Best bicycle pannier bags in 2023: buyer's guide to touring bike bags
Plus our pick of the best bicycle pannier bags and racks for travelling light and loading up
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By Jack Evans
Published: August 24, 2022 at 6:00 pm
The best bicycle pannier bags and racks transport what you need for cycling to work, or for longer touring trips, in a safe and secure fashion.
Here are our top choices, as reviewed by expert BikeRadar testers, as well as a buyer's guide to help you choose the best pannier bags and racks for your bike.
Whatever you’re carrying, the best bicycle pannier bags keep their contents safe and dry. They add carrying capacity while unburdening your shoulders and don't ruin your bike's handling.
All pannier bags are held by hooks on a pannier rack, which usually screws into eyelets on your bike frame's seatstays or dropouts.
The most common kind are rear panniers, sitting either side of the back wheel. One or two of these pannier bags usually suffice for commuting or lightweight touring.
If you need additional capacity, it's a good idea to spread out heavy loads. A front rack gives the option to add one or two bags beside the front wheel.
Front and/or rear racks often come as standard on many of the best touring bikes and are designed specifically for the job of carrying luggage. If a touring bike doesn't come with a rack pre-installed, in all likelihood it’ll have the required eyelets on the frame to add one.
On that note, many gravel bikes, endurance road bikes and some mountain bikes also often have fork eyelets to attach a front rack.
The best cycling backpacks are fine for short rides, but on longer commutes even the most breathable bags will make your back sweaty. When heavily laden, your arms, neck and shoulders will feel the strain too.
Bikepacking is an increasingly popular activity and, when compared to traditional cycle touring, typically sees riders carry their kit and equipment in bikepacking bags strapped to the bike, rather than in pannier bags on a rack.
Bikepacking bags are favoured due to their lower weight, the fact they can be fitted to almost any bike and because they are less obstructive on technical terrain.
However, pannier racks and bags remain relevant – and popular – because they can often carry awkward objects bikepacking bags cannot. Trendy frame bags aren't cut out for carrying a laptop, for example.
While the best bikepacking bags will combine capacity and stability, pannier bags attached to a rack often have more room to carry your gear, with everything fixed securely to your bike.
Here are four of the best bicycle pannier bags, as rated and reviewed by BikeRadar's expert testers. Carry on reading for our full bicycle pannier bags and racks buyer's guide.
The Altura Heritage 40-litre pannier bags are a hard-wearing set made from waxed canvas. This waterproof material can be reproofed when its impermeability diminishes.
Although they don't have a laptop sleeve, the Altura Heritage 40-litre pannier bags have an outer pocket and inner zipped pocket.
The top folds over and fastens with a buckle. A drawstring secures the inner section.
The Altura Heritage pannier bags fit on most types of racks and they stay in place even on bumpy surfaces.
This roomy, tote bag-shaped pannier has a line-up of practical features that includes: a padded laptop sleeve, an internal zipped pocket, totes-tyle carry handles, a padded shoulder strap, an exterior side pocket and reflective trim. Made in Canada and signed by the maker, the bag has taped seams and a waterproof lining.
The Cam-Lock system simply engages between the mounting hooks and rack tubing to secure the pannier. The self-locking rack attachment fits rack tubing of up to 15mm, with an oversize Cam-Lock available up to 21mm. This bag held firm on the bike during resting, no matter what it was loaded with and the roll-top fastening helped hold the contents securely in place.
Top handles allow you to easily load and carry the bag off the bike. Adding great off-bike comfort, a padded flap covers the fixings when you want to carry it by the padded shoulder strap.
The Tailfin Luggage System consists of a carbon rack that can be mounted to bike frames with or without rack mounts by attaching to the axle.
The fast-release dropouts enable you to take the rack on and off the bike in seconds.
Tailfin's own 22-litre pannier bags are waterproof and simple to fit to the rack. Tailfin says other brands’ bags are compatible too.
The Tailfin Carbon Rack, loaded with Super-Light panniers, proved stable and quiet in testing, providing a similar experience to unladen riding.
The Ortlieb Back-Roller pannier bag is waterproof thanks to its polyester construction and roll-top closure.
Ortlieb's QuickLock 2.1 attachment system is intuitive and keeps the Back-Roller pannier bag firmly on the rack.
The bag can hold a maximum of 9.5kg. Inside, there's a laptop sleeve and mesh pocket with a zip to stow smaller things.
The following products scored less than 4 out of 5 stars in our testing but are still worth considering.
Designed to fit on top of a rear rack, the Ortlieb Trunk-Bag is waterproof with a roll-top fastening, internal zip pocket and key hook, plus shoulder strap. It features reflective logos on each side and a loop for attaching a light.
The integral frame will fit racks from 80-160mm wide, with a tube diameter of 8-16mm. Don't be fooled by the compact size though – the 12l capacity swallows up more than you think and will take up to 10kg in weight.
The wedge shape of this bag makes it more elegant on the bike than off it a and a more padded shoulder strap would also increase comfort.
The Vaude Aqua Back pannier bag's tarpaulin material and welded seams repel heavy showers and spray.
Capacity is good, as is Vaude's mounting system – you thread a bike lock through it to lock the pannier bag to your bike.
The inside of the Vaude Aqua Back pannier bag has a laptop sleeve and mesh pocket for small valuables.
However, adjustment dials on the pannier bag's hooks loosened in testing.
Look for tough, waterproof but lightweight fabric panniers with a secure fastening mechanism, roll-top or flap-down cover. A zip or draw-string to keep valuables safe inside is a bonus.
Size-wise, a five-litre pannier bag won't hold much more than inner tubes, a bike pump, a multi-tool, snacks and a light extra layer.
Commuter pannier bags typically have between 10 and 15 litres of capacity for a change of clothes and laptop, for example.
Touring and bikepacking panniers step up in capacity to 20 litres or more per bag to hold numerous changes of clothes, shoes, and camping and cooking equipment.
The best bicycle pannier bags are easy to take on and off the pannier rack, but stay firmly in place when you’re moving.
Pannier bags for commuting can have shoulder straps so you can wear them off the bike as a backpack.
Some panniers feature fluorescent materials or reflective strips and somewhere to attach bike lights to boost your visibility.
The best pannier racks tend to be made of stainless steel or aluminium in order to provide strength and weather-resistance. Titanium pannier racks, such as the Tubus Airy rack, save a couple of hundred grams in weight, but add cost.
Light touring or commuter pannier racks will have a maximum capacity of 20kg. Carrying capacity rises to 35kg on racks designed for the weekly shop or expeditions. These kind of racks often have platforms for strapping an extra bag on top.
High-quality models will connect to your bike with stainless steel fitting bolts and have adjustable rack arms.
An integrated rear-light mount will often be included on the best pannier racks.
Side rails that slide inwards centralise the bag's weight, which is useful when carrying a large object in a single pannier.
Unlike saddle bags, which can be strapped to almost any saddle and seatpost, installing the pannier rack the pannier bags load onto usually requires rack mounts on the seatstays.
It's worth checking these eyelets take racks. On some bikes, they’re only for mudguards.
However, some pannier racks don't need these eyelets and strap onto the seatstays or seatpost.
From a stability perspective, bicycle pannier bags take a little getting used to. But they shouldn't sway like saddle bags are prone to doing.
Nevertheless, don't expect cornering to feel like you’re on an agile road bike, so take things easy to begin with.
It's fine to ride with a single, light pannier, but when transporting more weight, evenly distribute it from one side to the other.
Besides waterproofing, hardier panniers feature tear-resistant fabrics and in-built padding. However, these are unlikely to defend delicate contents against obstacles, such as tree roots and rocks. Bear this in mind if your adventure takes you off-road.
Although you can lock some bicycle pannier bags to your bike, it's better to remove them, leaving the rack attached, when you park your bike.
The heaviest stuff needs to go at the bottom of your front packs to keep a low centre of gravity.
Spreading weight over the front wheel also improves stability and handling, and will help the lifespan of your back wheel.
On a tour, stuff you need every day, such as a camera and stove, should go at the top of the front packs. Roll, rather than fold, clothes to save space.
You should also stow things you may need in a hurry at the top of your bag – such as a waterproof jacket and puncture repair kit.
Be organised: split things up according to function and label what's in each bag. For example, put food and cooking gear in one bag and bike tools and spares in another.
It's also a good idea to leave some space to collect things along the way.
To protect expensive commuting items, such as laptops and tablets, consider putting them in a padded case or wrapping them in a layer of bubble wrap.
Jack Evans is a digital writer for BikeRadar.com Jack learnt to ride on rough Cotswold trails before switching to tarmac in his teens. Gravel riding and cyclocross racing (badly) has since taken him back to his roots. Most at home scaling south Wales climbs, Jack more commonly escapes his home in Birmingham via the lanes and bridleways of Worcestershire, riding either his Canyon Ultimate road bike or Canyon Grail gravel bike. He wishes he was as good at riding as he is drinking espresso. But he has completed the 296km Dragon Devil sportive in under 10 hours and finished in the top 100 at the 2022 UK National Hill Climb Championships. Jack is an NCTJ-trained journalist and a former press agency hack with bylines in The Times, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mirror. He was once electrocuted for a Sun frontpage exclusive and taste-tested camel milk for The Times.
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