I always carry a single packing cube. I pack it with underwear and socks and carry it at the bottom of my backpack. The cube consolidates these small items so that they take up less space and are all in one spot, not jammed into every nook and cranny of my bag.
The rest of my clothes are packed loosely outside of a cube.
Here at Tortuga, we get occasional questions about packing cubes. Mostly, “Should I use packing cubes?” and “Which ones?”
Many hardcore travelers packing everything they bring in packing cubes. But how common are they? What do people want in a packing cube? Most importantly, should we make packing cubes?
We weren’t convinced that the world needed more packing cubes. The existing cubes are commodities that compete on price. Being the cheapest product in a category (and the sub-standard quality that implies) isn’t our strength. That’s best left to big corporations operating at massive scale.
We could make a better packing cube… if anyone wanted one.
Rather than guess, we asked you. We polled Team Tortuga and received 371 responses. Not bad for an unglamorous product category.
Below we’ve broken down your responses. Your answers and the directive they gave us are very clear.
We combed through the data looking for the 20% of choices that accounted for 80% of the results. Since we can’t make a perfect product for everyone, we used the Pareto Principle to decide where to focus our efforts for the most leverage.
Rather than just copying what’s already out there, we wanted to know what really matters to you. Then we can double down on the most important features and ignore the rest.
Keep reading to find out what we learned.
Do you use packing cubes when you travel?
We started with the most important question. If only a small minority of travelers used packing cubes, we wouldn’t have any reason to make them.
That was not the case.
69% of people use packing cubes when they travel.
We expect that number to be slightly biased by the nature of the survey. If you don’t know what packing cubes are or don’t use them, you probably didn’t open the email about the survey. However, the numbers were strong enough for us to continue digging.
Only people who answered yes to the first question were shown the rest of the survey.
Next, let’s learn more about how packing cube users travel.
How many packing cubes do you use on an average trip?
I’m the anomaly since I only carry one cube. People who use packing cubes really like packing cubes.
67% of people use 3 or more packing cubes when they travel.
As a single cube packer, I am in the definite minority. Less than 5% of people carry only one packing cube. The most common answer was three. We’ll get to which three packing cubes later in the survey.
This survey was a great reminder that our personal travel styles are only one factor in deciding what to make. We started by building a product to “scratch our own itch,” the original Tortuga. Now, we’re lucky enough to have a vocal and opinionated audience (you!) to tell us what gear you need. Our job is to make what you want within Tortuga’s philosophies.
Which style of packing cube do you prefer?
Most packing cubes are a single, open compartment. Eagle Creek and a few other brands make double-sided cubes. I carry a double-sided cube so that I can segregate clean clothes from dirty ones until my next wash.
Again, I was in the minority.
81% of people use single-sided packing cubes.
Single-sided cubes are more common which may partially account for the strong preference toward them. None of the other survey responses indicated strong interest in double-sided cubes either.
Based on this answer, most people are using cubes for organization and compression, not for sorting laundry.
Do you prefer solid or mesh packing cubes?
The small variance in packing cubes is mostly in the fabric used.
Some cubes are solid, some are mesh. Some cubes are made of ripstop nylon (think of a windbreaker or the Tortuga’s lining), some cubes are made of polyester.
78% of people use packing cubes with mesh.
The most common reason for using mesh cubes was so that you could see what’s in the cube. I was surprised to hear this answer. With people using multiple cubes, I assumed that they had a very specific system for organizing and packing stuff. Nope. Even with the organization provided by cubes, you can still easily forget what’s packed where.
The other reasons that people liked mesh cubes were that they allowed air to escape so that the cube could compress and that the mesh didn’t trap smells from dirty clothes.
Conversely, some people liked solid cubes because they didn’t let smells out into the rest of the bag. Lesson: you can’t please everyone.
Which brand or brands of of packing cubes do you use?
We’ve already researched the competition but wanted to hear from you, which packing cubes you’re using and why.
Eagle Creek and eBags are the most popular brands of packing cubes. You’ll find out why later in the survey results.
Only Eagle Creek, eBags, REI, and Rick Steves were used by more than three people. Just as many people used homemade, DIY cubes as used Tom Bihn or IKEA cubes. Ziploc bags weren’t far behind either.
Which size or sizes of packing cubes do you use?
This was the only question that didn’t have a clear winner or group of winners. This question doesn’t have a nice chart because the responses were so mixed.
For people carrying more than two cubes, they most often carried a large cube, a medium cube, and a small cube. Carrying a large and a medium or a medium and a small were also common.
Medium was the most popular size (in any combination of cubes). An equal number of people carried large cubes as carried small ones.
Part of the reason for this answer is that cubes are often sold in sets with a large, a medium, and a small cube. Therefore, people carry the entire set of cubes or a subset. That arrangement is more common than people buying individual cubes to create their own combinations.
What convinced you to buy the brand of packing cubes that you carry?
Now that we’ve covered what you carry, we’ll get into the whys. This question and the next will show what matters to packing cube users.
To prevent bias, we didn’t provide answers to be checked off for this question. We asked the question and gave you a big, blank box to fill in with your feedback.
Price and reviews were the most important factors when deciding which packing cubes to buy.
Many people told us that they bought the cheapest cubes they could find. As I said earlier, packing cubes are mostly a commodity competing on price.
Availability was also important. Availability is a big reason why the most popular brands are so popular. Eagle Creek is carried in REI and other travel and outdoors stores. REI’s store brand was the third most popular choice of travelers. eBags, the second most popular brand, ranks first on Amazon for “packing cubes” and has several of the most popular products there, all with good ratings.
Travelers are visiting local stores or Amazon.com and buying the cheapest cubes with good reviews.
Other important factors included (light)weight, ideal sizes, use of mesh, quality of the product, and brand reputation.
What would make you switch to a different brand of packing cubes?
Now we know why you bought the cubes that you did. That information will be very helpful for building cubes for newbie travelers and first-time packing cube users. We’ll go into more detail on our plans at the end of this post.
The last question was to find out what would make you switch brands of cubes. The answers were free response. Judging from your answers, you’ve learned a lot about packing cubes between buying and using them.
Price was the #1 reason you would switch brands of packing cubes.
That was to be expected. If all of the products in a category are essentially the same, just buy the cheapest one. Why pay more?
The next three responses were the most interesting: quality, compatibility, and sizes.
Many people asked for higher-quality cubes. A product that seemed like a commodity turns out to have quality issues. That’s what happens when companies compete on price. Eventually, you have to sacrifice quality to keep lowering the price. That’s not a game that we will play.
Several people specifically cited zipper quality as a reason they would upgrade. We exclusively use YKK zippers, widely regarded as the best in the business. We will use YKK zippers on packing cubes too.
Travelers like to fill up their cubes, often to the point of bursting. In those cases, the cube needs durable material and a strong zipper. Skimping on components to make a cheaper product means the cube will wear out faster and need replaced. If your cube wasn’t durable enough, you’re willing to switch brands when you replace it.
Compatibility and size were also encouraging answers. People asked for cubes specifically designed for their Tortuga Backpacks. Custom cubes would offer an ideal fit and help travelers pack even more efficiently.
We were happy to see that most of cited shortcomings and reasons to switch brands were things that we can do well.
Our Plan for Packing Cubes
Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey. The results were educational and helpful for our product roadmap.
From the survey, we learned that people love packing cubes and often travel with 3 or more.
Here’s our tentative plan for Tortuga Packing Cubes (subject to change, of course):
- Designed for use in Tortuga Backpacks
- High quality, durable materials with tough zippers
- Available in multiple sizes and sold as a set
- Partially made of mesh (or otherwise see-through and breathable)
- Competitively priced
We will still need to make lots of decisions but will, of course, share our progress with you. Thanks for your help.
Let us know any other feedback you have about packing cubes in the comments.