What to look for when buying bikepacking bags – plus some of the best collections for all budgets
Bikepacking allows riders to travel faster, lighter and deeper into the unknown. Unlike traditional cycle touring, where riders carry their gear in large pannier bags mounted to a rack on the rear of the bike, bikepackers tend to mostly use bags strapped directly to the frame, handlebar and seatpost.
Heavily-laden touring bikes often restrict riders to paved routes, whereas a lightweight setup allows bikepackers to cross a far wider range of terrain. This might encompass everything from local lanes and grassy bridleways to high-altitude steppe and alpine gravel tracks.
Bikepacking bags are also very aerodynamic. While that may not necessarily be top of the agenda if you’re content with taking the road less travelled, the advantage quickly adds up over the course of a long ride. For riders competing in ultra-distance events like the TransAtlantic Way, it’s vital. “For racers, the aerodynamic benefit gained through bikepacking bags is essential, to the point that you can buy racing-specific bags,” says Callum Nicklin, brand manager of Mason Cycles.
The advantages of a lightweight bikepacking setup for intrepid riders far outweigh the disadvantages. But bikepacking bags do require careful consideration when packing. It is important to evenly distribute weight and keep essential items close to hand. “Pack items that you’ll need regularly in easy-access places, and lesser-used items in the depths of your bags,” says round-the-world bikepacker Joshua Cunningham, author of Escape by Bike: Adventure Cycling, Bikepacking and Touring Off-Road.
Types of Bikepacking Bags
Though everyone’s preferences are different, bikepacking bags are most commonly mounted to the seatpost, handlebar, toptube and inside the frame’s main triangle, How many bags you need will depend on the length of the trip, where you’re riding and just how minimalist you’re willing to be. Looking for a new ride? Our round up of the best bikepacking bikes buyer’s guide will help with that. You might also want to check out our round up of the best bikepacking tents.
Here’s what you can expect from each type of bikepacking bag.
A saddle pack is the mainstay of a bikepacking setup. It typically offers the largest capacity of any bag on the bike. The largest bags offer a capacity upwards of 20 litres. Most saddle packs use velcro straps fixed to the saddle rails and seatpost. A roll top keeps the elements at bay, while additional straps help eliminate unused space. Some bags also have external bungee cords for stashing a down jacket or similar.
Most packs claim to be fully waterproof but using a dry bag inside will offer piece of mind if you’re expecting wet weather. Also look out for reflective detailing, as well as a light attachment on the rear of the bag.
Mounting a bag across the front of the handlebars is a natural position for bikepacking. It’s good to keep the load light here to reduce the impact on handling. As such, many riders choose to use a handlebar bag for bulky but lightweight items like a sleeping bag, bivvy bag, down jacket or tent.
Most bags strap directly to the handlebars, while others use a holster which in turn holds a separate bag. Handlebar bags come in a wide range of sizes (in terms of both capacity and width), so make sure it’s compatible with your bike. This is particularly important if you have narrow handlebars or a bike with a front suspension.
A frame pack is a long, slim bag that is mounted inside your frame’s main triangle. That space can vary significantly depending on the size and type of bike you’re riding (full-suspension, hardtail or rigid, for example). As a result, frame packs come in a range of designs.
Some are designed to fill almost the entire triangle, while others leave space for two bottle cages (again, depending on the bike). We’d recommend the latter. Frame packs often have multiple compartments to organise your gear. They are ideal for tent poles and heavier items that benefit from the bag’s central position on the bike. A snug fit and a variety of attachment points will help stop the bag moving around while pedaling.
You can also strap a bag to the toptube of your bike. There’s not a huge amount of space here but ease of access makes a toptube bag a really handy addition, particularly for snacks, a phone or compact camera.
That covers the four main bags you’re likely to use on a bikepacking trip. If you need even more gear, you can also find bags that attach to either side of the fork (providing your bike has appropriate mounts for fork cages). These can sometimes double up as pannier bags if you want to switch your set-up from city-mode to adventure-mode and vice versa. Some bikepackers do opt for a pannier combination too, especially considering the more recent lightweight innovations on the market, so test all the options and see what works best for you.
There’s also bags that sit on the inside of the handlebar or stem, and bags that sit between the seatpost and toptube. Many gravel bikes also have a third bottle cage mount on the underside of the downtube, providing the option to carry additional water or a tool keg.
Five Essential Packing Tips
We asked two experienced bikepackers, Joshua Cunningham and Callum Nicklin, for their essential tips when packing for a multi-day ride.
Prioritise items that have more than one use. The more jobs one thing can do, the better, and you’ll make huge weight and space savings.
If you think you only ‘might’ need it, then the chances are you probably don’t, so don’t pack it (unless they are essential spares, tools and a first aid kit – take them).
Pack things in the order you might use them and keep commonly used items close to hand.
Have a back-up for electronic devices – if your GPS breaks then you’ll need a map.
An ultralight packable bag like a musette comes in handy for food stops, where you may want to stock up, or for visits around towns.
If you’re thinking about getting into bikepacking, here are our recommendations for bag collections that will suit all budgets.
Apidura Expedition Series
Price: Saddle Pack from £118, Handlebar Bag from £96, Frame Pack from £88, Toptube Bag from £42
Apidura is one of the most respected names in the world of bikepacking, with the company focused entirely on producing lightweight, rackless packing systems.
Apidura has three bag collections: the Racing Series, Expedition Series and Backcountry Series. The former is focused on ultra-minimalist riders and the latter meets the demands of bikepackers heading into the wildest terrain. The Expedition Series sits in the middle and is ideal for everyday bikepacking.
The Expedition Series includes a saddle pack, handlebar bag, frame pack and toptube bag, all in a range of sizes, as well as a fork pack, tool pack and accessory pocket. All are made from a lightweight, waterproof and abrasion-resistant material with welded seams, as well as reinforced buckles and straps.
Apidura’s bags are a premium option but you can expect quality craftsmanship and attention to detail as a result. Take the saddle pack, for example, which has a hands-free air release valve to get rid of excess air when using the roll top closure. It also features carbon-friendly velcro straps to protect your frame and seatpost.
Price: Handlebar Bag £125, Frame pack from £100, Seat pack from £125 and more
It’s hard to think of bike bags without picturing an Ortlieb pannier. But what about off-road adventuring? Well, they’ve got kit for that too. Enter: the Ortlieb Bikepacking Collection.
Ortlieb began their foray into bikepacking gear in 2016 and have since made some great updates and innovations. With 12 items in the collection thus far, there’s a lot to work with too. You can go for a classic handlebar, frame and seat-pack combo, or mix it up with the neat gravel packs and top tubes. There’s also both roll-top and zip closure options depending on your preference.
Like all of their kit, these bags are 100% waterproof so are ready to hit the trail whatever the weather. We actually tested the handlebar bag and gravel packs recently on the King Alfred’s Way cycling route. Needless to say, they definitely held their ground on the lumps and bumps of this off-road adventure.
Price: Seat Pack from £60, Front Roll £65, Frame Pack £70, Top Tube Bag from £20
Sometimes it can feel like the variety of equipment needed to go bikepacking is at odds with its minimalist ethos. But getting set up for your first ride needn’t cost the Earth.
You could simply set out with a backpack for an overnighter, for starters. Then there’s Altura’s Vortex 2 collection, which offers a realistic route into bikepacking with a range of affordable bags.
The saddle pack is available in six and 12-litre sizes, while you’ve also got the choice between full and half-size frame packs. The range is completed by a toptube bag and handlebar bag.
You might not get all the bells and whistles of more expensive bags, but Altura’s entire range is waterproof rated to IPX6, with welded seams and sealed zips. Not convinced? You can double-up on protection with Altura’s five and ten-litre dry bags.
Price: Saddle Bag from £54.99, Bar Bag from £104.99, Frame Bag from £49.99, Toptube Bag from £32.99
The outdoor aficionados at Restrap quickly became a hit with bikepackers in search of quality gear. The #CarryEverything range (because everything needs a hashtag now, doesn’t it?) is the Yorkshire-based company’s rackless bag collection.
Restrap’s line-up occupies the middle ground between Apidura and Altura’s bags. There’s a small and large handlebar bag, plus 2.5, 3.5 and 4.5-litre frame packs, eight and 14-litre saddle packs, and a toptube bag.
You can also bolster capacity with Restrap’s stem bag and tech bag. The latter attaches to either side of the handlebars and is designed to carry a mobile phone, camera and the like. All bags are made from a heavy-duty Cordura fabric.
Restrap’s handlebar and saddle packs differ from many bikepacking designs in that they use a holster with a separate dry bag, as opposed to an all-in-one design. That means you can easily unclip the dry bag and, in the case of the saddle pack, helps prevent it swaying from side-to-side, according to Restrap.
Price: Saddle Bag from €117, Frame Bag from €110, Bar Bag €120, Fork Bags €68
Based in Rovigo, Italy, Miss Grape make some cracking bikepacking bags. Their ‘Adventure’ collection is designed for rugged off-road trips and, according to their tests, it’s ten times more resistant than fabrics normally used in the bikepacking world.
All the adventure bags – minus the top tubes and bottle bags which are water resistant – are fully waterproof and feature some tough nylon fabric made with phthalate-free PVC. The saddle bags range from 13L to 20L capacities, whilst the frame bags go from 4L up to 6L. The Tendril 10.7 bar bag, on the other hand, holds up to 17L and can be mounted with both drop bar and MTB handlebars. If you’re after a whole set, there’s also some sleek commuting and road biking bags to choose from.
Price: Cool Cave Carrier $80, Cave Lid Top Pack $70
Released just this year, popular outdoor brands Fjällräven and Specialized have come together to create a cool, new bikepacking collection. Whilst more biking gear is yet to be released, we’re really liking the look of the pannier bags so far. Read more about this collaboration here.
In keeping with the Kånken bag style, the ‘Cool Cave Carrier’ features a box-like look that can carry up to 20L of bikepacking gear. It’s made from a rigid plastic and can easily clip on to both pannier racks and fork racks. You can also get a handy lid pack for the carrier that doubles up as a crossbody bag for off-the-bike excursions.
Price: Tivaro 13L Bar Bag £29.99, Analoko Frame Bar £39.99, Fiana Saddle Pack £39.99
If you’re on more of a budget, Alpkit’s bikepacking bags might be the ones to go for. They’re also a British brand based in the Peak District so are handy if you’re looking for something a little more close to home.
The Tivaro (13L), the Analoko (2.5L to 6L) and the Fiana (12L) are all fully waterproof with welded seams and a sturdy nylon fabric build. They’ve also got a simple, dry bag-type look that would work well on rainy bikepacking adventures, say in the Lake District, for example. The Analoko would double up as a nice commuter bag too.
Price:Handlebar roll £115, Frame bag £85, Seat bag £120 and more
Best known for their iconic saddles, Brooks England released this off-road travel bag collection just last year. There are 10 bags to choose from and they can all be mixed and matched depending on your adventure. So, whether you’re going on a day trip, a multi-day bikepacking trip or on a round-the-world bike tour, Brooks have got you covered.
All the products are made from 100% waterproof materials with a welded construction. They are built-to-last and are UV-resistant, abrasion resistant, and both PVS and PFC-free. Most of the metal used is made from aluminium too so the bags remains lightweight, whilst there’s a clever use of the reflective logo all throughout the kit.
Price: Custom Shazam! saddle bag £225, Custom go-go top tube bag £70, Voila! snack bag £60
Made in London, Wizard Works are a 3-person independent company who make some awesome bags. Their designs are incredibly unique and really make you stand out on the trail. Described as ’an aesthetic that lies somewhere between timeless classic and 80s rave’, you can completely customise these colours too.
The Shazam! bag is a real favourite, and functions both as a handlebar and saddle bag with some tough 1000D Cordura fabrics, whilst the snack bags can be made to match and are handy on any adventure.
Price: Urban Ex Pannier 2.0 £158, Doubletrack handlebar sling £63, Doubletrack feed bag £47
Though Chrome Industries are mostly known for urban cycling gear, their bike bags are actually incredibly durable and great for shorter bikepacking trips. They’re versatile too and won’t look out of place on big town roads or countryside trails alike – handy if you’re looking for all-rounder bags that cater for a variety of adventures.
We’ve chosen their lightweight pannier here, along with the doubletrack handlebar sling and feed bag. The handlebar bag has a sizeable 5L capacity and can additionally be worn across your body as a sling for off-the-bike downtime. The feedbag is similarly versatile and can attach to wherever’s comfortable, whilst also being beer can and Kit Kat compatible (a big plus).
The pannier comes with a useful over-the-shoulder strap and is 100% welded waterproof. It’s also lightweight for a pannier at 890g, so shouldn’t way your bike down if you pack light, and incredibly secure on the rack – hardly any movement at all.
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