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I have had the funniest experience this summer at parties. When I tell people what I do for a living, I get the question, “Do you roll or fold?”. Seriously, at a party someone told their companion that I worked for Rick Steves and they looked at me and, rather than “Nice to meet you” they simply said, “Roll or Fold?”

This has happened a bunch of times over the summer. At first I thought this was some sort of smoking reference that I wasn’t in on. I’ve had to ask to repeat the question because it seemed so random. Sorry, I’m a little slow on certain things. Now I get it, it’s an Internet debate, is it better to fold or roll your clothes when you pack?

If you are a follower of this blog you probably know my answer, but I thought I’d go into a little detail about my thought process on this topic. Short answer: Both.

I use a packing cube system for my clothes. I have one cube for tops, one for undies, socks, scarves and PJs, and a packing folder for folded things. Using cubes and a folder, I can quickly access just about anything I need quickly in my backpack without tearing the whole thing apart. When my bag is fully packed, there is not really anything floating around, everything is corralled in a stuff sack or cube.

Roll

Basically, this category is for tops, which in my case are mostly knits. I fold my tops in half, lengthwise, then roll. I stack the rolls side by side in the cube. Rolling tightly minimizes wrinkles and maximizes space in my bag. When my tops are stacked like sausages, all in a row, I can quickly see what I’ve got. And to get really specific on my logic here, I put them in the cube in order, from sleeveless to long sleeved.

It’s pretty simple with this system to put an outfit together. I grab a bottom and lay it over the cube of sausage-tops and see what matches, what works for the temperature. The smell test is also important here!

Folding

I fold the things that are typically susceptible wrinkling. Woven fabrics, stiff fabrics. Normally it’s my pants, skirts and dresses. I used to put folded things at the bottom of my suitcase, with the cubes on top. The folded stuff was getting messy so I found a better way. I have a packing folder that’s like a giant envelope, keeping everything contained and neatly folded. The folder came with a folding board and specific instructions on how to fold a dress shirt. I don’t tend to wear button up dress shirts, but I’d pack them in the folder if I did.

I am tall and have long legs, so folding pants in half and half again doesn’t work. I need to fold them in thirds, which tends to be a fairly efficient style and minimizes creases. I fold tops and dresses in they way you see them in stores, arms folded behind.

Other IdeasI’ve seen lots of clever packing ideas but I don’t see them as very practical for road warrior types. Some people stack an outfit together and roll it into a bundle. Some people make separate ziploc bags for each outfit. Some people buy suitcases withe SHELVES inside. My son recently packed for summer camp by stacking all of his clothes and rolling them all up together. He called it the “Packing Meatball”. It actually worked, it went into an awkwardly shaped duffle bag perfectly.

All of this stuff is personal choice. I don’t fold or roll my underthings and pjs, I stuff them in my bag, which could be considered sacreligious to some. I’m not into gimmicky techniques, I like what works, keeps it simple, and makes it quick to pack up in the morning.So, the answer to this hot debate of pack or roll? I say both.

AWS Staff

This post was published by the Adventures with Sarah team. Click here to find out more about the people that make everything at AWS happen.

14 Comments

  • Carole says:

    I can see that packing cubes would keep clothes in order and make them easier to find. However, if packing space is very limited, I prefer to stuff socks, underwear, and some knit tops into the corners and crevices of my bag.Bulky items (shoes, toiletry bag, curling iron) go in the bottom. Then soft stuffables go in between to pad and secure everything. Pants go in next with their extra length hanging over the edges. Folded tops go on top of pants, with pant legs folded back over the top. This “clothing package”is easy to lift out to go into a drawer or shelf.Can you explain how your manage dirty clothes? Do you have a separate cube or mesh bag for them?

    • Janet says:

      I’m with Carole. I put undies and socks in all the crooks and crannies like corners and inside shoes.

      • Alexis Thorpe says:

        I do the same! There are always small things to cram into tight places. I always bring more undies than I need, so I can stay fresh and hopefully hang out things to dry. And If I can’t it doesn’t matter then, does it?

    • Suanne says:

      I have a mesh bag to use for dirty clothes. After a couple of days, I will wash things out in the sink. I take a small microfiber towel to roll up the clothes to get them a little drier, and a couple of thin wire hangers and a couple clothespins with hooks to use to for drying. Towards the end of the trip, I condensate 2 cubes to one, and use one for dirty clothes and the other for anything left that is clean, not perfect, but I haven’t found another way that works for me.

  • P T says:

    I use a similar system, but, like Carole, struggle with the dirty clothes issue. There comes a point when the cubes are pretty empty and I have a bulging bag of dirties on top or underneath. I have even brought an empty cube to put the dirties in. Just hate mixing the clean with the dirty. I used to pack like Janet, but when I move from place to place that just became unmanageable for me.

    • Helene G says:

      Re handling dirty clothes: I bring along a couple of small clip hangers and one or two wire hangers (nothing fancy). I wash my undies and socks in the sink and hang them on the clip hangers. Ditto for tops on the wire hangers. While this doesn’t address how to wash slacks and shorts, usually they don’t get dirty. In the end, most of my clothes are kept fairly well clean.

    • Sue says:

      I bring compression bags from Eagle Creek for dirty laundry. Initially I use plastic bags and when they get too bulky I transfer the laundry to compression bags. They lay flat at the bottom of my suitcase.

  • soozzie says:

    I have used packing cubes for years, for all the reasons you mention, and also because I can simply pull them out of the suitcase and slip them into a drawer when I will be somewhere for a few days. I can also pull out a few items for a short stay, and put all of them in one cube, so I don’t have to bother with multiple cubes. I just splurged on a second set of cubes in a different color, so now I can color code them. I usually use a medium-sized one for scarves and shawls, which I wear on long trips to break up the boredom of the same few tops and color combos — especially useful when we spend time with the same people. I have been a folder, though, so next time I’ll try being a roller. Thanks!

    • Julie S. says:

      I agree. Packing cubes have made traveling so easy, easpecially since I found the ones made by Flight 001. I think they are called the Spacepack system. They come in different sizes, colors and great patterns. The best part is the cubes have dual zippered compartments — one side for clean clothes and one side for laundry. I just fold my dirty clothes and it takes the same amount of space (whereas when I used a laundry bag prior to this, it always seemed to take up more space). I love this system!

  • Helene G says:

    Don’t packing cubes take up space that could be used for other clothes? Also, I have a rolling suitcase. So I un-zip the bottom liner to expose the luggage hardware … you wouldn’t believe how much you can stuff into that space … stuff like Zip-loc bags, photocopies of documents, tissues, wipes — things that aren’t very thick.

  • Alexis Thorpe says:

    I just returned from 26 days in Italy and the U.K. Despite my efforts ahead of time, I still over-packed! For a three week trip, I will, in the future pack: 2 skirts, NOT 3. Pack 2 shorts, NOT 3. Pack 2 dresses, NOT 3. But plenty of underwear and bras. Only ONE pair of capris, for the plane. Unless it’s cold and rainy. In which case, I used the one pair of capris with the one sweater in London, and it worked out fine.

  • Suanne says:

    I like to use the cubes and zip lock bags to keep things organized and if my suitcase gets searched I don’t have to worry about someone pawing my clothes and messing up my suitcase. I do have a folder too but don’t use it too much, as I don’t take skirts or dresses, usually only slacks(1) and maybe a pair of capris. And yes, the cubes do take us some pace, but its worth it to keep things organized.

  • I just love to fold my clothes for traveling and then categorize them and put them in plastic bags. For example a bag of shirts, a bag of shorts. It is very easy to organize your clothes and to quickly find something.

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