I like to take part in long distance cycling trips (for example, Cycling the Ridgeway and Cycling Devon Coast to Coast) where you are staying overnight en route to your destination. On these occasions, you will need to be able to carry some overnight clothes and gear in addition to the usual bike equipment and kit (spare inner tubes, tools and the like) that you probably have. So, what’s the best option for carrying all your luggage? Rucksack or bike bag/panniers? Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each based on my own experience.
On most of my earlier trips, I used a rucksack because this seemed to me to be the best choice at that time. The advantages of a rucksack are:
- It does not add weight to the back of your bike which can be important when climbing hills.
- It’s likely to be cheaper than a bike rack bag and pannier system.
- You can use it on other outdoor occasions.
- They have many pockets and separate areas which can be useful if you have wet clothes.
- Can be used as water reservoirs, for example in conjunction with CamelBaks.
The disadvantages are:
- You need to be reasonably strong and fit to wear a rucksack on your back all day.
- Many rucksacks have air pockets between themselves and your back but they can still be sweat-inducing.
- You’ll need to take the rucksack off when you want to retrieve something, slowing you down.
My rucksack is this Deuter Cross Air Backpack (similar to this one) and it’s really comfortable and well-designed. I’ve never had any problems with it and I consider it to be a top piece of kit.
Bike Bags or Panniers
On my most recent trips, I’ve been using this Topeak Trunk Bag and Beam Rack. It’s principally a bike saddle bag but it also has panniers that can be folded down from two side pockets, making it very versatile. Like the Deuter rucksack, this is a great piece of equipment.
For bike bags and panniers, here are the advantages:
- The weight of your luggage is lower to the ground than a rucksack, thus probably easier to carry overall.
- You are physically free of luggage (although it is still on your bike).
- Depending on how much luggage you have, they can be easier to retrieve from; just reach behind you.
… and the disadvantages:
- Will make your bike behave and feel different on hills and some corners.
- Probably more expensive than a rucksack.
- Only usable whilst cycling.
- Makes your bike look pretty uncool(!)
I’m only joking on that last point but panniers are not always great looking.
So, What’s Best?
If you buy top rated equipment, either bike bag or rucksack, it’s a close run thing between them and it probably comes down to your personal preference which one is best for you. I’ve used both and my preference is (just) for bike bag, mainly because I think the weight is better being carried lower on the bike. On my trips where I’m cycling all day, that can make a difference. A rucksack is great but I’ve found it’s a bit more uncomfortable for me over long distances.
Of course, neither of these solutions is the best choice. The best option is to find a willing friend who will drive a support vehicle on your trip!