Which bikpacking bags do you really need?  

More and more outdoor manufacturers are catching on to the bikepacking trend. In recent years, panniers have become increasingly sophisticated. They are becoming lighter, have larger volumes and stay more steady while riding. Nowadays, there is an ever-growing range of products, which makes it difficult for new bikepackers to make a choice.

“Buying a handlebar, saddle, and frame bag will get you already a long way. With these three bags you can already transport most of the important necessities, especially if you choose not to go camping.”

Beginning bikepackers usually invest in a handlebar, saddle and frame bag first. These bags are certainly sufficient for your first trips and can also hold the largest volume of all possible bags (up to 17 liters). If you notice that you still need additional space, or you decide to make longer trips, then you can still buy additional bags.

The basic bags

There are two types of handlebar bags on the market: the bar roll and the harness & drybag. A bar roll is attached to the handlebar as a whole. A harness & drybag consists of two parts. First, the harness which is attached to the handlebar. Secondly, you can attach your drybag (literally a waterproof bag) and/or other pieces of luggage to the harness. Opinions are rather divided on which option is the easiest. A bar roll is made to stay on the bike, so you have to pack and unpack horizontally all the time. A separate drybag can be detached from the harness and taken to your sleeping spot, where you can then pack and unpack your luggage vertically. A harness is also more flexible for hanging on different elements, such as a drybag, tent and sleeping mat. You can also attach multiple drybags unto the harness. Of course, this requires a proper construction each time. 

“The choice of type of handlebar bag is very personal. Both the bar roll and the harness & drybag formula have their own advantages. On your first purchase it is of course difficult to assess this properly. Don’t worry, both solutions work perfectly.”

Using a harness system you can attach several bags to your handlebars - source - cc

If you have a bike with dropdown bars? Then you must pay close attention to the length of the handlebar bag. Because of the protruding handlebars, you only have limited space. Take this into account; there are bags that can be adjusted in length and therefore can be used on different types of bikes.

A saddlebag or seat pack is attached at the bottom and rear of the saddle via straps to the seat post and the saddle itself. Since this bag protrudes at the back, in parallel with the rear tire, it is very susceptible to swaying and shaking. Therefore, it is important to choose a saddlebag with a qualitative bike mount. There is nothing more irritating than a constantly moving saddlebag during your relaxing bike ride. Most brands have put a lot of effort into improving these products in recent years. Just like the harness system for the handlebar bag, there are also similar systems for saddlebags. These allow you to easily remove and reattach your luggage.

“You can literally put your drink bottle almost anywhere on your bike. There are specific bags for on the handlebar, but also under the frame. You can even mount the bottle holder to the front fork of the bike. You can definitely get creative with this.”

A frame bag is attached in the frame and exists therefore in different sizes. After all, the shape and size of the frame is very different from bike to bike. For example, mountain bikes often have a smaller frame than racing bikes. In addition, a large part of the space in the frame is often taken up by bottle holders. If you want to keep these holders then you will inevitably have to look for a smaller frame bag, which only takes up the top half of the frame. You could also opt to remove the bottle cages in favor of a larger frame bag. To replace them, you can choose to attach specific bottle holders to the handlebar (stem bags) or the fork (although these are a bit more difficult to use while cycling of course). The choice of a frame bag is therefore possibly the most tricky part of assembling your touring bike. It is advisable to measure the available space to determine which bag fits best. Besides the different types of frame bags from the bigger brands, you can also consider buying a custom-made version or simply make one yourself.

Additional Bags

On top of the handlebar bag you can also attach an additional bag (or pouch) which creates some additional storage. A small bag (fuel or top tube bag) can also be attached to the handlebar stem. As the name suggests, this is often used to store small snacks, which can then be quickly retrieved while cycling. A similar bag can also be attached to the junction between the seat post and the frame. You can also attach bags to the front fork. These are often cylindrical, so you can easily store a small gas bottle for the cooking stove here.

Classic Touring Bags

Bikepacking is often distinguished from the more traditional bike touring, but it is better to let go of different types of labels. After all, there’s a lot of crossover and that’s very interesting to explore. It’s best to choose your own setup for the mapped out route and your specific bike. The above mentioned panniers are more specifically present at, or even designed for, bikepacking. However, you can also choose to install a bike rack with side bags or panniers on the back of your bike. These side bags today come in all sizes and shapes to fulfill your specific needs. For example, most brands also have small, compact and lightweight side bags in their range.

Classic touring bags are really handy, even though you need a rack - source - cc

A few facts in a row

  • It is important to distribute the weight of your luggage well over the bike. This is the best way to keep enough control of your bike during turns and maneuvering on small forest trails.

  • For a mountain bike, it is a little trickier to choose the right panniers. For a frame bag, it can sometimes be difficult given the smaller frames, but also the front suspensions can sometimes cause some ‘problems’. If the front fork can rebound strongly, then it is possible that your handlebar bags will drag against the front wheel.

  • Did you know that you can also simply attach materials to your frame or anywere else on your bike via straps? Several brands already offer this, although you can also rely on a few good rubber bands.
  • A backpack is not always ideal while cycling. In order to spare your back, carrying a backpack is usually avoided anyway, because it already has to endure some pressure while cycling. A limited camel bag can be interesting to carry enough water, especially during warm days.