Finding out what bikepacking bag is used for which purpose and what one you should buy can be very confusing. When I first started out bikepacking I sure know it confused me, and I ended up buying a lot of gear I didn’t need! As a regular cyclist and bikepacker, I thought I would try and simplify it all for you, to help you make your choice more easily.
In reality, there is no best bikepacking bag, you need to first think about what it is you want to carry, how much you want to spend, and which other bike bags you already have. It is also important to note that you don’t need to go out and buy every type of bikepacking bag. When I first started bikepacking, I mainly used a single frame bag and went on multiple trips with that on its own!
In the rest of the article, I’ll take a look at all of the different types of bikepacking bags, but it is worth knowing that the most common bikepacking bags are frame bags and saddle bags, both of which offer a large storage capacity and don’t impact your cycling too much, so if you want to know which bag to start with, I’d recommend one of these, certainly, that’s what I did.
Obviously, as the years have gone by, I’ve gone on longer trips and bought myself more bags, but I want to make it clear that you don’t need a full set of bikepacking bags to go on a bikepacking trip, in fact, some beginner bike packers even try using a rucksack.
What are the different types of bikepacking bag
What are saddle bags?
Saddle bags, along with frame bags, are the most popular type of bikepacking bag. They sit behind your saddle attached to your seat post and the rails on the back of your saddle.
Saddle bags are often the largest bag you will take on a trip, and have a carrying capacity of up to 20 liters.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a saddle bag?
Saddle bags can be a great option as they can carry a large amount of gear without significantly increasing your wind resistance or getting in the way of your handling.
However, while saddle bags are good for storing larger items of your kit, they are hard to access quickly. This is because they often have a roll top design which means you need to completely unclip the bag from the bike to open it.
They are also prone to swaying from side to side if they have not been packed properly (take a look at my article here if you want to learn the best way to pack a saddle bag).
What will you use a saddle bag for?
Because of their ability to hold large items, most bike packers will use this larger bag to store the majority of their sleeping system (tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat, etc) that they will not need regular access to throughout the day.
What to look for in a saddle bag?
When looking for a saddle bag, you will want to find one that is durable, water resistant, and has a large carrying space. As a saddle bag sits above your rear wheel, it’s also important to make sure that it is durable and waterproof on the underside of the bag as well as the top, because it will be hit by any mud, water, or stones that are flicked up as you cycle.
It is also worth making sure that the bag you choose will fit between your rear tire and your seat post (sometimes if you have a small bike and a large bag, the bag can rub against your rear tire). If you have a dropper post this will make your choice a little harder, and you’ll need to make sure you chose one that works with this.
Which saddle bags would I recommend?
|Topeak Backloaded 10||Miss Grape Cluster 13||Tailfin AeroPack Carbon|
|Cost – £44.99||Cost – £125.00||Cost – £299.99|
|Carrying Capacity – 10L||Carrying Capacity – 13L||Carrying Capacity – 20L|
|Weight – 445g||Weight – 425g||Weight – 772g|
|Valve to squeeze out surplus air|
Easy and quick mounting
Great value for money
Waterproof stuff-sack included
Easy to pack
PVC section above wheel for dirt and water
Does not sway
Fits almost any bike
|Swings a lot|
Not fully waterproof
Heavy for how much it can carry
|Fairly expensive||Very expensive|
Compression straps can slip when wet
What are frame bags?
Apart from a saddle bag, a frame bag will be the most popular bikepacking bag option. Frame bags sit inside the main triangle of your bike frame (the bit between the seat tube, downtube, and top tube), often attaching to the top tube and/or your seat post.
I would suggest if you are getting your first bikepacking bag that you should consider a frame bag. They have the least impact on your cycling and can store a large amount of gear.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a frame bag?
Frame bags are a great compromise between easy access and large carrying capacity. As well as being good at carrying medium-sized bits of gear, they are also good at carrying your heaviest gear. This is because a frame bag sits low down on a bike and so extra weight here helps to lower your overall center of gravity and improve your stability.
On top of this, frame bags are much easier to access as you cycle when compared to saddle bags as they have a zip that can be reached without getting off the bike.
One of the main disadvantages of a frame bag is that all frame bags don’t work with all types of bikes. For example, if you have a full-suspension mountain bike then you will be unable to use a large frame bag that fills the whole main triangle of your bike (the bike will get in the way of the suspension).
As well as this, larger frame bags will take up the space where your bottle bags normally sit, and so you will have to find somewhere else to store these.
What will you use a frame bag for?
Because of this, most bike packers will use their frame bag for middle-sized objects that have a large weight, for example, a stove, fuel, or tent poles.
What to look for in a frame bag?
Frame bags come in multiple different sizes and designs, with some taking up your whole frame triangle and others only taking up half of it. Make sure you take a look at the carrying capacity of any frame bag you buy as they can vary considerably. It is also helpful to look for frame bags that have adjustable compartments as these can help to organize your gear.
In my experience, frame bags are the bag you often fill the most, leaving you struggling with a tight zip that has broken on me a few too many times. If you think this might be the case for you (for example if this is the only bag you will be getting yourself), then take a look at getting a zipperless option.
Which frame bags would I recommend?
|Lifeline Adventure Frame Bag||Ortlieb 4L Frame Pack||Backcountry Full Frame Pack|
|Cost – £14.99||Cost – £89.00||Cost – £144.00|
|Carrying Capacity- 2.1L||Carrying Capacity – 4L||Carrying Capacity – 6L|
|Weight – 155g||Weight – 140g||Weight – 313g|
|Easy to use velcro straps|
Allows access to water cage
Easy access flap
Multiple fixing points
|Velcro straps are not adjustable||It may not fit smaller frames|
Expensive for its size
|No internal divider|
What are handlebar bags?
Handlebar bags (also called bar bags) are cylinder-shaped bags that sit on the front of your bike, attached to the handlebars. They come in a few different sizes, with smaller ones fitting between your handlebars and larger ones actually sitting across the full width of your handlebars on flat bar bikes.
They come in two main forms, some that attach directly to your bike handlebars themselves, and others that come with a mount that attaches to your handlebars, and then the bag attaches to that.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a handlebar bag?
Handlebar bags are my least favorite type of bikepacking bag. You aren’t able to pack heavy objects onto your handlebars as they will have too much of an impact on your maneuverability, and the shape of the object you have to pack there has to be quite specific (large and cylindrical).
On top of this, a handlebar bag can often get in the way of any accessories or gear you have attached to your handlebar (for example a GPS or lights).
However, on longer bikepacking trips, you can’t always be picky with where you store your gear, needing to use every bit of the bike that you can. In these cases, I end up using a handlebar bag but if I don’t need to, then I’ll leave it at home.
It is worth noting that you can improvise a handlebar bag very easily. Save money by using regular bungee cords to attach a dry bag or the bag of your tent to the handlebars in the same way that you would attach a handlebar bag.
What will you use a handlebar bag for?
Due to the restrictions on what you can pack in a handlebar bag, people often use them for large but lightweight objects such as a tent or sleeping bag.
What to look for in a handlebar bag?
When looking at handlebar bags, make sure you get one that isn’t too heavy (as this will make steering harder), and also try to find one that fits in between your handlebars, as this can make it more comfortable on your hands.
As well as ensuring your chosen handlebar bag fits between your handlebars, you also need to make sure you have enough clearance from your front wheel. If you have a small bike combined with a large handlebar bag, you are at risk of the wheel rubbing against the bottom of the bike as you cycle.
Which handlebar bags would I recommend?
|Topeak Bar Loader||Straight Cut Design Bagel Bag||Route Werks Handlebar Bag|
|Cost – £32.99||Cost – £69.99||Cost – £165.00|
|Carrying Capacity – 6.5L||Carrying Capacity – 2.2L||Carrying Capacity – 3.2L|
|Weight – 371g||Weight – 178g||Weight – 677g|
Roll top lid
Removable shoulder strap
Zipped mesh pockets for keys
Multiple attachent points
Double zip opening
Works with GPS mounts
|Large Maximum Weight|
Extra mounts available
Built-in shoulder cord
|Not as durable as others|
|No reflective strips||No rubber shim to stop rubbing|
What are top-tube bags?
Top tube bags are some of the smallest bikepacking bags, they sit on the top tube of your bike (who’d of guessed) and are attached with velcro straps to either the top tube or the bit just under your handlebar.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a top-tube bag?
Top-tube bags are small, lightweight, and versatile. They make a great option for storing all the little bits you don’t know where to put. They are also particularly good at storing items you need constant access to throughout the day as they are right within hands reach and easy to access.
The main disadvantage of a top tube bag is that you risk hitting your knees on these if you get one that is too large or you have particular wide legs. Due to their position and size, they also have the least storage capacity of any bikepacking bag.
What will you use a top-tube bag for?
Most people use top tube bags for small objects that they want easy access to, for example, snacks, a phone, or a portable charger.
Top tubes make a great choice for any bike owner, even on rides where you aren’t bikepacking, for example carrying your keys or suncream when you are out on a road ride.
What to look for in a top-tube bag?
When you are looking at top tube bags, you want to make sure you find one that is easy to access as you cycle. If you are seeing them in a shop, make sure you can open the bag with one hand easily (as you would while you cycle).
You also want to make sure that you get a bag thin enough that your knees won’t hit the bag as you pedal, and preferably you want one that is waterproof if you plan to use it to store electronics.
Which top-tube bags would I recommend?
|Restrap Top Tube Bag||Apidura Bolt-on Top Tube Bag||Apidura Long Top Tube Bag|
|Cost – £32.00||Cost – £52.00||Cost – £72.00|
|Carrying Capacity – 0.8L||Carrying Capacity – 1L||Carrying Capacity – 2L|
|Weight – 90g||Weight – 104g||Weight – 200g|
|Easily adjustable straps|
Rubber lined strap
Fits all types of bike
Two mesh dividers
|Bolts directly onto the bike|
Easy to access while cycling
Easy wipe clean material
|Charging cable port|
Two-way waterproof zip
Strong fixing points
Easy to clean
|Only comes in one size||Not fully waterproof||May hit knees when overpacked|
What are stem bags?
Stem bags (also called feed bags) sit on the front of your bike, hanging off of your handlebars on the cyclist’s side. They almost always attach with a single velcro strap and look very similar to a chalk bag that you would use for climbing.
Stem bags, unlike all other types of bikepacking bags, elect to use a drawstring mechanism to close up, allowing very easy access as you cycle.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a stem bag?
The drawstring closure system used on almost all stem bags can make getting whatever food or gear you have put into your bag very easy.
This drawstring mechanism is actually one of the main negatives of stem bags, due to the lack of zip, stem bags cannot be made fully waterproof, and so water can leak through the small gap left in the closure string (often this is worse on the cheaper models).
The other main negative of stem bags is the risk of them swaying around and hitting your knee as you cycle. Stem bags that have too long a strap, or ones where the strap cannot be adjusted will often hang too low on the bike and interfere with your legs as you cycle.
What will you use a stem bag for?
Due to their very easy access and position on the bike, stem bags play a very similar role to top tube bags, holding snacks and other pieces of gear you need regular access to, for example, sunglasses or sunscreen. However, I would suggest you avoid any gear that might be damaged by the rain, for example, a phone or GPS.
Because of their very similar role, I’ve almost exclusively used top-tube bags instead of stem bags on my trips, however, many people prefer stem bags or use both together.
What to look for in a stem bag?
When looking at stem bags, it is worth making sure you can get one big enough to carry all the regular extras that you will be taking on your cycle (keys, wallet, phone, etc). It is also worth looking at how well the drawstring pulls tight, as this will limit how much water can fall through into the bag itself.
Finally, make sure to measure the length of the bag strap from your bike, as this will help to ensure you have adequate clearance from your legs to the bag.
Which stem bags would I recommend?
|Alpkit Stem Cell||Mountain feedbag||The Spindle Crusher|
|Cost – £32.99||Cost – £55.00||Cost – £70.00|
|Carrying Capacity – 1.8L||Carrying Capacity – 1L||Carrying Capacity – 1.2L|
|Weight – 68g||Weight – 105g||Weight – 96g|
|Does not sway too much|
Large size for stem bag
Easy one-handed opening
Low weight for size
|Easy one-handed opening|
Multiple external mesh pockets
Multiple attachment points
Well positioned on the bike
|Closure lets rain through|
Can knock into knees
|Small capacity||Expensive for its size|
What are fork bags?
Fork bags are some of the least used bags in bikepacking. This is because the majority of front fork bags require you to buy a separate frame to be attached to your bike forks, and then you can attach your bags to these frames. Because of the extra frame you have to purchase, they often have quite a high cost for the amount of gear they can carry.
In recent years, there have been some new designs that can be attached directly to your bike’s front forks, however, these can be more expensive, and not as effective as other types.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of a fork bag?
While front fork bags may be expensive to set up, once they are there they can be a great option for carrying gear on a bikepacking trip. Fork bags, like frame bags, have a low center of gravity, meaning you can pack heavier objects into them with less of an impact on your steering than if you packed them onto other areas of your bike (for example a handlebar bag).
Aside from the price, the other main negative of fork bags is that they are not suitable for all types of bike (some bikes don’t have any attachment points) and they can take quite a beating on rougher sections of a ride, meaning that the gear you carry in them can’t be too fragile.
What will you use a fork bag for?
Fork bags make a great place to carry larger cylindrical and heavy objects, for example, water bottles or cooking gear. However, don’t put anything too precious in there as if you hit a trunk or stone then they are at risk of being knocked around.
What to look for in a fork bag?
When choosing a fork bag, make sure that the one you choose is compatible with your bike. Check if your bike has any fork bolts which allow a bag to be attached directly to the frame itself (common on surly and salsa bikes). Otherwise, you will need to make sure you find a universal fork bag that works with all bikes.
Which fork bags would I recommend?
|Salsa Anything Cage HD||Apidura Fork Pack||Free Parable Gorilla Bag|
|Cost -£35.00||Cost -£47.50||Cost – £63.00|
|Carrying Capacity – 4.5L||Carrying Capacity – 3L||Carrying Capacity – 5.5L|
|Weight – 300g||Weight – 120g||Weight – 306g|
Holds weight low on the bike
|Works with any bike|
Air release valve
|Attaches to any bike|
Works without fork mounts
Works with suspension forks
Out of the way when not in use
|Only works with some bikes|
The bag fits tightly into the cage
|Hard to pack|
Requires a fork cage
|Hard to undo with cold hands|
How much bikepacking space do you need?
When looking at bikepacking bags, you also need to consider how much bikepacking bag space you actually need. There’s no point picking out which bags you’re planning to buy if they won’t fit all the gear you plan to take with you.
After speaking to many bikepackers, I found that most require 30-40 liters of bikepacking bag space with them for an overnight trip. There are a range of factors that might mean you require more or less bag capacity than this, such as the length of your trip, how often you plan to restock your food and water, and the amount of gear you take but this is a good average to start with.
This total volume is made up of all of your bikepacking bags, for example, the bag list below would carry this amount of gear.
Are there any alternatives to a bikepacking bag?
Traditionally pannier racks have been used for bike touring and not bikepacking, they can still make a great option if you have them at hand.
Pannier bags can carry more weight than bikepacking bags and often have more storage capacity. As well as this, they are easier to pack (because they have a more “traditional” shape than something like a saddlebag), and can be clipped and unclipped from your bike much more quickly.
However, not all bikes are compatible with panniers, and they are not suited for the roughest terrain where their position means that they can knock into rocks or trees. On top of this, pannier racks and bags weigh much more than specific bikepacking bags, which can make you slower, and also make any uphill sections of your ride much harder.
If you don’t want to splash out on a set of bikepacking bags, trying your first trip with a rucksack is definitely an option.
Rucksacks are cheaper (you probably have one lying around the house already), and are easier to pack and open up as you cycle. This means that newer bikepacker’s can have a simple introduction to a bikepacking trip without having to worry about “what you’ve packed where”.
On the other hand, if you are carrying a lot of gear in a rucksack they can be hard to cycle with, possibly unbalancing you and giving you neck or back pain. They can limit your neck mobility which can in turn make looking around as you cycle harder, and you definitely will arrive at camp with a sweaty back!
As you can see, when it comes to bikepacking bags there are many different options, each of which has its own nuances. It’s easy to get confused and bogged down in the technicalities of it all. My main recommendation would be to pick a frame or saddle bag and go for it! You’ll soon learn what you want in a bikepacking bag when you get out on a few trips, and more importantly, what you don’t want.