Whether it's for a quick trail centre lap, multi day epic, or perhaps your daily ride to work, picking the best cycling backpack doesn’t need to be tricky – there are a lot of choices, so you should be able to find the perfect companion. This guide will help you select the right pack, regardless of whether you want to go light and fast or take the kitchen sink.
It's important to get the right size of pack. Capacity is measured in litres. As a rule, packs under 10L are best suited to racing or riders who don’t mind packing light. Those with a capacity of 10-15L are most suitable for all-day trail riding, with enough space for bike tools, tubes, spare clothing, plus food and other essential kit. Packs at around 20-30L are best suited to longer, multi-day rides.
Most mountain bike packs nowadays tend to come with or be compatible with hydration systems. These use bladders to allow you to comfortably carry up to three litres of water on the trails, which is much more than can be taken with bottles. Some hydration packs use lumbar bladders that sit across your hips, helping spread the weight of the water and helping to prevent back pain. The Camelbak Charge LR has a 2L lumbar bladder with 8L of storage capacity.
Some packs, such as EVOC's FR Enduro 16 pack have an integrated back protector, making them ideal for more extreme use, such as Alpine trips or enduro racing.
Cycle pannier bags attach to your bike by using an add-on rack. By attaching bags to your bike rather than carrying a rucksack or courier bag, you can more evenly distribute the weight and carry far more on board your bike.
Panniers make the ideal addition to a commuter bike, enabling you to carry as much as you'd like to and from work. You can even do the weekly shop without having to take your car or the bus.
Cycling tourists have traditionally used panniers for holidays, expeditions, even round the world adventures. For fast and light, cycle touring frame bags are a useful way of carrying large amounts of gear on a bike that doesn’t have threaded bosses for panniers. Bags that sit inside the main triangle of your bike, under your saddle or mount on the seat post allow you to carry enough for several days of adventure, if you are prepared to do away with some of your comforts!
Racks attach to your bike via a set of threaded bosses on the frame. Not all bikes have these fixtures, but choose a bike with these and you'll have a versatile machine with plenty of practicality. The pannier bags attach to the rails of the rack using simple quick-release clips (the most common is the Rixen Kaul Klikfix) so you can carry them with you off the bike, then quickly attach them when it’s time to ride.
Cycle pannier bags can be fitted onto racks at both the front and rear of the bike, we'd always recommend using just rear panniers for normal loads. If you fancy a longer holiday or expedition, then the use of front panniers as well will nigh-on double your carrying capacity.
Look for panniers which are made from waterproof material, like Ortlieb’s highly regarded Roller range, or a heavy duty cordura pannier combined with waterproof construction, like Altura’s Night Vision panniers.
A saddlebag is a small under-saddle mounted bag, and it is the ideal place to keep emergency spares for any ride. For race bikes, opt for a minimal sized bag able to carry a spare inner tube, tyre levers, and a small multitool.
You can of course stuff all of these items in your race jersey pocket, but keep them in a pack that’s permanently fixed on your bike and you'll never accidentally forget them. The Topeak Aero Wedge sits neatly under your saddle and is available in three sizes depending on how much you want to carry.
For long road rides or sportives you may want to opt for a larger bag to store a couple of tubes, a C02 air pump, tyre levers, a spare chain link and a bike multi-tool. Saddlebags are available in a huge range of sizes so you'll easily find just what you’re looking for.
A bar mounted bag like the Altura Dryline bar bag is a favourite amongst cycling tourists, and like many bar bags, it incorporates a map pocket on the top so you can easily check your map. It also gives you quick access to essentials as you’re riding along, be it your phone, camera, wallet or mid-ride snacks.
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