What to look for when buying bikepacking bags – plus three of the best sets 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 pannier bags mounted to a rack on the rear of the bike, bikepackers use bags strapped directly to the frame, handlebar and seatpost.
“A modern bikepacking luggage setup is usually lighter than a pannier setup. You can fit the bags to pretty much any frame, and they’re quick and easy to remove.”
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 bridleways to high-altitude steppe and alpine gravel tracks.
Bikepacking bags are also more aerodynamic than panniers. 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 Transcontinental Race, 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
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), sit on the inside of the handlebar or stem, and 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.
Best Bikepacking Bags
If you’re thinking about getting into bikepacking, here are our recommendations for three sets of bags 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 More info:Apidura
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.
Altura Vortex 2
Price: Seat Pack from £59.99, Front Roll £59.99, Frame Pack from £59.99, Toptube Bag £34.99 More info:Altura
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 £94.99, Bar Bag from £99.99, Frame Bag from £39.99, Toptube Bag £29.99 More info:Restrap
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.
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