The ultimate guide to choosing the best panniers for touring. Compare the top waterproof bike panniers side by side in this list of the best bicycle touring panniers for 2021.
Choosing Bike Panniers
I've used a number of different panniers during my bicycle tours around the world, from budget bike touring bags to top of the range waterproof panniers.
During this time, I've developed my own taste for what works best for me, and have settled on the Ortlieb Back Roller Classic.
Just because I like something doesn't mean you have to of course, and there are tonnes of other bike touring panniers out there to choose from.
In this guide to the best touring panniers, I've listed all the most popular makes and ranges together so it's easier for you to make your own choice.
What to look for in bike touring panniersTo start with though, it's probably a good idea to narrow down what it is you'd like from a bicycle pannier. Personally, I'd be looking for cycle panniers with the following qualities:
- Waterproof panniers (preferably without a rain cover)
- Easy to quickly fix on and take off the bike
- Not too many zips which tend to break after a lot of use
- A reasonably stiff back where the pannier lays against the rack
- Hard-wearing bicycle panniers
- Value for money – happy to invest in quality bike panniers over the cheapest possible solution
- Proven track record
Quick List of the Best Panniers for Touring
- Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
- Vaude Aqua Rear Pannier Set
- RockBros Bike Pannier Waterproof
- Ibera Bicycle Bag All Weather Panniers
- Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
- Brooks England Saddles Land's End Rear Travel Pannier
- Nashbar Waterproof Rear Panniers
- Altura Black Ultralite Vortex – 30 Litre Bicycle Pannier (currently unavailable)
- Axiom Panniers
Waterproof Panniers for Touring
If there's only one thing I'd really like you to take on board before buying a pannier set, it's to make sure they are waterproof.
I remember one tour when I thought I'd save a few quid by going for cheap bike bags that didn't even have separate rain covers. I wasn't feeling too clever when everything I was carrying with me for 2 weeks was soaking wet after the first day.
After the bike tour, I ended up buying new panniers to replace them, spending more money in the process. So, I'll say it again. Make sure you choose waterproof bike panniers for touring, even if you don't think you'll be cycling in the rain!
The Basics of Bicycle Panniers
Bike panniers are traditionally sold in pairs. Those that are described as rear panniers go on the back of the bike, and front panniers go on the front.
Front bicycle panniers are normally smaller in size than the rear ones. This is because they generally hang lower on the bike and bigger bags might scrape the floor.
If you're just starting out on your bike touring adventures and have shorter trips in mind, it could very well be that you might only need rear bike racks and panniers. During my last two bike tours in Greece (about a month each), I didn't bother with front racks and panniers at all.
If you would like your panniers and your handlebar bag to match, then it's worth some further research to see if a full set is available. You can check out my guide to the best bike handlebar bags for touring here.
What size panniers for touring
The bigger the better when it comes to choosing panniers for bikes! Remember, you don't have to fill it to the brim – but it would be nice to have extra capacity in the bike panniers just in case.
I would suggest that a good size panniers for touring would be around the 20L mark for each bag. Keep in mind that you can squeeze more into roll top bike panniers than you can fixed lid panniers.
Best Touring Panniers
The following list of panniers for touring is not in any particular order. If you think I've missed out a brand of bicycle panniers then let me know in the comments section below, and I'll try to add it in! Please note that I have linked to the rear pannier sets only.
The vast majority of long distance cyclists I've met on my bike tours around the world use Ortlieb panniers for touring. And these cyclists aren't sporting panniers that are shiny and new – quite often they've been in use for years on the road.
Indeed, my own Ortlieb panniers are well over 5 years old, and have done me proud cycling from Greece to England, as well as other numerous month long and shorter bike tours. I've never had any problems with them, and they really are the ultimate waterproof cycling pannier.
With a deceptively simple design, the roll top aids in keeping water out, the material is waterproof, they fix quickly and securely to the rack, and they even have a carry strap for when you're off the bike.
Ortlieb have a number of different designed pannier bags for touring. I personally think that the best Ortlieb panniers for touring are the Back Roller Classic.
If you have the budget and want to end your search for panniers suitable for bike touring right now, invest in a set of Ortlieb panniers. They'll last for years!
Dimensions: 12.6 x 6.7 x 16.5 inches ; 4.19 pounds
Available via Amazon: Ortlieb Back Roller Classic
I've been hearing good things about Arkel panniers. It would seem that the problem is actually getting hold of them though!
They are not listed on Amazon sites – which I know is not the be all and end all of everything, but it would be useful.
Some smaller specialist online stores in the UK and USA have them to order. I daresay some local bike stores have display models of the Arkel Orca 45 Rear Waterproof Panniers you can look at.
You can of course order them through the Arkel site as well. Which is great, but you need to know the company exists before you can find them!
The best I can do, is share a video demonstrating the Arkel Orca 45 Rear Waterproof Panniers. From what I can tell, they seem to be very similar to the Ortlieb panniers, but with a pocket on the front.
Vaude Panniers Review
I actually used Vaude panniers on my very first bike tour around New Zealand. Side story – In fact it was the only bit of bike touring kit I took with me on that tour. I literally flew out with the panniers, and then bought a bike with a rack and other cycling accessories when there!
My original set of Vaude panniers eventually gave out over time. I might have used them cycling from England to South Africa as well, although I can't remember for sure.
My memories of them, are that the fixing system wasn't too great, but other than that they worked fine. I daresay that in the 15 years from when I last used Vaude panniers they have improved!
I also remember that when I eventually replaced the Vaude panniers with Ortlieb panniers, I could immediately tell the difference in quality, and that the slightly more expensive Ortliebs were worth the price difference.
Still, if you're looking for an affordable, waterproof pannier with a proven track record, you could do a lot worse that the Vaude panniers.
Dimensions of 37 cm x 33 cm x 19 cm and a capacity of 24L
Available via Amazon: Vaude Aqua Rear Pannier Set
RockBros Bike Pannier Waterproof
RockBros offer a rear pannier that looks very similar in design to the Ortlieb, apart from the strange bungee type compartment on the outside. Whilst in theory it looks like it's a great idea to put damp clothes, I wonder if it's practical?
Some reviews seem to indicate that the clipping system of the pannier has changed. Whether this was to rectify an issue or has created one is something I can't seem to quite work out.
In my experience, if you treat your bike touring kit with a bit of respect, most problems never arise in the first place. It's something to keep in mind though if you want these panniers for a bike tour in countries where perhaps their customer support can't cover you.
Size: W 8.26 * L 18.11 * H 13.38 inches ( 21 * 46 * 34 cm)
Available via Amazon: RockBros Bike Pannier Waterproof
Ibera Bicycle Bag All Weather Panniers
So, why am I listing it here then? Well, as an entry level bike touring pannier, it might make a good choice for people planning short trips.
The 15 L capacity is smaller than the Ortlieb panniers, and it uses rain covers to make them waterproof, but it might be versatile enough for commuters who also like to do a little weekend touring.
My thoughts on this bag are, that its limitations may soon become apparent, and you'll need to upgrade to a more expensive and better quality set of touring panniers. In this case, you might as well have just bought the better quality bike panniers in the first place. It is a nice price though.
Dimensions: 15.7 in x 11.8 in x 5.9 in.
Available via Amazon: Ibera Bicycle Bag All Weather Panniers
Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
This Swedish company is renowned for making good quality products, and the overall design looks good.
Several reviews have reported issues with the clipping system though – It seems it's a common complaint with bike touring panniers!
My advice is to make sure all the bolts which hold the clipping system in place on the bike are tightened on a regular basis, even on their first use.
Dimensions: 33.9 x 18.3 x 16.5 inches ; 2.69 pounds
Available via Amazon: Thule Adventure Touring Pannier
Brooks Saddles Land's End Rear Travel Pannier
Brooks are most well known for their saddles, and in particular the classic B17 leather saddle. They do also make a range of other cycling gear, including panniers for touring.
From their ranges of Brooks panniers, the Lands's End seem to be about the best. One note though – Peculiarly they seem to be sold as single bags through Amazon – No idea why.
From what I can see, the Brooks Land's End Rear Travel Pannier seems to be yet another variation of the classic Ortlieb pannier. Only more expensive.
Dimensions: 16.5 x 21.6 x 3.2 inches
Available via Amazon: Brooks England Saddles Land's End Rear Travel Pannier
Nashbar Waterproof Rear Panniers
They seem to tick all the boxes in the quality of construction and design, and claim to be very waterproof. Additionally, they have slightly more carrying capacity than the Ortliebs – Although carrying capacity of roll top panniers is something to be taken with a grain of salt.
The price makes it an attractive alternative. If you've ever used a set of Nashbar panniers on a bike tour, let me know what you thought by leaving a comment!
Dimensions are 15 1/4″(H) X 22 3/4″(H) X 5 1/2″(W)
Available via Amazon: Nashbar Waterproof Rear Panniers
Carradice CarraDry Bike Panniers
When I reviewed the best handlebar bags available, I missed out Carradice, so I'll rectify that this time – but with a note!
For all I know, Carradice could have the best bike touring panniers in the world. The issue is that if I can't find them on Amazon for reviews, and they haven't got a YouTube presence of their own. I did find this video (no audio) which demonstrates the bags though.
My initial thoughts are that the bag looks nice, but that the external side pocket would probably get wrecked after a few months on the road. Still, I'd love to support a small British company, so go and check out their website here – https://www.carradice.co.uk/
Altura Black Ultralite Vortex – 30 Litre Bicycle Pannier
This is an interesting set of panniers for bikes, which is proud of it's lightweight nature.
Weighing in at 500g the Altura panniers have a roll top and welded seam construction. What's it like in practical use though? I'd love to hear from you if you've used a set!
Dimensions: 36 x 32 x 15cm
Available via Amazon: Currently unavailable
AXIOM BAG AXIOM PANNIER WP MONSOON H-CORE 45 BK
Where they are perhaps let down though, is in their waterproof capabilities. I'm not keen on the way it emphasises that they have a waterproof inner compartment. It leads me to believe that the outside soaks up water badly. I could be wrong of course.
Dimensions: 17 x 15 x 3.5 inches ; 3.53 pounds
Available via Amazon: Axiom Panniers
More Bike Touring Articles
FAQ About Bicycle Touring Bags
Here are some answers to the most commonly asked questions about cycle panniers:
Can my bike take panniers?
The vast majority of bikes can take panniers once a bike rack has been fitted. Specialist touring bikes and hybrids will have frame eyelets to to fixe pannier racks. For those that don't, a fixing kit can be used. Once the rack is fitted, panniers can then be used with the bike.
What are the best panniers for bicycles?
Ortlieb are often considered to be the best bicycle panniers for commuting and touring. Other notable brands that offer good panniers for bicycles include Vaude, RockBros, Altura, Rhinowalk, and Thule.
How do you attach bike panniers?
Bicycle panniers normally have some sort of clip system which allows them to be attached to a bicycle rack. Bicycle racks always come separately to panniers for bikes.
What are bicycle panniers?
Panniers are also known as saddlebags, and can be thought of as luggage for bicycles. Typically, they are used for bike touring or commuting, and act as a way to carry items in a balanced fashion on a bicycle. Panniers are sold in pairs, and there may be specific front panniers and back panniers, with the back panniers being larger.
Are bicycle pannier bags waterproof?
Bike panniers are made out of different materials, and not all are water proof. If you are planning a bike tour or want to commute in all weather, it makes sense to ensure that you have waterproof bike panniers such as the Ortlieb Back Roller Classics.
You might also be interested in
- Ortlieb Back Roller Classic Review
- How to Pack Food in your Panniers on a Bicycle Tour
- Cycle Touring Kit List For A Month Bike Tour In Greece
- How to Cut Costs On A Bicycle Tour