Vaude's Aqua Back panniers are designed and manufactured to last. They're tough, waterproof and roomy. Think years of commuting or touring use. With a sad lack of touring trips on the horizon, my initial test has been as commuting baggage – but at least we've had some weather to test the waterproofing qualities... The full touring test will come in time; keep a look out.
- Pros: Weatherproofing, excellent construction
- Cons: Heavy/overkill for commuting, separate shoulder strap needs retrieving from inside
Construction, shape, capacity and pockets
The fabric and construction is second to none in my experience. They're 'climate neutrally manufactured' in Vaude's factory in Germany using durable, PVC-free tarpaulin material. Check out Vaude's website and you will be bombarded with 'Green Info'; you are certainly doing your bit to save the planet by choosing these panniers.
The seams, buckles and roll closure are all very similar to that used on Ortlieb baggage. It's all top quality, sturdy and built to last, and might even have you wondering if they've come from the same factory. Significantly, they beat the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic by 8 litres on the capacity stakes, offering 48 litres as a pair; they do look slightly more bulky and aren't tapered as much at the bottom, so you have a bigger space to drop large bulky items into such as shoes. The wide base also means a laptop's no issue.
A more obvious difference to the Ortliebs (and many others) is the large rigid plastic 'plate' attached to the outside of the Aquas. It forces the panniers to hold their form – no bowing under heavy loads – as well helping to protect the contents, which is good news if you're carrying a laptop or tablet. Each pannier has two interior pockets: a direct access one that is ideal for (A4) documents, and a smaller mesh one that zips up for passport, wallet, coins and so on. Both pockets sit against the plastic plate so things really are kept flat and protected from other contents – an office commuter's ideal.
Mounting and closure
The mounting system is pretty impressive. Don't worry about whether or not it'll fit on your pannier rack, it just will. Each attachment point is adjustable within its own runner and it doesn't require a tool. Vaude calls it the QMR 2.0 attachment system (Quick Mount Release).
What's really good is that you can position it quickly and easily right where you want it. The hooks that clip onto the rack have a locking mechanism – hang the pannier onto the rack and push against the hooks to engage the lock, lift the handle to unlock and release.
There are three different colour coded adaptor inserts that mean the hooks fit snuggly onto racks with varying diameters, from 8.5mm to 13mm. For anyone with a mammoth rack, just don't bother with an adaptor. They're easy to change over, even without the recommended screwdriver.
The lever that hooks around the side pannier rail is quite long, so lifting the pannier off isn't quite as swift as attaching, but on the flip side it does give secure attachment that may well be appreciated for rougher/off-road ventures.
Once mounted, the panniers don't budge. My commutes have been 100 per cent road, so they've yet to undergo an off-road test; that said, some of the road surfaces round my way almost constitute as off-road...
Closing the panniers is straightforward, and pretty much the same as with an Ortlieb: roll it down as much or as little as you want around a rigid plastic strip, then a central strap and buckle secures it in place. The side straps each clip into a buckle on the side of the pannier rather than into each other like some do, so there's one more buckle to be done up/undone here.
The long shoulder strap is a separate item that'll need to be retrieved from inside and then clipped on. (With an Ortlieb the shoulder strap can stay attached, clipped out of harm's way on the front of the pannier.) You have the option of not using it at all – carrying the panniers by the short handle (a lot of strain when the panniers are really loaded), or clipping the two side straps together to create a very short shoulder strap. Maybe I'm just being fussy, but I found having to undo three clips to get it out every time a bit faffy.
Aesthetics, waterproofing and practicality
The panniers are incredibly tough. The material is really thick and pretty rigid; in fact it would be good if it actually gives a bit to make them more pliable, so that they mould themselves to the load a little better.
If rolled closed correctly there is no way water can get in, and after a good soaking the exterior is dry in no time as water just rolls off it.
Vaude gives you a choice of six different colours which, excluding the black, are seriously bold, great for visibility when commuting. A tourer hoping to blend in with the environment may feel differently... Reflective detailing isn't huge but it is effective.
Overall, there are many positives to the Aquas: the shape and space, interior pockets and practical and durable design. They are possibly a bit overkill for commuting needs, but would make a great investment if you're thinking of getting into touring in the near future. I certainly can't see any potential flaws.
Possibly a little too substantial for most commutes, but durable and with great touring baggage potential
road.cc test report
Make and model: Vaude Aqua Back panniers
Size tested: 48 litres capacity; each pannier 37 x 33 x 19 cm
Tell us what the product is for
Vaude deems the Aqua Back Panniers ideal for: "Bike Travel – Moderate, Bike Travel – Adventure, Bike Everyday, On the Go, Travel."
They are very robust and comparable to touring-specific panniers by other manufacturers.
Vaude gives a lot of detail about its manufacturing processes too:
"The waterproof rear panniers are climate neutrally manufactured at the German VAUDE company headquarters...with durable, PVC-free tarpaulin material for all world travel adventures. With a roll closure that allows you to customize the size of the bag and seal it so that it's water tight. An extra inside pocket makes it easy to store things separately. The bags are securely attached to the right and left sides of the rear rack with the QMR 2.0 system, which also allows for easy adjustment and quick on-and-off. With a bike lock, they can be directly locked onto the QMR hook. Reflective elements ensure high visibility in traffic and low light conditions. Included: two bags (pair). Can be used together with the practical accessory bags: Toolbag Back, Sortyour Back, Addita Bag."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Weight: 1940 g
Volume: 48,0 l
Dimensions: 37 x 33 x 19 cm
Max. load weight: 25 kg
Main fabric: 100% Polyester; 1000 D Embossed Thermoplastic Polyurethane coated; Contrast fabric: 100% Polyamide; 840 D Thermoplastic Polyurethane coated.
Minor faffage of one extra buckle compared with my usual panniers, and having to retrieve the shoulder strap from inside.
The plastic plate adds weight in comparison to alternative commuter-specific luggage – the Blackburn Local Rears weigh in at 810g and a single Altura Arc 20 is 610g. That's significant if you are just using it for commuting. The Ortlieb Back Roller Classics weighed in at 1,797g on the road.cc Scales of Truth back in 2011, so that's 400g extra here.
Pay for quality, you get quality. On a par with other decent panniers.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
They're primarily designed for touring, and I can't see any potential flaws. For commuting they do a great job, though they're possibly more substantial than you need.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Infinite tool-free adjustment. Interior pockets.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Maybe I'm just set in my ways with my usual panniers, but the extra buckle that had to be undone to access the contents irritated slightly. And the separate shoulder strap – this can stay clipped in place ready to use on the Ortlieb version.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Not yet converted from my usual panniers.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, for commuting and touring they'd be a good investment.
Use this box to explain your overall score
These are very good panniers that will keep your kit dry and well protected, whether on your route to and from work or heading off over far horizons. They're not cheap but will be a good investment.
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…