PACKING cells are the greatest travel innovation to hit the tarmac since wheelable suitcases were invented almost 50 years ago.
But which brands are best, and do you need to spend big bucks to separate your knickers from your knick-knacks?
On a recent two-week family trip to Fiji, I road-tested five popular brands — from the bargain basement to the Rolls Royce of clothing compartments.
Five people, two suitcases, three planes, four boats, two mini-vans, three resorts and a freight-load of cells later, I’m a convert.
Here’s the lowdown on each brand.
Zoomlite Classic 4-piece set. Picture: Catherine BestSource:Supplied
These guys scream durability. In fact, you could safely sequester your smalls in them, bung them straight on the luggage conveyor, and be reasonably confident your clothes would arrive intact at the other end, albeit a little dusty. Zoomlite is an all-Australian brand that’s all about strength and simplicity. The classic four-piece set comes in X-small, small, medium and large cells. Each has a strong mesh lid (so you can see what’s inside and squeeze out all that extra air) and double zips. We road tested the classic set, but you can also get toiletry and shoe bags, garment folders and travel pouches. The husband mostly used these and, despite defying prevailing wisdom to ‘roll not fold’, his shorts and T-shirts travelled mostly wrinkle free. The compartments are a little deeper than some, as the cells are not double-sided, so rolling really is the way to go if you don’t want to go rummaging through layers of clothes, which kind of defeats the purpose of using cells. I love that these retain their shape when packed in a suitcase or unpacked in a hotel cupboard.
4-piece set — $49.95
Lapoche cells including the his and hers lingerie and two-way cell. Picture: Catherine BestSource:Supplied
The Imelda Marcos of packing cells, Lapoche has a solution for every sojourn. The homegrown range, created by Melbourne designer Beth Richards, covers everything from traditional packing cubes and shirt flat packs, to jewellery organisers, tech packs and spillage-proof toiletry pouches. These cubes look smart and have some lovely girlie touches (disclaimer: they had me with the his and hers jocks and lingerie cells; the latter has a cute bra and undies-shaped mesh window). Looks aside, they’re super functional with a structured but compact shape (to keep items snugly in place), breathable peek-a-boo mesh and two-way zips. My daughter used the double-sided cell for rolled-up dresses on one side and shorts and T-shirts on the other. I used the single cells in similar fashion. I found the two-sided lingerie cube a little squeeze for bras, yet bulkier than some of the other brands. We sprung a small hole in the mesh on one cell as the fabric isn’t as tough as Zoomlite or Kathmandu. But overall, I loved these, not least because $1 from every online sale is donated to the world Hunger Project.
Single cubes from $22.95
Kathmandu medium cube. Picture: Catherine BestSource:Supplied
The New Zealand transplant we love to call our own, Kathmandu is no lightweight (excuse the pun) when it comes to packing solutions. They have a range of soft cells and hard (for protecting your fragile bits on the fly). Similar in design to Zoomlite and Lapoche, the classic cells have breathable mesh and double zips but are slightly softer in structure, with funky patterned designs. I used a medium cube for swimwear and beach gear (they also have double-sided cells). The standout is the Packing Cell Ultra Double, which functions like a miniature hard-shell suitcase; there’s a rigid garment folder compartment on one side and a regular cell on the other, with compression straps smooshing it all together. (Note: you may need a degree in geometry to perfect the shirt fold.) We didn’t need crisp corporate gear in Fiji, but it’s a clever design nonetheless. What we did appreciate was the “odour destroying” packing cell, which kept any footwear funk out of our clothes. Kathmandu gets bonus points for sustainability; the classic cells are made from 100 per cent recycled polyester, the equivalent of one plastic bottle.
Classic cells from $19.98
Osprey cells packed and ready to go with the kids’ clothes. Picture: Catherine BestSource:Supplied
I was dubious about these at first. They can be scrunched into the ball of your fist and have little more structure than a plastic bag. However, this makes them supremely lightweight, versatile and excellent for compression. That means squeezing that extra pair of dacks into your luggage even though you don’t really need them. My eldest daughter and son used the small, medium and large sizes (including the double-sided range) — colour-coded by kid — and we fitted a surprising amount of clothes into a relatively small space. I wasn’t a fan of double-sided cells to begin with but I’m a convert because they enable you to multi-task compartments without bulking up on multiple cells. This is especially handy for little people’s fiddly bits of clothing (you can also use them to separate clean clothes from dirty laundry). As far as compression goes, they’re a winner, but that silk blouse may pay the price because they’re not the best for keeping clothes wrinkle free. That said, Osprey is a US outdoor adventure brand, and these are spot-on for their market — think hiking backpack or duffel bag more so than suitcase. They are made of tough nylon, with a single, halfway-opening zip, and would outlive a city slicker lost in the wilderness. We also found these useful in our carry-on luggage for keeping jackets and changes of clothes separate from drinks, snacks and other on-board anti-boredom paraphernalia.
3-piece Ultralight Set — $39.95
Kmart cells neatly stow the kids’ shoes. Picture: Catherine BestSource:Supplied
If you’re wheeling Louis Vuitton on your travels, these bargain-basement cubes might be out of place among your designer duds. But don’t write them off too quickly. They are super lightweight, with two-way zippers and breathable mesh, and the three pack (small, medium and large) folds away neatly into a teensy tote. We used these for stowing the kids’ shoes and packed the largest bag for our dirty laundry. They’re not as robust as the other brands, and I can’t vouch for their longevity on a round-the-world trip, but for $9, they’ll separate your jocks from your jumpers and give cell cynics a trial run without breaking the bank.
3-piece set — $9
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Originally published as Brilliant $9 Kmart knock-off
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