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 Deuter Race X backpack might be a bit large for some racers (and it's not like anyone but enduro mountain bikers realy races in a backpack), but its features and design make it ideal for commuters, gym-goers, day trippers and tourers.
The Race X has morphed somewhat over the years – tweaks to the size, shape, straps and access arrangements have led to this version. It's not overcomplicated in terms of pockets and access, with decent ventilation at the rear and through the straps, a comfortable fit plus a splattering of bonus features. While this all makes it stand out among other packs, just be sure to check that it's a sufficient size for your needs.
It's not a pack for riding, at least not for any significant distance, but the Raceday 60 earns a spot here because it's a terrific bag for organising all your riding stuff when you head to a race, audax or sportive.
This is a near-perfect day bag for the racer or their support team, helping them organise their lives so they can focus on the task at hand. It's not cheap, but it's super-useful and really takes the stress out of packing.
Not all backpacks are created equal, that much is clear from my time spent with this backpack. As the name suggests, it has an enormous 60L capacity that should (and does) cater even for the compulsive overpacker (that's me), and does it in a smart way.
Camelbak’s Chase bike vest is designed as a lightweight minimalist pack for runners and riders, with a 1.5L bladder and a unique design that allows you to still access jersey pockets. It's perfect for fast mountain bike blats or enduro races as well as being ideal for longer gravel bike rides.
The pack uses a rather neat design that keeps the bladder-containing main section of the pack high on your back, with the broad straps on the front then housing some extra storage. This means that you can still access the pockets on a standard road-style jersey while also carrying almost as much as a normal hydration pack.
Chrome's Barrage Cargo is a bit of a beast when it comes to a commuting backpack. It looks a bit like an extra from an urban video game with the cargo net and is made from super-tough 1050d nylon which should last forever. It has some great details, too, including a well-hidden side pocket, an EVA back panel, and the Chrome buckle, albeit in miniature.
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.
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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Acknowledged by the Telegraph as a leading cycling journalist, John Stevenson has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc editor Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013 and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.