The Smartest Ways To Pack Bulky Clothes In Your Carry-On

The more you travel, the more you may realize how much easier it is to journey without checked luggage. Unfortunately, if you're headed somewhere cold, you may have to cram your bulky items into a smaller suitcase. But with some finesse, you will find that packing bulky pieces isn't as cumbersome as it seems. Practice makes perfect.

The tried and true tricks of well-traveled folks can teach you all you need to know about packing efficiently. You don't necessarily need a bunch of accessories and gadgets to make your bulky items fit in your suitcase better, though they can help on occasion. You may need to use these tips on a few trips before becoming a true packing pro. Then, you can pass the wisdom on to other over-packers to help them journey to minimalistic packing bliss. After all, the art of packing socks inside shoes must have been passed on to someone.

Roll smaller items into larger ones

Our first tip upgrades the popular hack of rolling clothes instead of folding them. If you lay smaller items like t-shirts and socks on top of things like a sweater, you can then tightly roll them together. That way, you only put a few oversized rolled items rather than a bunch in your suitcase. This is a terrific way to pack entire outfits at once since you can keep everything together.

Even if you don't put everything together, you can at least roll shirts and undergarments into each other to consolidate space. This is done best by placing sweaters or sweatshirts at the base of the roll since they take up most room anyway. This method of rolling pieces together also does wonders for children's clothes. Because they are so much smaller and their luggage often is too, rolling their clothes helps keep outfits in one place for those quick change moments.

Don't fold all your clothes

This packing strategy involves rolling each item individually rather than grouping them. Bulky apparel or not, if you roll all your clothes, you will maximize the space in your suitcase. Doing this allows you to make room for everything you want to pack for your trip. If your bulky clothes don't fit, you can always roll everything else and then lay the heavy items on top.

If you're rolling all of your clothes individually, placing your largest items in the suitcase first is often better to create a picture frame. Once you have those larger pieces out of the way, you can fit the other smaller clothing pieces around it. It's a bit like a game of "Tetris," especially when you have wonky-shaped things like dresses that need to sit in the L-position along the sides of your suitcase. Not everything rolls up neatly, but if you roll it as tightly as you can, it will take up significantly less space.

Utilizing packing cubes

Maximizing space can be a great challenge while packing for a trip. Packing cubes can be incredibly helpful in such situations and are especially great for compacting bulky items. To save space, you can pack all your other items in the cubes and mold your bulky items around them in your suitcase. If you want to pack efficiently, packing cubes with double zippers is the best choice. You can open both sets of zippers, place your items inside, and close the primary zipper first. Once done, you can attempt to zip the compression zipper. Even if you can't get the second zipper shut, the cube will still help save space.

We don't recommend placing bulky items in packing cubes since they take up so much space. Even so, they can make something like a thick sweater or sweatshirt seemingly shrink in size. Be careful, though; overstuffing your packing cubes (even really nice ones) can cause the zipper to snap or the seams to fall over time.

Step up with vacuum compression bags

Compression bags are a significant upgrade from conventional packing bags. During travel, these products offer better storage utilization and keep belongings secure and organized. These vacuum-sealed storage bags that often live in closets are beneficial for saving space. They are also see-through, so you can immediately see what is inside them. Keep in mind that these can also make your carry-on unbearably heavy. So use them cautiously.

Vacuum bags are particularly helpful if your bulky items are stuffed animals or pillows. Because these items are large, the space bag helps reduce them to a more reasonable size without adding a lot of weight to your luggage. The weight comes into play when you shove many clothes into the vacuum bags. And don't worry if you can't access a vacuum while traveling. These compression bags can often be recompressed by manually squeezing the air out. Your best option is to kneel on the bag to push out air. Once closed, the bag will continue to compress as more air naturally escapes.

Place largest items at the bottom

‌One way to save space is to pack your bulkiest items at the bottom of your suitcase. This way, the rest of your clothing pieces will press the more oversized articles down, giving you more space to work with. It can also help your oversized sweaters keep their shape if you tightly roll or fold them before placing them in the suitcase. This isn't a foolproof solution, though it certainly does work.

This packing strategy can also mean putting the heaviest items near your luggage's rear or wheel side to help redistribute the weight of your suitcase. If you place the heavier items at the bottom, your bag will roll better and is less likely to tip over. Putting the larger pieces near the handle or top of your bag will become top-heavy, making it more prone to falling and much more challenging to wheel around.

Don't pack them all, consider wearing some

‌This is a perfect piece of advice for coats, jackets, or very bulky sweaters. You don't have to wear the jacket during the entire flight, just keep it with you and out of your suitcase. You can always tie it to your bags if you tire wearing or carrying it. Plus, puffer coats make for terrific makeshift pillows on a redeye or early morning flight.

‌This is also the best advice for traveling with multiple pairs of shoes, particularly boots. Unless they're specialized like ski boots, you're often better off wearing the bulkiest shoes you packed on the plane. You may feel silly wearing your boots, but you will save a ton of space in your bag by doing so, and your back will thank you for packing light. Alternatively, you can tie the boots or shoes to a personal item, like a backpack or carry-on. This is a trick many backpackers use to save space in their packs.

Pack multi-purpose items

For things like cardigans or pullover sweaters, one way to fix your packing issues is to leave them at home. You can pack less if you pick pieces that can be worn in different ways or with more outfits. That is achievable if you select simple patterns or clothing items with solid, primary colors. And don't worry about getting your one or two pullovers dirty; packing a few sink-wash detergent sheets or packets takes up much less space than two more sweaters.

There are a lot of items that can be worn with versatility. For example, many summery or resort-wear dresses double as swim cover-ups fairly easily. It can sometimes be hard to tell whether something was originally intended for one purpose or another, especially in a resort setting. So rather than packing the single function, completely see-through swimsuit cover, consider one with a bit more fashion appeal.

Use every inch of space

Assuming that not all bulky items are clothes, you can get more creative with your packing methods. If these clothing items are big boots, try using the inside of the footwear for additional storage. You can put extra socks, toiletry bags, or anything that can be rolled up easily and placed inside. The same can be done with hats, particularly large sun hats. Not only can the head spaces be used to store small objects inside the suitcase, but the items inside that area will also help the hat keep its shape.

You can also fit smaller items in your day packs or purses instead of placing them in your suitcase. If the bag is in there anyway, it might as well pull double duty and serve another function alongside its primary purpose. This option wouldn't save you a ton of space, though it will help keep your stuff organized.