Panniers are the quintessential luggage option for bicycle touring. They’re easy to take on and off the bike, they’re waterproof and they offer a large, easy to access cavity. Panniers can actually make a really useful contribution to your bikepacking luggage suite. A handful of bag manufacturers have acknowledged this with the release of some innovative new bikepacking panniers.
Note: The article was originally published in Mar 2018 but has been updated for Feb 2020.
What’s The Deal With Bikepacking Panniers?
– They’re smaller and narrower in profile for getting through tighter spaces.
– They don’t get in the way when pushing your bike.
– The smaller frontal area has less aerodynamic drag than more voluminous panniers.
– They’re typically lighter than touring panniers.
– They a great alternative bag option for small bikes with no space for a seat pack.
– They offer additional storage for food (7+ day adventures with no services) or odd-shaped equipment.
Pannier Hooks vs. Straps
One of the genius things about most panniers is that you can take them off instantly. That’s thanks to the opening/closing hooks found on the back of most panniers.
But there are a few drawbacks to clip and hook systems:
– They’re noisier on the trail.
– They’re susceptible to damage.
– They’re heavier.
You’ll find velcro and Voile-style cinch straps on the backside of many bikepacking panniers. This allows for a tighter fit to the rack whereby the soft pannier backplate can mould to the shape of the rack, ensuring there’s no space for the bag to move.
That said, clip and hook systems still work well off-road, and very rarely experience failures. I’ve only ever broken lower anchoring hooks after years of heavy use. You can fit velcro or rubber tubes to sections of the rack to mitigate noise, and a bungee cord around the rack and pannier if it isn’t sitting firmly in place.
If you like the sound of instantaneous bag removable but also a tight/silent/secure rack fit, check out the modular Porcelain Rocket Microwave panniers below which employ a neat removable dry bag from the pannier holster.
An important aspect of bikepacking panniers is the profile width. The narrower the profile, the easier it is to squeeze between obstacles or, in the case of rear panniers, to push your bike. A smaller profile bag also has the benefit of being more aerodynamic too.
The panniers featured below have front profile widths ranging from 7.5cm (3″) through to 14cm (5.5″). Rear touring panniers can are between 17 and 26cm (7-9″) in comparison.
Using Front Panniers On A Rear Rack
You might be led to believe that you need bikepacking panniers for your adventures, but the reality is that lots of people use small panniers that were originally intended for lowrider front racks. Ortlieb actually re-named their ‘Front-Roller’ model to ‘Sport-Roller’ to avoid the confusion that they only work with front racks. You can buy lower anchoring hooks as spare parts for many panniers, allowing you to double up for additional pannier stability without the need for bungee cords too.
Right, let’s take a look at the more bikepacking-specific panniers.
Alpine Luddites HAB Panniers – US $275
The HABs (or Hike-A-Bikes) have been specially designed around the demands of bikepacking. These bags are custom made, and the profile can be built as thin as 7.5cm/3.0″. The back is stiffened with 6mm high-density closed-cell foam to keep your gear out of the spokes.
Hookless | 14-18 Litres | Waterproof | 567g | 1.25lb
Alpkit Toliari 12 Panniers – £35
The Alpkit Toliaris are a VERY cheap and lightweight pannier option for bikepacking. They are available with and without hooks, the latter being a bit heavier. The hookless version has webbing ladders on the back of the bag that allow you to perfectly adjust the mounts to your rack.
Hookless | 24 Litres | Waterproof | 870g | 1.92lb
Altura Ultralite Vortex 30 Panniers – US $90
These well-priced panniers have a large volume while also being some of the lightest. You’ll find some pretty mixed reviews on their function and reliability.
Hookless | 30 Litres | Waterproof | 480g | 1.0lb | 14cm Profile
Anylander Panniers – US $325
The Anylander panniers are a collaboration between Porcelain Rocket (sewing) and the Anylander workshop (frame+assembly). The panniers use Arkel upper hooks and Ortlieb lower anchoring hooks to make it easy to remove the bags. There’s a unique internal metal frame that gives the bags their shape even when half full and they come in a bunch of unique colours.
Hooks | 30 Litres | Water Resistant | 1.6kg | 3.6lb
Arkel Dry Lite Bikepacking Panniers – US $80
The Arkel Dry Lites are well-known for their reliability. I’ve met people who’ve been on long tours who were using them. While they have a front profile width on the wide side, they taper from the bottom providing a little extra clearance.
Hookless | 28 Litres | Waterproof | 540g | 1.2lb | 14cm Profile
Arkel XM-28 Bikepacking Panniers – US $120
These 1.9kg panniers are the heavy-duty, fully-featured version of the Dry Lites. They have a skid plate on the lower section of the bag to prevent damage from rocks.
Hooks | 28 Litres | Water Resistant | 1.9kg | 4.2lb | 14cm Profile
Bedrock Hermosa UL – US $300
Bedrock Bags use both X-Pac and ballistic nylon materials to make a light and durable product. They have an excellent front profile width given their volume. Available in eight different colours.
Hookless | 26 Litres | Water Resistant | 630g | 10cm Profile
Ortlieb Gravel Pack Bikepacking Panniers – US $180
Ortlieb is, without doubt, the standard for panniers. They recently released their Gravel Packs which employ a new lightweight material and closing system to shave 20% off the Sport-Roller bags. The bags come with two lower anchoring hooks off the shelf for additional stability and are coloured the same as the rest of the bikepacking range.
Hooks | 25 Litres | Waterproof | 1.2kg | 2.6lb | 14cm Profile
Outer Shell Adventure Pico Panniers – US $200
The Outer Shell Pico Panniers attach to three-bolt bosses or suspension fork lowers (using additional Boss Bars) with no rack or cage necessary! The mounting plates are made of ultra-tough waterjet-cut polycarbonate. Each Pico Pannier can fit a 1.9l/64oz water bottle.
Hookless | Water Resistant | 13cm Profile
Porcelain Rocket Microwave Panniers – US $210
The Porcelain Rocket Microwave Panniers have featured on dozens of bikepacking rigs over the years. The panniers incorporate two main components – a holster that straps directly to a rack using some neat voile straps, and a drybag which can be quickly removed and brought into your tent.
Hookless | 26 Litres | Waterproof | 920g | 2lbs | 12.5cm Profile
Revelate Nano Panniers – US $150
Here we have the lowest volume panniers with the narrowest front profile width at just 7.5cm per bag. Unlike the other pannier options, the Revelate Nano Panniers use zips to access stored goods. They are optimised for Old Man Mountain racks, but can adjust to most racks.
Hookless | 13 Litres | Water Resistant | 465g | 1.0lb | 7.5cm Profile
Swift Industries JR Ranger – US $280
The Swift JR Ranger panniers have one of the narrower front profiles in the list. Using X-Pac material combined with hooks they’ve come up with a bag that’s closer to a regular pannier in terms of functionality, but a better profile for off-road stuff.
Hooks | 20 Litres | Water Resistant | 1.5kg | 3.3lb | 10cm Profile
Rogue Panda Kaibab Micro Panniers – US $150
The Rouge Panda Kaibab panniers use a series of velcro straps to compress to a rack. They use X-Pac waterproof material and are seam sealed. Along the back is a foam pad which provides a tight fit to the rack and protects your gear. Keep in mind these bags are small-batch production only, so shoot an email through to find out when to expect the next run.
Hookless | 24 Litres | Waterproof | 567g | 1.3lb
Vaude Aqua Front Light Panniers – €116
The Vaude Aqua Fronts are a lightweight hooked pannier set. They have internal pockets to manage your gear and a cargo net over the top for quick-access items like a rain jacket. Due to the use of ultralight fabrics, the maximum load is 10kg.
Hooks | 22 Litres | Waterproof | 1000g | 2.2lb | 15cm Profile