Terrible at packing a suitcase? These military tips will help you nail it.

You know, there are some things in the world that you just won’t ever master until you’ve done them a thousand times. Think: cooking rice. Riding a bike. Putting on a condom. Straightening the back of your hair.

Invariably, travel is another one of those things that becomes easier with practice. From mastering airport security to learning to sleep on long haul flights, tricks of the trade only come in time.

However, we’re about to give you a major head start with one of the most satisfying ‘How To’ lists we’ve come across in a while: how to pack the perfect suitcase. And not just any suitcase, one packed with military-grade-precision.

military packing tips
Packing like a Cadet is a sure fire way to avoid amateur mishaps. (Image: Disney)

Yup, the kind folks at Thrillist sat down with some actual military folk, and asked them the secrets behind how to pack for a holiday without, you know, having to sit on your bag to close it.

Here’s our favourite tips.

Get the right bag

Suitcases have come a long way since the clunky, metal-framed numbers your parents toted around. Save your pennies and invest in something that is spacious, waterproof, and able to crammed to the brim with regrettable overseas purchases.

“I was a gear head before the military, but I think serving has made me even worse,” one service member says.

“If there is a new bag, organisation gadget, or lightweight tool, I usually buy it with the excuse that I am really saving weight, time, and space.”


Folding is for dummies

Roll, stuff, tie, and cram. These are the things you should be doing to your clothes, not folding. Folding takes up precious space, and leaves large gaps in your packing piles that are just BEGGING for a pair of knickers.

Think of your clothes as bricks in the wall, says Thrillist, filling in the spaces between large items like shoes or jackets, with smaller items like underwear or rolled up socks. You can secure bigger rolled up items into compact shapes using cords or velcro straps. Nifty. Like camping.

"Folding leaves large gaps in your packing piles that are just BEGGING for a pair of knickers." (Image: iStock)

Pack backwards

When you’re in the army, there’s no time to be holding everyone up as you try to find your left shoe. So how do you avoid the dreaded tousle through your *beautifully packed* suitcase? Pack from the bottom up.

Think about what you’ll be needing first - say, your night vision goggles - and keep them packed last, so they will sit at the very top. Then think about what you won’t be needing for a while - your instruction manual on hand grenades, say - and leave that stashed at the bottom of your suitcase.

(Unless you don’t know about hand grenades. Then that should go up the top.)

Listen: The Mamamia Out Loud team share their travel health horror stories(Post continues below).

Plan before you pack

They call it a ‘staging zone’, we call it ‘ground zero for your wardrobe’, but however you look at it - you’ll need to plan every item before it goes in. Which means laying it out flat.


Their Marine contact says that creating a ‘staging zone’, where you can view all items, helps you identify anything doubled up, or anything missing.

“Setting up a staging zone helps you think through what you’ll need and then pack the bag in the sequence you will need the items inside.”

Um, so, seven pairs of bikinis for one week at the beach isn’t considered ‘doubling up’, is it? Asking for a friend.

Think about the weight

If you see fit to carry a suitcase around Europe for two weeks that weight as much as a miniature pony, that choice is yours. However, you should be mindful about how that weight is distributed through your packing.

A drill instructor said to Thrillist that, “whatever weighs the most in the centre of the backpack and closest to your spine, so it centres the weight on your body rather than pulling back on you.” Apparently, this will make your bag easier to carry, if you’ve gone down the backpacking route.

Decided to bring a suitcase? “Break your bag into thirds,” another army contact says. “Bottom third is medium weight. Middle third is heavy weight. Top third is light weight.”

So put on your military hat and get organised with your packing. Think light, think simple, and think khaki: we hear it’s going to be HUGE for Autumn '17.