Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags

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Thinking of converting from a traditional bike touring setup to bikepacking bags? Here’s how it went for Franzi and Jona mid-trip during their around-the-world journey. Plus, weight and volume analysis for ‘panniers vs bikepacking bags’, as well as a detailed insight into transforming your overweight bike touring kit to a slimline bikepacking rig and why you might consider such a metamorphosis…

“So, what do I gain by exchanging my panniers for bikepacking bags? And will I still be able to fit everything I need on my bike?” These were the exact questions we asked ourselves half-way through our bike ride from Alaska to Chile. We were tired of riding along highways and paved roads and felt intrigued to venture deeper off the beaten path. But when we found ourselves pushing and dragging our heavy-loaded road bikes along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in the USA, we wondered if there was an easier way to explore those outlying places by integrating lighter bikepacking bags and gear innovations into the world of bike touring.

Most round-the-world or long distance cyclists tend to opt for a traditional steel-framed road bike equipped with the familiar four-pannier racks and baggage setup. This long standing, well-approved configuration makes a reliable and durable choice. Especially, when you plan for a few months to make ‘life on the road’ your home and need to carry all your necessities with you. And no doubt, adventurous folks have always traveled on rough roads and in remote places regardless of their heavy-loaded bicycles. But for us, after traveling over a year with a bikepacking setup across Mexico and South America, we are confident in claiming that this has probably been one of the best decisions we made during our trip. For anyone who is interested in a similar transformation, this is how we went about it…

What and why is bikepacking?

While bicycle touring has existed since time immemorial, bikepacking has come to define a style of travel favoring routes that are predominantly off-pavement, featuring significant stretches of gravel, rough dirt roads, and even singletrack. Routes that by their very nature, tend to demand lighter weight setups than the traditional four-pannier bike-touring setup — at least to be enjoyed to the full. As such, bikepacking bags came from a dedication to this way of riding, and can be credited to folks racing long off-road routes such as the Tour Divide. The name of the game was smaller and lighter luggage that allowed a mountain bike to still feel agile and fast when loaded with supplies and gear. This has since been adopted by dirt road tourers, gravel grinders, and even some road cyclists.

Inspired by the many fellow riders along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, we decided to take the leap. We’d sell our trusty, heavily laden bikes in exchange for more agile mountain bikes. Of course, we had our doubts regarding the durability, capacity and comfort of our new bikepacking setups. But now, after traveling over a year with them across Mexico and South America, we are confident in claiming that this has probably been one of the best decisions we made during our trip. It fundamentally changed the way we traveled, and it encouraged us to explore places which were far beyond our reach before. Over the last year we received many questions about our transformation, so we decided to put together this guide for all of you who are interested in downsizing, changing, and modifying your touring bicycle to make it a lighter and more off-road suitable rig.

  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

The Stuff

This whole business probably should begin with a ruthlessly frugal attitude that says, “If I am in doubt, I’ll leave it out.” You won’t be able to fit as much gear into bikepacking bags as you would into four panniers. That means you’ll have to streamline your gear and strip away a few of your beloved luxuries. Actually, I remember how devastated I was when I packed my bike for the first time, counting my remaining possessions still lying on the floor while the space on my bike was already stuffed to the brim. To add to the heartbreak, Jona kept reminding me to leave enough room for food and water. I literally can’t remember how many times I packed, shifted everything around, unpacked and packed again.

  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

To end this seemingly everlasting game, we decided to systematically evaluate the purpose of every piece of gear we owned at the time. To do so we created three piles. In one we added all the gear we needed for camping — our tent, sleeping bags and pads, cooking utensils as well as our camping stove. In the second pile, we placed what we thought necessary for staying safe — rain gear, a set of extra clothes, our first aid kit, spare parts and our toolkit. Ans in the very last jumble, we tossed everything which wasn’t crucial to our survival, but rather a luxury like the medium sized travel towel, soap, our beloved camping egg carrier box and those clothes for days spent off the bike. It’s necessary to resist the notion to bring something “just in case”; instead, ask yourself if you really need it.

“One Per Day”

by Joe Cruz
Joe Cruz Fat Bike One per Day
I was packed and itching with anticipation for a seven month fat bike trip the length of South America on remote tracks. I owned a full set of Revelate bikepacking bags, but I thought my trip would require more space, so the Pugsley was set up with racks and four panniers. Literally the day before leaving, I had a rethink crisis. I gathered the Old Man Mountain racks and mounting hardware, put them on a scale with the four panniers. Then I weighed the bikepacking bags and a rucksack. The difference was over 11 lbs/5kg. That clobbered me, and I set out to fit everything I had into the soft bags by ruthless elimination.

Joe Cruz Fat Bike One per Day
Five weeks later nearing the border of Peru, I couldn’t deal with the backpack anymore. The often static position of dirt touring left me with sore shoulders, a sweaty back and vows to change. My favorite adventure book is Journey to the Centre of the Earth by the Crane cousins. They recount reducing their load as they are about to set off from Dhaka to Western China, the eponymous center of the earth in the sense of being the place furthest from the open ocean:

“After a careful half-hour scrutinizing our bikes, we decided that four different Allen keys were usually needed. However, two adjusted everything except the pannier racks and bottle-cages. So, at the risk of needing our heads examined, we left the other two behind. We finished cutting the labels off our clothes. …which pair of underpants? [Nick] had alternated between two pairs in the past few days to test them. Now one pair had to go. Our map had been cut down to size before starting, with the result that Bartholomew’s 1:4,000,000 of the Indian subcontinent was reduced to a small dog-eared corner of the north-west. This must have saved about as much weight as cleaning the dirt off our shoes, but it made us feel as though we were trying” (Chapter 2).

Thinking back to Journey, I set out to cut my load by something every day for a month. It could be shortening the velcro straps on the frame bag, or snipping the drawstring on the hood of my jacket, or stopping at a bike shop to trade all the #4 bolts on my bike for #5’s so that I could then get rid of the #4 Allen key. I felt triumphant when I got rid of bigger things like all the stakes for my tent, since I was always able to use rocks instead. If three days went by and there was something I didn’t use, I got rid of it.

I’ve never looked back from this liberation from panniers and a backpack and extra stuff. These days my packing amusement is against the dangle, all those things secured outside the bags that make the bike look like a traveling garbage circus. I never want anymore little stuff sacks, flip flops, ti cups, nor a jacket under a bungee. It’s not an entirely serious self challenge, but, like the Cranes, it does make me feel as if I’m trying. It’s somewhere between aesthetic and ascetic to travel lighter and faster and less materially burdened.

The Big Three

By moving to a bikepacking-style setup, you don’t need to completely reinvest in new gear. But there are three core pieces of gear that are worth reevaluating which can help make the transition easier — your tent, sleeping bag, and sleeping mat. In order to do so, you will have to look at the more high-end and ultra-light gear selection at your outdoor shop. In our case, we replaced our heavy and roomy all-season tent for the lighter and smaller three season version. Additionally, we traded our bulky, 1.8kg (4lb) sleeping bags for down-filled quilts, weighing no more than 0.9kg (1.9lb) and packing way smaller. For our sleeping pads, we kept the ones we already had, simply because we did not want to invest more money, and they fit just fine. Because gear can be more expensive the lighter and smaller it packs, a smart approach might be to reduce your load over time by replacing one piece at a time or only replace those items which really make a big difference.

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

  • Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 Review
  • Sea to Summit ultralight
  • Enlightened Equipment Convert Review
If you are on the hunt for lightweight versions of ‘the big three’, check out Big Agnes Fly Creek HV tents, or for those with a bottomless budget, the Hyperlite UltaMid. For sleeping pads, check out the ultralight mats from Sea To Summit. And if you are looking for an UL down quilt, Enlightened Equipment has some great options. Also check our camping gear section for more reviews.

What was eliminated

the following shows Jona’s packing list as well as our shared items with eliminated items crossed out:


2 Ortlieb Sport Roller Classic Rea Panniers Revelate Designs Handlebar Harness plus Drybag
1 Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Plus Handlebar Bag Revelate Designs Handlebar Pocket
2 Ortlieb Back-Roller Classic Custom Bikepack (PL) Seatpack
Tubus Logo rear Rack
Tubus Tara lowrider rack
Ortlieb Rack Pack
2 Salsa Anything Cages
Rogue Panda Rolltop Framebag
Rogua Panda Alamogordo Top Tube Bag
Rogue Panda Rincon Top Tube Bag
Rogue Panda Oracle Downtube Bag
Durango Sewing Solutions Handlebar Bucket


Topeak Mini 18 Multi-Tool
Leatherman Squirt PS4Parktool MT-1
T25/T10 (for Avid BB7)
Topeak Chain Hook & Wear Indicator
Brooks Tension wrench
Stans Valve Core Tool
Mini Phillips Screw driver
Tire Lever
Stein – Hypercracker
Lezyne Micro Floor Drive High Volume Mini Pump
Curved Needle
Tube Seamgrip
Chain Lube
Prime Lok Threadlocker
Optimus Grease
Camplast Cement
Vulcanizing Fluid
Gorilla Super Glue
some Gorilla Tape and Tenacious Tape
2x Spare AA Battery
2x Spare CR 2032 Battery
2x Thin strong rope
2x Pieces of old sidewall
Patch Kit
Set of Tire plugs + Tool
Dental floss
2x Tubeless Valves
2x Spare tubes
1x Spare Tire
A few Bolts/washers/nuts
Spare cleats + bolts
3 x 11-sp quicklinks
Piece of 11-sp chain
2x Shifting cable
2x Brake cable
Optimus Stove Maintenance Kit
4x Pairs of BB7 brake pads
Chain Brush
4x Spokes (2 lengths)
several cable ties


Hilleberg Tarp 10 UL
Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT Hilleberg Anjan 3
Exped dreamwalker Duo Syn160 Plus
Zpacks Down Sleeping Bag Katabatic Gear Flex 15F
Exped DownMat Lite 5 Air Pad
Exped Mini Pump
Ortlieb Folding Bowl
Spare Exped Mini Pump
Hand brush for cleaning the tent
Vapor liner


Fleece Sweater
Smartwool 250 Merino Longjohns | sleeping
Smartwool 250 Merino Longsleeve | sleeping
Thin Merino Longjohns | for colder weather
Merino Underwear
Kuhl Casual Pants
Cycling Shirt
Casual Shirt
Patagonia Houdini Windbreaker
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoodie
Casual Shorts
Cycling Shorts
Merino Shirt
2x Pair Thin Merino Socks
Pair Warm Merino socks
Marmot Minimalist Rainjacket
Marmot Minimalist Rainpants
Gore-Tex Thermo Overshoes
OR Windstopper Gloves
Vapor liner socks
Shimano MT91 Cycling Boots
Cycling Cap
Sun hat


Optimus Polaris Optifuel Stove
MSR Quick Pot set | We use only one pot, 2 bowls and the cups
Gerber Knife
Titanium Spork
2x 2L Platypus Water Bottles
1x 4L Platypus Gravity Works Water Filter System
1x 750ml Sigg Sports Aluminum Bottle


Packtowel XSmall
Nail Clipper
Nail file
Campsoap | It’s a little bottle we keep refilling wherever we find a soap dispenser.
Pocket Mirror
First Aid Kit
Body Lotion
Sun cream


Mix of different USB cables
Anker Powerbank 10000 (will be replaced with Limefuel 6000 soon)
Anker USB Charger Plug
Tan Generator
Multi Card Reader
2 TG Harddrive (Backups)
16 GB USB Stick
Micro SD Cards | 32/64/128 GB
CF Cards | 2x 32GB 1x 64GB
Canon Battery Charger
Macbook Pro Macbook incl. Charger
Gopro 4
Canon 5D Mark II
Nikon F3 Filmcamera
Nikon 50mm Prime Lens
Nikon 65mm Prime Lens
Canon 35mm Prime Lens
Canon 50mm Prime Lens
Canon 85mm Prime Lens
Spare battery
Basic Camera Cleaning Kit | Includes a brush, lens wipes and a dust blaster
IPod Nano
Garmin eTrex 20
Petzl Headtorch | Rechargeable through USB.
LedLenser Headtorch | Rechargeable through USB
1x Samsung Phone


Book | Always had one book on board which we would read.
Vaccine Pass
Paper Maps | Mexico and Central America. It’s a nice way to show people who are interested where you come from and where you going. Also practical for locals to point out route recommendations.
Small Note Book | For sketches and thoughts
SeaToSummit Traveling Light Backpacks
Oben TT100 Tripod
Set of cards
Abus Bordo Lite small Cable lock
Lonely Planet South America
2x Ultralight Hammocks
Little bits and pieces collected along the road

The Bike

Depending on whether you are already on the road or planning to transform to a bikepacking setup for your next trip, you will probably end up asking yourself if you also need to exchange your bike. The beauty of a rackless bikepacking setup is the fact that you can use any bike to carry such a kit. Not to mention, with less gear, that means less wear and tear on the bike. As such, bikepacking doesn’t require a bike built with extra heavy-duty tubing specced to carry racks and great loads, as many touring/trekking bikes are.

However, bikepacking is just as much about exploring unpaved and often rugged terrain. When we reached the point of wanting to leave the well-maintained roads for the more adventurous tracks, we debated back-and-forth about selling our bikes and getting new ones. To that point, our bikes felt comfortable on dirt and gravel roads but we didn’t want to be limited by the ability of our bike when choosing a route. Instead we wanted absolute freedom to follow even the faintest trails into the backcountry. We had our doubts that our Surly Disc Truckers could live up to our expectations. After substantial research, we learned we would need to be able to run larger volume tires and that a maximum tire clearance of 2” just wasn’t enough. Not only do wider tires offer more floatation — which makes them better suited for riding on sand, mud and snow — but they also provide a great amount of suspension and comfort when riding over rough ground…without requiring the maintenance of an air shock or fork. After all, there is a limit of how many hours of bone-rattling one can endure. After jolting down some rocky downhills on the Great Divide on our narrow tires we really came to appreciate the cushioning effect of plus-sized tires. Hinging on your ultimate travel plans and your budget, a second-hand mountain bike with 2”+ tires might be sufficient to get you off the highway. Though, make sure it has disc-brakes and optimally features a steel frame. Check out the extensive list of bike reviews for more inspiration and more helpful insight for choosing the right bike.

  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags (By The Numbers)

By Logan Watts
Gin and I used the typical four pannier setup on our first tour. We found that we just didn’t need that much space. I literally tossed things in at the last minute just to come close to filling the bags. The bike’s handling offroad suffered as a result. It was a tank. We were mountain bikers long before we set out on that trip so we knew what we were missing. Upon return from that trip I ditched the panniers and started experimenting with strapping dry bags to my full-suspension rig and bounding down my favorite singletrack. It was like an epiphany, really.

We’ve since progressively lightened our loads on longer trips. I’ve tinkered with saddlebags and anything cages and have since landed on a very minimal bikepacking setup. She’s gone from a ‘middle way’ with two front panniers mounted to a rear rack plus a frame pack and handlebar roll, to her current setup, a slim seat pack, frame pack and handlebar roll. The lighter and more nimble we get, the more comfortable we feel.

When switching to bikepacking bags, the obvious weight savings is a result of eliminating racks. And then there is the weight savings in the bags. Let’s have a look. On the left it a standard lightweight bike touring kit and on the right a bikepacking kit:

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags

Traditional Touring Kit (bags and racks)

Tubus Logo Rear Rack: 730 kg (25.7oz)
Tubus Tara Front Rack: 311 g (11.5oz)
Ortlieb Back Roller Plus (pair): 70L 1680 g (59.3 oz)
Ortlieb Sport Roller (pair): 25L / 1590 g / 56.1 oz
Ortlieb Ultimate 6 Classic-M: 7L / 708 g (25 oz)
Total Volume: 102 Liters
Total Weight: 5019 g (177 oz or 11 lbs)

Salsa Cutthroat Review, Bikepacking

Standard Bikepacking Kit

Revelate Ranger Frame Bag (Large): 8.6L / 425g (15oz)
Revelate Terrapin Seat Pack: 14L / 496g (17.5oz)
Ortlieb Handle-bar Pack: 15L / 426g (15oz)
Ortlieb Accessory Pack: 3.5L / 206g (7.3oz)
Oveja Negra Snack Pack XL: 0.8L / 119g (4.2oz)
Revelate Mountain Feedbag: 0.8L / 107g (3.7oz)
Total Volume: 42.7 Liters
Total Weight: 1779 g (62.75 oz or 3.9 lbs)

So as you can see, there are big number differences between the two setups. For starters, there is close to 4kg (8lb) weight savings in just the bags. Then, as mentioned, the biggest saving is what you can’t fit into them. Let’s say you average 500 g (1.1 lbs) of gear per liter. By cutting the space available from 102 liters to 43, you are also cutting your load from a potential 51 kg (112 lbs) to 21.5 kg (65 lbs)… then if you factor in the weight of the bags, you could save a whopping 33.5 kg (74 lbs). That’s a lot of weight to be lugging around.

Of course, you also have less room to carry food and water… but given how much easier the bike becomes to ride, you can cover more ground without pushing yourself as hard.

Realistically, you’re unlikely to full carry the weight we’ve hypothesised above on a regular basis, but we’ve met enough tourers on the road to know that if you have the space… you’ll likely fill it! We’ve seen plenty of rigs that weigh 70-80kg, including the bike, which simply isn’t possible on a bikepacking setup.

Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring

The Bags

There is a wide range of bikepacking bags available on the market. So much that it might feel a bit overwhelming to make a choice. It’s worth looking for bags that allow you to keep your load flexible. For example, a handlebar harness is more versatile than a handlebar roll, simply because it allows you to strap various size dry bags. But at the same time, handlebar rolls have their perks as well; some can be packed very long and narrow, which might be beneficial if you are running a suspension fork.

Frame Packs

For the frame bag, while there are some great premade options on the market, consider investing in a custom made bag to optimize the space within the frame triangle of your bike. Zippered frame bags are the norm, and very convenient and durable, but roll-top versions exist as well and don’t risk zipper failure on longer trips. If you fill your frame bag up to its limits, the pressure you have to apply to the zipper to close it shut puts some immense strain on it and very likely will bring it to fail sooner or later.

  • Panniers vs Bikepacking Bags, Bikepacking vs Bike Touring
  • DIY Frame Bag, Make your own frame bag, bikepacking
  • Bedrock Full Suspension frame Bag

Seat Packs and Saddlebags

For the rear end of your bicycle, there are several options to keep to a light and nimble bikepacking style setup. The most popular and streamlined is the seat pack, but a more traditional saddlebag or a set of small panniers might be more your cup of tea. The seatpack is attached to the seatpost and saddle of your bike where saddlebags work with a similar attachment system but often require the support of a small rack in addition. Keep in mind that a sleek seat pack will be the most light and nimble for singletrack exploits. They are also the only option that don’t require additional hardware.

Seat Packs and Saddle Bags

Although they are slightly awkward, the traditional saddlebag offers a little more packing capacity than newer bikepacking seat packs. As such, they are a nice option when it comes to bringing more cumbersome pieces of gear which don’t seem to really fit anywhere else. For carrying my bulky DSLR camera I decided to use the retro-style Carradice Longflap Saddlebag instead of a more streamlined seatpack. As the name already suggests the flap can be unfolded twice its usual length and this way can provide some spontaneous extra packing space under the lid if needed.

More bags!

We have built quite a collection of bag roundups and reviews over the years. Here’s a list of links that might help. Also, make sure to check out our Complete Guide to Bikepacking Bags.

Marin Pine Mountain 2 Review, Bikepacking, Revelate Bags

Seat Packs

Grab a basic seat pack. They essentially strap onto your seat rails and around your seatpost. There are several readily available for under $100. One easy and available option worth noting is the Revelate designs Viscacha Seat Pack.

Porcelain Rocket 52Hz Frame Pack, waterproof frame bag

On the Frame

There are also frame packs designed to work within the bike’s frame triangle… variations for both full-suspension and hardtail. The most obvious and universal type is a half frame pack. These are especially usable on a hardtail or rigid bike.

Ortlieb Handlebar Pack Review, Handle-Bar Roll, Bikepacking Bags


As mentioned, it’s pretty easy to strap a dry bag to the handlebars, but you can also get a purpose built bag or harness. There are also various accessory bags that can add peripheral packing space to your kit.


A lot of long distance bike travelers carry a laptop. This was one of the biggest challenges we faced during our transformation to bikepacking bags — where to fit our laptop in a safe manner. One option was to carry it in a small backpack. However, this didn’t seem like the ideal solution for us. Alternatively, we managed to get a custom seat pack made by bikepack, which snugly fitted our 12’’ Macbook. Many smaller bag-makers are offering custom solutions to fit your gear and are more often than not, willing to experiment with their designs.

Often, when a laptop is involved and you are transforming from a touring setup to a bikepacking one on the fly, simply moving your small front panniers in the back, might be more favorable than investing into a new bag. The only downside is, that you will have to listen to their uninterrupted rattle when riding off-road. There are also panniers which attach with velcro straps to the rack, in case you don’t want to give up some of that luxury space. Otherwise, in many cases XL frames or gravel bike frames can accomodate a large frame bag that easily fits a small laptop. In addition, big long-flap saddlebags, such as the Carradice Camper and Ultra-Swift Fabio’s Chest, can fit small laptops too.

The Middle Way

There is no cut and dry right way to go about bikepacking. Many riders have different styles of setups and different tastes in bags. And that’s part of what makes it fun. If you are keen on lightening your load but want to keep a little more packing space, perhaps a super lightweight rear rack and a pair of front panniers or ‘micro panniers’ is the ticket. There are also plenty of cage mount bags that serve as ‘mini front panniers’ such as the Bootlegger from Oveja Negra or ATM’s Manythings Sack.

  • DIY Longflap Saddlebag, bikepacking


Besides the basic three bikepacking bags, there are several other options to add a little bit of extra space. If your bike features bottle bosses on the fork and downtube, you can attach oversized Anything or Manything cages.These are considerably bigger than the average bottle cage and rely on two straps with which you can secure dry bags, large bottles, or anything that’s cylindrical in nature. On our setup, we used three Anything Cages, two on the fork stuffed with rain gear and our sleeping pads and one on our downtube, holding a 1900ml Klean Kanteen Bottle, in which we either filled with water or stored extra food. In the case that you don’t have any bottle bosses on your fork, you can still attach cages with a hose clamps or electrical tape (link)… For even more accompanying accessories, there are top tube bags, stem bags, slingers and pouches. Each is an excellent addition as they allow you to quickly access regularly needed items while riding. If have enough tire clearance, the Oracle Down Tubebag from Rogue Panda is also great way to store your biketools and have them handy when needed. Check out the Complete Guide To Bikepacking Bags for some more ideas and options.

Something Jona and I have found to be a pretty good extension to our overall setup, were our two Ultra-Sil Day Packs from Sea to Summit. When folded together, they are fist-sized and can easily disappear somewhere if not needed. But it is nice to have the possibility to carry some extra food or water for longer and remoter stretches.

The Verdict

Switching to bikepacking bags will not be every cycle tourer’s cup of tea. A few fellow ‘bike tourists’ who skeptically studied our new setups, did not only consider us as spartan but also silently were giving us those pity looks as if we had to suffer under our minimalist approach to bike travel.

For us, all of this never has been about giving up ‘comforts’ but rather about evaluating your priorities. In essence, we are doing this because we enjoy riding our bikes, and we found — unlike a fully laden bike with four portly panniers — a lightweight bikepacking setup brought back the handling and character of the bike itself. Not all creature comforts have to be left by the wayside when bikepacking. It’s more about careful consideration of what gets used and what you need, instead of frivolous extras.

Our lighter, agile rigs have encouraged us to explore more remote and wild places which we could only dream to do before. And in case the promising looking path turns out to lead nowhere, the relatively light bike makes it less painful if you have to push it for awhile. In the long run, for the possibilities we have gained, we don’t miss the luxuries we have given up. Changing from touring to bikepacking can seem risky and chaotic at first, but don’t let yourself be intimidated… like all grand journeys the first step is always the hardest.

  • Jamie Lent

    Not to nit pick, but I think there is some math funny bits that don’t add up in this paragraph: “So as you can see, there are big number differences between the two setups. For starters, there is a 5 kg (11 lb) savings in just the bags. Then, as mentioned, the biggest saving is what you can’t fit into them. Let’s say you average 750 g (1.65 lbs) of gear per 10 liters. By cutting the space available from 102 liters to 43, you are also cutting your load from to 76.5 kg (169 lbs) to 32 kg (70 lbs)… then if you factor in the weight of the bags, you could save a whopping 110 pounds (50 kg). That’s a lot of weight to be lugging around. Of course, you also have less room to carry food and water… but given how much easier the bike becomes to ride, you can cover more ground without pushing yourself as hard.”

  • You mean the 110lbs bit? It was hypothetical/estimated, but I changed it to 106, which is more exact for the comparison.

  • Great and informative article! I’m actually right in this transition at the moment. It’s quite a puzzle to figure our what the best setup is and where to put the most bulky items. I’m also still deciding if I want small panniers up front or Carradice style seatpack on resting a small rack… Decisions, decisions…Luckily still a few months to go before the next big trip. @franzi, where do you guys pack your biggest items: Tent, sleeping bag & pad? All in the handlebar harness?

  • viajero en bici

    If people average 1.65 lbs per 10 liters, then wouldn’t 102 liters of space equal about 17 lbs rather than 169 lbs (1.65 x 10.2 = 16.83)? It seems like you added another 0 to the equation somewhere.

  • Anna Carter

    The bag weight of the ‘traditional kit’ is listed as 11 lbs, and the bag weight of the bikepacking setup is 3.9lbs. So the weight savings of just the bags is 11-3.9 = 7.1lbs, but it’s listed as 11lbs. So either the math is off or the text is confusing.

  • Greg Moore

    Fabulous walk through. And yes, #ResistTheDangle – drives me crazy also!

  • Dave Flanagan

    I think the mistake is here “Let’s say you average 750 g (1.65 lbs) of gear per 10 liters”. This sounds like too little, maybe it should have been 7.5kg per 10l. Everything else works out then. (thought this sounds like a very high density.)

  • Gonna hafta poach that hashtag, Greg! Excellent.

  • Jamie Lent

    It isn’t unheard of :) “He was Christian Moser, a 34-year-old software engineer riding from Alaska to Los Angeles, California. It was immediately evident that we had a challenger. The load was considerable. The portrait was taken, the bike moved to the scale and the needle turned to 174 pounds.”

    “Most bikes, 53 of them, fell between 70 and 95 pounds. The lightest rig, at 50 pounds, was ridden by John Colver of Seattle, Washington, (pictured above) whose ambitious ride is in the form of a loop out of Seattle that includes New York, Florida, and California.”

  • Jamie Lent

    Yeah, thats the bit. I think the takeaway here is that it is really hard to estimate packing density. Sleeping bags are super airy, coming down to about 2lbs for a 4L packed volume, while water bottles fit those 2lbs into just 1L, or 4x the density. Tool kits are probably more on the water bottle side of things, while cookies and clothing are probably more on the sleeping bag end of things. If you are carrying paper maps, or a tablet, those are super dense too.

  • viajero en bici

    Yeah, you’re right, I shouldn’t have said “nobody carries 170 lbs of gear on their bike,” because there are inevitably a few people who do, but they’re not averaging 1.65 lbs per 10 liters of storage space.

  • Ah yes… that’s it. Good catch; fixed.

  • Last summer we had a third person join us for our 9 day bikepacking journey in Southern British Columbia. Two of us had bikepacking specific rigs. He had the traditional pannier setup but moved his panniers to a fat bike. I have to say when I took over pushing his heavy bike over steep terrain the rear panniers kept hitting me in the calf and that is when I realized why bikepacking adventurers prefer the seat bag over panniers; way more freedom of movement when pushing. Also panniers have lots of room so, as the article suggests, people tend to pack more and my friend was no exception. I actually suggested he shave some of the food gear before we left. Although we did appreciate the morning espressos with his camping espresso maker! The other issue we encountered is his pannier racks dissolved about half way through the trip because of the terrain we were riding. We managed to secure the racks with zap straps until we could find an exit point for him.

    Great article and good advice too.

  • Thor

    I feel a bit of cognitive dissonance reading about minimalism, reducing luxuries, etc only to find that laptop computers, fancy digital cameras and electronics are considered absolutely necessary. I suppose some of that is needed if your intention is to write articles for websites like this one. However, for everyone else, maybe it’s time to rethink the obsession with documenting everything and posting it on the internet. What if you just looked at the world, created memories, and told stories about it in person? What if you didn’t even take a camera with you? Something to think about.

  • Dr J

    Obviously my setup can’t even compare with this level of serious bikepacking (traveling around the world) but I used a semi-bikepacking approach with success on shorter trips:

    For my week-long rides on unpaved roads in rural Vermont and Maine, I simply used Apidura Handlebar Pack and Apidura Pocket in front and a very lightweight rack with tent, mattress and a stuff sack with some clothes, all held by a single bungee cord, in the back. This worked
    surprisingly well even on pretty rough trails and didn’t require expensive investment in custom bags (rack: $30, stuff sacks: ~$65 total)

  • Yeah, meant to be 1 liter. I changed it to .5kg/liter to make it more realistic in terms of density.

  • Tom

    Any tips for small people? My girlfriend rides a small 29er and there is not much room under the seat for a seatbag, frame bag is quite small end the headtube is so small that a handlebar bag rubs the front tire when the forks compress.
    The only option we have found is using a rear rack and small panniers. Any other ideas?

  • Cass Gilbert

    I see your point. Personally though, I find taking photos a very creative process and a welcome change from time in the saddle – a chance to stop, appreciate my surroundings, look for details I might otherwise overlook. I also enjoy the challenge of trying to capture the essence of my surroundings for my own satisfaction, future posterity, and to share with friends and family. It provides a kind of cerebral balance – as does documenting a journey, which helps process what I’m seeing (though this could easily be done in a physical journal too, as I used to).

  • No harm in using two small panniers on the rear. Check out Revelate’s Nano panniers or similar offererings from Bedrock and Porcelain Rocket. Many of those (without hooks and hardware) are a little more solid feeling than other panniers. Then you can also strap a small dry bag atop the rack. Also, there are some thoughts here

  • Paula Product

    FWIW, the volume of the traditional pannier is off a bit too. The volume in a pair of Ortlieb Back Roller Plus panniers is”only” 40l, not 70l. Ortlieb do make the Bike Roller Pro Plus that hold 70l, but they are rare, as well as huge. The more typical rear pannies shown in the photos are in the 40l range. Which means the difference between traditional and bikepacking setup isn’t quite so extreme – it’s 42l vs 72l, not 42l vs 102l.

  • Sascha

    I use a Pass & Stow rack on the front of my Troll so I have the option of small panniers or my King Many Things….the rest of the bag using frame bags etc.

  • Mark Troup

    I’ve found Bedrock Bags’s Hermosa UL panniers to be a really nice compromise between weight and volume. Also a big fan of the Jones truss bags, which are essentially front panniers where the fork itself is the rack. Best of all, both use velcro and straps to hold the loads very snugly, so you don’t have to listen to the metal hooks and hard plastic backs of traditional panniers rattling over every bump in the road.

  • Little Deezy

    I forget the brand but they make 24″ wheeled bikes for small folks, lots more room on the frame.

  • Not sure about Franzi and Jona, but I (and most people I’ve ridden with) tend to keep light / bulky items up front like sleeping bag / pad / puffy clothing. Tent can potentially be a bit heavier so put that behind the saddle, and the poles in the main triangle somewhere. Hope that helps!

  • BortLicensePlatez

    You mention this briefly, but I’m still a bit puzzled by the food and water situation. I’ve done a lot of traditional road style touring, and part of this is picking up food at the “last good stop” before stopping for the night (which sometimes may be 10 miles) and carrying food, and often the food is not hyper dehydrated backpacker food but normal food – bread, whole fruits, and sometimes you pick up a few beers or a bottle of wine as well. Without the volume of the panniers or the flat top of the racks, where the hell do you put this stuff? Everything else about bikepacking bag setup appeals to me, but I can’t fathom how it works out in day to day. Do you just eat cliff bars for a week? What about if you have 4 people and you buy a good amount of food and distribute it – you’ll have sacks of pasta or rice to be cooked, etc.

    I suppose I’m also one of the few that is able to have the extra volume of panniers but *not* fill them up; leaving space for stuff thats picked up along the way. I wonder if that makes my pausing at the food/water situation diffferent.

  • BortLicensePlatez

    Sascha, if you had to have a couple of panniers, you would choose them on the front on the P&S (i also have this rack) or on the back? In general, I was thinking big three on front – tent, pad, sleeping bag – and then two panniers underneath. Is that too much for just the front?

  • Fair enough, but I did leave out the standard 24L heavy ‘Rack Pack’ that most people carry — me included when I had that setup. My panniers were the 54L Carradice Super C, so that put my rear capacity at 78L with a bag weight of 2.9kg (and that’s 1.4kg over the weight comparison).

  • sbishop1
  • sbishop1

    Some time ago, when cameras used roll film and it took six months to get all your photos developed (and a lot of mine were poor quality). I decided that if I wanted to keep hold of a special memory or location, that I would look- really look at my surroundings and the landscape, the smells, sounds and colours. It works for me and I rarely take photos on the road/trail anymore.

  • This is great – for the simple reason that it articulates so well the eternal bike tourists struggle of bringing along what you feel is important but also being aware of overpacking. Personally, I am a big fan of mixing traditional panniers with the new school bike packing bags, depending on what bike I may be using – MTB, gravel bike, fixie, or straight ahead road bike. Last summer we rode Castlegar -> Penticton on the KVR/CW and I used a mix of bag styles – small rear panniers and bikepacking bags – (as well as bringing along a super lightweight backpack for wine/food pickup) on a 27.5+ hardtail.

    Thanks for presenting this info!

  • I have done it a few different ways, and this varies greatly on the route, of course. Here are a few examples:

    1. On our trip in Kyrgyzstan I carried 5 days worth of food. Mostly locally bought and very non weight or bulk friendly. I kept about 1/2 of my frame bag space open for food and carried additional food in my seat bag and accessory pockets. I also carried a backpack for my DSLR/lenses and stored some lighter weight snacks there too.
    2. On our big Trans-Uganda trip I didn’t bring a backpack but left enough space available in the frame bag and had one Salsa anything cage and bag dedicated to food, as did my wife.
    3. On some trips I have also carries a compressible super lightweight backpack (similar to the Ultrasil that Franzi mentioned here). This stuffs to a tiny size and allows storage for food when large amounts are needed during multiple days without resupply. It also comes in handy the same way for water as I always bring a couple foldable Platy bags.

  • Plusbike Nerd

    I can’t help but think that there could be a happy middle ground between rear rack/ panniers vs seatpack. It seems like there is a lot of unused real estate above the rear tire and behind the seatpost. Suppose a very long rack was combined with a very large long seatpack. Instead of the seatpack hanging from the seatpost and saddle, it would be supported by the long rack. A rack-supported-seatpack could have as much as 2 to 3 times the volume of a large “hanging” seatpack. This would keep the the bike narrow while allowing for a larger load. A rack-support-seatpack would not have be complicated; it could be just a long narrow drybag strapped to a long rack. Of course, a well designed and integrated, specific purpose rack/seatpack combination with multiple top-loading compartments might be easier to use. Similarly, a long front rack with a large long “barpack” could also be considered. (This rack-supported-barpack would free up the handlebar.) With nothing hanging off the sides, this narrow setup could make for a very singletrack friendly bikepacking rig that can still carry a large load. In addition, now that the bike has more cargo capacity, one might eliminate gastanks, feedbags, downtube bags, fork bags, etc. which don’t add much capacity. Has any body ever tried a set-up like this?

  • @disqus_IfnBZqburr:disqus @Th I do get your point but luxuries are a very personal question. We don’t talk about things and their value in money but their personal value. Photography is a big passion of mine and that bringing my camera gear on a bikepacking trip is essential to me, not a luxury. Like for @cassgilbert, it is a way for me to experience the world. I do have days where I purposely leave my camera behind or don’t use it and that feels nice sometimes too.

  • Accidental FIRE

    Great rundown. I’ve tried both and you laid out the pros/cons well. I’ve also tried a hybrid with a Thule Pack ‘n Pedal on the front and bikepacking bags the rest of the way. Mainly I did that because I find that my Revelate Sweeroll just doesn’t hold all that much and interferes sometimes with my shifters in the front. So far the hybrid approach has worked well for me and nothing sticks out to the side so I can still ride some narrow singletrack.

  • Tom, how much room do you actually have between the seat and tire?

  • Barron_Park

    It seems to me that if you find yourself carrying a backpack on a bike…you’re doing it wrong. And these pics of bikepacker set-ups very often show riders with backpacks.

    I’ll keep my panniers, thank you much. I tighten the screws every thousand miles and never have a problem.

    P.S. Thanks for the informative article and the great website. Whatever packing methods we choose, we all appreciate well-researched articles.

  • Greg Hardy

    Hey Tom, reach out to the custom gear makers. Altered and custom designs is the core of their business and should be willing to work with the clearance without any troubles. Cheers,

  • Greg Hardy

    Great article. One point I think should be stressed in the “BIG 3” paragraph is that ultra-light doesnt mean “high-end” and can often be cheaper, not more expensive as claimed. For example, closed cell pads are usually half the weight and a fraction of the price of high end pads. Rather then a $350 UL tent, go with a $40 tarp from your local outdoor gear store, or go “fast fly” by just using your fly, poles, and polycro ground cloth. Leave that tent body at home. For the sleeping bag, I’ll give you that one – UL means $$$$ : )

  • Art Of Hookie

    I will respectfully but strongly disagree, by documenting and sharing it gives all of us the opportunity to learn and expand on what works and what doesn’t. If it wasn’t for social media and sharing this new revoulution in unecumbered travel would still be in the dark ages. I’ve learned so much often just by pictures and share everything I learn to help the next guy. Sure there is a limit, my last trip I brought only my iPhone which was stolen along with the images of living through a modern day apocalypse. The entire disaster was a lesson in how little humans will band together and the reality of when the shit hits the fan it’s every man for himself. Knowledge is power, and sharing knowledge is the new revolution. :)
    PS I forgot to add, thank you for this awesome article.

  • Graham Merrill

    Before I got into Bikepacking, I decided to give Backpacking a try. I did a lot of research on Ultra-Light backpacking. The basic concept is less weight means less calories burned, faster pace, and less likelihood that you’ll hurt your ankle due to the extra weight. In fact, while most hikers prefer hiking boots for the ankle support, the UL concept says if you get the weight low enough, you can hike with jogging shoes, which means more comfort. By the time I had gathered all my gear I had spent a pretty penny (titanium anything is not cheap), but I didn’t even notice my pack on my back, even while carrying my 4L of water in my backpack. Ray Jardine (his a little eccentric, but has some really great ideas), has a good book on some detailed ideas he’s come up with, including making your own gear – which is a fantastic idea and it’s easier than you may think. I’ve made 3 of the framebags from this website and have been very happy with them (and I got to pick out the colors, and the options, and how I wanted the bag to be laid out, etc).

    Taking the same concept into Bikepacking just seemed to make sense when I made the transition. Less weight makes the ride easier both on you and the bike, which in turn makes the trip a lot more enjoyable for me, and I don’t feel like I’m on the fringe of suffering because I didn’t get to bring something along. I get why some people’s list of “needs” are my “wants” and vice versa, but taking all you gear and weighing it all, then going through everything and really taking an honest hard look at everything, removing what you don’t need, and then re-weighing it can be a huge eye-opener. Even taking a look at what you currently have and seeing what’s available out there that could be a weight savings can be a big help. I used to keep a spreadsheet of all my gear with all the weights so I could compare what I have vs. would I could have by switching out items. Another concept to think about is try to not bring single-purpose items along. You bring a pot to cook your food right? Do you really need the bowl, or can you just eat out of the pot? Things like that can also be a huge help.

    Also – the comments about bringing along tech on the trip – yes – it’s really cool to take pictures of your trip. But do you really need the expensive camera AND a laptop? Some phones have some pretty good cameras now, and the weight and space savings of bringing along a phone (which you most likely will be bringing along anyway) and a battery pack or even a solar panel might change your mind. There are plenty of apps out there to document your trip with the pictures you’ve taken. It’s more cumbersome to type on a phone screen, but it’s a lot easier than bringing along that heavy laptop and that camera (and again, you are probably already bringing the phone anyway).

    But don’t do what I’ve said just because I said it – try it and make your own mind. These are just my findings.

  • I’ve seen people doing exactly that out back with a rear rack and a dry bag lashed on, pretty simple and still keeps things tidy and inline with the rest of the bike. You also might want to check out the Portland Design Works Bindle Rack, as it’ll give you that extra support you’re looking for but it just fastens to the seat post.

  • Jamie Lent

    I almost totally agree. And worse yet, in many pics you’ll see of bikepacker setups, they WON’T include the photo of the backpack, giving a totally unreasonable expectation for how light you can pack.

    However, I’ve found the more technical the riding, the more it is beneficial to get a little weight off the bike. For example if you end up pushing your bike and picking it up over fallen trees, pulling the day’s water off the frame and into a well supported backpack can really improve your day. But for long days in the saddle, your butt and back will pay a toll.

  • Jamie Lent

    Really depends on how big and how heavy those are, as well as how technical the riding is. If you are trying to lift your front wheel to ride over a rock, putting a ton of weight in the front will be rough. Try to get the weight evenly distributed on the front, middle, and rear.

  • Barron_Park

    That’s interesting, thanks. My riding preference is “touring on dirt”, mainly on fire/logging roads etc and not much technical. I can see where getting weight off the bike could help in really tight conditions. I personally don’t ride technical terrain much.

  • You’re right. But speaking as an editor — more specifically, as it pertains long-distance trips, the subject of this article — a lot of people will find relevance and use for knowledge associated with packing a laptop, camera equipment, etc. Many folks in this situation work on the road, and others, such as myself, can’t imagine going anywhere without a camera as it is just as much a passion as riding bikes.

  • envia3000

    I believe is not point to compare backpacking vs panniers. In my point of view all will depend of the preference of the rider. If you will travel for years, months, days. Road offroad, dessert forrest, etc etc. Computer no computer, camara no camara, etc etc. The point is just travel is up the everyone how wanna do it.
    I spend 2.5 years traveling with panniers in South America and found people traveling lighter and heavier than me. Someones just wanna go as fast is possible and other veryyyy slow. My next trip will be bikepacking style and i will enjoy it as I enjoy my past trip. Cheers

  • Plusbike Nerd

    For years I used a Camelback that when loaded with water and gear maybe weighed about 8 pounds. Then I ditched the daypack and started using a seatpack instead and it was a total revelation. I had much less back, neck, shoulder, and butt pain. I didn’t overheat as easily. I could ride more comfortably in warmer temperatures and my back wasn’t continuously soaked in sweat. I also felt that my technical riding improved. My center of gravity was lowered and I could move my upper body more easily. I was freed from being the pack mule. I would never go back to using a daypack again. Get the “camel” off your back!

  • Old Billy

    Ive kept the
    rack for its versatility over several thousands of miles and interestingly the weight is similar or less than a soft set up.
    Tubus vega 640g
    Two blackburn cages 228g
    Porcelain rocket half frame 300g
    Big river dry bags:
    Two 5 litre 192g
    Two 13 litre 254g
    1.564 k =3lb 7 oz and 40 litres.
    This is a tight well organized outfit. Nothing fancy and ample clothing food and water. No laptop.

  • Hi, tent sleeping bag are in the harness and the pads are rolled up in the Anything Cages. You can always write us an email too if you have more questions at

  • Ah, yeah tent poles are in the frame bag :-)

  • Rostbraten

    Honestly? Your Pannier vs. Bikepacking-setup weight comparison is simply preposterous, because IF you compare weight to space they are almost the same. Some rather simple math.

    5019g / 102L ~ 49 g/L
    1779g / 42,7 L~ 42 g/L

    Ortlieb Panniers have an inside pouch – remove them – this will save you an estimated 150 – 200 g per pannier and will get you to an even weight ratio or even slightly below.

    Reduce your storage capacity to 50% as shown in the example means you can usually abandon 1 rack and use the smaller panniers.

    You can also use lighter, less expensive panniers (like the ones Joe Cruz uses rear) and with lighter weight you don’t need heavy duty racks any more – less weight, less stress, less money spent – the waterproofness of Ortlieb Panniers is overrated (e.g. because of convection), experienced bike travellers know how to cope.

    Advantages of panniers:
    1. Cheaper
    2. Cheaper
    3. Easier to handle
    4. Sturdier (if of good quality)
    5. easier to organize
    6. In case of Ortliebs – can be easily overloaded if needed (grocery shopping …)

    I am not per se against bike packing setups, but the seat bag bothers me great deal and the durability isn’t as great with heavy use.

    The seat bag is nicknamed “arse-rocket” in German, because it looks so stupid. Also it safely prevents shifting one’s weight behind the sattle.

    My preferred setup is, depending on the tour and the climate:

    tent/tarp at the handlebar
    waterbottles inside the frame triangle
    Rear rack with a waterproof stuffsack on it
    Sturdy comfortable 35 L backpack (Deuter Transalpine 35, 20 yo still going strong …)

    Of course, going without backpack would be nice at times but I am so used to it, it doesn’t bother me. Plus many people who avoid bigger packs carry hydration packs – so much for the “sweating/comfort” argument – do some shoulder/back workout and get used to wearing a pack and you won’t have any trouble.


    I used to be a photographer and gave it all up. Getting rid of carrying around two cameras, lenses, a laptop and the array of chargers was liberating indeed. I am not happy with taking a smartphone but in the end they are just too useful not too. Recently I bought a Ricoh GR II which is USB rechargable and has amazing image quality only weighs about 350g. I’m not sure you need to carry heavy professional bodies anymore with the quality of compacts these days but I understand why people do.


    I’ve done a few stretches were I needed 3-4 days of food. I remember well sitting outside Family Dollars when doing the Divide surrounded by empty food packaging stuffing food into every available space on the bike. I found with the usual bikepacking setup I could easily carry 3 days of food plus 6lt of water but definitely after that it gets tough. Framebags are good for food and big but relatively lightweight items can go into the saddlepack. On parts of the Baja Divide having to carry 14 liters of water was bad enough with panniers but no idea how I’d get that onto my mountain bike – people do though!

  • These days the basic scenario for me is just as you’re describing, namely non-dehydrated food (since I’m shopping at regular markets or grocery stores) and topping up at the last resupply before camp. If I’m diligent, I’m able to carry six days worth in soft bag setup, as I did in Scandinavia and Kyrgyzstan. To pull this off I sometimes have the *entire* saddle bag dedicated to food as well as the gas tank and half the front pouch. If my mittens are with me, they’ll be hooked on to the front roll and will be packed with snacks, too. (I suppose technically that’s a #dangle, shudder!) So, really, the non-consumable load has to be very very compact and fit just in the front roll and in the frame pack on trips like that.

    I know a lot of people have firm views on where different items should go in their packs, but for me it’s been more effective to remain flexible and think in functional rather than categorical terms. So if a trip is not food intensive, i.e., if I can resupply often, then soft goods and inclement weather gear will go in the seat bag and I’ll carry whatever food I have in the frame bag. That gets switched around if I have to have more food.

    One more thought in this neighborhood. In my experience traveling with many folks, people carry with them a strong worry about running out of food. So for a lot of people five days of food really means something closer to a week of food because they want to have a little extra just in case. I’ve tried to resist that just in case thinking. Sure it has happened that I ride for a day without food. .

    Also :-)


  • Yep, all three in the handlebar bag, along with most of my clothes. Tent is a Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL1 (size of a cantaloupe), quilt is an Enlightened Equipment Enigma (size of a bigger cantaloupe), and pad is 3/4 length thermarest neoair xlite (size of a soda can). Tent poles are strapped under the front roll in the harness.

  • Erika Joubert

    Wondering if anyone has had any experience or thoughts on a bike pack set up for an XS 29er. So far I have not been able to find any sort of seat pack that I have enough clearance for. I’m only 5’1″ and have yet to see any pics of tiny bikes with a seat bag! So far my solution has been to cram everything into all other available spaces but I can’t seem to do it without carrying a backpack with just a little bit too much stuff in it. Has anyone had experience with a seat post rack on extensive single track? I’ve used one on short trips and it seemed OK…

  • Your best bet for a very slim seat pack is one of the dropper specific seat packs from Bedrock (Black Dragon), Rock Geist (Gondola), or Porcelain Rocket (Albert). However, you still may be short on space. If so, I recommend a light rack such as the Tubus Vega and some micro panniers … check out Revelate’s Nano Pannier and similar offerings from Bedrock and PR. Then you’d still have the rack platform for strapping a small dry bag or a tent…

  • Daniel Schmidt
  • Cass Gilbert

    I don’t know Joe… mittens definitely sound like a double dangle to me (-;

    Given your minimalist mastery for such long and remote trips, I think people might be interested to know your electronic setup… I know keeping your camera attached to a hip belt and running a keyboard with your iPhone helps trim back weight and more importantly, create more bag space.

  • Bill Poindexter

    On my first overnight tour I lashed a borrowed 4 person K-Mart tent (yep,just me) to my well ridden (cheap) Trek 820 Mountain Bike (not disc) and tossed a ground sheet and fleece blanket in a small backpack with some food and repair kit/tube.
    I had a perfectly splendid time. One of the most “real” tours I was ever on…simplicity is a beautiful thing as well as very personal and relative to each individual. Shut up and go ride;)

    PS Thanks 🙏🏻 to all the contributors for this excellent article and all your work and time to share info with us mortals!

  • Jory Randall

    Have any path recommendation in the pnw?

  • Erika Joubert

    Thanks! That’s actually really helpful! I hadn’t seen anyone with these dropper post specific bags. I mean they’re obviously smaller and I won’t be able to ACTUALLY run a dropper post but it’s at least something I can put on the rear!

  • Marc

    As noted in a comment above, the Ortleib Back Roller Plus panniers are 40L/pair and not 70L/pair so you will have to readjust your calculations based on 72L and not 102L as claimed.

  • Sure, but FYI, as I replied to someone else, I used 54 liter Carradice panniers with a 24 liter rack pack, so this was based somewhat on my own experience – 78 liters. I don’t think that’s too far off the mark as an average for many people’s set ups. Again, no right and wrong here, this was just created to illustrate weight and volume.

  • Sascha

    I think a small pair of panniers on the front can be a good in-between set up, my Troll is an 18″ so my frame bag isn’t the biggest…I don’t use panniers on the rear anymore. I have a Rohloff drivetrain so weigh on the rear is pretty balanced for me.

  • I’m never really happy with the quality…but I’m watching out for a good alternative ;-). How you like the Ricoh GRII?


    It’s excellent! In terms of colours and the ‘feel’ of the images it is very nice indeed. It’s muted without looking saturated. The lens is unbelievably sharp and even at 2.8 it’s very acceptable corner to corner. The controls and sleek uncluttered design make it really pleasant to use. I think it’s great for landscapes and street photography and acceptable for portraits if used intelligently.

    Of course in terms of focus, speed, durability, it will never match an dSLR or even the high-end mirrorless designs but the camera is tiny and should be perfect for my needs (weather-sealing would have been nice though!). It also has wireless so I can transfer the images to my phone. Good battery life and the ability to charge from USB sealed the seal for me and for 500 euro it was pretty cheap too.

    I know what you mean though about being never satisfied with quality – it’s pretty much why I abandoned photography!! That said looking back I’m gutted I didn’t take a half decent camera on my travels in the last few years. Hoping the GR II will provide a happy medium :)

  • magunkutjan

    Nice article, thank you so much! And it was good to read the pros and cons from you guys below. We are heading on a 5-6 months long journey through Russia – Mongolia- China. What seems to be a good compromise for us, is a rear rack with panniers and “normal setup”, frame bag, top tube bag, anything cages with bags on the fork. The water problem is solved with a console which holds 2 bottlecages (1 each side) next to the framebag. We are not at the end of the packing but it seems ok. (Photos are coming when we are fully loaded).

    What I’m struggling with is the right place for my milc camera plus some spare lenses. I don’t want to have a backpack for sure. I use to have a Vaude aqua box on the handlebar (which was great on our last journey carrying a dsl), but I’d like to get rid of it. I’m thinking to have a kind of feeder bag on the handlebar (which I will sew). Any idea? How do you carry your camera? Thanks!

  • Paula Product

    Good point about the “rack pack,” which inevitably seems to sneak its way into a pannier setup. It’s nice to plan that space as empty — insurance in case one needs to lug something (like a partner’s stuff). But somehow it’s too easy to fill. Anyway, my point was only that the transition from pannier to bikepacking setup shouldn’t be quite as scary for most of us. That is, if somebody said I had to get rid of 60% of my gear, I might be scared off, but cutting out 40% seems doable. Tough, but doable.

  • Rostbraten

    Right, didn’t read through every single comment and the info hasn’t been corrected in the main text yet.

    Anyway. In the end we’re talking about a sip of water or two in weight difference as the majority of the pannier’s weight is in the attachment system, the inside pouch and the unnecessary carrying straps which can be left at home anyway. It also doesn’t have an impact on the rest of my elaborations.

    If you’d really want to make a fair comparision one had to take both setups and weigh them while strapping the Ortlieb bags of unnecessary clutter – luxury starps and pouches the bikepacking setup doesn’t fancy either.

  • UpNyoguts

    I agree with your point, im heading out in 9 weeks, no cameras or laptops, just a phone, spot, and garmin

  • Ultra_Orange

    I think another point is the cost, I’d love to have a bike packing setup with all the bags. But you can get panniers front and rear for what is often the cost of a single frame bag. Any lets talk about carry capacity, you could just run from panniers and have almost the same capacity with a half frame bag and bang you’ve spent less money and saved weight, I also like at I can take the bags off easily. In the end it really is personal preference I know some people that think me riding with a panier instead of a backpack is weird.

  • Jonatan

    Haven’t gone through all the comments but, as an auditor, I have to comment on the numbers:

    Logo+ backroller: 34,5gram/liter

    Tara+front roller: 76g/liter

    Tara+back roller: 28,4g/liter

    Bikepacking bags: 41.7g/liter

    So, not the lightest per liter. Worth noting. Even though it has its benefits with bikepacking bags.

  • LawnJockey

    There is a middle path which I prefer. I use my small (front) Ortlieb panniers on a rear rack topped with a dry bag. Up front I use a gas tank, Jones bar bag and an Ortlieb bikepacking bar bag. I also use 2 mountain feed bags to carry extra water bottles. Most of my riding is in the desert and with the above set up I can carry 3 gallons of water. I carry 2 water purification filters sine they do clog up pumping from your average septic tank (stock tank). I carry a small gas stove and a pot for heating water for coffee. I have done without the stove by using Coffeccino instead of coffee. For me cooking and touring/bikepacking really don’t mix, way to much extra gear to carry, clean up issues and wet garbage to haul.

    I have a full set of bikepacking bags for my Ti Fargo and I just don’t like them. The frame bag seems lacking in volume, seems in the way, it is hard to find the one item you are looking for, and it eliminated 2 bottle cages. The saddle pack seems to flop around and be a pain to find and unload just one item. Maybe I am just a retro grouch, but these limp bikepacking bags just don’t do it for me. They seem so un-American, like the metric system.

  • Yes, will need to eat their contents and stuff those mittens in the frame pack!

    Re: my electronics setup. For many years touring I didn’t bring a camera on trips, for the reasons hinted at in these comments: wanting to be in the moment, not wanting to carry the equipment or faff with gear, wanting to rely on my emotions and memories even though they’re so distorting. But over the last dozen years I’ve returned to photography as expression and a source of pleasure, something that it was for me when I was younger shooting on a Rollei 35S but that I’d lost track of.

    So, again, for many of the reasons mentioned already I make room in my pack for a camera and related electronics even as I cultivate as light an approach as I can. My current gear setup is right on the razor’s edge for me of getting photos that do what I want them to do in the smallest package. If anyone has seen photos by me on bpcom over the last couple of years, it’s with this setup.

    Here is my full compliment of electronics.

    iphone SE
    15cm charge cord for phone
    USB wall plug
    Sinewave Revolution USB charge box (attaches to dynamo hub)
    Cache battery
    Panasonic Lumix GM5 micro 4/3 camera body
    25mm (50mm equivalent) f1.4 Panasonic Leica prime lens
    14-45mm (28-90mm equivalent) f3.5-5.6 image stabilized Panasonic zoom lens
    Spare memory card
    3 spare batteries
    USB2 charger for camera batteries
    USB to USB2 15cm charge cord

    That’s it, all the electronics. Unless I’m filming with the go pro—or, as actual film makers would say, “filming”! Then I’ve got the go pro mounted on the bars, 3 spare batteries for it, and two spare micro sd cards.

  • Tom G.

    Maybe it’s the design and weight in the bag that causes discomfort?. I’ve been touring with an Osprey hydro-pack and love it. Hardly notice its there and it’s a great place to put items I’ll need during the day, like jacket, hat, snacks. Wallet goes over one hip and camera on the other. It can hold over 2 liters of water which frees up space on the bike where water bottles would normally be attached. Plus I think I drink more water when I have the pack’s hose handy.

  • Tom G.

    After bikepacking with a rear rack and small panniers, I kept the rack (which weighs next to nothing) and ditched the panniers which were something like 4lbs empty and messed with the bike handling. Instead of buying a seat bag, i just got a 16 lt waterproof duffel bag (dry bag) and lashed horizontally to the rack with straps. The bag was 1/10 the price of a nice seat bag and it worked great.

  • Tom G.

    i kept the traditional rear rack (which are quite light) and lashed a $20 dollar dry-bag to the rack. Works great.

  • Jonathan Pizzato

    I have done the change to bikepacking bags my self, but I am very glad I did not got ready of my panniers as I am back using them, because for my stile of riding mainly on dirt countryside roads there is no need to go ultra lightweight, I find panniers much more practical and time saving, as it use to take me far too much time to organise my bike packing bags everyday in a way that everything would fit on the limited space they offer, I did found that just by ditching all the unnecessary stuff I used to carry on my panniers I ended up not needing front lowrider racks anymore, and the rear panniers are more then big enough for everything I need and it is very practical and extremely waterproof, no need to just ditch your existing set up, just use the minimalist concept of bikepacking to your advantage and mix match your bags in a practical way, if I am going to tour somewhere with lots of single track I use the small front panniers on the rear rack as it gives me a lot of ground clearance and enough storage space for a week long trip, ok one might say the weight is better balanced on the bike with bikepacking gear and I agree with that but for me I still prefer the practicality of the panniers over a faster more nimble ride.

  • Fr0hickey

    One/two big bags or multiple smaller bags. It seems that is the question. I think a pair of large rear panniers plus rack is more efficient from a capacity to weight than multiple smaller bags. In the example above, the multiple bag has a capacity of 42.7liters and weight of 1.83kg. But if the authors pared down to just the rear rack plus rear panniers, it would be capacity of 70liters and weight of 2.74kg.
    From a capacity-to-weight ratio, the rear rack/rear pannier is better, and there are also lighter weight racks and panniers out there.
    The other advantage may be tail wag elimination.

  • Fr0hickey

    Riding without a backpack means better ventilation for your back and less fatigue. I think riding with a backpack is weird, though if you crash, it may save you from back injury.

  • Yuriy Kulikov

    I don’t get this whole bikepacking craze. I have been biking for 10 years now. Usually together with my wife. Even if we fit all the equipment on one bike, we still need only one big pannier bag which amounts to 60L and weights 1 kilo (2 pounds). Apart from the apparent weight saving when using panniers, I can’t understand how do people carry all these amall bags when they have to walk and carry the bike? Besides, packing and unpacking must be exhausting. Why not just ditch all heavy gear, buy ligjtweilig stuff and put it into a small pannier bag? For one person I assume 45 liters should work.

  • About to say the same thing.
    I prefer to ride without a backpack if I can, but when I do, I also use an Osprey Synchro 20. To give an idea of how comfy mine is, I had a panic one day when riding home from a job and thought I’d left my pack behind – I was wearing it.
    One of the main things to look for with a bike backpack is that is curves away from your body and allows airflow to stop our back getting hot and sweaty. That and good waist support [where you should be carrying the weight], along with a chest strap are essentials.

  • Lots of good points there. Also an interesting challenge for someone like myself who is usually incapable of travelling light.
    But this was all I took for a week’s riding across Belgium last year on and off road, including a interchangeable lens camera and data backup facilities in seatpack. We AirBnBed so no camping kit needed. Girlfriend went even lighter. Not full on bikepacking I know, but still a fun challenge to be as minimal as possible.

    On that subject regarding phone instead of camera/laptop, that’s fine if you just want to do some snaps like this shot, but if you are a serious photographer or a professional like myself, then a phone simply doesn’t cut it. Very poor quality in comparison and limited in so many ways compared to an actual camera. Only reason I took my medium sized camera on that trip rather than my even smaller Sony RX100III is that it was being flakey and there was plenty of room to carry the bigger one.