Save 8% Or More Space In Your Backpack By Letting It Settle Overnight

April 17, 2012 by Anil Polat  

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Hopping up and down on your suitcase or backpack to fit in that one last pair of socks makes for a good pre-travel workout but it’s not exceptionally effective. Or good for your backpack either as constant over-packing can wear out the seams on your luggage over time. Rather, you can save time and stress by packing your things in an order that encourages compression, let your bags sit over night, and then comfortably zip up them up before heading out in the morning.

8% Of Your Clothes Are Full Of Nitrogen, Oxygen, Argon, And Carbon Dioxide (Air)

Studies done in London and the Netherlands show that air occupies about 8-56% of the space between the human body and worn clothing. Folds existing in and within the clothing, worn or not, also holds about this much air. Letting your bags sit overnight gives gravity time “pull” your clothing down and force some air out. But thanks to thermodynamics the slightly higher air pressure in a newly packed bag will force that air out to the lower pressures around it after a few hours. You may have noticed this effect (and a bag that looks more comfortably packed) after getting your checked luggage after a long flight.

When space is especially tight and you can’t get your zippers closed, instead of forcing the issue, leave them just slightly open. In the morning, the 8% or more saved by gravity and differences in air pressure can often give you enough space to comfortably close your bag.

new balance running shoesAir Is Your Bag’s Worst Enemy

Admittedly that may be a bit harsh as air is our wonderful life-giving friend, but not matter how well you pack most of your bag’s space will be occupied by air. Those of you who’ve ever used compression packs have seen firsthand that removing the air in and around clothing can reduce the physical space they occupy by up to 80%. Without the use of compression packs though you can still eliminate a lot of excess air when preparing your backpack.

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Roll Your Clothes

A common trick to put your backpack on a diet is to pack like a stripper and roll, not fold, your clothes when packing. This not only reduces wrinkles but also gives less space for layers of air to occupy. To encourage compression overnight however it’s important to pack your bulkier, heavier items first and at the lowest point in your bag. Since your softer clothes have more room for compression, gravity will help pull them down overnight, forcing around 5-10% of the air out of them.

  • Stuff Socks Into Shoes – Since this space can’t compress make the most used out of it by filling your packed shoes with socks, underwear, and other smaller items.

It Takes Some Planning Packing Ahead Of Time

Generally speaking I’m a terrible planner and for those of you constantly packing your bags (or writing blog posts) right before your next flight, following the 80% rule means you can slack on compression. For the rest of you, remember that packing for 2 weeks is no different than packing for 2 months but when your zippers desperately need it, 6 hours of patience and packing can give you just enough space for those extra socks or bat’leth.

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  1. Kim says:

    For those of us who pack on the run – simply zipping it up and hefting it up opens a nice big gap at the top as all the stuff fills out the bottom.

    Unfortunately my issue is not the bag size, but the weight – because I don’t like carrying a 20+kg bag around with me … so I usually have tons of space in my bag.

    • Anil P. says:

      Reminds me a of a story @Turkey’s For Life told me about Italians getting up after a large meal and doing the same, jokingly (or perhaps not) to make space for more food 😉

      Though never packing your bag more than 80% full is a good way to not have to worry about making more space – especially for people like us who pack at the last minute.

  2. The problem that I have is that I just bought the biggest bag I am allowed to bring…with that comes the issue that if I truly stuff it full, its over the weight. Interesting problem to my new solution. Oh well my friend let me use this handing luggage scale and it was amazing!! Just weigh each piece of luggage so your not the scarlet flyer moving all your personal items from bag to bag at the ticket counter…Oh yes that has been me too 🙁

  3. My suitcase will be fuller and fuller while I go on day by day, and I always need to buy a backpack on the way. Now the sealed vacuum bags is helpful for me.Your advise is useful.

  4. Denise says:

    Great tips!, thank you. I’m prepping for an upcoming trip. This time it’s a school backpack and fanny pack only! I searched high and low and did not find the ideal backpack (actually convertible backpack preferred) that will fit under the airline seats. So, I got a durable school backpack with compartments. Surfing the web for tips and ideas to pack light. Again, thank you

  5. Great article.. Will definitively keep the advice on shoe and socks in mind…

  6. Margyle says:

    A little patience and some planning… I would try this if I packed more than a few minutes before leaving lol. Maybe I’ll change my practices in the future!

  7. Good tip! This might be an incentive for last-minute packers to start earlier

  8. I always go for the rolling technique, but I’m thinking of trying those vacuum bags – they seem like a great way to organize your stuff too.

    • Anil P. says:

      The amount of space they end up saving you is amazing, even after seeing them work several times…it’s still hard to believe there’s so much air in there!

  9. I actually use those sealed vacuum bags for this reason. Rolling up clothes and then sucking the air out of everything gives you more space. I know some people may not like them but I’ve used them on almost every trip and they work well.

  10. Lane says:

    Who knew? Great article. We’ll give this a try next trip.