Tips & Advice / Travel

Roll vs. Fold: What’s the Best Way to Pack to Save Space?

Roll vs. Fold: What's the Best Way to Pack to Save Space?

I’ve pretty much always folded my clothes for travel because, well, that’s just what I always did. I pulled them from my dresser drawers, placed them in a suitcase, and got on my way. I’m also pretty good about not packing too much stuff to begin with, so I’ve never had enormous struggles with making everything fit. On top of that, I’m never packing things that wrinkle too easily, either, which clothes-rolling is supposed to help. My folded clothes and all my other essentials never managed to be a problem to pack, so I’ve never had to resort to anything different.

Of course, I take lots of weekend trips, which generally require less stuff. My recent trip to the east coast, though, was for a week, and I had quite a lot to bring with me — including a dress and shoes for a wedding. On a whim I decided to roll my clothes, with the big hope in mind that I wouldn’t have to iron anything upon my arrival. I hate ironing and am piss-poor at doing it, so any way to avoid an iron is a good thing in my book. Honestly, I couldn’t really say if it saved me any space (since I didn’t pack the exact same stuff folded up before trying to roll it). But in New York I did notice that a silk shirt came out of my duffel pristine and practically un-wrinkled. Well, well, well…

So that got me thinking about doing a little experiment to see if rolling clothes actually does save space. Additionally, if it does, is it significant enough to really matter?

To try this out, I’ve decided to pack for current conditions for a week in LA. I’ll lay out all the clothes I’ll need, including personal items like face wipes, my makeup bag, and so forth. My folded clothes will go into my trusty Patagonia Duffel, and once that’s done I’ll repeat the process with rolled clothes. Afterwards, I’ll do a little compare and contrast to see if one method takes up less space than another, and if the difference is all that noticeable.

By the way, big round of applause to my parents for always enrolling me in the science fairs in elementary school. I feel incredibly prepared for this moment.

Ok, let’s go!


Jeans and Shirts

I picked out everything I would pack, including:

* 1 pair of jeggings (these are a travelin’ lady’s dream, btw)
* 1 pair of tights
* 2 skirts
* 1 dress
* 4 tops
* 1 nicer silk top (eep! wrinkles!!)
* 1 cardigan
* 1 small purse
* 1 pair of boots, 1 pair of sandals, 1 pair of flip flops
* 7 pairs of socks
* 7 pairs of underwear
* 1 bra
* 1 toiletries bag
* 1 bag for all my liquids
* 1 package of face wipes
* 1 package of baby wipes
* 1 hairbrush
* 1 drying brush (if I’m gone for a week, I’ll be needing it!)
* 1 small box of jewelry
* 1 travel pillow

Before trying out the rolling or folding method, I decided that either way it would be best to pack my socks, underwear and tights in my boots. I then set aside my footwear, the purse, and other personal items from the clothing to figure out what to do next.


Folded clothes

I put all of my folded clothes into the duffel first, packing my jeans, skirts, and a few other things on one side and my shirts and such on the other. Once all the clothing was packed in, it reached up to about 1/3 up the side of the bag. There was also a little bit of space long-ways (a few inches) that I could squeeze some other things into, so I put my face wipes, the baby wipes, and one of my brushes there.

I packed the rest of my things in on top, including the purse, bra and the shoes (which suddenly seemed so bulky) and didn’t have much space left to spare. I set my liquids bag on top (to make security easier!) and it pretty much filled the duffel all the way. There was a little bit of room where I could set my pillow, although to zip all the way I had to push it down a bit.


Rolled clothes

I packed in my rolled clothing along the bottom of my duffel, starting with the items that were longest, like the shirts, dress, and skirts. They all fit along the bottom of the bag long-ways with a small square area left on one end, so this is where I put the items that rolled and were shorter, like my cardigan and jeggings. All of the clothes fit the bottom of the duffel and left well over 3/4 of the bag open.

On top of the clothes I placed my shoes (which, had I really been traveling, I would have set in a plastic bag or saran wrapped). Then I put the rest of my belongings into the most logical spaces — flip flops, purse, and wipes up against the wall of the duffel, brushes on the sides, and so forth. I had a nice pocket of space to set my toiletries, too. The pillow went on top and didn’t stick out at all, so I didn’t even have to put any effort into zipping the duffel bag up.


When I decided to try this out, I really wasn’t expecting to see much of a difference. Here are two photos of the packing results (sans travel pillow so you can really see inside this puppy):

Folded clothing in suitcase

This is my suitcase after I packed it with folded clothes.

Rolled clothing in suitcase

Here’s everything packed when I rolled clothing.

Honestly, the difference isn’t slap-you-in-the-face obvious — but I did have more space in the duffel bag with rolled clothing. It’s difficult to show you the amount of empty space I have in a duffel via pictures especially since it’s quite subtle in person.

Now yes, rolling saved me a tiny bit of space, but I don’t know if that alone would make me a lifelong clothes-roller. However, I did discover two other important things that will influence whether I roll or fold when packing in the future:

First, my bag felt a lot more organized when I rolled my clothes, which makes total sense. When I rolled my clothes, each item was easily self-contained into this tiny little tube shape. They lined the bottom of the bag perfectly leaving me with the most options for putting in the other items in a smart way.

When I folded my clothes and started stacking them on top of one another, the different sizes and variations of each item became apparent (long sleeves, short sleeves, handkerchief hems, etc.). It made it harder to dig into my bag and look for a certain article of clothing without pulling things out, moving them around, and essentially having to re-organize each time I went looking for something in particular. Also, I had to work around the clothing to pack the rest of the items, which I really didn’t feel like I had to do when I rolled them.

Second, it became clear to me that what really is taking up so much space is my additional stuff — my toiletries bag, liquids bag, brushes, shoes, and purse. Over half of my duffel was filled with things that weren’t clothing items. However, these are essentials that I really couldn’t see myself wanting to travel without for an entire week. They’re must-haves that are not in a position to be rolled or folded; instead, they just take up the space that they do.

This means I have to rely on taking up less space with my clothing. And considering that my clothing took up so little of my bag to begin with, the fact that rolling items gives me some additional room to work with is incredibly useful. The amount of space saved would be even more noticeable if I packed a little heavier, too.

Remember that every little bit helps! The tiniest bit of extra space can allow for an extra outfit or jacket, a place to consolidate a carry-on bag, or room for souvenirs. 🙂 So, I suppose I know how I’ll be packing from now on!

Do you prefer to roll or fold your clothes? Why? What space-saving packing tips do you use? How do you deal with wrinkly clothes when traveling? What are your biggest challenges when packing?

Photo credits:

20 thoughts on “Roll vs. Fold: What’s the Best Way to Pack to Save Space?

  1. When the family went to Europe last spring for three weeks, we decided we would use carry on only. That meant small bags and strategic packing. We researched the different ideas including rolling and folding and decided on a hybrid style. If you’re in and out of your main bag a lot, it wouldn’t be as handy as a pure roll pack. The method we incorporated was this –
    with some rolled items for easy access.
    The result – we brought too much stuff even though we just had carry on!

    • That’s really cool! Anything that gets labeled as a burrito gets a big thumbs up for me, too. 🙂 As he mentioned, it’s obviously not as good if you’re literally living out of your suitcase, but if you’re able to unpack your things a little at your destination, this is a great way to store and pack stuff!

      Thank you for reading & for sharing that awesome video!

    • That’s a comfort, hearing you say you bought too much stuff with carry on. I’m doing carry for the first time on this trip. Seems that weight is more of a problem than bulk

      • That’s a great point — even though rolling might create more space doesn’t mean all that space should be used. Having light luggage makes it easier to get around and you’ll feel more compelled to do spontaneous, last-minute excursions on a trip.

        Thanks for reading!

      • I ended up with shoes I never wore and too many t-shirts. It also depends on your access to laundry and your inclination to do laundry. We had the tiny and amusing washer/dryer in-one machines in 3 of our 5 stops.

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