Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack Review
Cons: Expensive, not waterproof without extra rain cover
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack has a unique hybrid design combining a large, fully-featured backpack with a high-quality pannier mounting system. While it's not necessarily as comfortable as a traditional daypack, or as weatherproof as a heavy-duty touring pannier, it strikes a nice balance between the two that is perfect for daily use. An easy to use backpack system, multiple storage pockets, a built-in helmet holder, and an optional laptop sleeve and rain cover add to the user-friendly feature list. Continue reading below to see why it earns our Top Pick for Commuting!
The Bug Pack is equipped with Arkel's simple and dependable Cam-Lock mounting system. This mounting system has two large adjustable hooks that slide onto your bike rack, while adjacent spring-loaded cams clamp things down tightly for a secure fit. The spring-loaded cams have a rounded shape that is able to firmly grasp any sized bar diameter, allowing a custom fit on any type of bike rack without any need for adjustment or additional hardware. This system is almost entirely constructed out of aluminum, while the systems of most competitors are made from plastic.
For extra security, this mounting system also includes a lower attachment hook secured by a bungee cord. To engage this hook, you simply place it through one of the fixed webbing loops near the bottom of the pack, and hook it anywhere on the bottom of your bike rack. This system is quite easy to use and provides enough security for typical riding conditions.
The backpack straps of the Bug Pack are easily engaged by moving the lower attachment hook up near the upper hooks so it's out of the way, and unzipping the back panel to reveal the backpack straps. The back panel conveniently rolls up and is easily stowed out of the way with some strategically placed velcro patches. To convert from backpack mode back to cycling mode, simply unroll the back panel and zip it back up while stowing away the backpack straps, and move the lower attachment hook back towards the bottom of the bag.
The Bug Pannier has some of the most impressive storage capabilities of any model in our lineup, combining a huge main storage compartment with several smaller pockets and sleeves. The overall storage volume of 1650 cubic inches (25 liters) is one the largest we've tested, and can definitely hold its own whether you compare it to other daypacks, panniers, or commuter bags.
A heavy-duty horseshoe/u-shaped zipper opens up to reveal a humongous main storage compartment that opens up wide for easy loading and unloading. With a shape similar to that of a small carry-on suitcase or duffel bag, this compartment has plenty of room to store enough books, food, clothes, and shoes to last an entire day and beyond. Secured by a heavy-duty velcro flap system against the bottom of this compartment is an optional removable padded laptop sleeve. It comes equipped with a Velcro closure flap and a small external storage sleeve and is large enough to engulf our ancient 15.6" beast of a laptop. On the opposite side of the main compartment are two additional storage sleeves on the underside of the closure flap.
Back outside the pack, on the front are a medium and a small zippered storage pocket, a small storage sleeve, and an adjustable helmet holder. On each side of the pack is also an adjustable mesh water bottle sleeve.
What impressed us most about this pack is its ability to both store large, bulky items in the main compartment, as well as keep smaller items organized with its versatile array of pockets and sleeves. While other models have large main compartments or an assortment of pockets, none combine them in such a useful and efficient way as the Bug Pack.
Our only complaint about the storage capabilities of the Bug Pannier is that the high-quality laptop sleeve only is offered as an extra add-on for an additional cost. We think that a laptop sleeve is an important component of any type of commuting bag, and we were a bit disappointed that it doesn't come as a standard feature with this model.
With a thick and durable 1000 denier Cordura nylon body, heavy-duty zippers, and an aluminum mounting system, the Bug Pack scores very well in our durability rankings. Every component of this bag shows fine craftsmanship and attention to detail, and showed no signs of wear throughout our testing period.
Even Arkel's laptop sleeve (which is an add-on option available at an additional cost) is an impressive work of fine craftsmanship, with high-quality materials and heavy-duty construction. Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the Bug Pannier's durable workmanship is Arkel's lifetime, transferable, no receipt needed guarantee on their products, one of the best warranties in the business.
The Bug Pack struggles a little in the weatherproofing ratings, as it is not fully waterproof on its own, and its waterproof rain cover is only available as an additional add-on. While the durable 1000 denier Cordura nylon body and protected zippers add a strong layer of water-resistance, they do not provide a fully waterproof seal like other top-ranked competitors with heavy-duty nylon construction and fully-sealing roll-top closures.
The available waterproof rain cover is well-built and easy to use, and is effective at keeping water out of the pack. While this is definitely a nice feature, we are a little disappointed that it's only available at an extra cost and doesn't come standard with the pack. The pack on its own would do a good job of protecting its contents from road spray and lighter rain, but a truly waterproof barrier would be required to ensure that everything stays completely dry in wetter and harsher conditions. For a cycling pannier that will likely be carrying valuable cargo like computers, cell phones, and other electronics, we think a waterproof barrier is a necessity.
Ease of Use
The Bug Pannier is certainly easy to use and has an abundance of high-end features, but like all backpack style panniers, we scored it a little lower because of the inevitable extra steps needed to transition the pack from the rack to your back. While the backpack transition is pretty easy and straightforward, it is a little awkward to have to move the lower metal mounting hook out of the way. While we eventually figured out a place to stash this hook so it doesn't dig into our back while wearing the pack, we would have liked to see a more clear and more user-friendly solution.
Where this bag truly shines is with its multitude of storage options. The huge main storage compartment is incredibly easy to access, and the several other additional storage pockets and sleeves are a huge convenience. The ability to stow away a ton of gear and keep it organized and easily accessible is a huge reason why the Bug is our Top Pick Award Winner. Extra features like reflective accents and a built-in keychain clip round out the list.
The Bug Pannier Backpack has one of the highest list prices in our entire lineup, and when you add on the optional laptop sleeve and rain cover, which are necessities in our opinion, then you are looking at a pretty steep price tag. With all of the optional accessories included, the full package is one of our favorite packs in our whole lineup and has everything we would look for in a commuting pack. But we are disappointed that the laptop sleeve and rain cover are not normally included with the pack. While this is an amazing pack, we don't think it represents a good value for most users.
The Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack is an impressively large and impressively capable backpack style pannier, wowing our testers with its multitude of storage options and special features. It scores well across the board, and is built to last for years and years with its high-quality materials and construction, and lifetime guarantee. Capable of tackling daily use regardless of your route or destination, the Bug Pannier wins our Top Pick Award for Commuting.
— Nick Bruckbauer