It's likely that a saddle bag is the first bit of kit you're going to look at buying if you want to get into bikepacking or light touring, and Topeak's BackLoader would be a good investment. It's a versatile piece of luggage that will serve you well when attached to a racing, commuting, touring or mountain bike.
The BackLoader is really easy to use and its simple hook and loop attachment helps to keep weight down. It has its cons, but is certainly worth considering for a credit card tour or the like.
The BackLoader is available in two different sizes: 6 litres or 10 litres. Both will take a maximum load of 5kg. I got to test the larger capacity version. Other than 'lightweight, polyethylene/nylon construction', Topeak doesn't say a lot about the materials used to make the bag on either the packaging or its website, but it feels and looks very robust.
Mounting the pack is exceptionally quick and easy: one wide Velcro strap around the seatpost and two buckles passing out either side of the saddle rails that attach to female counterparts coming from under the pack. I tested it on three different bikes: a carbon road bike (with an aero seatpost), a touring road bike (30.9mm diameter) and a mountain bike (27.2mm diameter). The wide Velcro strap fitted well on all three. There is a generous strip of soft Velcro on the bag itself to ensure that any excess strap does not flap about.
All three bikes have roughly 10cm of seatpost showing (from the top of the seat tube to the bend in the post). Passing the buckles through the saddle rails was a little fiddly first time round but you soon develop the knack, and once it was mounted I never removed the pack during a trip anyway.
The saddle rail straps also provide girth compression for the pack once it has been stuffed full. They are easily loosened to aid repacking. Some kind of inner packing – a dry bag invariably (Topeak provides one) – is an ideal setup so that you can simply unroll the BackLoader and pull out your kit. The two pairs of straps (saddle mounting and roll closure) are connected to their counterparts with side release buckles; once pulled tight, a clip then snaps over to guarantee that there is no loosening. After long days of riding the straps hadn't loosened at all – impressive really.
The waterproof stuffsack provided with the pack features a bleed valve to compress it down to the smallest package possible, making it easier to get it back into the main bag. This is a great added feature, but I quickly discovered that the stuffsack is almost cylindrical while the BackLoader itself is more conical; there is a whole load of unused space left to fill if you want to pack efficiently – like any avid bikepacker does.
The base of the BackLoader is reinforced with a rigid piece of plastic so if you are going to maximise space you need to use more than just the supplied stuffsack. The rigid plastic was not a point scorer for Topeak; it forces you to make your kit mould to the bag rather than the easier option of making the bag mould/compress to your kit.
If you choose not to use up the space, the elastic cords can be used to compress the pack to a satisfactory level. It is effective, though not to the level of Ortlieb's Seat Pack which features an exterior purge valve.
I trialled different setups to make use of the space – extra stuffsacks around the main one, one bigger stuffsack, and no stuffsack at all, varying it depending upon the type of trip I was doing and the weather conditions. All had their pros and cons.
Ultimately, the stuffsack provided is not an ideal shape for the BackLoader so be prepared to buy some additional smaller ones, one larger one, or be inventive if you are trying to really maximise the space. Pack smartly and you will get loads of kit in there.
For several weeks I used the pack for commuting, and the supplied dry bag made life very easy and I really didn't worry about packing efficiently.
Strap and go
Topeak's extra wide seatpost strap is an alternative to many other manufacturers' two-strap systems (for example the Alpkit Koala or the Apidura Saddle Pack). The obvious advantage to having two straps is that if one fails or comes loose the other is a back-up until you can reattach or repair, though I never once had an issue with the single strap coming loose and it seems very robust.
The straps that extend from the roll closure clip to those coming from the side of the pack pull as tight as required to compress the length of the pack before clamping shut. These straps also pull taut against side pockets. Because of the angle that the bag sits at, the pockets are pretty useless for anything but perhaps a protected map – I found that small or weighty items would simply fall out.
The no-hassle attachment and minimal weight unfortunately come at a small cost: the bag is not completely stable. The pack swings a little when you are out of the saddle or on rough terrain. If you are looking for a rigid saddle pack then you will have to compromise on the weight stakes and go for something like the Specialized Burra Burra or Caradice Carradry which use clamp systems rather than hooks and loops.
When I used it on my carbon road bike the movement was quite noticeable and it altered the bike's handling. On my heavier road touring bike it was less obvious. It swayed a little on rough off-road terrain. All of this motion was strange at first but, just like putting panniers on your bike, you soon become used to your bike's 'new feeling'. I wouldn't slate Topeak too much for this; if you load up any similarly designed bikepacking saddle bag to its maximum weight limit you will experience some degree of movement.
The BackLoader is a streamlined design. It looks good on the bike and I personally had no issues with my legs brushing against it, though ultimately this would depend on the saddle/seatpost setup and your position on the saddle.
Value-wise the BackLoader scores well too – of those I've already mentioned here, the Carradice Carradry is closest in price at £75, while the Ortlieb Seat-Pack is £110 and the Specialized Burra Burra £125. You can find them all cheaper than RRP online, of course, but you can also find the BackLoader cheaper than RRP too...
Topeak's claim of water resistance is genuine – light rain just beads up and rolls off the bag. Prolonged heavy rain eventually penetrates and if you are using the pack without a mudguard you definitely need to put your kit in a dry bag. The BackLoader does act as a great mudguard if you don't have one, and it brushes clean really easily once dried out.
As with virtually all bikepacking saddle bags, potential mounting positions for a rear light become limited. Topeak has incorporated several possible mounting slots on its pack so that there is always space to clip on a light however full the bag is. You need to use a light with an attachment that will slide onto one of the slots. There is a noticeable absence of reflective material, so having a light that will mount is pretty important if you are planning on using the pack all year round in all conditions.
I really enjoyed making use of the BackLoader for commuting and short, light road touring trips. I would say that it is perfect for a one or two-day credit card tour when very little kit is needed and you want to keep things simple without a rack and panniers. Team it with a frame pack and handlebar pack for a more adventurous bikepacking expedition. Topeak has produced a competitively priced, robust piece of kit that functions very well and will certainly stand up to plenty of use.
Perfect for light touring and bikepacking, it's exceptionally easy to mount, unload and repack, but buy spare drybags
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Topeak BackLoader 10L seat pack
Size tested: 10L capacity, 60x20x18cm
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?
Topeak says: "The BackLoader is a large capacity seat bag designed for bikepackers providing a streamlined way to carry gear without the need for a rear rack. Constructed of lightweight, water resistant and durable materials, it mounts and removes quickly. The upgraded saddle mount system, in conjunction with compression straps, reduces the pendulum effect associated with large rear loads, providing a comfortable ride for those long miles. An easy access waterproof inner bag is included to keep contents completely dry."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Topeak lists these features:
Max load: 5kg/11lb
Size: 60 (max) x 20 x 18 cm / 23.6' x 7.9' x 7.1'
Sturdy and very well put together. My only reservation is the elasticated cords; they were beginning to give a little after prolonged and rigorous testing but were still functioning satisfactorily.
The bag is really easy to use and the mounting setup doesn't need changing at all when unpacking and re-packing. The dry sack ensured that any water penetrating the outer shell didn't get to the kit inside. There was movement on bumpy terrain and when out of the saddle on and off road. Naturally on a lightweight road bike you are more sensitive to this movement and the handling is altered somewhat. Although this movement was noticeable it was not excessive.
A tough outer and clips are all still working well. Outer cords have lost some of their elasticity.
Not the lightest out there but certainly as light as most similarly designed bags.
Designed so as not to interfere with a seated riding position. Naturally, as with any other bikepacking back loader, you can't expect to sit back and off the saddle (using it with a dropper saddle is not really ideal anyway). The movement mentioned above may also be considered an element of 'discomfort'.
Price-wise this is on par with some of the competition and beats others by some way (Ortlieb's Seat-Pack is £110, and Apidura's 14L Saddle Pack is £98). If you are serious about lightweight touring you need to think of this a 'two for one' piece of bike baggage – panniers and rack.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It's a sturdy piece of baggage that enables short credit card touring or bikepacking. Could not be simpler or quicker to mount, and offers very quick access to kit while keeping it well protected (with use of the dry sack in wet weather).
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
The simplistic mounting and minimal-fuss packing/closure.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The noticeable movement when out of the saddle on a carbon road bike, but this is inevitable if you choose a saddle pack without a clamp system. The fact that the drysack supplied doesn't really fit with the bag itself was disappointing.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, very much!
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your score
The BackLoader is an investment that will serve you well in a variety of scenarios – its versatility is a real plus point over some more specialist bags made for hardened bikepackers. It performs really well when used for its designed purpose and would score higher but I've marked it down slightly because of the incompatible dry sack and packing restrictions created by the rigid insert.
About the tester
I usually ride: Road My best bike is: Carbon road
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, getting to grips with off roading too!
Emma’s first encounters with a road bike were in between swimming and running. Soon after competing for GB in the World Age Group Triathlon Championships in Edmonton in 2001 she saw the light and decided to focus on cycling.
After a couple of half decent UK road seasons racing for Leisure Lakes, she went out to Belgium to sample the racing there and spent two years with Lotto-Belisol Ladies team, racing alongside the likes of Sara Carrigan, Grace Verbeke, Rochelle Gilmore and Lizzie Deignan. Emma moved from Lotto-Belisol to Dutch team Redsun, then a new Belgian team of primarily developing riders, where there was less pressure, an opportunity to share her experience and help build a whole new team; a nice way to spend her final years of professional racing.
Since retiring Emma has returned to teaching. When not coercing kids to do maths, she is invariably out on two wheels. In addition to the daily commute, Emma still enjoys getting out on her road bike and having her legs ripped off on the local club rides and chain gangs. She has also developed an addiction to touring, with destinations including Iceland, Georgia and Albania, to mention just a few. There have also been rare sightings of Emma off-road on a mountain bike…