By Evan Wishloff
“At registration in Cape Town you will receive a rider bag with your personal race number on it. This bag will be the ONLY bag that will be transported between stage locations for you”
I was reading through the registration email for the Cape Epic, an 8 day mountain bike stage race in South Africa that I had just registered for. As I poured over the details, there were many things that sounded daunting. 625 kilometres of rugged mountain trails, an eye-watering 16,650 metres of elevation gain, and scorching temperatures that could hit above 45 degrees were all details that I was fretting over.
But I kept coming back to that line above - “This bag will be the ONLY bag that will be transported between stage locations for you.” See, after leaving the race village each morning and riding for hours on end, race organizers would make sure that participants’ bags would be sent to the finish line where racers would be spending the night. A tent and a sleeping pad sit waiting at the end of each day, but anything else needed must be contained within that gear bag.
I went through my list of what I knew I’d need to bring. Tubs of protein powder, seemingly endless packs of energy bars and snacks, clothing for any temperature ranging from 5 to 45 degrees, a sleeping bag, riding gear, and more were all placed on what was turning into a lengthy list. As that list grew and grew, I started wondering how I would ever fit all that I would need into one bag!
How am I going to fit all that inside one bag?
A mountain of gear, clothing and food, waiting to be packed before the start of the race
I turned to the Store Guides at Campers Village for assistance. You’d be hard-pressed to talk to anyone that works at Campers Village without learning of some amazing trips and experiences they’ve been on. Many I’ve talked to even had experience living for extended periods of time out of a backpack, which meant I had much to learn from them!
So I asked Brittany, a Store Guide at Campers Village West Edmonton, to help me with my packing conundrum. She said there was a simple two word answer that would solve all my problems.
“Solve my problems in just 2 words?” I thought to myself skeptically.
So what were those 2 words?
What are packing cubes? Quite simply, they are relatively small flexible containers made of fabric - think of them like mini bags to put within your bag. They come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and fabric types, and go by many names, including packing organizers, packing sacks, packing square or packing pouches. The most obvious and common use is for clothes, but you can also use them to organize electronics, toiletries, snacks, or anything else you’re packing.
Packing organizers have many benefits, including:
- Saving space in your bag
- Organizing your gear
- Minimizing wrinkles on clothes
- Making it easier to find things in your bag
Watch them in action in this short video from Eagle Creek.
I was sold on saving space and packing more efficiently, but now I was staring at racks full of a variety of packing cubes with no idea what to buy. With some help from Brittany, I learned the differences between all the different types of packing cubes and what they were best for.
Types of Fabrics
The two most common types of fabrics that packing cubes are made of are a polyester weave or a nylon-ripstop type material.
Polyester Weave is the material of the original Pack It cubes from Eagle Creek, and is also the basic material used for many other brands packing cubes. It reminds me a bit of a canvas material, feels very durable, and allows your clothes to breath. Many of the packing cubes with this material come with a mesh section to improve air flow further.
The Nylon-ripstop materials are used for Eagle Creek’s Pack It Specter line. The material is lighter, with fabric that feels similar to the material on a lightweight tent. These are generally lighter than the polyester weave cubes and are translucent to allow you to see inside.
The polyester weave cubes feel sturdier and like they would be more durable, however Eagle Creek offers a lifetime warranty on all of their packing cubes, so durability shouldn't be a concern.
Types of Packing Organizers
There are enough shapes and sizes of packing organizers for every use imaginable!
First up, and most popular, are the packing cubes. Available in a variety of sizes, these are great for rolling up your clothes into. Get a set from Eagle Creek, and you can use the large one for sweaters and pants, the medium one for t-shirts, and the small one for socks and underwear. Or buy them individually in whatever sizes are most convenient for you and your planned use.
Then there are packing folders. These are designed to minimize wrinkles, and work perfectly if you are packing a button-up shirt. Eagle Creek packing folders come with a folding board, and convenient folding instructions printed on the base of the folder, in case you’re terrible at folding like me. Don’t write off packing folders just because you don’t plan to bring a button-up shirt - you can also use a packing folder for jackets, sweaters and pants.
Packing cubes and folders are the most common, but there are a few other interesting packing organizers that have useful features depending on what you are packing for.
Compression cubes are just like packing cubes, except they have a secondary zipper that allows you to expand, and then compress the cube and the contents. You can also get compression sacs, which have a one-way air-valve that lets you compress all the air out of the sac for ultimate space saving. These compression packing solutions help to really minimize the amount of space that your clothing takes up. Just note, if you are packing clothing that wrinkles easily, a compression cube may not be the best choice. But use it for t-shirts, underwear, socks, athletic gear or anything else to save some serious space in your bag.
Other specialty packing products include shoe cubes, some capable of handling multiple pairs of shoes, while keeping any dirt or muck on your shoes away from the rest of your packing. You can also get Clean/Dirty Cubes, which have two sides that allow you to keep your clean and dirty laundry separated. For trips where you plan to get some clothes really dirty or wet, there are also Wet/Dry Cubes, with fully waterproof compartments to keep wet and dry gear separate. For packing fragile items, like electronics or valuables, you can also find Quilted/Padded Cubes, which have more material and cushion to help keep your valuables safe. Finally, there are a variety of toiletry kits that are designed to be lightweight and easily packable for any type of adventure.
My Africa-Tested Solution
For my needs, I settled on an Eagle Creek Pack-It Starter Set (containing 2 packing cubes and a packing folder), an Eagle Creek compression cube, an Eagle Creek shoe cube, and a Sea to Summit hanging toiletry bag.
In the packing folder went my rain jacket, puffy coat, and a merino wool sweater. I filled the regular packing cubes with all the clothing I’d wear off the bike, like t-shirts, shorts, pants, and more. Into the compression cube went all the extra cycling clothing I packed - since my cycling gear is all technical fabrics, wrinkles were not a worry. The shoe cube fit a pair of sneakers and sandals. And finally, into the toiletry bag went, well, toiletries!
I wasn’t entirely sold on how packing cubes would actually save space within my bag. It seemed like a packing cube was just an extra thing to fit in the bag. How could adding things to my bag save space?
But, like magic, everything fit in my race bag, and as a bonus, was neat and organized!
A neat, organized, and tightly-packed bag
After a week of adventure racing in South Africa, I am entirely sold on packing cubes. I’m going to use them everywhere. Backpacking trips, car camping, weekend getaways, and more. It’s just a better way to pack.
If you have a trip coming up, make sure to stop at your local Campers Village to see what sort of packing solutions can work for you!