Bike packing bags vs panniers
Bicycle Bags are typically strapped to the bike and offer a lightweight, modular and versatile approach to carrying the kit.
One of the key differences between traditional cycle touring and bike packing is how you carry your kit on the bike.
Pannier bags and luggage racks are a classic approach to carrying a kit on your bike, offering stability and volume for cycle touring. However, a rack and pannier setup can be heavy, and their use is largely limited to bikes with rack mounts.
In the world of packing light and traveling far – an ethos at the heart of bike packing – bike packing bags come to the fore, enabling riders to venture further away from paved roads and tackle challenging terrain, with a lightweight, versatile setup for carrying kit. (How much your bike packing setup weighs will depend on how much you’re taking with you, of course).
Bike packing bags are designed for use on any type of bike, without the need for rack mounts, and you can tailor your exact setup by adding and removing the bags you need for a particular trip. They are generally soft-bodied and shaped to fit a particular section of your bike.
Bike packing bags may not offer the same capacity as a traditional touring bike, and they can be prone to jiggling around a little, but careful bag choice and thoughtful packing can overcome these limitations and give you a versatile, lightweight bike packing set up to carry everything you require.
Working from the front of the bike back, we’ll run through the main bags on offer, their benefits and uses, and what to look out for if you’re investing in a bike packing setup.
A Bicycle Handlebar Bag (sometimes referred to as a handlebar pack) sits between the brake/gear levers and is fixed to the handlebar. While they’re great for bike packing, smaller handlebar packs are also gaining popularity for day-long rides.
A handlebar bag is sausage-shaped, which lends well to storing sleeping kit, rolled up to match.
Items kept in a handlebar pack are going to be a bit awkward to access while riding because typically you will need to undo all the fixings and take the bag off before you can open it, so it’s best to use these for the kit you’ll need overnight but are happy to be without during the day. Small handlebar bags will often have a zip closure for easy access, though.
It’s worth remembering that the volume you can store in a handlebar bag will, of course, depend on your bike’s handlebar. Flat-bar bikes will have the freedom to take a larger bag, while drop-bar bikes will be limited to a bag that leaves space for shifter movement when changing gear.
Handlebar bags usually have adjustable volume, often with a roll-top closure, so offer some leeway for fitting to your bike’s dimensions.
When choosing a handlebar pack, look for something waterproof because you don’t want to be setting up camp into a soggy sleeping bag. Some Bicycle Smartphone Bags also have storage straps or nets on the outside which are handy for stuffing that raincoat you have just taken off.
Finally, if you are on the fence about whether this might be your thing, a good quality dry bag lashed to your bike’s handlebar with a tie-down strap also works.
Bicycle Frame Bags are designed for the triangle between the top tube, down tube and seat tube of your bike frame.
Offering well-balanced, aerodynamic carriage, these are a favorite for ultra-distance racing. Storing heavier items, such as tools or food, in the frame bag is a good idea because this helps to maintain a low center of gravity.
Saddle or seat packs sit behind the rider, attaching around the seat post and through the saddle rails.
A saddle pack provides the classic bike packing look and marks out a bike packing rig from a conventional touring setup with a pannier rack on the rear of the bike. Saddle packs come in a range of sizes, with a typical capacity from 8 to 18 liters.
One key advantage of a Bicycle Saddle Bag is the relatively easy access to your belongings during a ride. You will need to stop before you can access anything, of course, but it is easy to open the bag and grab what you need – providing you pack smartly (we will come on to this).
Most bags are designed with a roll-top closure, allowing the bag to become smaller or larger – another advantage – and keeping the contents secure and firmly attached to the bike.
Small pack away bag
At some point during a bike packing trip, you’ll inevitably need a bit more space. Enter the pack away bag.
The ideal pack away Waterproof Bag is a tiny foldable rucksack or musette, designed to be small and light. They are not for wearing all day but are helpful if the weather has warmed, and you have got more layers to carry, or for when you have just restocked with supplies for the night. You can also use it as a shopping bag for picking up those supplies.