Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags 01

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags: Can Panniers Actually Be Lighter?

I’ve recently noticed that there’s a lot of discussion around weight when it comes to panniers vs bikepacking bags. These weight comparisons come from a good place: they are often comparing the weight between a typical touring bike setup and a typical bikepacking setup. The only issue is that this is like comparing apples to oranges.

Let’s break this down.


panniers vs bikepacking bags
Iik from UltralightCycling is a well-known bike travel minimalist with lots of tips on his website.

I’ll start by suggesting that minimalism either appeals to you, or it doesn’t. Minimalists have existed in the bike travel sphere for over 100 years, strapping bags to racks or simply selecting two panniers instead of four.

It’s well known that carrying less gear means you can select a lighter/faster bike and therefore travel longer distances with the same effort. In fact, this is a positive feedback loop: reduce bike weight > travel longer distances > carry less food and water > reduce bike weight further. So while bikepacking bags may force you to think twice about what you’re carrying, minimalism as a philosophy is equally applied to all bike luggage setups, panniers included.

I think it goes without saying that someone with a minimalist mindset is unlikely to walk into a bike shop and pick up a 16kg touring bike with 5kg of panniers, bags and racks. This setup will not only offer excess volume, but the heavy-duty components will be superfluous with a minimalist’s load. Similarly, someone wanting to carry a camp chair is unlikely to investigate a bikepacking setup. This is the crux of the problem when comparing a sturdy touring bike with four panniers to a svelte adventure bike with a bikepacking ensemble – these setups appeal to different people who want to conduct different types of adventures.

How Should We Compare The Weight Of Pannier Vs Bikepacking Bags?

panniers vs bikepacking bags

The only way to truly compare the weight difference between luggage setups is to match the bag volumes. That is, to assume that you’ll pack both luggage setups with the same gear volume. I’ve seen people make weight comparisons where the bikepacking setup has less than half the volume. The panniers are always going to be heavier when extra textiles are used, and racks are fitted to accommodate the sheer volume!

Right, let me show you how panniers can actually be lighter than bikepacking bags.

Panniers That Are 21% Lighter than Bikepacking Bags!?

ultralight bicycle touring
Sub-1000g pannier setup? No problem. Image: DalesJournal

Ultralight Rear Pannier and Drybag Setup (38L)
Arkel Dry Lite Panniers (30 Litres): 540g
Tubus Airy Titanium Rack: 233g
Sea-To-Summit UltraSil Drybag (8 Litres): 30g
Compression Straps: 50g
Total: 853 grams 

Bikepacking Setup (37.5L)
Ortlieb Handlebar Pack (15L): 417g
Ortlieb Seat Pack (16.5L): 430g
Ortlieb Framepack Large (6L): 232g
Total: 1079 grams

Surprised? I was! I always assumed that the rack infrastructure and waterproof nature of the panniers would tip the balance here. But the Tubus titanium rack is about the same weight as a large packet of potato chips and the Arkel Dry Lite panniers less than a small bidon of water. Once you strap a lightweight drybag to the top of the rack, it’s pretty hard for a waterproof bikepacking set up to match the weight.

What About F+R Panniers With Hooks?

Maxx Touring Bike
Ortlieb Gravel Packs fitted to the front and rear racks of a Maxx touring bike.

Front and Rear Pannier Setup (50L)
Ortlieb Gravel Packs x2 (50L): 2320g
Tubus Tara Rack: 360g
Tubus Airy Rack: 233g
Total: 2913 Grams

Bikepacking Setup (50L)
Ortlieb Handlebar Pack (15L): 417g
Ortlieb Accessory Pack (3.5L): 206g
Ortlieb Seat Pack (16.5L): 430g
Ortlieb Framepack Large (6L): 232g
Anything Bag x2 (9L): 398g
Anything Cage HD x2: 440g
Total: 2123 Grams

When you fit a front rack to a bike or use panniers with hooks (or both!), the weight starts to add up. But the difference with the volumes matched is still under 800 grams (1.8lb). That’s not insignificant, but it’s also a very small percentage of the overall weight of your body/bike/luggage/food/water – probably under 1% of the total.

Volume-Weight Potential

Eurobike 2017
This Hilite light touring bike will suit the minimalists who like panniers; it’s just 9.2kg (20lb)!

BIKEPACKING.com recently suggested that the biggest weight savings are what you can’t fit into a bikepacking setup. While I agree that having less storage space will make you think twice about whether you can take it (ie. if you can’t pack it, you won’t), I don’t think this is a good reason to ditch the panniers (I’ve listed better ones below). That’s because it’s ultimately your choice to fill the space, and if you have a minimalist mentality, you don’t need volume constraints to be on top of that.

How Much Does Weight Affect Cycling Speed?

I took my touring bike with two large panniers (mounted to my rear rack) on a 15.37km (9.5mi) long undulating route which offered 276m (905ft) of climbing. I rode around this course all day with different loads to find out how much each extra kilogram affected my cycling speed. It turned out that each extra kilogram is worth somewhere between 10 seconds (flat) and 90 seconds (hilly) over 100km.

I suggest keeping this information in mind whenever considering matters of weight on a bike trip.

Bikepacking Bags Are More Aerodynamic

Aerodynamics have a very significant impact on your speed, especially when compared to my weight testing. On my hilly test course when carrying 20 extra kilograms it worked out to be 18 minutes slower over 100km. To put that into perspective, that time difference is essentially the same as the difference between bikepacking bags or four panniers with equal weight (17 minutes). That’s a lot!


I wrote this article to dispel the myth that racks and panniers have to be heavy. I think that matching the luggage volumes is the best way to draw a weight comparison between setups because if you’re interested in bikepacking bags over panniers, you’ll also be the type who can be a minimal packer.

That said, I personally wouldn’t pick either luggage option on weight alone. Bikepacking setups are:
– More aerodynamic (6% in my case)
– Better on rough roads and trails
– Really good at distributing weight (especially frame bags)
– Able to fit bikes without rack mounts

Panniers have their place too. They are:
– Quick to remove from a bike
– Easy to carry off the bike
– Easy to organise
– Better equipped to fit odd-shaped objects
– More protective of laptops

Ok, time to take whatever luggage setup you’ve got and enjoy the ride. 😀

  1. Excellent article! As I have started researching carrying system for an upcoming tour, I was surprised to find that bike packing does not really save you that much weight. All those small bags and straps add up in weight and cost significantly more. Moreoever, the rubbing inside of your thighs with the top tube bags and frame bags can be pretty bothersome.

    Additionally, it takes more time to pack/unpack items from framebags/seatbags and handlebar roll. So, the time you might have saved with bikepacking setup, you will end up using it for packing/unpacking.

    However, I do see the influence that bikepacking has on the traditional touring setups. Now, there are lightweight panniers like the Arkel one you mentioned above. And, the best part of bikepacking, with its better weight distribution, is that it opens up a lot of racy bike options for you.

  2. Great article, although the most important reason to ditch classic four panniers touring setup is clearly coupled with the aim of being more efficient in hard terrains – preferably mountain trails. It is not much about the weight – nonentheless very important factor – as it is about being able to conquer hard terrain. And all the talks and articles about bikepacking vs cycle touring seem to focus only on weight and volume, rather then they are made for different aims.

  3. Good to see this article, and the reference to the info from the Ultralight cycling blog. I wouldn’t go quite as light as he does, but there’s some excellent info there which is not gear-centric, i.e. always based around purchasing the latest and greatest. Personally I am thinking of going with a drybag on a light rack, with one smaller bag for things I need to access during the ride, in a more accessible position.
    I always wondered how some bikepacking setups could work out any lighter when they seem to add another bag for each item to be carried. It also seems in some ways that bikepacking has resulted only in a new, alternative orthodoxy, from which very few adherents ever stray, which contradicts one of the ideas on which it is (or should be) based.

  4. When it comes down to touring or bikepacking and the system you use, it seems that it is like backpacking.

    As we know, you have all sorts of backpackers. Men and women who go ultra-lightweight, using polyester tarp, a bivy bag over a lightweight down quilt, 2-3 shirts, 2 pants, 2 shorts, lightweight cooking system and a 30-35-liter pack. Then on the opposite end, you have people loaded down with everything in a 65+-liter backpack.

    Bicycle touring and bikepacking seem to be the same way, and basically it comes down to what you are comfortable with. Some people can get by with minimum amount of gear, while others need certain things and thus they get the biggest pannier systems available.

    First thing one might think about is where do they plan to go. Will it be on a local trip, a trip across your home sate, around the country you live in, or will it be around the world? Once you determine that, you should be able to sort out what you need for gear

    And then second, one should consider “test trips” like a weekend outing or even a 4-day-weekend outing is the best way to see how you want to go. You might find out that bike touring ain’t your thing. Or you find out “I wasn’t carrying what I need” or “I was carrying way too much!”

  5. Nice article! I haven’t gone minimalist for a cycling trip but I’m going to have to give some thought to swapping out my heavier panniers for lighter ones.

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