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The Vaude Aqua Back Light Panniers are superlight, waterproof, and highly adjustable, with a PVC-free construction and climate-neutral manufacturing credentials. The roll-top closure system and external netting mean they work best when they're on the full side, which makes them more of a touring than commuter design.
The Aqua Back Light panniers are – as the name suggests – a lighter development of Vaude's highly rated Aqua Back Panniers, but Vaude has dispensed with the hard back panel, replacing it with a lightweight one. The result is an impressively light set of panniers – just half the weight of the originals – something that is further emphasised by a similarly lightweight closure and retention system.
Vaude is very keen to flag up the eco-friendly credentials of these panniers. Historically most modern waterproof panniers have been made from PVC, which is a tough and waterproof material but is a chemical nasty that throws up all sorts of environmental issues as well as not being biodegradable. So, avoiding the use of PVC is a good thing. Vaude also says it has offset the manufacturing of the panniers for carbon neutrality, and also, with the panniers being made in Germany, that its supply chains are kept short. A win-win and then some...
I tested these with three different racks including the Elops I reviewed recently, and found the panniers worked without issue with all three. While there might be some racks out there that these aren't compatible with, I think it's pretty unlikely given the large amount of adjustability they offer.
The upper QMR – Quick Mount Release – attachment system is designed to work with racks that have a diameter of 8-16mm, using inserts to adjust to different diameters. And each of the top clips is adjustable horizontally through a 70mm range. Lockable attachment hooks mean you can also lock the pannier to the rack, though locks aren't included with the bags.
The lower guide hooks are adjustable through 360 degrees and can be moved through a 15cm range horizontally and 10cm vertically.
Both the upper attachment system and the lower hooks are adjustable by hand without any tools required. I found them easy to tighten and they stayed secure in use.
There are no external pockets so the panniers are non-side-specific and they have front and rear reflective logos, with the Vaude logo name picked out in reflective materials on the main body. I'd have preferred larger reflectives on the otherwise all-black bags, though they're also available in a brighter green colour. There are no light hooks, which is entirely forgivable given Vaude's drive to keep these panniers as light as possible.
They're pretty minimalist inside too, having a non-padded laptop sleeve and a small zipped pocket – and that's it. Otherwise it's a single section that measures around 18 x 31 x 44cm or about 19 litres.
The maximum claimed capacity for these is 5kg each, though I reckon I loaded them with more than that before I read what the maximum load was – which is written in very large letters on the box they come in, so I've really no excuse!
They felt stable and secure when loaded in spite of the lack of a particularly hard back panel. The main issue is that I think these are at their most effective when the panniers are full, or at least on the full side. This is because of the roll-top closure and the external net, both of which work best when the pannier is full or nearly so, because the external net isn't elasticated.
You secure the pannier by rolling down the top and clipping the two buckles together, and then you pull a thin cord from the top of the net through a loop at the top of the pannier and back down to the net, where it's secured by a clip. This is shown in a small illustration in the pannier, and while not the neatest system I've ever seen, it does work – though you have to secure the clip or it flaps around – and the whole system is very, very light, which is presumably why it's used.
Apart from that, I found little to fault with these panniers. It means they're more suitable for touring than commuting, where your loads may be lesser – but Vaude says that touring rather than commuting is what these panniers are designed for. And for me personally, their low weight, while impressive, isn't that important.
At £120 a pair these aren't an inexpensive set of panniers, but then again they are from one of the most highly regarded names in the business and come with impeccable environmental credentials, which is something that I'm very keen on, and they're cheaper than some rivals.
Ortlieb's Back Roller Classic Waterproof Panniers are just as waterproof, though at 1,797g per pair they're a fair bit heavier than the Vaudes. Rob called them 'bloody good' and rated them as a well-thought-out design, but they're £150.
The made-in-Britain Carradice Super C panniers are £135 a pair, though they have a larger, 54-litre capacity; the smaller Carradice Super C A4 Pannier costs £60 and is designed more for the commuter than tourer. Iwein found it a no-nonsense bag that's both tough and waterproof, thanks to its hardwearing cotton duck construction that also gives it a distinctive retro look.
If you're on a much tighter budget you could consider the £64.99 Oxford V32 Double Pannier Bag. As the name suggests this is a pair of panniers that are linked at the top, and though they're not light and have a rather stiff roll-top closure, Lara liked their waterproofing, their extreme toughness and their wallet-friendly price.
Vaude has created a set of high-quality waterproof panniers with excellent environmental credentials. If you're looking for super-lightweight luggage they're a good choice, though the closure system makes them better when they're fully loaded or at least near to capacity.
High-quality waterproof panniers that major on a superlight weight and excellent eco-friendly credentials
If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website
road.cc test report
Make and model: Vaude Aqua Back Light panniers
Size tested: 19L x 2
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?
Waterproof, weight-reduced design
Compressible with cargo net
Offset for climate neutrality; made in Germany with environmentally-friendly manufacturing
Lightweight yet robust! The Aqua Back Light lightens your load where it's the easiest to accomplish '' right in the pannier itself. Passionate bike travelers know the routine: you've worked hard to bring down the weight of your gear '' and then your heavy panniers push it back up again. The Aqua Back Light is here to help with its clever combination of materials. It's made of lightweight yet robust 2D-welded material and is stable enough to survive even demanding bike packing and cycling adventures without complaint.
The total volume of both bags is 38 liters. Although the Aqua Back Light still has a number of useful details, they've been reduced to the bare essentials to keep the weight low. The roll closure provides quick access and waterproof storage, the cargo net at the front provides compression while also providing a handy place to keep your rain jacket or spare shirt close at hand.
Its manufacturing is also plain and simple: Made in Germany with a short supply chain! The Aqua Back Light is made from 100% recycled Econyl that's 100% PVC-free.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
QMR (Quick Mount Release) 2.0 - user-friendly attachment system
Easy to use, can be locked directly on the hook
For tube diameters of 8 to 16 millimeters
Soft Back 2.0 – with a lightweight back panel
Significantly reduced weight overall
Greater flexibility for attachment
PVC Free – robust and durable without PVC
Without harmful PVC
Material is robust and durable
All very tidily put together.
They're quick and easy to adjust without tools, straightforward to use and waterproof.
No issues so far, though it'll be interesting to see how they compare with much weightier and thicker Vaude panniers (and similar ones from Ortlieb), which from my experience last for years and years and thousands of miles of riding.
Less than half the weight of Vaude's standard Aqua Back panniers is a great achievement – and Vaude is confident enough to provide a five-year guarantee.
There is a strap for carrying them over your shoulder, which is handy, but it's never a very comfortable way of carrying them for any distance.
They're cheaper than 40-litre panniers from fellow German brand Ortlieb, and the long-established British brand Carradice's top-line Super C panniers, which are £135 per pair and much heavier but with a larger, 54-litre capacity.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
These are designed primarily for touring rather than commuting or every-day cycling – and that's reflected by the fact that these are at their best when fully loaded or nearly full, when the roll-top closure system and external netting work best.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
They're versatile, practical and easy to use. The weight is probably their big selling point, but I'm not a weight weenie (I'm too heavy for that!) so it's not crucial to me. What's more important to me is Vaude's climate-neutral production values and the absence of chemical nasties such as PVC.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The roll-top closure and cargo netting combo isn't fantastic when the pannier is only partly filled, so not so good for a commute where you're just carrying a change of clothes. On an expedition or tour this isn't an issue.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
A little cheaper than similar-ish bags from the likes of Carradice and Ortlieb. If you're looking for ultra-light panniers these are well worth the money.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
They're very good: superlight and constructed to a very high standard in Germany, with impressive climate-friendly credentials and a short supply chain.
About the tester
I usually ride: 2018 Giant TCR Advanced 2 with Halo Carbaura disc wheels My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, touring, sportives, general fitness riding,
Simon has been riding since he was a nipper and more seriously since his university days way back when. He has been a cycling journalist for more than two decades and reckons he has upwards of 200,000 miles in his legs. In his time he has competed (in the loosest sense of the word) in time trials, triathlons, duathlons and a lone cyclo-cross; he has been a long-distance commuter for decades – on road and canal towpath. He has also toured extensively in Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia and has ridden 4,000km from Cairns to Melbourne in Australia, and the 700km from Picton to Dunedin in New Zealand. If his legs carry on working, he'd like to ride from Perth to Sydney...