When it comes to making the most of the space you have available in your luggage, sometimes rolling and folding your clothes into tidy stacks can only get you so far. Typically you usually find this out half way into your trip!
Although I often can still get away with rolling my clothes on simple trips, I've found that if I really want to save space and pack efficiently there are much better ways.
One of the most popular and best strategies out there is using a compression sack to maximize packing space efficiency.
If you don't have experience with them you'll be amazed at just how much you can squeeze into one---and just how much space you can save.
What Is A Compression Sack
The bottom line is that the more you travel, the wiser you'll get. After a few trips you'll find more effective ways to organize your travel essentials and eventually adapt a winning packing style.
If you've never heard or used a compression sack before, then you're in for surprise of how much space you can save!
Surely you've seen sleeping bag sacks with the drawstring at the top---well, a compression sack is the same concept whereby you can stuff bulky, but compressible items into small spaces.
They are an incredibly simple and practical solution to space-saving and stress-free traveling, plus they can help keep your gear organized.
Commonly made out of nylon material, compression sacks allow you to pack your clothes into a lightweight bag that features a draw string at the top and pull-down side straps or air vents to allow air to escape from the bag.
Much like the idea of a vacuum packed bag, this maximizes the space available, removing dead air pockets and allows you to conveniently carry more than you otherwise would with just stuffing clothes and gear into your bag.
Why Compression Sacks Are Ideal For Travel
All frequent travelers, backpackers or even road trippers that value a comfortable trip without bulky luggage will come to know the benefits of using compression sacks.
If you're planning on traveling in a 20ft camper with your partner or best friend for six months then you want to make the most out of every foot of spare space.
Backpackers traveling the world in particular will appreciate a quality compression bag as they're constantly moving from place to place with the aim of traveling with a load as light and compact as possible.
As compression sacks also come in waterproof options, they are great for the real explorers of this world---hikers and other adventures. Whether kayaking down a raging river or trekking through the Amazon in the middle of a tropical downpour, your valuables stay dry and won't weigh you down.
The bottom line is that you can fit much more clothing and gear in a smaller space using a compression sack. This ultimately keeps your backpack or bag less bulky and easier to carry and move around.
How To Use A Compression Sack To Pack Better
To start, in general it will make your life a lot easier to pack with a strategy and this is even more true when packing with compression sacks. You don't want to be digging to the bottom of your bag and sack every time you need something.
Think about where you're traveling to and what the first items are that you're going to use when you get there. In general you'll want to put your most frequently used items at the top or your bag---at at the top of your compression sack.
Obviously you want these items nearer to the top of the bag for easy access. You also want to pack bulkier items at the bottom of your compression sack to avoid top heavy loads which can be very uncomfortable to travel around with!
Rather than one larger compression sack, you can use multiple smaller compression sacks within the larger compartment of your bag for extra space saving, making it easier to separate and locate your items. You can also use multiple compression sacks within suitcases or other types of bags.
Once you have positioned and packed all of your items as desired, simply fold the top of the bag over and cinch the top closed then pull down the external straps.
You can compress the contents within the compression sack as much as you'd like in order to make the bag more compact (of course this also depends on what's actually inside). If you went for a compression sack with the internal air vent option, then you simply need to seal off the bag at the top.
What To Look: Pros and Cons of Different Compression Sacks
Material & Durability
Compression sacks can and will last decades if you invest a bit more and purchase high-quality gear. It's not to say you have to spend hundreds of dollars but as a bottom line rule, at least look for rip stop material as so often when traveling, your gear takes a tumble. There's nothing worse than relying on a bag to get your belongings from one side of the globe to the other, than realizing you should have spent that little bit more to avoid your gear failing in the middle of your trip. The last thing you want is to have all your belongings embarrassingly strewn across the airport floor.
As most compression sacks are made from nylon, you at least have peace of mind that this material is somewhat water resistant. However, given the unpredictable elements of traveling it's best to be fool proof and buy waterproof, especially if you are using a larger compression sack as your main form of luggage. The ideal compression sack is one that features multiple compartments, however you will need to look at investing around double what you would pay for a standard single compartment compression sack.
You ideally want to find a compression sack that is around 20% or less of your total packing weight. Anything more than this may leave you worrying about making it through check-in under the weight limit once fully packed. Further, if your bag weights more it puts you at a disadvantage as to how many belongings you can take with you. If you're going on an extended backpacking trip overseas for say six months, you really want to aim for as light material as possible and invest in a good quality brand that won't tear apart half way through your journey.
As with anything, you get what you pay for when it comes to compression sacks. Aside from the above factors, the main thing that you want to consider is where and how often you will be utilizing a compression sack. If you're spending under $10 you'll still be able to compress your luggage down almost as well as if you were to spend 10 times that amount, however it realistically isn't going to last nearly as long long. You also run the risk of it breaking or tearing the bag into your trip and depending on your destination, it can be hard to easily locate a replacement. Since the general design is simple, with compression sacks your basically paying for quality of construction, material, and overall durability.
There is generally one system with distinct variations available on the market. The more common being external adjustable straps that allow you to manually compress your luggage, with air escaping through the top closure. There are also alternate systems with an air purging system (such as this one) that includes a waterproof, but air permeable fabric. With the purging system, the permeable material allows air escape as you pack and compress the sack, which makes for possibly a more compact and reliable compression.
The last thing to consider about the compression system is if you will always be storing the compression within your larger luggage or alone to itself. You'll just want to be aware that the straps are not loose and/or can get caught on objects during transit.
Best Compression Sacks For Traveling & Backpacking
This is the ideal choice for frequent travelers and outdoor adventurers such as campers, hikers or hunters. Strong and durable and at the low-mid range scale in terms of price this product is tried-and-true. Sea to Summit are a known and trusted outdoor brand and their product range have been heavily trialed for performance and stack up on top in the reviews. All seams and stress points are tape sealed and double stitched for extra durability.
- Material: Silicone
- Sizes available: 6L/10L/14L/15L/20L/30L
- Weight: From 2.4oz
- Get it on sale here: Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Compression Sack
Osprey's Straight Jacket is a handy rectangular shape which is great for packing within larger suitcases or flat bags. This compression sack also features a water resistant coating and seams to keep your valuables dry. The zippers however are not waterproof so it's not considered waterproof and not an ideal bag if you plan on constantly being in extremely wet locations or exposing the bag to water. It's a great storage option for those traveling by camper or van due to its flat, square shape.
- Material: Nylon Ripstop
- Sizes available: 8L/12L/20L/32L
- Weight: From 1.9oz
- Get it on sale here: Osprey Packs StraightJacket Compression Sack
Outdoor Research offers its Ultralight Compression Sack in a wide variety of sizes at an affordable price that does not substitute for quality. With heavy duty stitching you don't need to worry about being too rough when pulling on the external straps to compress your gear. As the name suggests this is one of the lightest compression sacks weighing in at 2.0 oz in the 5L variety, a great option for those that are frequently jet setting across the globe.
- Material: Nylon
- Sizes available: 5L/8L/10L/15L/20L/35L
- Weight: From 2.o oz
- Get it on sale here: Outdoor Research Ultralight Compression Sack
Granite Gear compression sacksfeature a unique design as they actually end up being square in shape when fully packed, rather than round like a lot of other market designs. After heavy product testing, Granite Gear designers found that when you're packing with multiple compression sacks that they fit a lot more efficiently when square in shape. Which means this product is also available in a square design, but I'd recommend sticking with either all square or all round sacks. This is an ideal sack for outdoor explorers, featuring water resistant, double stitched seams.
- Material: Nylon
- Sizes available: 9L/11L/16L/22L/31L/50L
- Weight: 3.2 oz
- Get it on sale here: GRANITE GEAR Round Rock Solid Compression Sack
Again this is a great option for a high quality compression as the ALPS features both horizontal and vertical compression straps. With double stitched seams and bartacked stress points, this compression sack will see many years of hardy adventures. Great not only for travelers, but also campers and hikers due to its durability and sturdy design. It's also a winner for backpackers that seek one larger compression sack to fit either inside or attach to the outside a backpack. You can tell focus has been given to its sleek appearance and the designer's choice of soft pastel colors- available in olive, rust or blue color.
- Material: Nylon ripstop
- Sizes available: M/L/XL
- Get it on sale here: ALPS Mountaineering Cyclone Compression Sack
The Bottom Line
Once you've used a compression sack and you'll quickly realize how versatile they are and just how much space you can save. Let's just you'll never go back to you're old regular packing methods. As soon as you compress your luggage down to half of its size you'll wonder why you didn't start using them earlier.
When purchasing a compression sack the most important aspect is choosing a high quality and well designed product. After all you want it to last trip-after-trip and certainly don't want it to break down mid trip. All of the compression sacks mentioned above are well-reviewed and from high quality and trusted brands. This means you really can't go wrong with any of them.