February 9, 2011 - Blog on a Log  

Solving the Packer's Problem: how to compress your clothes and organize them too

Clothes are the bane of most packers' existence.  Next to perhaps shoes, nothing seems to take up more dead space in your bag.  You’re eyeing your small pile of clothes, thinking you’ve done a good job paring down the necessities, but when it comes time to pack up your bag before you know it you’re out of room.  Not only that, but your bag is full of a mish-mash of random clothing with no rhyme nor reason – finding what you want is a frustrating process, and there’s no room for that first aid kit or travel towel.

We've done a video on packing here at Wilderness Supply, and I stand by what I said within it: when packing clothes, stuff sacks are the way to go for organization, and compression sacks are the way to go to save space.  But what if you want the best of both worlds?  For those who want to have their cake and wear it too, a combination of both methods is the sure-fire way to pack the most in the least amount of space without skimping on organization.

The trick to this method is to find lightweight stuff sacks - the less bulk they add the better.  If you're crafty you can even make them yourself.  A bit of light fabric and a drawstring, and you've got yourself a passable bag.

Make one bag for each type of clothing item.  For example, your trip might include:

  • 1 bag for tops
  • 1 bag for bottoms
  • 1 bag for underwear and socks
  • 1 bag for a sleep sheet
  • 1 bag to store dirty clothes waiting for a wash

Buy or make bags of different colours, if possible, to make the contents easy to identify without opening.  There’s no need for extra bulk, but don't stress about making the bags too tight a fit; the space saving will not come from the stuff sacks themselves, but from a compression sack.

So your clothes are all stuffed up, and probably still taking up way more space than you'd like.  The next step is to buy a compression sack large enough to fit all your stuff bags.  A 16L does for me, but you'll have to test it out yourself for your own gear.  Place your stuff sacks inside and TIGHTEN things down until you've compressed your clothing as much as possible.

Success!  You have just managed to get the best of both worlds.  Your clothes are compressed for maximum packing space, but there's no need to root through every piece of clothing you own when you want something.  Simply open your compression sack, pull out your stuff sacks, and open the sack holding the particular item you want.  Re-packing is a breeze, and everything stays organized.

I can vouch for the method - I'm currently writing from New Zealand, where I've been carting around 6 months worth of clothing organized into a 16L stuff sack.  The whole collection fits in to the small bottom section of my pack, leaving the entire top section open for other trip essentials.  If that’s not practicing what I preach, I don’t know what is.

My stuff sack, compression sack combination