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Best bikepacking bags for adventures by bike

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Best bikepacking bags
(Image credit: Rapha)

For those seeking adventure by bike, a dependable and spacious bikepacking bag setup is vital to securely transport everything you require whether it’s across continents or a midweek bivvy on a warm summer evening.

Packing and travelling by bike is far from a new thing. Bicycle tourers have been attaching luggage to their bikes for many years. However, the introduction and increased popularity of soft bags that strap to frames, handlebars and seatposts has allowed riders to take on more extreme and varied tours.

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The traditional touring bike panniers have huge capacity but their dependency on mounting fixtures, weight, unwieldy offroad performance and, most importantly, their effect on the ride quality of the bike is a downfall. Bikepacking bags can be strapped to almost any bike, turning your favourite gravel or road bike into a bikepacking machine.

Keep reading for our round-up of some of the best bikepacking systems available, or skip to the bottom for our guide on how to choose the right bags for you.

Best bikepacking bags

(Image credit: Restrap)

Restrap Carry Everything

Yorkshire-made bags for carrying everything needed for an adventure

Handlebar volume: Up to 14-litres
Frame bag volume: 2.5, 3.5 or 4.5-litres
Seat pack volume: 8 or 14-litres
Waterproof: Water-resistant material and dry bags
Colours: 1
Customisable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Hand made quality+Smart use of magnets for securing straps and accessories +Drybags included with handlebar and seat pack +Fidlock buckles give easy access to bags
Reasons to avoid
-Bar bag sits too low for small frames-Included seat pack dry bag isn’t fat enough to be cinched down for maximum security-Handlebar food pouch is a flight risk on rough terrain

Restrap has been on the scene for a while now. What started out as a one-man operation from a bedroom in Yorkshire, has since expanded into a brand which offers a wide range of products from your daily urban commute to multi-day adventures in far off lands.

Restrap does two ranges, a premium race collection and a standard bag range. The standard collection has more storage options and will likely suit the majority of riders. Frame bags come in three sizes or can be custom made for unusually shaped frames although the standard bags are a good fit on a surprising number of bikes. 

The handlebar holster straps to the bars and uses fork-crown straps to stabilise sway. Like all bags, getting the straps tightened properly is a bit trial by error but once you figure out what works the holster is very secure. A neat food pouch is included that attaches to the top with magnets and allows easy on-bike access to snacks and other bits and bobs. 

The seat pack is also a holster system and available in two sizes. A double velcro strap attaches to the seatpost and two webbing straps are fed through the saddle rails which are cinched down to secure your luggage. A Fidlock magnet buckle comes over the back to secure everything in place. Restrap uses Fidlock buckles for many of its fixings. In use they are easy to undo yet surprisingly resistant to hard yanking as you tighten everything down as much as possible.

(Image credit: Apidura)

Apidura Expedition

Built to circumnavigate the planet, Apidura’s Expedition series will easily handle your weekend in the woods

Handlebar volume: 9 or 14-litres
Frame bag volume: Compact 3, 4.5-litres or 5.3-litres / Tall 5 or 6.5-litres
Seat pack volume: 9, 14 or 17-litres
Waterproof: Yes
Colours: 1
Customisable: No
Reasons to buy
+Proven quality+Waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-No custom options

Apidura has been been a significant player in the rise of bikepacking, from sponsoring events like the Transcontinental Race to supporting some of the biggest names in endurance riding like Sofiane Sehili and Jenny Graham who make huge demands of their equipment. 

Apidura’s bag range is broken into a series to meet different requirements of bikepackers. For ultra-distance and audaxers, the Race series and Expedition range use many of the same features. The Backcountry series is for off-road adventures and offers a more rugged finish for better durability.

The Expedition range uses an exclusively developed waterproof laminate material across all the bags to keep precarious electronics, sleeping kit and spare clothes dry in the worst of storms. 

Apiduras frame bags come in five variations to suit a multitude of frames and feature adjustable strap positions to assure an unobstructed fit. The handlebar bag is a single construction which mounts on the fork crown and the bottom of the headtube. The double-ended roll-top closure makes unpacking easier and a hands-free air release helps crush everything down when packing back up in the morning. The seat pack also has an air release, a rolltop closure and uses Hypalon to reinforce straps and beef up key areas.

(Image credit: Topeak)

Topeak Loader

Budget bags for the bikepacking curious ready to set out on their first adventure

Handlebar volume: 8-litres
Frame bag volume: 3, 4.5 or 6-litres
Seat pack volume: 6, 10 or 15-litres
Waterproof: Water-resistant material and dry bags
Colours: 1
Customisable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Well priced for those looking for a budget set+Simple strap systems to attach bags+Air release buttons help with packing
Reasons to avoid
-Seat pack isn’t waterproof on its own

Topeak is better known for its tool ranges but it also has a range of bikepacking products from standard bags to handlebar-mounted tent systems.

The bag range is built from water-resistant Polyethylene with the handlebar harness and seat pack being sold with a waterproof dry bag rated to 10,000mm and featuring an air release button to make pack size as compact as possible. 

The Frontloader harness has adjustable rubber spacers to increase hand clearance on the handlebars and absorb shock. Coating the inside of the harness with grippy rubberised material is a nice touch to help stop the drybag wiggling out on bumpy surfaces. The Midloader bag is a fairly simple but universal shape that should fit most frames. Topeak has updated the straps, changing from two large velcro attachments to three narrower ones to avoid fowling with cable guides and frame mounts. The Backloader seat pack is a rolltop bag that houses a separate dry bag, while this may seem like an inconvenience it may appeal to those who want to reduce any potential damage to the dry bag.

To add extra storage options Topeak’s Versacage is a neat additional accessory, transforming any bottle cage boss into a universal cage to strap drybags or other round items too.

(Image credit: Revelate )

Revelate Pronghorn, Tangle and Terrapin

Arguably one of the longest running manufacturers of modern bikepacking bags

Handlebar volume: 7.5, 11 or 23-litres
Frame bag volume: 3, 3.5, 4 or 6-litres
Seat pack volume: 8 or 14-litres
Waterproof: Water-resistant material and dry bags
Colours: 4 seat pack colourways
Customisable: No
Reasons to buy
+Industry-leading design +Extremely stable performance+Lightweight+Four frame bag sizes
Reasons to avoid
-Pronghorn’s performance comes at a premium

Revelate was one of the forethinkers. It developed bag systems and paved the way for much of what we see today. An extensive selection of bags offering solutions tailored to the demands of routes like the Tour Divide and over the years has been refined to offer the best balance of durability, capacity and lightness.

The race-focused Pronghorn handlebar system strips back as much as possible to create a minimalist setup. The harness is supported using fibreglass inserts around the mounting points to support up to 23-litres of luggage. The drybag also sees refinement, using ultralight Dyneema fabric to keep weight down without sacrificing durability or waterproofness. Revelate offer the dry bag in three sizes.

Revelate describe the Tangle frame bag as ‘the original half frame bag’, built using exclusive RevX-PAC which claims to be 2x more abrasion resistant than standard VX material. Using ten moulded tooth zippers with stretch Cordura panels to create Zipstrech, a design that aims to reduce zip stress when closing a full bag.  

The Terrapin seat pack has some refined touches that make it stand out from a lot of the competition, Revelate’s Indie-Rail system uses side loading straps to cinch down each side individually to provide a more stable platform which is further supported by the holsters rigid structure. The included dry bag features a valve to let any air out and is 3D-welded and tapered perfectly to match the shape of the Terrapin.

(Image credit: Rapha)

Rapha Explore

Bikepacking gear for the RCC tribe

Handlebar volume: 16-litres
Frame bag volume: 3, 4 or 5-litres
Seat pack volume: 15-litres
Waterproof: Yes
Colours: 1
Customisable: No
Reasons to buy
+Fully waterproof+Sleek looks+Well throughout system
Reasons to avoid
-Rapha fashion tax-No bungees or lashing points to strap down additional items or lights -Best suited to road bikes-One-piece handlebar bag

Rapha may not be the first brand that comes to mind when shopping for bikepacking gear. It’s easy to forget that the white armband, coffee drinking fashionista cyclist is somewhat of a stereotype and Rapha has a strong background in serious riding and racing. With input from extinguished riders like James Hayden and Anna McLeod, Rapha’s bikepacking gear has crossed continents with great successes.

The bag range is unsurprisingly Rapha in aesthetic, sleek and stealth with a black on black design. Subtle by day, but reflective detailing help keeps you safe on the road if riding on into the night. All the bags are made from PU-coated ripstop polyester fabric and Aquaguard zips keep your luggage dry. 

The frame bags feature a main drive side compartment and a non-driveside slip pocket for slim items. Foam padding stops stored items from rattling about inside and getting damaged against the frames tubes. The bright pink liner isn’t just fashion but makes hunting for small items in the bag easier.

The handlebar bag is essentially a dry bag with a reinforced Hyperlon fabric harness attached. Double-ended roll top makes packing easier as does the air valve to let the air out when packing the bag while it’s still attached to the bike.

The rear pack uses a harness and removable dry bag which again features a valve to make compression easier and is tapered to snuggly fit in the holster. Fitting isn’t revolutionary but is effective secured to the seatpost and saddle rails and further stabilised by an aluminium spine. 

(Image credit: Straight Cut Design )

Straight Cut Design

For the perfect fit, the only way to go is custom

Handlebar volume: Up to 20-litre
Frame bag volume: Custom
Seat pack volume: 4-11-litres
Waterproof: Water-resistant material and dry bags
Colours: Custom
Customisable: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Ultra-durable materials and construction+Completely custom frame bag design
Reasons to avoid
-Easy to max out budgets getting carried away adding features

While many of the shelf bags work great nothing beats well-made custom bags designed to work specifically to your bike. Straight Cut Design has quickly made an impact on the bikepacking scene producing some of the best custom frame bags available. Straight Cut’s bags are perfectly tailored using a Digital Fit method to remotely size up your frame and have proven more than durable enough to tackle adventures like the Atlas Mountain race. The beauty of a custom bag is the ability to not only maximise storage space but also choose specific pocket layouts and materials or colours to get exactly what you want

Beyond frame bags, Straight Cut Design sells handlebar harnesses, seat packs, top tube bags and stem bags. The handlebar harness uses straps between the handlebar and fork crown and is a slimline system that hammocks a drybag. This means that the bag is mounted away from the headtube to avoid bag abrasion and free passage for cables and hoses. Seat packs are available on request is a single-piece construction with a rolltop closure and side-release cam buckles. 

All Straight Cut Design products use hard-wearing Cordura material and all zips are YKK Aquaguard coil for the best performance. While a good selection of bags can be bought individually as off the shelf items, if you have a vision for a full custom collection Straight Cut Design is able to work with you to create the perfect setup.

How to choose

1.  Types of bags

Bikepacking bags fall into three main categories and can be supplemented with additional storage.

Handlebar bags range from a couple of litres for a few essentials to enough space to swallow a tent. They come in the form of either a single piece bag that straps directly to the handlebars or a harness that will cradle a drybag.

Frame bags attach within the frame triangle using velcro or webbing straps although some custom bags use bolt-on or lacing methods for a more secure fit. Storage usually consists of a main pocket on one side and a slimline pocket on the other.

Saddle packs are similar to handlebar bags in that they come in one piece or holster styles. Anchoring points use the saddle rails and seatpost to secure and stabilise the bag against sway and drooping. Roll-top closures allow them to be packed down to accommodate the amount of cargo being carried. 

2.  Bike limitations 

One of the big appeals to bikepacking bags is the fact they can be easily attached to any bike without the need for special mounting hardware. However the dimensions of your bike must be considered as not all bags will work with all bikes, this is especially true for smaller riders where clearances are more compact.

Frame bags often come in different sizes and should give measurements to gauge what size is needed. For handlebar bags, the clearance between the handlebar and front wheel and space between drop bars is the limiting factors. Saddle packs are more compatible across bike sizes although small frames such as 50cm and below may struggle with rear-wheel clearance. If you run a dropper post on your gravel bike, you will need to choose a seat pack that is designed specifically so that you don’t damage the posts stanchion.

3. What are you packing?

How you pack your bags will be the most influential factor for how bikepacking bags perform. We have seen many examples of riders having poor experiences with bags not because they are poorly designed but in fact poorly packed. 

Packing bikepacking bags is an art in itself that could be philosophised about at great length. To summarise, if running the standard three bag setup bulky soft items such as sleeping equipment and off the bike clothing should go in either the seat pack. Spare clothing in the handlebar bag and everyday essential items or food in the frame bag, jersey pockets and stem cell/gas tank/tool keg. This is far from gospel and what works for one person may not work for another. 

While the temptation may be to ram as everything that you might need into your bags we have found from experience that being more selective with what you pack will leave valuable free space that speeds up packing times and can be filled with extra food later on the ride if needed.

4.  Hydration 

While the venerable duo of bidons mounted on the frame has proved more than adequate it is worth considering alternative options that may allow space on the bike to be used more efficiently. Half frame bag with bottles, full-frame bag with a bladder inside or choosing to mount bottles on the fork legs. What works best is very dependent on your frame size and mounting options. This author is particularly fond of the easy access of two fork-mounted bottles and a full-frame bag

5. Type of riding?

The sheer versatility of bikepacking bags means that any bike can be easily turned into an adventure machine, everything from fixed gear ‘tracklopacking’ for the ‘gram’ to epic mountain bike and gravel rides in the wilderness. Most bags are more than adaptable however its worth making a few consideration to make sure you get the best performance possible. For road riding aero is key so choosing a larger seat pack and smaller handlebar bag should reduce drag. For off-road riding distribution of weight is vital to keep the bike stable over rough loose terrain.

6. Protect your frame

The biggest issue with bikepacking bags is they destroy paintwork and will eat into carbon, get a little bit of dirt between a strap and your beloved ride and after 200 miles it will look a bit worse for wear. This is easily solved by simply using helitape or good old electrical tape on the potential rubbing points.

Graham has been part of the Cyclingnews team since January 2020. He has mountain biking at his core and can mostly be found bikepacking around Scotland or exploring the steep trails around the Tweed Valley. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has gained a reputation for riding fixed gear bikes both too far and often in inappropriate places.