The best bike panniers you can rely on during your bike tour

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Hello fellow cyclist! Spring has just begun and I know we’re all itching to get back out there and do the thing we love… touring! For now, we’ve put together this guide on the best bike panniers to help you narrow down your search as you prepare for your first tour or leveling up for your next.

By doing a quick search, I’m sure you found panniers are one of the most mentioned items you’ll need when planning a bike tour, next to the bicycle itself, of course. Whether you’re cycling across town or around the world, you’ll need to carry your gear with you. It’s important that it’s comfortable, durable, and will keep your precious items safe and dry.

Ultimately, the right pannier for you boils down to how much you will be carrying and the style bag that will be the most convenient for the type of tour you are planning. This buying guide will walk you through why panniers are crucial for touring and what to look for when selecting your trustiest tour companion. And of course, we list the best alternatives you can get at this moment!

Why trust this guide?

We’ve done our fair share of bike touring (more than 5.000km!) through Iceland in extreme weather conditions and a more moderate tour in the Swiss Alps. During these bike packing tours, we’ve tested a variety of bags before landing on our absolute favorite. We’ve experienced wet gear and soggy clothes, so you don’t have to! As always, if you don’t see panniers mentioned that deserve a shout out, leave us a comment. We also never recommend products we haven’t tried or have done extensive research on. 

What are bike panniers?

Panniers, pronounced pan-EE-yers are purpose-made bike bags used to store your gear during a bike tour. They typically mount on the bike rack over your front and back wheels. Because these biking bags need to last the duration of a bike tour, they are typically designed for utility, which means panniers will likely be the next biggest purchase aside from the bike itself. You’ll also notice panniers referenced as saddlebags. 

Why you need panniers

Think of panniers as bike luggage. When seeing the world, I’d assume you want to enjoy it when doing so. Panniers, equip you with the ability to carry your items, like camping equipment, food, clothes, and the souvenirs you pick up while you explore. The backpack method is extremely limited and well, over time also very uncomfortable. You’ll quickly learn the unnecessary pain you’ll endure by the extra, awkward weight on your back. Using panniers will also reduce the uncomfortable back sweat in those summer months.

Panniers are a great solution for holding your gear in an aerodynamic way that keeps your bike balanced while increasing capacity. The best bike panniers are durable and for the most part, waterproof, which is another advantage to keeping your gear protected as you traverse thousands of miles. 

Also interesting: Bike touring essentials you can’t leave without

Different kind of bike panniers

Panniers come in all shapes, sizes, and price points. Bicycle panniers for cycling touring (different from panniers for grocery shopping) are generally labeled ‘front’ or ‘rear.’ They are usually sold in pairs, some brands even specify right and left. 

I’m sure you can guess, front panniers are made smaller. This is because whatever weight you’re carrying on the front wheel will be directly felt in the steering and handling of your bike. Lighter is better, particularly on rough or steep roads. A typical front pannier will have a volume of 10-15L or 20-30L between the pair. Another disadvantage of carrying large panniers in the front is the risk of hitting the down-tube of the bike when turning sharply or interfering with disc brakes. 

Rear panniers tend to have twice the capacity of front panniers. This is where your travel preference and comfortability come into play. Depending on the specific tour you want to make, you either want to pack small or maximize your bags to fit your needs. You can gauge the size you need by gathering all of your items and packing your day pack if you have one or using the brand’s site for guidance. The heavier you go, the tougher the ride will be. The magic is finding the balance between necessity + comfort items that don’t add extra strain on your ride and ditch the rest. 

You might also like: The best cycling tours of Europe

What to look out for when buying panniers

When you’ve looked around already a bit, you’ve probably noticed bike panniers aren’t cheap. Especially when you want to opt for the more durable and waterproof options. Nevertheless, you have to keep in mind that the best bike panniers will last a lifetime! Since we purchased our panniers, we’ve cycled over 5.000km with them and they still look brand new! Can you imagine how many kilometers we can cycle with them before they are worn out?

So, when purchasing bike panniers we would really love to give you one advice: don’t only look at the price, but keep the durability in mind as well. There are a couple of other key features that we think will help you level up your pannier game to have the most fun on your next bike tour:

Materials

It’s important to pay attention to the materials the bags are made of. This will give insight into the durability and reliability the bags will have during the ride. We recommend opting for materials like vinyl, Cordura, or tarpaulin, which are light and fully waterproof. The best bike panniers hit the sweet spot and optimize durability and weight.

Closing system

Another feature that may seem simple but is really significant, is how the bag is closed. Opting for the roll-top design will lengthen the panniers life as well as keep your valuable items dry and dust-free. Besides, this system is super easy to use and gives you wide access to the gear in your panniers.

This roll-top design also makes it possible to adjust the size of your panniers according to the amount of gear you take with you.  

Also read: Bike touring vs. bike packing

Attachment system

Another system to watch when searching for the best cycling panniers is the attachment system. This is the system that allows you to hang the panniers on your bike. All brands use their own attachment system and they are all different. The most thoughtful systems allow you to click on and off the panniers in a single movement. This is definitely the kind of system you want to opt for when you plan a longer bike touring trip. It simply saves you time, but can also save you a lot of frustrations.

Storage

Most panniers only have a one-pocket system. However, there are a few models available that provide a couple of smaller pockets on the inside. This will allow you to store smaller stuff without losing them somewhere in the pannier. Although there are workarounds like little bags to keep your items, small built-in pockets add organization and efficiency to your system. We’d recommend opting for this feature, as it makes organizing just a bit easier.

Our top picks for the best bike panniers

Each rider will have their own preference and budget for their panniers. Your top pick may not be the Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic and again, it’s entirely up to your preference. So, we went ahead and compiled a shortlist matching the pannier to the best-suited category. 

Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic | Best all-around bike panniers

Per set:

Weight: 1900gr | Volume: 40L | Max. pack load: 18kg

The bag that has ticked all of our performance boxes is definitely the Ortlieb back-roller classic. Also a fan favorite in the touring community and for good reason. These panniers are optimally designed to endure many many miles. The inside pocket allows you to store smaller items without them getting lost between the rest of your stuff. And the top-loading system with roll-closing makes it possible to adjust the size of the pannier to your needs. This closing system makes the bags completely waterproof and with their improved design, you secure the panniers by attaching the clips to the side.

The Ortlieb panniers are extremely easy to take on and off the bike, which comes in handy during those cold early morning hours. When purchasing the Ortlieb back-rollers, you’ll receive different sets of attachment add-ons, so you’ll be sure they will perfectly fit on the carrier that is attached to your bike. The roll-top design kept our bags bone dry as we hauled our laptops and camera equipment through river crossings and water pools.

Ortlieb has front and back pannier sets available in various colors and sizes. Their cycling panniers are extremely versatile, as they are compatible with other Ortlieb cycling bags and there are also a lot of accessories available. Think of a pannier organizer or a carrier system, so you can carry the pannier as a backpack. The high-visibility strips are another feature we’re thankful to have. They really are worth the hype.

Pros

  • Very durable
  • Waterproof
  • With reflection
  • Easy click-on-click-off system
  • Available in different colors
  • Accessories available for better organization
  • Compatible with other Ortlieb cycling packs

Cons

  • High price point

Vaude aqua back | Second-best all-round panniers

Per set:

Weight: 1940gr | Volume: 48L | Max. pack load: 25kg

These Vaude panniers are definitely a green choice, as they are climate neutrally manufactured. The system of these panniers is pretty similar to the Ortlieb back roller classics, as they also use a roll closure at the top. Inside the panniers you find an inner pocket to store smaller objects you don’t want to lose.

The attachment system makes it easy to click these cycling panniers on and off your bike. You can even secure them to your bike with an extra lock. Vaude also sells accessories for these bike panniers, like organizers and locks.

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • With reflection
  • Green choice
  • Available in different colors
  • Accessories available for better organization

Cons

  • High price point
  • Not as versatile as Ortlieb

Agu Aquadus | Best bike panniers sold as singles

Per pannier:

Weight: 880gr | Volume: 20L | Max. pack load: 10kg

All other panniers listed in this top 5 come as a set of two. But Agu responds to the demand of cyclist that are only looking for a single pannier and came up with this durable single side pannier with a 20-liter volume.

This pannier is manufactured of high-quality materials that protect your valuable items, no matter the weather, due to the waterproof aspects. And the handy removable shoulder strap transforms the side pannier into a shoulder bag, so you can carry it around easily when it isn’t attached to your bike. Attaching them to your bike is pretty easy with the KLICKfix Vario Top hooks.

Pros

  • Available as a single pannier
  • Waterproof
  • With reflection

Cons

  • Not as qualitative as other options
  • Limited organization options

Thule Shield 25L | Best bike panniers when it comes to volume

Per set:

Weight: 1950gr | Volume: 50L | Max. pack load: 24kg

Don’t want to sacrifice a luxury item…or two? You don’t have to. These cycling panniers max out at a capacity of 50 liters. At the inside of these panniers, you’ll find 3 pockets for organization purposes to store your smaller items.

On both sides of the panniers you’ll find reflective strips and a loop to attach a clipped bike light. If you want to have visibility to the max, you can also opt for a bright or even reflective color.

These panniers are waterproof, so they will also protect your gear during pouring rainfalls. The enhanced system makes it easy to click the panniers on and off your bike. And when they are not attached to your bicycle, you can easily carry them around using the removable shoulder strap.

Pros

  • Waterproof
  • High visibility: reflective strips and an attachment loop for a bike light
  • Available in different colors
  • Huge packing volume

Cons

  • High price point

Elops 500 | Best bike panniers for every budget

Per pannier

Weight: 590gr | Volume: 20L | Max. pack load: 7,5kg

A budget option that doesn’t skimp on quality. The Decathlon Elops panniers will keep your gear dry in all elements. The aesthetic is competitive to the leading panniers; however, the attachment system is on the simpler and more basic side.

If you go cycling during dust or dawn, keep in mind these cycling panniers don’t have reflective elements. They do have an attachment loop though for the Decathlon b’twin bike lights.

 

Pros

  • Affordable price point
  • Waterproof
  • Available in different colors

Cons

  • No reflective elements
  • No organization options

We love to hear from you

Thanks for checking out our Bike Touring Pannier Buying guide! Searching for the right gear can feel like a second job and sometimes we keep on looking and never actually buy anything. So, we hope you can narrow down your pannier search with our tips and tricks. A good set of panniers will make all the difference on your next tour. If you have a question about buying your first set or want to upgrade and want some guidance, please leave a comment below!

For more tips, tricks and reviews, check out more of our travel gear guides!

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