Rucksack? Pannier? Saddle bag? Trailer? Here's a look at your options

Everyone needs to carry things on their bikes, from a tube and multi-tool up to a week’s shopping and more. We look at the pros and cons of your options in loading up.

There’s no single best way to carry stuff on your bike. The right set-up for you will depend on how much you need to carry and for how far, what you need to do with it at your destination, and your personal sense of what works best for you. Let’s look at the pros and cons of the alternatives.

Carrying small loads

You’re almost certainly going to need to carry spare tube, tyre levers, multitool and a pump — but where?

In your pockets


The classic three pockets of a cycling jersey are there so you can carry stuff, so why not use them?

Pros: Very convenient; goes with you when you get off the bike; no need to switch between bikes

Cons: Limited capacity; spoils the line of your jersey; need to find everything to load up so bad for disorganised people

In a saddle bag

Juliana Buhring Transcontinental bike - seat pack

There are literally hundreds of small saddlebags on the market, intended to provide a safe home for your tools, spares, wallet and keys. Bigger versions will take spare clothing too if the weather’s changeable or you’re out for an adventure. Lightweight cycle tourers have always used bigger saddlebags; the latest designs to come out of the bikepacking and adventure racing world are big enough to swallow half your gear for an overnight.

Pros: Tidy; contents protected from the elements; always there ready for a ride

Cons: Easily stolen; faff to take with you or switch between bikes

Carrying larger loads


AlpKit Gourdon 25 drybag rucksack - worn

You’ve also got a vast range of choice when it comes to small-to-medium backpacks. Many people simply press into service a hiking daypack, but there are plenty of bags designed for cycling, intended either for commuting or mountain biking. The latter usually have a slot for a drinking bladder, which you’re unlikely to need unless it’s a very long way to the office.

Pros: Flexible – you can carry a little or a lot; goes with you when you get off the bike

Cons: Can be floppy if under-filled; sweaty back; uncomfortable if over-filled


Ortlieb Single Back-Roller Urban Pannier - on bike 2

The quintessential on-bike bags, panniers sit either side of your bike so a large load is balanced. However, there’s nothing to stop you using just one if all you need is to carry a day’s worth of office stuff.

You’ll need a rack to hang them on, at which point you have to decide whether you want that rack on the back of the bike or on the fork.

A rear rack is traditional if it’s going to be the only place you hang luggage, but there’s a school of thought that says low-rider front panniers are actually better. Very heavy rear panniers can dramatically affect the handling of your bike, causing the back end to wag around. Because the weight is close to the steering axis of the bike, low-rider front panniers have far less effect. You only get that advantage with a low-rider rack though; large, heavily-laden front panniers up high are a bad idea.

Pros: Comfortable; large capacity

Cons: Many are awkward to carry off the bike; easily stolen if left on the bike; negative effect on handling


BOB trailer in use (CC BY-NC 2.0 bikewandering:Flickr).jpg

If you want to carry a week’s shopping in one go, load up a lightweight bike for a camping trip, or run any number of errands then it’s worth considering a trailer. You may be able to unhitch the trailer leaving the bike almost bare, which is handy if you’re going to stay at a base and ride out from there

Pros: Capable of carrying large and inconvenient loads up to and including dogs and small children; minimal effect on bike handling;

Cons: Heavy; expensive; an extra thing to lock when parked

Handlebar bag

Van Nicholas Pioneer - bar bag

Associated with old-school cycle touring, handlebar bags are actually one of the unsung heroes of the bike luggage world. A bar bag with quick release mount is a great place for the essentials for leisurely riding such as snacks and a compact camera. Modern bar bags have attachment systems that make it very easy to quickly take the bag off the bike so you can take your valuables with you while you stroll around taking in the sights.

Pros: Handy place to carry on-ride essentials; easy to take with you

Cons: Negative effect on handling if over-loaded; awkward to fit if brake/gear levers have side-exit cables

Recommended bags

With those general points in mind, here's a selection of good bags that illustrate the sort of thing you should be looking for in a range of different applications.

Topeak Aero Wedge (Clip On) Small Saddle Bag — £14.99

topeak aero wedge clip on small.jpg

There are vast numbers of small under-seat packs like this around, but Topeak is particularly good at them. Topeak's bags are sturdy, easy to access and the clip-on versions all fit the same mount, so you can easily switch them between bikes, or have different sizes according to how much you need to carry.

This one has a semi-rigid construction with a good quality zip that goes all the way round. There's a reflective patch, and a light loop too. Inside there's enough space for a tube, levers, a tool and a puncture kit.

Find a Topeak dealer

Restrap Saddle Bag Holster and Dry Bag — £99.99

Restrap Saddle Bag Holster + Dry Bag.jpg

At the other end of the scale from bags like the Aero Wedge are honking great saddlepacks designed for lightweight touring in its new guise of 'adventure riding'. The Restrap Saddle Bag Holster is a great example. It can carry up to 14 litres of stuff without any need for a rack. Unconstrained by frame design or bottle cage placement, it will work for just about any bike.

Assuming black is the new black (again), the Holster is bang on the minimalist, pseudo-military-utility trend in adventure kit. Made from 1000D Cordura wrapped over a plastic hardshell to maintain its shape, swathed in nylon webbing and held together not by stitching but instead tough cord through metal eyelets, the Holster looks like it will take a real beating year after year. At well over half a kilo it's definitely no lightweight, but what price durability and peace of mind?

Read our review of the Restrap Saddle Bag Holster and Dry Bag

Carradice Super C A4 Pannier — £40.99


Carradice luggage has a well deserved reputation among mile-eaters for being tough, no-nonsense and durable. Their Super C A4 pannier, specifically designed - as its name implies - to take A4 files and similarly shaped objects, certainly lives up to that.

As with everything in their Super C range, it's made from cotton duck, a traditional heavy, waterproof waxed cotton fabric. Cotton duck is incredibly hard-wearing and will keep your stuff dry for decades to come. It can be repaired easily by stitching or gluing, and can be reproofed with reproofing wax. A pretty good choice to make bike luggage out of then. It also gives Carradice bags an idiosyncratic retro-look which you either like or you don't. I'm a fan.

The pannier is shaped to take A4 files, and does so well.

Read our review of the Carradice Super C A4 Pannier

Find a Carradice dealer

Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Pannier — £102

Ortlieb Back Roller Classic pannier.jpg

A good set of panniers can be an investment that sets you up for many years of happy load hauling. Keep your eyes peeled and you'll see plenty of Ortlieb's Back Rollers on both commuters and grizzled tourists. There's a reason for their ubiquity - they're bloody good.

The Back Roller Classics (please someone, start a band; it's such a great name) take their name from the way they close. They roll up, with a single clip and strap holding them shut. It's basic, but it works very well, the roll prevents water from getting through while allowing enough slack to accomodate larger loads. Total capacity for the pair is 40 litres, which is about as much as you'd want to be carrying.

Where they really score is in the ease of use. The top hooks open and close when you lift the carry handle, which makes attaching and removing them a doddle. The retaining hook at the bottom is easily moved on an elliptical track to suit your rack, as are the top hooks.

Read our review of the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Pannier

Find an Ortlieb dealer

Carradice Super C saddlebag — £62.99

Carradice Super C saddlebag

The Carradice Super C is pleasingly simple, with one main compartment and two side pockets. There is also a waterproof inner pocket, handily sized for maps and route sheets. Internal organisation is nicely straightforward and if you insist on carrying extra stuff there are loops on the lid to bungee it on. Cotton duck is water-resistant and breathable, which means that even if your stuff gets wet in a prolonged downpour it'll dry out eventually.

Any load carrying solution is going to be a compromise between convenience, comfort and capacity. Pick any two, as the old saying goes. The Super C scores for comfort (the load isn't on your body and doesn't affect bike handling) and capacity (23l is enough for a credit card mini-tour) but it loses points for convenience as it's not easy to remove from the bike, and it works best with Carradice's bag support.

Read our review of the Carradice Super C saddlebag

Find a Carradice dealer

Osprey Escapist 32 Rucksack —  £79

Osprey Escapist 32 Back Pack - worn

The Osprey Escapist 32 is light, well made, stable and stylish, and performs well at what it's designed for: multi-purpose load-lugging.

The first thing that struck me when I picked up the pack was how light it was for such a large volume model (32 litres in M/L back length, as tested). It's mainly aimed at the commuting and mountain biking crowd, but also riders looking to undertake multi-day epics. It's a slick looking pack, with subtle reflective markings on ripstop nylon and stretchable nylon mesh, all attached to a semi-rigid back panel.

Read our review of the Osprey Escapist 32
Find an Osprey dealer

Alpkit Gourdon 25 drybag rucksack — £29.99

AlpKit Gourdon 25 drybag rucksack

If you want super-simple, waterproof comfortable gear-carrying at a bargain price, look no further. The Gourdon 25 has one main 25 litre storage compartment with a buckle-fastened roll top, and a narrow pocket that can accommodate a 1L hydration pack. That's it. It weighs less than 450g.

For a bag that's so simple it's surprisingly comfortable to wear. The shoulder straps are padded, and there's a thin waist strap and sternum strap that keep the bag securely in place when you're in full flow on the bike.

Read our review of the Alpkit Gourdon 25 drybag rucksack

Proviz Reflect 360 rucksack — £62.99

Proviz Reflect 360 Rucksack

The Proviz Reflect 360 Rucksack is a stunning way of boosting your visibility when riding at night. During the day the backpack is a subtle grey, but when a car's headlights fall on it, the entire bag reflects back the light.

As a rucksack the Reflect 360 fulfils its task well. It's spacious with a 30 litre capacity which is more than enough for a change of clothes, sandwiches and any other stuff you need to transport. There's also a laptop sleeve.

Read our review of the Proviz Reflect 360 rucksack

Find a Proviz dealer

Topeak DryBag Trunkbag MTX — £59.99

Topeak MTX Trunk Dry Bag in situ

Topeak’s MTX waterproof trunk bag is brilliantly designed and a delight to use when paired with the brand’s range of compatible carriers thanks to solid construction and the clever patented quick track mounting system, combining limpet like security and effortless release. Extensive internal padding gives perishables a sporting chance of surviving rutted roads and bridle path alike but I’d stop short of risking cameras and other sensitive electrical equipment. The LED tab could also be improved and incompatibility with other brands of carrier might also be a turn off.

Heavy-duty 300/600-denier sonic welded polyester construction is built to last, offering excellent water repellence-even directing a jet of water from a garden hose over the bag for several minutes hasn’t revealed any weaknesses, so it came as no surprise to find the contents bone dry after several hours riding in torrential rain. 12.1litre capacity is certainly generous (although Carradice offers a 13 litre cotton duck model), the main compartment swallowing tubes, lunch, lightweight waterproof, energy bars, multi tools and pretty much anything else you’d want close to hand on day/training rides. However, some long shackle U locks proved a tight fit.

Read our review of the Topeak DryBag Trunkbag MTX

Find a Topeak dealer

SKS Tour XL — £27.99

SKS Tour Pack XL - onbike

The Tour XL bag from SKS is sturdy and cunningly engineered bag that is just the job for short audaxes and day rides.

There's enough space for basic ride kit, pretty much everything you'd need bar a pump. You'll probably struggle to wedge a waterproof in there though, unless it's one of the flash ones that scrunch down into something the size of a tennis ball. SKS claim 1.4l for the main compartment plus an additional 0.6l if you undo a second zip and extend the bag. Fully extended it's a bit too big for some bikes but it also comes in a L version which is a couple of quid cheaper and doesn't have the extendable bit.

The real star of the show is the way the bag mounts onto the bike. There is a simple rubberised strap which goes round your seatpost and fastens with a cam-lock that snaps the catch shut on itself. It's a damnably cunning trick and works brilliantly. It's easy to fit and very secure. The strap is adjustable too, so any size of seatpost can be accommodated. The best bit is that you can remove it from your bike in seconds, handy at cafe stops, and fit it to any of your other bikes just as quickly.

Read our review of the SKS Tour Bag XL saddlebag

Find an SKS dealer

Ortlieb Office Bag QL3.1 — £96.82

Ortlieb Office bag

The Ortlieb Office Bag QL3.1 has an attachment system that fixes on your rack, with recessed hooks in the bag, so the briefcase looks more businesslike when you're off the bike. Or as Ortlieb put it: 'Flat mounting elements ensure smooth back side.' Yep.

The hooks retract when you lift the bag by the handle, so there's no faffing with catches and cleats when you go to remove the bag from your parked bike: you just pull up by the handle and the bag comes off, one-handed.

The Office Bag is completely waterproof as you'd expect from Ortlieb.

Its capacity is 21 litres, enough for any office-bound commuter's essentials. You could jam your bike tools, spares and waterproof layers in here too. The only downside is that the QL3.1 mounting only fits QL3.1 panniers, so you have to dedicate one side of your rack to it. Fine if you have a dedicated commuter bike but frustrating if your commuter bike does other jobs and sometimes carries different panniers.

Find an Ortlieb dealer

Vaude Off Road Bag M — ~£74


Vaude bills this 10-litre bag as an off road bag, but in fact it’s a very good road bike saddlebag for rides where you want to carry a bit more than will fit into a large seatpack. There’s room for a jacket and quite a bit of other stuff, and combined with a handlebar bag it’s even large enough for very light weight bed and breakfast touring.

It clips into place on a Rixen and Kaul Klickfix mount that's fairly unobtrusive when the bag's not there and is easy to take off to carry with you.

Find a Vaude dealer

Altura Dryline Bar Bag — £69.99

Altura bar bag.jpeg

This seven-litre handlebar bag is made from waterproof fabric and mounts on a Rixen and Kaul Klickfix widget that makes it easy to put on and take off the bike. It's compatible with Altura's map case (£12.99) for old-school navigation, and Klickfix makes a computer mount that fits in the handlebar bracket if you prefer GPS.

Find an Altura dealer

BOB Yak Plus — £465

BOB Yak trailer.jpg

There are alternatives to the venerable BOB Yak Plus trailer, but it's still probably the best all-round single-wheel trailer though it's not faultless. The trailer attaches to a special quick release and can be fitted and removed in seconds. The Plus version comes with a big yellow dry bag that will swallow camping gear and clothes for a week away, or several days' shopping.

With only a single wheel it sits tidily in the line of your bike, so for the most part if you can get your bike through, the Yak will follow. You can park a BOB-equipped bike by jack-knifing the trailer and the whole lot will just stand up, though you do have to move away carefully to keep everything upright.

Find a BOB dealer

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Sharpie [36 posts] 2 years ago

Don't forget the frame bag option. Depending on frame geometry I've found a decent sized frame bag a better and more comfortable (as well as accessible) option than a large saddle pack for fast touring. 

Plenty of options from Restrap, Apidura etc. 

TheHungryGhost [67 posts] 2 years ago

Just recently bought a Carridice barley bag off ebay, which had been fitted with a Rixen Kaul fixing system. Goes on and off easily and rock solid. Much better than the seat post mounted rack that I had before.

Disfunctional_T... [478 posts] 2 years ago

Some more cons for racks w/ panniers: They are heavy, plus they add a lot of aerodynamic drag to the bike.

brooksby [5359 posts] 2 years ago
Disfunctional_Threshold wrote:

Some more cons for racks w/ panniers: They are heavy, plus they add a lot of aerodynamic drag to the bike.

Seconded. I've used panniers exclusively for a couple of years (the Carradice A4 panniers in the article, actually). Yesterday I decided I fancied a change and got my old Chrome courier bag out from under the bed. The bike was easier to move when I wasn't on it: felt light as a feather (which it really isn't). I felt like I got up to speed, and maintained speed, much easier, and the handling was much better (even a bit twitchy). Now, this could all be psychological, but I don't think that it was.

(But: the Chrome Citizen I used (12 years old, has been present at the births of both of my kids) wasn't really big enough for all the stuff I wanted to carry. I got given a Chrome Metropolis for Xmas  a couple of years ago and haven't ever used it on the bike; might have to look in the attic and try that one out...).

keirik [188 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

I'm not a tourer, but do people really need to carry so much stuff?

If you're camping maybe, but if you're b&b touring then surely you only need a few items for evenings and you rinse out your bike gear in the b&b, or am I mssing something?

Genuine question, my rides so far have all been single day, and I have been thinking about a longer trip

brooksby [5359 posts] 2 years ago
1 like
keirik wrote:

I'm not a tourer, but do people really need to carry so much stuff?

If you're camping maybe, but if you're b&b touring then surely you only need a few items for evenings and you rinse out your bike gear in the b&b, or am I mssing something?

Genuine question, my rides so far have all been single day, and I have been thinking about a longer trip

Depends, and in my case: yes, I do.  My usual commuter load is lock, toolkit, pump, phone, wallet, diary and notepad, but I'll also often carry a waterproof jacket. Then I'm carrying clean shirt, socks and undies for the office, plus any incidental shopping. And - grand finale! - I have to take post down to the "franked mail" postbox at the end of the day. And some of the post is No 6 Jiffy bags containing paperwork.

(Two of the Carradice A4 panniers totals 36 litres. A Chrome Citizen is 26 litres; their Metropolis is 40 litres).

And yes, I appreciate that's a bit  different from a mini pump and a gel in a jersey pocket...

ClubSmed [789 posts] 2 years ago
keirik wrote:

I'm not a tourer, but do people really need to carry so much stuff?

If you're camping maybe, but if you're b&b touring then surely you only need a few items for evenings and you rinse out your bike gear in the b&b, or am I mssing something?

Genuine question, my rides so far have all been single day, and I have been thinking about a longer trip

To be honest a tent doesn't take up much room, poles strapped along the top tube and canvas/pegs rolled up in a bar bag.
The baggage capacity for me is for options when it on a tour because I treat it as a holiday and may need evening wear that deals with cold/warm/rain and also want space in case I pick anything up along the way (highly likely when visiting distilleries en route in Scotland)

ConcordeCX [1222 posts] 2 years ago

A Carradice Camper Longflap is the classic touring saddlebag, and is better than their Super C for various reasons, not least being that it is better made. I have fairly extensive experience credit-card touring with both.

You don't need much for this sort of tour - a spare set of cycle clothes, some civvies to change into in the evening and a pair of off-bike shoes, toiletries, tools, first aid and a lightweight rain jacket. A merino polo shirt or similar is excellent for off-bike wear.

I keep all these inside a 13L roll-top bag and a shoe bag, which are easy to remove from the saddlebag when you get to the hotel, and leave room for picking up other stuff along the way - a cheap musettte is useful for this. 

Wallet, glasses, phone, today's map, some nuts and a banana go nicely in your jersey pockets. A small bar bag can hold your camera and a few other bits and pieces. GPS on the handlebar.

All very minimalist and much more fun than schlepping things around in panniers.

cyclisto [412 posts] 2 years ago

I have travelled up to 5 days, exclusively b&b touring and after very careful planning I still fill my 26l panniers. I take a single cycling kit that is shoap washed every night, take only the essentials and still filling them up.
I like panniers because they are sturdy and cheap (total cost around 30 quid). I don't like their weight mostly as the rack is around 1 kg and haven't weighted the panniers. Also my wheelbase is a little small so I use not very elegant solutions to avoid my heels touching the panniers. I don't feel that much drag due to aerodynamics.

My opinion is that they are the best solution for the novice tourer like me due to their cost, as well as for long unsupported camping riders that don't include competition.

Don't think about touring though, start with a 2-3 day trip and you will get addicted! I use my bicycle almost exclusively for commuting but cycling touring is another chapter!

Ad Hynkel [206 posts] 2 years ago

On trips with slower riders loaded panniers are very useful way of keeping things evened out. Load up the faster/stronger riders and they won't feel frustrated by the pace.

tincaman [13 posts] 2 years ago

D@mn you TheHungryGhost, I bid on that one too!

aegisdesign [142 posts] 2 years ago
Disfunctional_Threshold wrote:

Some more cons for racks w/ panniers: They are heavy, plus they add a lot of aerodynamic drag to the bike.

Those are only cons if you're intention is to travel fast. Unless you're attempting some record on a tour or your commute, that's not likely to be a con you'll be worried about.

On the pro side, on a multi-week tour, panniers are useful for being able to compartmentalise your kit. eg. knowing your camera gear is in the left front pannier, your waterproof is in the right front, the cooking equipment is in the right rear and your sleeping bag in the left. You don't have to fill the bags; at least that's what I tell myself each time.

They're quite nice commuting as you don't have to carry your laptop on your back and the loaf of bread you bought at Freshcos on the way home doesn't get squashed.


I've got bikepacking bags too and they're great for offroad touring up to a point and if I was B&B road touring they are a choice too although I've been eyeing up a Carradice saddlebag to complete my SuperC lineup. 


RMurphy951 [2 posts] 2 years ago

I've found that the brackets for the clip-on saddlepacks tend to not fit the Brooks B17 saddle rails, which is a bit of a nuisance.

bristol2brisbane [15 posts] 1 year ago

Having done a lot of touring, both world wide and the UK. I have just brought a Tailfin and love it. Yes the outlay is a fair bit but the fact it is silent and you can barely feel it on the bike is well worht it. Plus it fits any of my bikes, which means I can go further in more comfort. Also being a standard pannier you dont have all the faff of saddle bags. 

Highly recomend!!!!

sunnyape [43 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Disfunctional_Threshold wrote:

Some more cons for racks w/ panniers: They are heavy, plus they add a lot of aerodynamic drag to the bike.

When you're touring, you're usually on larger tyres and going slower, so aerodynamics don't figure that much in the overall equation. For longer rides, off the beaten track with lots of gear, panniers have their place.

As for backpacks, little ones are OK for commuting, but larger ones for touring are a pain in the back and arse. They play havoc with your cadence and balance, not to mention giving you a spinal sauna in the summer. When touring, the only thing I'll put on my back now is a 2L hydration pack.

handlebarcam [1358 posts] 1 year ago

Trailers are great, but their load capacity is not limitless. Depending on your diet and household size, "a week’s shopping in one go" might cause some dangerous fishtailing at speed. And they don't complelety take the weight off the bike, so expecting to be able to use a super-light bike with racing wheels in place of a touring bike on a camping trip would likely result in some broken spokes.

matthewn5 [1444 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
Ad Hynkel wrote:

On trips with slower riders loaded panniers are very useful way of keeping things evened out. Load up the faster/stronger riders and they won't feel frustrated by the pace.

This. I took all the luggage when we cycled to the Grand Départ in Yorkshire, and it gave the Other Half a sporting chance.

roadmanshaq [91 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Planet X can do you a full set of handlebar bag, frame bag and giant saddlebag for under £40 in their PODSACS range.

Rich_cb [1115 posts] 1 year ago
roadmanshaq wrote:

Planet X can do you a full set of handlebar bag, frame bag and giant saddlebag for under £40 in their PODSACS range.

Cheers for this, needed a waterproof handlebar bag. £13. Job done!

froze [121 posts] 1 year ago

Carradice bags are HEAVY, real heavy compared to other bags, and they are not waterproof.  When bike touring with a load you need to reduce weight and not go with some fancy looking bag because you want to look hip while all your stuff gets wet, you won't like touring if all your gear is heavy and and wet.  Some panniers like the Axiom and the Ortlieb are waterproof, they work just the same way a dry sack works.  I knew guys in California who tried the Carradice touring panniers and in short order they switched to lighter weight stuff that was more water resistant; this weight issue goes with anything you buy to take along on the tour.

A_Moses [12 posts] 1 year ago

The Blackburn rack and Karrimor Silvaguard panniers that I bought in 1983 are still going strong . The only problem is the pannier elastics which have the annoying habit of wearing out every 15 years, which Karrimor really should fix, although spares are readily available. I use them for touring and shopping.

For tools and patches I want a saddle bag that will fit to all my bikes without having to attach a fitting to 4 different bike saddles, so anything with velcro or the twisty thing works fine.

billymansell [93 posts] 6 months ago
1 like

I keep meaning to add my two penneth each time this article gets rehashed but never do so shall do so now.

I've got one of these trolley bag panniers from Decathlon;


Really useful for commuting and for shopping trips. Takes the strain out of carrying lots of gear or a basket-load of shopping.