While most T=3 single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) viruses package in vivo about 3,000 nucleotides (nt), in vitro experiments have demonstrated that a broad range of RNA lengths can be packaged. Under the right solution conditions, for example, cowpea chlorotic mottle virus (CCMV) capsid protein (CP) has been shown to package RNA molecules whose lengths range from 100 to 10,000 nt. Furthermore, in each case it can package the RNA completely, as long as the mass ratio of CP to nucleic acid in the assembly mixture is 61 or higher. Yet the packaging efficiencies of the RNAs can differ widely, as we demonstrate by measurements in which two RNAs compete head-to-head for a limited amount of CP. We show that the relative efficiency depends nonmonotonically on the RNA length, with 3,200 nt being optimum for packaging by the T=3 capsids preferred by CCMV CP. When two RNAs of the same length-and hence the same charge-compete for CP, differences in packaging efficiency are necessarily due to differences in their secondary structures and/or three-dimensional (3D) sizes. For example, the heterologous RNA1 of brome mosaic virus (BMV) is packaged three times more efficiently by CCMV CP than is RNA1 of CCMV, even though the two RNAs have virtually identical lengths. Finally, we show that in an assembly mixture at neutral pH, CP binds reversibly to the RNA and there is a reversible equilibrium between all the various RNA/CP complexes. At acidic pH, excess protein unbinds from RNA/CP complexes and nucleocapsids form irreversibly.