Is it a pannier or is it a rucksack? The first thing you notice about the Ortlieb Vario, aside from its Ninja friendly good looks (it does come in two colours other than post-industrial mat black- red/black or lime green/black) is that it’s got all sorts of complicated looking bits and pieces attached to it.
Setting these aside for the time being, it’s a well made and sturdy fully waterproof pannier style bag with an effective and simple roll-top closure. It fastens securely to a rack with Ortlieb’s standard Quick-Lock2 fastenings (anti-theft locks are available as an extra) much as a normal pannier. It’s both left and right side compatible. Ideally sized for commuting, the bag will easily take a 15.4” laptop in protective sleeve as well as a change of clothes, although that’s pretty much the lot.
The bag consists of a single main pouch, with a small zipped mesh pocket inside and a stretchy neoprene pouch pocket on either side on the exterior. The main point of difference for the Vario, though, is its ability to transform quickly and easily into a rucksack, making it ideal for extended carrying. A discrete zipped stretch fabric compartment on the front of the bag houses the rucksack harness which simple clips on to eyelets on the back of the bag with sturdy and secure clips, without needing to do anything at all to the Quick-Lock2 clips. The harness itself is robust and well padded, offering good wear comfort, but is a little tricky to put away again, as the front stretch pocket is quite neat in size.
A nice extra is a simple but effective helmet strap on the front of the bag, which can easily be removed when not required, but works well with the bag when employed as a rucksack.
The only thing I’d have changed is added a little extra reflectivity. Two fairly small reflective patches are present, but certainly with the black version, a little more would have been preferable. A strap is available as an optional extra to secure the bag at the bottom, to prevent banging off the frame (this wasn’t a particularly bad problem anyway) but it would have been good to have this as standard.
The price isn’t bad considering how robust the build quality is, the fact that it’s a fully waterproof pannier (or rucksack), is smart and versatile enough to be used as an office bag and that it’s of a size to be genuinely useful on a daily basis.
A well made, nicely featured, versatile fully waterproof commuting bag that doubles as a comfortable rucksack.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Ortlieb Vario backpack
Size tested: n/a
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Aimed at all season commuter cyclists.
Quickly converts from a bike pannier to a comfortable backpack.
Well considered and nicely featured for commuters, but could have done with a bit more reflectivity.
Helmet strap a nice touch.
Easy to convert to rucksack, not quite so easy to stash straps for reverting to pannier status.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Made of tough waterproof nylon fabric.
Roll-top closure for easy waterproof protection.
Quick-Lock2 rack fastenings
Stowable padded rucksack straps.
2 neoprene side pockets
1 internal zipped mesh pocket
Removeable helmet cradle on front of bag.
2 reflective patches
Optional extras of padded notebook sleeve and Quick-Lock2 anti-theft device.
Available in black, black/red, black/lime green
Well made and rugged.
Performed really well, easy to use, kept things dry and was simple to convert to backpack. Slightly more tricky to convert back to pannier (putting straps away was slightly fiddly)
Not really much to go wrong. Fastenings easily replaced if necessary.
At 1.2kg it's not a bad weight, especially given how sturdy and waterproof it is. That includes the straps etc.
Comfortable to wear as rucksack.
Good value for a genuinely versatile commuter pack that will last.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Performed excellently for its intended purpose.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Ease with which it transforms from pannier into rucksack.
Knowledge that it's completely waterproof.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Would have liked more reflectivity.
Slightly tricky to put rucksack straps away.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, especially those regularly commuting with laptops etc.
Anything further to say about the product in conclusion?
Well designed and easy to use.
About the tester
Age: 37 Height: 1.65m Weight: 67kg
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, general fitness riding, mtb,
Lara has been riding bikes for longer than she'd care to admit, and writing about them nearly as long. Since 2009 she has been working as part of the road.cc review team whilst championing women's cycling on the side, most notably via two years as editor of the, sadly now defunct, UK's first and only women's cycling mag, erm, Women's Cycling.
Believing fervently that cycling will save the world, she wishes that more people would just ride a bike and be pleasant to each other.
She will ride anything with two wheels, occasionally likes to go fast, definitely likes to go far and is always up for a bit of exploring somewhere new and exciting.