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How to pack luggage: Tips and tricks for your bulky winter clothing

Here's how to save space when traveling even with bulky clothing items

Top view of a man wearing headphones while packing a suitcase with clothing
Vlada Karpovich / Pexels

Whether you’re traveling in the dead of winter or trying to cram formalwear for a cruise into a tiny carry-on, chances are good your next trip will come with needing to fit bulky clothes in your luggage. Learning the proper way how to pack luggage so you still have room for your other stuff is an important skill to learn. After all, who wants to waste vacation money on ridiculous airline fees for checking in luggage? Can you fit everything into your 9-by-14-by-22-inch carry-on? We figured it out — and now we’ll show you how so you can get ready for your next adventure.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Take only what you need

Consider your itinerary, the predicted weather for your destination, and the clothing you will need. Avoid packing uni-task clothing, and opt instead for those items that work for a variety of settings. Shoot for no more than three tops and three bottoms that you can mix and match, and plan on washing a load of laundry if needed. How many coats do you need? Choose just one that goes with everything. Better yet, it’s easier to pack multiple thin layers than a single heavy coat. Pare the list to bare bones, then add things back in if you still have space available.

Lazhko Svetlana/Shutterstock

Stack, fold, and roll

While this may not be possible when it comes to packing jackets, rolling clothes can help, but creative packing includes more than simply rolling everything. This is especially true with sweaters, coats, and winter boots. Big, bulky items may fit more efficiently if they are paired and stacked with thinner or smaller items. Lay out a bulky sweater together with a shirt and roll them together. Other large items may fit better when folded. Sometimes you need to experiment. Bundle daily socks, underwear, and T-shirts together for space savings and grab-and-go convenience. 

After rolling clothes into bundles, secure them with rubber bands. Pack the biggest items first, then work the rest around them. Put smaller things in the voids between the bulky items. Use the insides of shoes or boots to pack items like socks, underwear, and toiletries. 

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Compartmentalize with packing cubes

Packing cubes — nylon zipper bags used to organize and compartmentalize the items within a suitcase — come in different sizes that can be mixed and matched for maximum packing efficiency. Use them to keep small items from moving around or to isolate different categories like toiletries, makeup, clothes, and underwear. They help decrease wrinkles and creases in clothing and can help to increase the total amount of stuff that fits in the suitcase. They’re also great if you need to hit the ground running because they keep all of your stuff organized for quick access. 

Compression packing cubes are a great choice for minimizing the loft of clothing. They use a two-zipper system to compress clothing, reducing the volume by half or more. 

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Maximize space with vacuum bags

Vacuum bags let you remove the air out of lofty clothing like formalwear or big coats until they are flat like tortillas. There are two kinds: One works with compression, and the other works with suction. Compression bags are packed flat, and then they get rolled up from the bottom, which forces the air out through a one-way valve in the top. In the other style, the air is sucked out with a vacuum cleaner or air pump. These bags can save an immense amount of space and improve the organization of the suitcase. They’re also waterproof, which can be helpful.

These bags may not be for all users or all packing situations. They do increase wrinkles in certain clothing. The thin plastic bags are easily punctured or otherwise damaged. They may require a vacuum for repacking.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Wear the big stuff

Walk onto the plane wearing that big coat and boots instead of forcing them into your bag. You won’t want to wear all of your bulky clothes at once, but this method is a good way to eliminate some of the bulk from your bag.

Traveling light comes more naturally to some, but it’s an acquired skill for many more people. Keep your itinerary in mind, and pack only what you need, if you don’t use or wear something regularly at home, chances are you won’t need it when you travel. Reduce volume by choosing multi-wear items that you can mix and match. Get creative to pack efficiently. And when all else fails, wear it.

Baggage claim in airport terminal. Suitcases on the airport luggage conveyor belt. 3d illustration
Maksym Yemelyanov / Adobe Stock

If you must check your luggage, avoid the fees

Now, even with our expert packing tips, we realize there will be times when you simply can’t avoid having to check a bag at the airport. Maybe you have things like lotions, a special sunscreen, or your favorite shampoo that can’t be in a carry-on, and you can’t live without them. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to check a bag and still avoid paying an extra fee.

  1. Look for airlines that don’t charge baggage fees. One good example of this is Southwest Airlines, which allows two free checked bags per passenger.
  2. Use an airline-branded credit card. Many airlines waive the fee for the first checked bag for holders of their credit cards; this often extends to everyone in the traveling party, even if they do not all hold the credit card.
  3. Get elite status on an airline frequent flyer program. Most airlines waive baggage fees for their elite members. And you can get this status even if you don’t travel all that much. Those airline credit cards are great ways to build up points in the frequent flyer programs to get you to elite.
  4. Don’t fly basic economy. The tickets might be cheaper, but they don’t come with anything, including seat selection. Most basic economy fares don’t even include a carry-on bag, much less a checked bag. You’ll pay extra for anything larger than a backpack, and those fees can bring the cost to a point where the ticket isn’t that much cheaper at all.

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Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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