Normally when I go on a trip, packing is easy. Or at least that is the way it’s always been for me in the past. Twice I’ve utilized my enormous rolling suitcase (like 50-70lbs when fully packed enormous) for trips lasting over four months where I knew I’d be staying in one place. Once I even used that same enormous suitcase for a two week trip that didn’t involve much moving around. Other times, I’ve packed my backpack with the essentials for my destination of choice and the appropriate season. Summer in Albania was easy: It would be hot and dry and I packed super light. Spring in Costa Rica was also a piece of cake: nothing fancy, just bathing suits, shorts, and tennis shoes for muggy, hot outdoorsy-ness. I never really needed to pack super tight because I always knew what was in store. But packing for my last trip (to Germany and Denmark in the fall) was a different story. I was traveling for only about ten days, but the weather was all over the place: 50 degrees one day, 80 the next. Raining, then blazing sun. On top of that, it was an urban trip and I wanted to look presentable: no dirty tank tops and flip flops on this trip (well, not at the beginning of the trip at least!). Packing light is nice, but there were pictures to be taken people! I also knew that I wanted to take my backpack (no more pulling rolling suitcases up metro stairs for me!), but was concerned about having to get in and out of a top-loading pack when I knew it would be absolutely crammed with stuff, not to mention fitting it all in there in the first place! Enter the completely unexpected solution to my packing problem: the Pack-it Folder. I had been looking around at a variety of websites and travel blogs where people go into rather crazy detail about their packing habits and preferences, and this weird little envelope just kept popping up. The idea of folding all my clothes into one pile didn’t seem like the logical solution to my problem. I was skeptical, but I decided to give it a try.
The Eagle Creek brand of these packing folders (there are others by Magellan and similar companies too) is available lots of places, including REI and the Container Store. The idea is that you use the plastic insert as a guide to fold up your clothes and then you stack the folded items into the envelope, folding the whole package together with velcro closures. It seems to be designed with men’s collared shirts in mind, but I found that it works even better for casual women’s clothes since they tend to be smaller and less finicky to fold. I gave up on using the folding board after my first use because I realized that I could fold my clothes in any way i liked and still get a LOT of stuff into this folder. The label says 8-12 shirts, but I found that its optimal capacity was more like: 5 women’s tank tops, 5 cardigans, 1 pair jeans, 1 pair black pants, 3 blouses, 2 dresses, 2 pairs shorts, 1 pair pajamas….basically everything but thick sweaters and jackets will fit surprisingly nicely.
Once your clothes are in, you place the plastic folding insert back on top and velcro it all up like an envelope. It seals up pretty tight, so things stay in place and don’t shift around too much (I found that when it’s super packed things do shift a bit, but far less than they would loose in your bag!). I have the 18-inch model, which slides snugly into my Osprey Exos but might be too tight for bags even a little bit smaller. It doesn’t fit into my smaller North Face Recon or my Baggallini Only tote at all. When you need to access your packed clothes, you simply pull out the whole folder and peel off the layer you need, replacing the rest. Clothes stay as neatly folded and wrinkle-free as you’d expect them to be in a well-filled drawer in your house. The whole process is much easier than pulling out everything each time you need to get to those socks at the bottom of your pack, and less frustrated than pulling out a bunch of small vacuum or compression bags and trying to remember which item is in which bag. I even managed to add a new purchase, my Oktoberfest dirndl from C&A, into the envelope, which I totally thought was at capacity when I departed California. All in all, this envelope is awesome for both for urban backpacking as well as singe-destination trips where you want more room in your suitcase or are just trying to stay wrinkle free.
This folder won’t fit everything; I mentioned jackets before but bras, socks, etc are also not going to fit into this thing with any kind of efficiency, so little mesh zipper bags are a great addition to this method of packing. I get mine for $1.50 at Daiso in San Francisco, but you can probably get them at any dollar store, or travel stores if you want to pay more.