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For nearly a decade now, our team of passionate pedalers has tested over 30 of the best bike panniers. For this update, we purchased 13 top models for a fresh round of side-by-side testing. Whether your journey takes you near or far, our lineup includes contenders that are ideal for long-distance touring, daily commuting, or casual riding around your city or town. After rigorous testing periods that included a foggy Alaskan spring and a wet California winter, we rated each model on a series of performance metrics to determine which pannier provides the best performance, the best value, or the best features for your specific needs.
Editor's Note: We updated our bike panniers review on May 25, 2023, to ensure our lineup is current with correct product pricing. We also updated the Ortlieb Vario review to share details on updates to that model.
The Ortlieb Back Roller Classic sets 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. It stays snug and secure while riding, and it's simple to mount and dismount the bag from the rack. The roll-top design provides easy access to your gear and provides a tight seal that keeps your load secure and well-protected from the elements.
The Back Roller Classic could carry all of your gear in any riding scenario, but it's optimally designed for long-distance touring with its huge single storage compartment, thick-coated polyester fabric, and dependable weatherproof design. If you're looking for an option that's a little smaller to carry, provides better 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.
The Burley Pannier Set provides excellent value 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 other top performers with higher prices. It kept all of our contents dry during our waterproofing test, it handled the abuse of our durability tests well, and we appreciated the small but mighty external access pocket.
One potential downside of the simple mounting design is that the bags are only compatible with 10-millimeter bar racks. While we were generally impressed by the ease of use and installation, we sometimes experienced hiccups when mounting this model. This may come as a frustration to those who are often in a hurry and using this bag for commuting. Aside from this, we loved the Burley bags for the fun and sleek design and high performance durability and waterproofness along all roads and weather conditions. For a pair of spacious panniers at a reasonable price, we found the Burley set to provide great performance and value.
The Thule Shield pannier set stands out for its outstanding durability, weather protection, and huge 50-liter combined storage volume for the pair. (The Shield comes as a set of two in either 13-, 17-, or 25-liter sizes. We tested the pair of 25-liter packs.) This pannier set has a simple and classic design with a user-friendly roll-top closure, and updated mounting system that is simple and secure, and extra features like included shoulder straps and reflective accents. The burly 420-D nylon material has an IPX4 waterproof rating, providing peace of mind for your valuables stored inside.
One minor drawback with this design, and similar to other touring panniers, is the lack of many organizational pockets and features. However, we believe that this is a fair tradeoff for the huge overall storage volume and impressive weather protection. Adding features like pockets and zippers could potentially compromise the weather protection, add weight, and reduce the overall storage are for bulkier items. Overall, this is an impressive and well-built pannier set ideal for bike touring in any type of conditions.
The Arkel Signature H Urban impresses with its stylish design and huge storage volume and is our favorite design for urban riding. The enormous main 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 its value is easy to justify with such high quality and versatility.
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. The Bug Pack has one of the largest single-bag storage volumes in our entire lineup and 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 value and cost-effectiveness. But pricing aside, the Bug Pack is available with everything we would look for in a commuting pannier.
Vario Updated — May 2023
Ortleib gave the Vario a complete overhaul since we tested it. The new version is called the Vario PS. Read the details on the updates in our individual review for this backpack pannier. We're linking to the updated model.
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, which earns recognition as our favorite backpack pannier. Beyond its impressive versatility, this model offers supreme protection from the elements and plenty of storage to carry everything you need for full-day adventures.
One unique offering of the Vario is that it is available to purchase with one of two different mounting systems: the more traditional QL2.1 system with a pair of adjustable hooks and a tension strap, or the QL3.1 system that requires additional hardware mounting, but then has a quick-release click-in system. We've tested both systems and prefer the QL2.1 system for its simplicity. The Vario also requires a somewhat tedious transition step to remove or replace the convertible backpack straps for mounting on the bike or over-the-shoulder carrying. 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.
This bike pannier review was crafted for you by GearLab Review Editors Liz Chamberlain and Nick Bruckbauer. Nick is a big all-around outdoorsman, always juggling skis or bikes or hiking shoes, depending on the season. Nick has hiked in Nepal, skied in Alaska, biked in Colorado, and currently resides in Santa Barbara, CA. He has bike-commuted for years and is able to pedal some of the same grueling stage routes featured in previous editions of the Amgen Tour of California. Liz is a vibrant mountain woman staking her claim in the mountains of Lake Tahoe, California where she rides in all disciplines of biking and takes to the gravel roads of the West for summer-series bikepacking trips. She works at Paco's bike shop in Truckee, CA, and is a notable aid for enhancing locals' biking experiences.
To build our testing lineup, we researched over 60 different products and compared ratings, specifications, and customer feedback. Then, we purchased 13 of the best models to put through our side-by-side testing protocol and judge for ourselves. We scrutinized the mounting systems, storage capacity, weather resistance, durability, and overall ease of use. Our Alaskan test rides proved 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.
Analysis and Test Results
The best bike pannier for you may vary depending on your riding style, terrain, and climate. Most cyclists have traditionally had the choice between two primary types of panniers that each have some tradeoffs: touring or commuting. Features typically seen on touring panniers, like larger storage volumes and burly, weatherproof construction, might not be necessary while commuting. Features 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" style panniers with more convenient organization features for general riding around town, and hybrid backpack style panniers, both of which are becoming more and more popular.
In most cases with bike panniers, you typically get what you pay for. The more expensive products are typically constructed from stronger, more durable, and more weather-resistant materials, have more adjustable mounting systems, and have higher-end details and features. Our overall favorite Ortlieb Back Roller Classic is one of the pricer options in our lineup, but includes a set of two bags. It provides a huge overall storage volume, and has some of the burliest materials we've seen. The Burley Pannier Set offers similar durable and weatherproof performance at a fraction of the price. Seemingly "cheaper" bags are often actually sold as a single rather than a set, so keep your eye out for misleading prices. 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 or additional storage features.
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 a more 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.
The more simple mounting system designs allow for easier attachment and removal but don't necessarily keep the load as secure while riding. On the other hand, over-engineered mounting systems may offer higher security but often make it trickier to quickly load the bag onto the rack.
Overall, 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 and the Ortlieb Gravel Pack for their stable and easy-to-use mounting systems.
Most of the urban style panniers we tested feature simpler heavy-duty metal mounting hooks which are permanently affixed to the bag and can't be adjusted. While this system style makes it more challenging to achieve the ideal fit on your bike rack, they also make it much easier to attach and remove the bag from the bike throughout the day. We also find that these bike panniers are typically more durable for frequent use.
When rating a bag's storage performance, we consider its overall capacity as well as how well it keeps gear organized and secure while on the move. Total overall storage volume is a primary consideration, but we discovered a preference for bags with organization features that can keep their contents orderly and protected while on the go. Even one extra storage pocket can be a huge bonus for keeping your things organized. We also appreciate 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 backpacking gear like clothing, a sleeping bag, camp stove, fuel canisters, rain tarp, and hammock. We used a 15-inch laptop, a hardcover book, rain gear, sunglasses, and a change of shoes and clothes for both the commuter and backpack panniers. 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 on your favorite electric commuter bike.
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, the 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 REI Co-op Junction Pannier also has a large main compartment and three external pockets for stowing away extra gear. Ultimately, we preferred the Arkel Bug for its high-performing combination of a large storage volume and several 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 the Arkel Signature H Urban, in which we were able to fit the contents from two full 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 25 liters of total volume, as does the Ortlieb Vario that clocks in at 23 liters. The Vario does a great job of blending the utility and durability of a touring pannier with the convenience of a backpack. The Two Wheel GearBackpack Convertible and Laptop Messenger Bag both impressed us with their well-designed pockets and laptop storage systems, but some of their overall volumes are taken up by bulky internal laptop padding and the mounting hardware housing compartment.
Durability is always a primary consideration when assessing the overall quality of any piece of gear, especially when it comes to a bike bag that will likely see its fair share of use in potentially unforgiving conditions. Many of these products 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 any weaknesses or design flaws that may pose a problem after repeated use. Further, we did a similar inspection of the panniers after we used each of them throughout 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 Burley Pannier Set are constructed with heavy-duty materials with a nylon coating. Additionally, the touring panniers have dimensional reinforcements and robust mounting hardware designed to take a beating.
While offering multiple other features, commuter and urban panniers are typically not designed to withstand the abuse that a touring pannier would. The Signature H and Bug Pannier from Arkel are both durable options constructed with heavy-duty 1000-Denier Cordura nylon.
Hardcore cyclists need gear that can handle it all. Rain, sleet, or snow, your bike pannier should hold up when inclement weather strikes. Therefore, we took a no-nonsense approach to test this metric by conducting a multi-phase weatherproofing test to assess the degree of protection. Even if you're not a die-hard bike commuter who rides regardless of weather, you should still protect your gear from mother nature's fury. Knowing your waterproofing needs is the first place to start since there's a distinct difference between water resistance, waterproofing, and total weatherproofing.
In our eyes, water resistance insinuates that the pannier can handle 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.
Each bag in this lineup can be categorized as water-resistant, but not all 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 Thule Shield 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 Green Guru Dutchy earned the lowest score of our weatherproofing tests, primarily because the pannier does not have complete closure, despite its waterproof or water-resistant materials. The REI Junction Pannier and the Two Wheel Gear Commuting Bags received lower scores for substituting a rain cover into the design rather than integrating waterproofing material or treatments into the design.
Ease of Use & Versatility
Ease of Use can be distilled into three primary areas of consideration: carrying ergonomics, user-friendliness, and overall satisfaction with the product. Versatility, on the other hand, focuses on functionality and multi-disciplinary use. Though each pannier will have subjectively variable scores in all these fields, we found notable patterns among the contenders. We paid particular attention to additional features that were designed to enhance each pannier's functionality.
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 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. We are also fond of the REI Junction and the Ortlieb Gravel Pack for their straightforward designs and quality construction that look good and are simple to mount securely.
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.
Finding the right bike pannier can be a daunting task, especially if you've never used one before. Depending on your primary cycling style, you will likely have specific needs and expectations from a pannier. Whether you use it to commute, go shopping, or get out in the wilderness, you undeniably want to choose a model with ample storage and organization, quality construction, and useful features. We hope that our expert research proves valuable to you in selecting the best pannier for your next two-wheeled adventure.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.