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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.