Loose Wire - The Art, And Technology, Of Packing Your Clothes
May 24th, 2005
This article is about technology but it’s also about innovation: How do we do things and can we do them better? This technology is simple enough-a bag-but it’s more about new ways of using the bag. It’s called packing. Or more specifically, modular packing. I don’t travel as much as I used to but I do travel. I’ve learned a few tricks Over the years. And what has struck me is how, on the surface, not much has changed in thousands of years. Early business travelers would grab their stuff-a spare bearskin, a backup club, a few flints and throw it into some sort of primeval pouch, hitch it over their shoulder and hurry after migrating mammoth prey, who were already pulling out of the terminal gate.(OK, I didn’t do much research for this bit.) Nowadays, things aren’t much different. We leave everything to the last minute, throw it into a bag, sit on it while getting the spouse to call a cub. Sure, our wheeled carry-on may look more sophisticated, but the technology is basically the same as that used by our hirsute forebears: A container, all our stuff, a mad rush and a mess. So how can we do it differently? To me the big innovation in packing is the module. The thinking is simple: Why collect all the individual things we are going to take with us on our trip and then lump it together? Most of us, if the flight is not actually about to depart, make little piles of our underpants, socks, shirts, etc on our bed before cramming them into the suitcase, hoping they fit, squeezing a sock-ball here, a handkerchief there. At the other end, we throw the case on the bed, rummage around inside, with shirts, vests, scarves and boots flying everywhere in a around inside, action replay. It’s horrible, and if we then have to move room, hotel, or continent again on the trip chances are not a single item of clothing looks anything like when we bought it.
So technology’s answer to this problem is: Stay at home. Let someone else do the trip. No actually, its modular packing, sometimes called packing cubes. It’s simple enough: Instead of throwing everything into one bag, you put them into smaller sub-bags, which then go into the big bag. So the big bag, instead of being a pile of sundry items in varying degrees of crumplitude, is a neat collection of different size sub-bags, or modules. This may not sound like much of an innovation, and some of you may do this already, but an extensive research revealed a very low level of modular packing awareness. Even many campers don’t seem to do this kind of thing to the extent I imagined, unless I happen to have some really hopeless camping friends. Modules simplify things immensely. But it’s not just about the modules, it’s about how they’re designed and how you use them. The modules have a zip-around top, usually webbed so you can see what’s inside. They come in different sizes and shapes. UK-based Life venture < www.lifeventure.co.uk> offer what they call “pack able mesh cubes” ( I can’t see me calling them that halfway up a mountain either), while California-based Eagle Creek sell the Pack-It Cube (slightly better name) and have recently introduced a new range with padded sides, so they keep their shape better and don’t squash the contents too much. Then it’s up to how you use them. The best way to pack kinds of clothes is to roll them, rather than fold them. Roll up a T-shirt and you’ll find it’s much less creased when you pull it out. Rolling also makes them easier to pack in a cube. Underpants, socks and smaller items can be folded over before being rolled into little balls. Eagle Creek does a series of special shirt and Pants containers, where, if you follow their folding instructions to the letter, you end up with clothing that survives a long trip in surprisingly good condition. For geeks, Eagle Creek does a series of special shirt and pants containers, where, if you follow their folding instructions to the letter, you end up with clothing that survives a long trip in surprisingly good condition. For geeks, Creek makes some nice padded bags that are great for stuffing all the digital detritus you may bring with you but don’t want to put in your laptop bag.
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One of the great things about packing cubes is that you can then unpack without really unpacking. Pull out the cubes from the big case, throw them in a drawer and you’re unpacked. Or, if you’re short of space, leave them in the case. If you need to get something out while you’re on the road, in the hotel lobby or on the airport runway, you won’t have to pull everything out. Also, I’ve noticed that airport security see your baggage and tend to be more respectful, since unmatched panties and bras don’t spring out immediately when the case is opened and land on their head. An innovation I’ve developed myself (I call it the VariCube) is to avoid the logical choice of putting all your undershirts in one cube, your socks in another. That’s fine for a short trip. But if you’re going to be moving from place to place, it makes better sense to divide the trip into segments, clothes-wise. Each sub-bag, then, contains enough clothes for each part of the trip, so you only need to open one cube at a time. Modular packing is a great innovation and I’ve tried to convert everyone I know. Including you, now that you’ve read this. There are side-effects, however. One is appalling smugness. Another is that I’m so mobile I tend to change hotels, or hotel rooms, at the drop of a hat. If I don’t like the view, the carpet or the way they folded the toilet paper, I’m out of there, knowing I can throw my cubes into a case in a second. It’s empowering, but can be somewhat irritating for any anyone traveling with me. Unless they’re fellow packing cuboids themselves, in which case they’re probably already checked out and waiting in the cub, the engine running.
Written by Jeremy Wagstaff from the Asian Wall Street Journal.