Packing clothes into a suitcase is often a fairly simple process—you fold them neatly in your luggage or arrange them in packing cubes and move on. But shoes are a different story. Footwear can carry dirt and germs that can end up on your clothes, while also being vulnerable to scuffs from hard items in your suitcase, like hair tools or the zippers on your toiletry bag.
That’s where travel shoe bags come in. These bags protect your heels, sneakers and boots and help your footwear last longer, which is an important consideration, notes Ellen Lynch, a New York-based professor of footwear and accessories design at the Fashion Institue of Technology. When it comes to packing shoes, she says, “shoe bags are the way to go.”
Shoe bags also help with your overall packing strategy. “Shoe bags allow you to keep a pair together,” notes Portland, Ore.-based travel and packing expert Anne McAlpin, author of “Pack It Up: The Essential Guide to Smart Travel.” “That makes them easier to locate in your luggage.” We asked Lynch, McAlpin, as well as three professional organizers, for their shoe-packing tips.
We also tested the following shoe bags with the same pair of sneakers, heels and ankle boots (all in a women’s size 8) to see how they fared during the packing and unpacking process. I’ve been a frequent traveler for years, and I’ve also tested packing cubes for Buy Side, so I’m no stranger to the subject. These are my favorite travel shoe bags after testing them out, and they’re all under $35.
Flexible cube with smart features
Dimensions: Small: 7.9 by 4.7 by 11.4 inches; Large: 8.66 by 5.1 by 13.8 inches
The Shoe Cube from Away looks like a toiletry bag at first glance (and could even double as one in a pinch). But it includes ingenious features that help make your shoe packing experience easier. A collapsible divider keeps each shoe separate (another way to help keep pairs clean) and easily slides down if you prefer not to use it. A mesh pocket covers the entire interior length and width of the top panel, offering extra storage space for up to five pairs of socks, a week’s worth of underwear or even a few bathing suits, we found after packing it ourselves.
The bag comes in two sizes— the small option can fit up to a women’s size 11 shoe or a men’s size 9.5; the large can house a women’s size 15.5 or men’s size 14, according to the brand. We found that the small was even more spacious than the brand claims (it fit our sneakers, heels and ankle boots with ease), although if you want to pack a pair of taller boots, you’d need to fold the tops of the boots to make them fit. A wide handle at the top of the cube makes it easy to grab out of your suitcase and go (a feature we also found very useful during our testing of traditional packing cubes). The bag’s zipper runs around ¾ of the case, allowing you easily take shoes in and out. The only downside is the lack of exterior mesh panels for breathability.
Dimensions: 12 by 15 inches
At a basic level, you need your shoe bag to protect your footwear from items in your suitcase and, conversely, your clothes from gunk on your shoes. Mumi’s Shoe Bags do that well—and without a lot of bells and whistles. The set comes with two 12- by 15-inch bags that weigh just 9 ounces together. Each bag is roomy enough to fit one pair of heels, sneakers or even ankle boots with room to spare. A sturdy zipper on one end helps keep everything in place, while an elastic loop allows you to easily grab the bag out of your suitcase or secure the bag to a closet hook once you arrive at your destination.
While these bags don’t have a mesh panel like some of the other options we tested, we found the laminated nylon material to be breathable, so you most likely won’t have to worry about your shoes smelling like a locker room once they’re removed from the bag. Once you return home, the brand recommends hand washing the bags and laying them flat to dry.
Pack-It Reveal Shoe Sack
Dimensions: 11 by 16.25 inches
The Eagle Creek Pack-It Reveal Shoe Sac offers an impressive level of breathability, making it a great choice for sneakers or other shoes you’ll be wearing on active trips. A large mesh panel extends down the front of the zippered bag to ensure both left and right shoes get plenty of ventilation. This bag is roomy—it held our sneakers, heels and ankle boots with no problem. According to the brand, it accommodates footwear up to a men’s size 13, plus a pair of flip flops. And light packers rejoice: At 2.6 ounces, this is the lightest shoe bag we tested. Other helpful features include a top handle that makes it easy to grab the bag and carry it or place it on a hook or hanger in a closet. The zipper also runs along the entire length of the bag with cord zipper pulls, and we found it easy to unzip and pull shoes in and out. Another big pro: This bag is machine-washable.
Compressible to free up space
Medium Compressible Shoe Bag
Large Compressible Shoe Bag
Dimensions: Medium: 5.5 by 4.3 by 13.7 inches; Large: 8.3 by 5.5 by 16.5 inches
Saving space is always a plus when you pack, and the Knack Compressible Shoe Bag helps. The bag is made of tough-yet-lightweight nylon ripstop fabric and the shape resembles a small duffle bag with a drawstring top. To use it, we slid a pair of shoes inside, stacking one on top of the other (a handy center divider separates each shoe), pulled the drawstring closed and then tightened the thick nylon straps to compress the bag.
These cubes come in two sizes—the brand says the medium can house a pair of sneakers up to a women’s size 8 or men’s size 9, and the large can fit shoes above a women’s size 8 or men’s size 9. Worth noting: The medium wasn’t quite long enough for my women’s size 8 sneakers, but the large had ample room and it could easily handle two pairs of sneakers or heels. While you may not want to compress more delicate footwear for fear of creases or cracks, the compression element is nice for sneakers, boots and sturdier shoes when you’re looking to save a little extra suitcase space.
Travel Shoe Bags (Set of 2)
Dimensions: Standard: 9 by 4 by 9.8 inches); Extra-large: 9 by 4.7 by 12.2 inches
At $11 for a set of two, this popular Amazon shoe bag has the lowest price of all the options we tested. The Yamiu two-pack includes one standard size, which is designed to fit shoes up to women’s size 10 or men’s size 8.5, and an extra-large size that’s made for shoes up to women’s size 14 or men’s size 12.5. If you’re planning to pack boots or heels, it’s best to go with the extra-large option, which we found can also hold two pairs of carefully-arranged sneakers with no issue. The bags are made of nylon with an oversized loop on top for easy carrying and each one includes a zipper that runs the length of the bag, allowing you to quickly reach in and grab your footwear. The bags are waterproof, according to the brand, but they’re not machine washable. Still, at this price point, we had no complaints.
How to pack shoes in your luggage
- Avoid bulky bags. Oversized packing cubes or bags will unnecessarily take up precious space in your suitcase, points out Chicago area-based organizing expert Monica Friel, founder of Chaos to Order, which is why we mostly tested slimmer bags.
- Pack heel to toe. “I pack shoes on top of each other with the toe of one shoe in the heel of the other shoe,” says Jessica Litman, a Minneapolis area-based organizing educator at The Organized Mama. She notes that this creates a rectangle shape which “makes packing shoes easier because you are creating a shape that works with your suitcase.”
- Store things inside your shoes. “Pack small items inside shoes to keep their shape and to maximize efficiency in your suitcase,” says Ashley La Fond, the New York City-based founder of Of Space + Mind. Storing a few pairs of socks inside shoes keeps all your footwear needs close together.
- Be mindful of delicate footwear. Heels, in particular, can be tricky to pack, says Ellen Lynch, a New York-based professor of footwear and accessories design at the Fashion Institue of Technology. Her advice: Consider standing your heels upright and pack them on the side of your suitcase for added support, rather than laying them down flat.
- Fold boots. If your boots don’t have a heel and have flexible uppers, Lynch recommends rolling them up and lacing them in shoe bags.
The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of the Buy Side from WSJ editorial team, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.