Ease of carrying off the bike makes rucksacks the most popular way of transporting stuff on the bike.
Useful sizes range from about 10 to 25 litres, but any bigger quickly gets uncomfortable.
Choose from bags with lots of internal compartments to organise your stuff or simple, lightweight single-compartment bags.
Cycling-specific bags have reflective patches for night-time visibility, high degrees of waterproofing or solve specific problems like carrying a suit.
One bag to rule them all? A high-quality cycling backpack doubles as a walking and round-town daypack.
Most cyclists who need to carry stuff on their bikes for relatively short distances use a rucksack because it's convenient, easily comes with you off the bike and doesn't need any extra equipment. Here's a look at 10 of the best and most popular backpacks for on your bike.
Convenience is the great advantage of a rucksack. Throw in everything you need, strap it on and away you go, with no faffing with pannier hooks and no effect on your bike's ride.
There's a huge range of options in rucksacks for cycling, from bike-specific packs with lots of pockets and hidey-holes to help keep your stuff organised, to walking daypacks that can be used on the bike, to ultralight bags for minimalists.
You don't want to carry too much on your back, so our recommendation is not to go bigger than about 20 litres, though we have listed a couple of bigger bags for those who absolutely must take along the kitchen sink.
What else should you think about as well as size?
Backpacks vary in how well they keep out the wet. Roll-top bags made from seam-welded waterproof materials will generally keep out almost everything. More conventionally-constructed bags need liners to keep clothes and electronics dry; some have built-in raincovers that help.
At one extreme you've got bags like the Hyperlite Mountain Gear Metro that has just one compartment and no additional features to speak of; at the other, Deuter bags and especially the Giga Pro have pockets, pen slots, laptop sleeve and more. It's horses for course. Some love to have a place for everything, others prefer to rummage in one compartment. Tip for rummagers: get a bag with a light-coloured interior.
The more you're going to carry, the thicker the padding on the shoulders and back needs to be. The downside of this is that a thickly-padded bag is more likely to make your back sweaty in hot weather, so look for cooling channels and vents in the padding to keep that under control.
A rucksack will cover a large part of your jacket in winter, so a bit of extra visibility is a good idea to compensate for the patches of reflective material that wil be hidden.
Proviz takes this to its logical conclusion with its Reflect 360 pack, which is entirely made from reflective fabric. If your pack doesn't have enough reflective patches, Proviz and others make reflective covers to boost your visibility.
The Shimano Tokyo 23 urban daypack is a really useful utilitarian rucksack that can fit in a huge amount while being comfortable on your back. It's a bit pricey, but includes some strong features.
As the name suggests, the Tokyo 23 has a 23 litre main compartment, with a roll top – which means that it can hold a huge amount of stuff, and because of the relatively unstructured construction on three sides, it can hold most things even if they are a strange shape.
The Craft Cadence Backpack is a tough, capable, and cavernous no-frills
backpack designed for the commuter cyclist who REALLY doesn't want their
stuff to get wet. We like it a lot.
In backpack terms 30 litres makes it a big medium, but its shape – basically it's like a roll top pannier but in backpack form – means you can use all of the main (and indeed only) compartment's carrying capacity; it's very easy to cram stuff in. A lot of stuff. And as fully loaded backpacks go, this is comfortable.
The IPX5 waterproofing rating may well be this bag's big selling point. IPX5 means that, short of riding underwater through a pond, the contents of the bag shouldn't get wet. We haven't performed the riding underwater through a pond test, but we have done the next best thing – ridden through three months of West Country winter – and we can confirm that it lives up to its waterproof promise. Given that it's put together from sonically welded 0.6mm tarp, that's not a surprise, plus the roll top closure is extremely effective at keeping out watery ingress.
The Showers Pass Utility Waterproof Backpack is expensive but it's a very useful piece of kit for hardy winter commuters. It's not especially attractive, but what it lacks in form it certainly makes up for in function.
It is worth starting at the biggest selling point of the backpack: waterproofing. It manages this impeccably, with nothing inside the bag getting wet despite my best efforts. At one point we even chucked it in the shower to see if we could get anything to go through it, but still nothing. The reason for this is Showers Pass using a fully welded construction, with a single-side TPU coating on an "840-denier 100% Ballistic Nylon". It honestly lets nothing through at all, even when we were trying to test it to failure.
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.
Watch cyclists riding through any major city and you'll see a lot of Osprey packs. They're popular for their durability, light weight, and comfort, and I have to admit to being a fan of them myself; I've used this bag extensively, even though we've not reviewed it on road.cc.
The Talon 22 has a large main compartment plus zipped pockets on the hip belt, and stretch pockets to stash extra stuff. There's a widget — the LidLock — to carry your helmet when you're off the bike, and if you want to go mountain biking there's a slot for a hydration bladder. It's comfy even when well loaded.
Osprey's Tempest line of rucksacks is essentially the Talon range, redesigned to fit a woman's shape rather than a man's. The Tempest 20 is well made, comfortable to carry and cleverly designed to incorporate all the features you could possibly need.
Although it's listed on Osprey's website in the hiking rather than biking range, it includes cycle-friendly features – the Lidlock helmet carrier, a bike light loop and hydration reservoir compartment. It's strikingly light, especially considering the number of straps and buckles dangling off it (neatly, I might add). Attention to detail is phenomenal – this pack has so many features that Osprey has a series of handy video clips on its website demonstrating how to use them.
Deuter makes a vast range of cycling rucksacks of which the Bike One is among the most popular. Cycling-friendly features include a helmet holder, LED attachment loops, reflective details and lightweight construction.
The back is designed for airflow, there's a zipped panel for bits and pieces, a mesh waistbelt and even a compartment for soggy laundry.
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.
Deuter's Giga Pro rucksack has a vast array of nooks, crannies and compartments to help you organise your stuff, and it's comfortable to carry on and off the bike.
The Deuter Giga Pro is a rucksack for the super-organised who want a place for everything, and everything in its place. Its 31-litre capacity is split between four compartments of various sizes and there's a pair of side pockets.
That's all held on to your back by thickly padded shoulder straps with a sternum strap to pull them in round your chest.
The Coombe, from young British clothing brand Rivelo is a fully waterproof rucksack with enough space for commuting or even an overnighter, and is comfortable on and off the bike.
The Coombe rucksack has a claimed capacity of 18 litres, making it a fairly compact option. Fitting a laptop in is no problem, although there is no padded compartment to keep it separate from the other contents. I used it for commuting and there was plenty of space for a change of clothes and some sandwiches. Unlike other larger rucksacks, one thing I liked about the Coombe is that it would generally sit above my jersey pocket, meaning I could use these while carrying the rucksack.
If the Giga Office Pro is the Swiss Army Knife of rucksacks, this ultra-minimalist pack is a light sabre, using Space Age fabrics to do one job well — carrying stuff — at the lowest possible weight.
At a feathery 162g – a third to a quarter the weight of a similar-sized full-featured rucksack – it truly lives up to its name. This is a backpack stripped to essentials: a seam-sealed roll-top compartment, a pair of adjustable straps, and, er, that's it.
Hyperlite Mountain Gear has done a great job, nailing the shape of both the bag and the stiff, broad shoulder straps so it's comfortable with a commuting load: clothes, books, keys, wallet phone, towel etc. I didn't miss a chest strap, but you could add one to the loops on the shoulder straps if you can't live without it.
When we reviewed this pack it came from Outlier as the Minimal; the Metro Pack is the same thing.
Cascade Design's SealLine Urban Backpack shows that Ortlieb don't have the waterproof cycle luggage entirely sewn up – or rather, seam-sealed. For that is what this is: a welded-seam, waterproof, roll-top backpack aimed at commuters. And very nice it is too.
The SealLine Urban Backpack is made in the United States primarily from tough, 600-denier polyester, coated with polyurethane. The base is themoplastic-polyurethane coated nylon. The backpack's outer surface feels like Cordura rather than plasticky PVC (in fact, the bag is PVC-free), which somehow makes it seem less 'bikey'.
Half rucksack, half pannier, the Vario is 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-Lock fastenings. Ideally sized for commuting, the bag will easily take a 15.4” laptop in protective sleeve as well as a change of clothes.
A discrete zipped stretch fabric compartment on the front of the bag houses a rucksack harness which simply 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-Lock 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.
The Henty Wingman is a clever bag that allows you to carry a suit and various other items to work when you commute by bike.
The Wingman is made from a heavy duty tarpaulin fabric, a lot like those used for messenger bags. Think of it as a bit like a standard suit bag that you use to keep a suit clean and safe in a wardrobe, but one that you can roll up and carry on your back when you cycle.
It's not a backpack, but we're mentioning it here as the most likely way you'd use a Shirt Shuttle is inside one. Keeping the shirts protected against crumpling and creasing, it works really well, offering good protection without being massively heavy.
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Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.