Vacuum packing is the process of packing your clothes in a heavy-duty plastic bag and then sucking all the air out of it. There are two main styles of vacuum packing bags. For one, you actually attach a vacuum cleaner to a specialized opening and literally vacuum all the air out.
For the other, after sealing the bag, you roll it up tightly from one end forcing the trapped air out of a specialized opening in the other end which does not allow it to return.
You can even use normal ziplock bags for a low-tech version of this style. Regardless of bag type, vacuum packing has pros and cons. Read on for all the details and what I ultimately recommend as a frequent long-term traveler.
Pack More in Less Space
This is the biggest plus of vacuum packing; the whole reason for it, really. By removing the air in and around your clothes, they take up significantly less space. This means you can fit more in your suitcase. It’s especially great for winter travel with down jackets and bulky sweaters.
Similar to packing cubes, vacuum bags are a good way to organize your clothes within your bag to find what you need easily. You can put tops in one and bottoms in another, pack one outfit per bag, or separate clean clothes from dirty. No more messy, exploding suitcases with these.
As vacuum bags are sealed tight, they trap odors. This makes them excellent for dirty clothes and ensuring your clean things don’t smell like feet. This is an advantage vacuum packing has over compression packing cubes.
If you’re likely to be out in all weather or will be traveling on the water, ensuring your clothes stay nice and dry can be a big plus to plastic vacuum bags.
Cumbersome to Pack and Unpack
For me, this was a big drawback. I’m a traveler who often moves around frequently, averaging about two nights in each location. This means packing and repacking clothes all the time. Vacuum bags take longer to pack as you need to compress them afterward. Several times I’ve compressed the bag down and then realized I needed one more thing out of it and had to start over! Not the most efficient packing aid, time-wise.
May Require Vacuum
I don’t know about you, but I don’t normally pack a vacuum in my suitcase. Even a hand-held one. I will say, however, they do make USB powered mini-vacuums specifically for travel that are fairly small and lightweight. But you have to have a power source handy when you want to use it. There are reasonably small hand pumps available, too, that wouldn’t require electricity but do require muscle! Either way, it is one more thing to fit in your bag that might even negate the space saved.
Fitting More In = Overweight?
I’m a dedicated carry-on-only traveler, so fitting more in a smaller space would seem like my dream come true. The problem is that more and more airlines are placing weight restrictions on carry-on bags as well as size restrictions. Vacuum-packed bags have more in them and so make the bag heavier than it might seem. Even if you are going to check a bag, you still have to carry it or wheel it around your destination. A heavy bag is more cumbersome to travel with overall.
Vacuum bags are just thin plastic. Both bag styles have weak points where the air is sucked or pressed out. With normal use, you are consistently putting pressure on these weak points and they will eventually succumb. Even the smallest leak renders vacuum bags useless, as they refill with air, however slowly. I found my rolling vacuum bags lasted about three weeks of regular travel use before they burst a seam. You must be very careful with them, as they are easily damaged.
This factor is somewhat dependent on how carefully you pack within the bag before removing the air. However, if you do have any wrinkles or creases in your clothing, they will be compounded by the compression of the vacuum bag. Not that this isn’t also a problem with other packing methods, but it is a factor to consider.
The only time I would recommend vacuum packing is when you are traveling to one place, staying put for a while, and need to bring a lot with you (winter clothes, for example). Otherwise, stick with compression packing cubes or ranger rolling.
(What’s ranger rolling? Free tutorial available for newsletter subscribers!)
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- Packing for 6 Months in a Carry-On Suitcase
- 5 Things I Never Travel Without
- Winter Minimalist Packing Guide
- 5 Top Tips for Packing Efficiently
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