Best Bike Panniers for Commuting and Touring of 2020
Best Overall Bike Pannier
Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic retains its Editors' Choice Award once again, setting the benchmark for touring style bike panniers with its high-quality construction, large storage capacity, and excellent weatherproofing. Its mounting system is easy to install and has several adjustable features to help fit a wide variety of bike rack sizes and configurations, is snug and secure while riding, and makes it simple to mount and dismount the bag from the rack. The pack's roll-top design provides easy access to your gear and provides a tight seal that will keep your load secure and protected from the elements.
While the Back Roller Classic would carry all of your gear in any type of riding scenario, its optimum use is designed for touring with its huge single storage compartment, thick-coated polyester fabric, and dependable weatherproof design. If you're looking for a pannier that's a little smaller to carry around town, provides more refined organization for your laptop, books, or small electronics, and has less of a utilitarian look, you may be more interested in one of the backpack, urban, or commuting style panniers.
Read review: Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
Best Bang for the Buck
Seattle Sports Titan
The Seattle Sports Titan retains our Best Buy award for the second year in a row with its dependable all-around performance and easy on the wallet price tag. This model earns high ratings in most of our testing metrics, performing right alongside our Editors' Choice Award winner but at a much lower price. Our testers were impressed by how easy it is to install and remove without any special hardware or finicky adjustments. It kept all of our contents dry during our waterproofing test, it handled the abuse of our durability tests well, and we appreciated the convenient external access pocket.
One potential downside of the simple mounting design is that the mounting hardware is not adjustable like on many other models. While we didn't have any problems fitting this pack onto our bike racks, it may be a little more challenging to dial-up an optimum secure fit on racks with different designs or bar sizes. Overall, we love the Titan for its road-worthy versatility and affordable price tag and think you will too.
Read review: Seattle Sports Titan
Best for Urban Riding
Arkel Signature H Urban
The Arkel Signature H Urban impresses across the board and earns our Top Pick Award for Urban Riding. The enormous main storage compartment is big enough to fit two shopping bags worth of groceries, includes a padded laptop sleeve, and is secured with a dependable waterproof liner. The 1000 denier Cordura nylon is incredibly durable, and the multiple handles and shoulder straps allow for carrying it like a tote bag or like a messenger bag. With an easy to use aluminum mounting system, the Signature H has superb all-around performance and makes a great pick for commuting or general urban use.
While it's hard to find any weaknesses with the Signature H, we would have appreciated another storage pocket or two to help keep our gear organized, as the only external pocket is a little small and placed in an awkward spot on the pack. This model is also a bit on the expensive side, but with such quality and versatility, its value is easy to justify.
Read review: Arkel Signature H Urban
Best for Commuting
Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack
When it comes to the daily commute to work or school, there is no better option to haul and organize all your gear than the Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack, our Top Pick Award Winner for Commuting. The Bug Pack has one of the largest single-bag storage volumes in our entire lineup and also has several internal and external pockets and sleeves for easy organization and access to your gear. It has a heavy-duty aluminum mounting system that is easy to use from the get-go and has comfortable backpack straps that can be quickly stowed away when not in use.
While the Bug Pannier Backpack impresses across the board, it is one of the most expensive models in our lineup, and its base price doesn't include the optional laptop sleeve and waterproof rain cover. We rated this product with the addition of those two handy features, which would propel the costs up even higher, reducing its overall cost-effectiveness. But costs aside, the Bug Pack is available with everything we would look for in a commuting pannier.
Read review: Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack
Best Backpack Pannier
The unique category of backpack-style or convertible panniers is becoming more attractive to folks who spend just as much time carrying their gear off the bike as they do on the bike. Urban commuters and backwoods adventurers alike will love the impressive rack to back transition ability of the Ortlieb Vario, our Top Pick for Backpack Pannier. Beyond its impressive versatility, this bike pannier offers supreme protection from the elements and plenty of storage to carry everything you need for full-day adventures.
One small but notable downside of the Vario is that it requires a somewhat tedious installation of additional mounting hardware to attach the pack to your bike rack. However, from there, it's straightforward to mount the pack onto the rack once this initial installation is complete, with a satisfying "click" locking everything into place. And while this pack functions well as both a bike pannier and as a backpack, there is a somewhat simple but additional transition step, where the backpack straps must be removed and stowed inside a dedicated exterior pocket before mounting the pack the bike. If you can live with these small nuances that allow this model to perform well as both a backpack and a pannier, we think you'll be pleased with this product.
Read review: Ortlieb Vario
Why You Should Trust Us
This bike pannier review was crafted for you by OutdoorGearLab Review Editors Nick Bruckbauer and Rob Woodworth. Both Nick and Rob are big all-around outdoorsmen, always trying to decide between skis or bikes or hiking shoes depending on the season. Nick has hiked in Nepal, skied in Alaska, biked in Colorado, and now resides in Santa Barbara, CA. He's able to commute by bike to his day job year-round and pedal some of the same grueling stage routes featured in previous editions of the Amgen Tour of California. Rob is a big-time skier and former FIS and USCSA athlete, but when the snow melts, he loves to get in the saddle and go bike touring, such as during the month he spent in the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska while helping test these panniers.
To build our testing lineup, we researched over 60 different product options, compared ratings, specifications, and customer feedback, and then purchased 13 models to put through our testing protocol and judge for ourselves. In our field testing, we scrutinized the mounting systems, storage capacity, weather resistance, durability, and the overall ease of use. Our Alaskan test rides proved to be quite demanding, with no paved surfaces and plenty of bumpy, rough terrain. Our Santa Barbara test rides were not as extreme but provided plenty of opportunities for more frequent transitions while commuting to work or running errands around town. We also performed some controlled tests for things like weatherproofing, where we exposed the bags to overnight rains, soaks from a hose, or dunks in a river. We hope your rides don't include any dunks in a river, but if they do, you'll know which pannier to choose.
Related: How We Tested Bike Panniers
Analysis and Test Results
Not all bike panniers are created equal. Depending on your style of riding and where and how you intend to use your new panniers, the ideal setup to meet your needs might change. By and large, cyclists have traditionally had the choice between two primary types of panniers that each have some tradeoffs: touring or commuting. Features that are typically seen on touring panniers, like larger storage volumes and burly, weatherproof construction might not be necessary while commuting, and features that are often found on commuting panniers, like more organizational compartments or more refined sizes and styles likely wouldn't be important while touring. More recent developments in the market have expanded on these choices, so we've introduced a couple of new categories into our lineup: "Urban" panniers for general riding around town and backpack style panniers, both of which are becoming more and more popular.
Related: Buying Advice for Bike Panniers
We've found that in most cases with bike panniers, you typically get what you pay for. The more expensive products typically provide stronger, more durable, and more weather-resistant materials, have more adjustable mounting systems, and have higher-end details and features. Our Editor's Choice Award-winning Ortlieb Back Roller Classic is one of the pricer options in our lineup, but includes a set of two bags, provides a huge overall storage volume, and has some of the burliest material we've seen that will likely provide years or even decades worth of dependable use. Our Best Buy Award-winning Seattle Sports Titan offers similar durable and weatherproof performance at a fraction of the price, but only includes one bag. If you were to purchase two Titan bags to match the standard Back Roller setup, you'll still see a lot of bang for your buck, but the final savings will be less dramatic than each product's list price might indicate. Other bags with fancy features like convertible backpacks systems will often cost less overall than a set of high-end touring panniers. However, you may sacrifice overall storage volume and weather-resistance for the convenience of the backpack straps and the additional storage pockets that are typically included.
When it comes to schlepping your gear around on a bicycle, how the load secures to your rack is of utmost importance. After all, an otherwise bomber bike bag that can't hang on through a rough ride won't offer much utility to an aggressive rider. That is why this is our heaviest weighted testing metric for this review; because it's not just about how easy it is to get the bag on and off your bike but also how secure it is once it's in position.
We found that the simpler mounting systems allow for easier attachment and removal of the bag, but don't necessarily keep the load secure while riding. On the other hand, over-engineered mounting systems may offer higher security but often made it trickier to get the bag loaded on the rack right away. Some panniers, like the Ortlieb Vario and the Thule Shield Pannier require the installation of additional rack hardware before the bag can be properly mounted. The Shield Pannier, in particular, has a unique design where a small magnet is mounted on the lower part of the bike rack, which then connects to a small metal plate embedded within the side of the pack, helping secure the bottom of the pack to the rack.
Overall we found that hook-and-latch style panniers offer the most reliable security and also are easiest to use. These are panniers that clip onto the top of the rack with additional stabilization latches on the bottom to help keep it in place. We are especially fond of the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, the Ortlieb Gravel Pack, and the Brooks Suffolk for their stable and easy-to-use mounting systems.
Most of the urban style panniers that we tested have simpler heavy-duty metal mounting hooks that are permanently affixed to the bag and don't offer any adjustability. While these types of systems make it harder to achieve a perfectly snug fit on your bike rack, they also make it much easier to attach and remove the bag from the bike multiple times a day, and are extra durable for more frequent use.
When rating a bag's storage performance, we not only consider its overall capacity but also how well it keeps gear organized and secure while on the move. While total storage volume is a primary consideration, we discovered a preference for bags that are also able to keep their contents orderly and protected while on the go. Even one extra pocket, in addition to the main storage compartment, can be a huge bonus for keeping your trappings organized. Another feature that we appreciate is any sort of external compression straps or webbing loops that provide handy attachment points to haul extra pieces of gear.
In an attempt to accurately reflect real-world conditions, we packed the same types of cargo in the different styles of panniers that you would likely be packing sometime in the future. For touring panniers, we chose camping and backcountry specific gear like clothing, a sleeping bag, camp stove, fuel canisters, rain tarp, and hammock. For both the commuter and backpack panniers, we used a 15-inch laptop, a hardcover book, rain gear, sunglasses, and a change of shoes and clothes. And for the urban panniers, we packed a wide variety of hard-to-pack and oddly-shaped items like boxy packages, egg cartons, and even a watermelon — items you might wrangle during a mission to the farmers market or while running errands around town.
For touring panniers, the standout performers for storage are Thule Shield Pannier and the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic. Not only do both of these models offer a dual-bag setup with huge volumes of storage, but they also have internal sleeves, mesh pockets, and compression straps that keep gear secure and would allow for additional gear to be strapped on top.
Of the commuting panniers tested, our Top Pick Award-Winning Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack has a huge main storage compartment as well as several pockets, sleeves, a helmet holder, and an optional padded laptop sleeve. The Brooks Suffolk Pannier also has a large main compartment and three external pockets for stowing away extra gear. Ultimately, we preferred the Bug Pannier for its high-performing combination of a large storage volume and plenty of organization features.
With minimal pockets and larger overall dimensions, urban style panniers are typically noticeably boxier than all the others in order to fit bigger and bulkier items while grocery shopping or running errands around town. The Green Guru Dutchy has an incredibly simple and effective boxy design that makes it easy to load and unload groceries, picnic supplies, or hobby supplies. The most impressive urban pannier is our Top Pick Award Winner, the Arkel Signature H Urban, in which we were able to fit the contents from two whole grocery bags. The Signature H also has an internal laptop sleeve and multiple comfortable carrying options, making it a versatile choice for work, school, or running errands.
Of the backpack-style panniers we tested, the Arkel Bug Pannier stands out with its incredible 1650 cubic inches of total volume, as does the Ortlieb Vario with its enormous main storage compartment that clocks in with more than 1400 cubic inches of space. The Vario does a great job of blending the utility and durability of a touring pannier with the convenience of a backpack, which is why it snags one of our Top Pick Awards. In comparison, the Lone Peak Glacier Peak Backpack Pannier has only 1000 cubic inches of storage, but also feels much smaller due to its awkward shape and smaller depth. The Two Wheel Gear Backpack Convertible impresses with its well-designed pockets and laptop storage system but also struggles with total storage, as a good amount of its volume is taken up by internal laptop compartment padding and the mounting hardware housing compartment.
Durability is always a primary consideration when assessing the overall quality of any type of gear, especially when it comes to a bike bag that will likely see its fair share of abuse. Many of the models in our lineup have spent a good amount of time in Alaska, and have been exposed to all kinds of abuse from long rides and rugged conditions. We intentionally pedaled through gnarly thickets of soapberries and black spruce to test their resistance to abrasion. Similarly, we monitored how each model would perform after receiving a fresh coat of silty mud.
Our durability assessments began with each model fresh out of the box. We closely examined the fabrics, hardware, and construction quality and took careful notes of features we found to be weak or flawed that may pose a problem after repeated use. Further, we did a similar inspection of the panniers after we used each of them for the duration of our trial period to document how they stood up to our rigorous testing.
Out of the box, it was apparent that the touring specific panniers are engineered to withstand the elements. The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic, Thule Shield Pannier, and the Seattle Sports Titan are all reinforced with a nylon coating. Additionally, the touring panniers have dimensional reinforcements and robust mounting hardware that is clearly designed to take a beating.
Commuter and urban panniers, while offering multiple other features, are typically not designed to be able to withstand the abuse that a touring pannier would. However, the Brooks Suffolk has durable canvas, bomber hardware, and high-quality construction that gave us the confidence to put it through the wringer. Other durable options include the Signature H and Bug Pannier from Arkel, both constructed with heavy-duty 1000 denier Cordura nylon.
If you're a hardcore cyclist, you need a pannier that will take you through rain, sleet, and possibly even snow. Thus, we took this metric very seriously in our testing by putting each model through a multi-phase weatherproofing test aimed at determining the relative level of protection. Perhaps you're not a die-hard who commutes on their bike regardless of the weather, but you still ought to protect your gear from the elements while riding. Knowing where you fall on the spectrum of necessary water protection is a good place to start, as we believe that there is a distinct difference between water resistance, waterproofing, and weatherproofing.
In our eyes, water-resistance insinuates that the pannier can handle a spitting rain while keeping your contents mostly dry. Waterproofing means that no matter how hard it rains, or even if you drop your pannier in a puddle, your materials will remain completely dry. And weatherproofing suggests that the pannier will also handle mud, sun, and other extreme conditions in addition to its relative waterproofing.
Every bag we tested in this review could be categorized as water-resistant. Even the Brooks Suffolk Pannier, made entirely of waxed cotton canvas, will bead water off its exterior in light rain. But not all of the models in the lineup can be deemed waterproof or weatherproof. Bags that lack complete closure systems, like the Green Guru Dutchy, will eventually let the elements into their main storage compartments.
In our testing, roll-top bags like the Seattle Sports Titan offered the most outstanding protection from water and were able to keep their contents dry even after a 15-second dunk in a creek eddy. Additionally, these bags remained functional after getting caked in silty mud we encountered on the trails. Alternatively, the Lone Peak Glacier Peak and the Green Guru Dutchy earned the worst scores of our weatherproofing tests, primarily because neither of these panniers has a complete closure, despite their waterproof or water-resistant materials.
Ease of Use
Ease of Use can be distilled into three primary areas of consideration: carrying ergonomics, user-friendliness, and overall satisfaction with the product. Though each pannier will have subjectively variable scores in all these fields, we found notable patterns among the contenders, and we paid particular attention to additional features that were designed to enhance the functionality of each pannier.
Overall, we think that the Green Guru Dutchy has the greatest ease of use out of all the panniers, with its simple boxy design, easy to use folding lid, and durable fixed mounting system. While the Dutchy does lack some adjustability that is found on other models, this also means that it's ready to use straight out of the box without any finagling, tools, extra hardware, or adjustments to get started. You're ready to start loading up and riding from the get-go.
The Seattle Sports Titan and Lone Peak Glacier Peak are both easy to mount as well, though each caters to a different type of rider. We are also fond of the Brooks Suffolk and the Ortlieb Gravel Pack and Back Roller for their straightforward designs and quality construction that look good and are simple to securely mount.
Most of the bags we tested have extra features like shoulder straps, hidden pockets, additional hardware, or reflective materials. For the most part, we appreciated these extra features and assigned value to them accordingly. For example, the Axiom Monsoon Oceanweeve P18+ is one of the only models to have external compression straps to secure additional big and bulky items outside the pack. But in certain cases, these features were superfluous and didn't enhance the overall experience if they were poorly executed and not worth the trouble.
Choosing the right bike pannier for your needs can be a daunting task, especially if you've never used one before. Depending on what type of cycling you primarily engage in, you will likely have specific needs and expectations from a pannier. But whether you use it to commute, go shopping, or to get out in the wilderness, you undeniably want to choose a model that has ample storage for the task at hand, quality construction, and useful features. We hope that our expert research proves valuable to you in selecting the best pannier for your next biking adventure.
— Nick Bruckbauer