Biking Backpacks vs. Panniers vs. Saddlebags

VD November 11 2021

The most fantastic thing about bicycle traveling is covering the surprisingly large distances while carrying everything that you require. You may be getting into the paddle-powered travel idea or have a few miles under your wheels, but you are thinking about a new riding style.  You've got the bug and you want to start exploring the world by bike, but how?

There are three ways of carrying stuff on a bicycle: backpacks (or rucksacks), panniers, and saddlebags. Well, there is also that untidy belly-bag or courier bag, but we'll get into that later.

Regardless of the way you choose to bike, you may find yourself at crossroads when it is about saddlebags vs panniers vs biking backpacks. Choosing a way of carrying different goods can be a daily struggle for all types of bikers, therefore, they have to make a wise choice whether to go for a pannier, backpack, or saddlebag.

Biking backpacks

A biking backpack can be used to carry different items, and it can be an excellent choice for a number of reasons. It is maneuverable because if you park the bike at a bike rack and walk into your office or class, it is pretty likely that you may need items that you have in the backpack. Therefore, you are not required to pick anything up as your gear is safe and secure on your back.

A backpack can also be used for a number of different activities, even if it is basically designed for the purpose of biking. The same biking backpack can also be helpful when you are on a general day trip or hiking. The pack’s ability to comply with the hydration system is another great feature that sets it apart.


  • Good for carrying a good load
  • The biking backpacks also feature mesh-covered (and therefore sweat-proof) straps and provide great ventilation and comfort. This increases the freedom of movement and makes riding quite enjoyable.
  • A biking backpack can be a great choice if you require only the basics.


  • It is an excellent choice for its lightweight, high flexibility of movement, and moveable design.
  • The gear is easy to access, and it can be worn for a number of different activities.
  • Mesh-covered straps provide freedom of movement, great ventilation, and comfort. This makes your riding more enjoyable.


  • There is a lack of durability, especially when compared to other designs.
  • You will have a limited number of compartments.


Bike panniers resemble quite a bit with baskets because these have deep pockets so that you can carry different items on the bike. A pannier is a roomy bag that is usually waterproof, which means that it protects your items from elements.

When it is about saddlebags vs panniers, many people prefer panniers because they are secured to a rack that is mounted to the bike. Other than that, you will find different pannier styles for the front as well as the back racks. This can be super for the bikes where the racks can easily be fitted, but it is worth noting that a pannier can be a little hard to fit for the majority of mountain bikes.


  • A pannier is a waterproof bag that protects your items from elements.
  • They are secured to racks that are attached to the bike.


  • Easy access is another advantage of the panniers.
  • There is a good load capacity when compared to other variations.


  • You can’t use it for different activities. It is only useful when you are riding the bike.


A saddlebag usually is a small bag that you can fit around or under your seat or saddle. It usually gets attached to the rails of the bike, and the best thing about a saddlebag is that it is very light in weight, which makes it excellent for cross-country riders or any other cyclists who are worried about the weight of their bike.

Primarily, a saddlebag is used when you have a few essential items to bring along. Different items include tire irons, a tube, a small snack, or a multitool for any mechanics. A saddlebag is a permanent holder of different things for the majority of cyclists. Once the saddlebag gets mounted and filled with the required items, these can be left on the bike until anything is needed.


  • It is light in weight due to its small size.
  • Since it is permanently mounted, you can store different items in it.


  • You can easily carry small items with ease.
  • You can leave the items on your bike.


  • It doesn’t have a lot of storage space.

Which One is Better?

Thus, it is possible that a pannier might be a better choice for you as compared to a backpack or saddlebag if you are going on an extended trip or ride, especially if you want to carry more than one day’s worth of clothes and food with yourself. On the other hand, it is also possible that backpacking may be suitable for you because at most times they provide enough room to carry things like bottles and snacks. Also, riding is much easier when you don't have anything physically attached to your body ( if they are statically attached, they are more difficult to move with ).

However, it is up to you which style of traveling is better for your own personal needs. General rules of thumb are that smaller bags are usually made out of lighter materials while larger backpacks will provide more storage space and protection against the elements. It is possible that some types may not offer enough room or that they may be too cumbersome. Therefore go for a model that suits your own individual biking needs!

If you are planning to do long tours, I would advise going for backpacks.

Even if panniers were the former winners of the game, they have lately experienced some major technical dropouts while biking backpacks and saddlebags seem to be on the other side of the road. Keep in mind that even though it is advised not to mix panniers with heavy objects, it is still an option- these bags should only carry less than 15 kg (33 lbs) otherwise, you will feel tired very quickly.

Last year's winner was panniers but now its position has been overtaken by backpacks and soon we'll find out whether or not this year's champion will come out victorious. But no matter what kind of luggage you use, keep in mind that the heavier it is, the more energy you will expend.

If you don't want to give up your old bike or just can't afford a new one yet but still want to try biking then there's no need to be discouraged because you can always purchase panniers without having to buy any different kind of bicycle. It all depends on what exactly are your needs.

Panniers are usually mounted by using brackets attached either to the rear axle or wheels' brake bolts and they hang down from them so as not to interfere with steering efforts. This makes it hard for these bags when going uphill since they hit the ground when turning and dig into the soft ground making the rear end skid left and right. 

Saddlebags are mounted on the bike's seat post which is more stable and they allow better airflow to your back making it cooler during hot summer days. The only problem with them is that there is a high chance of getting your things stolen but if you want to take this risk then go for it!

Biking Backpacks, on the other hand, don't cause any problems whatsoever when going uphill- they stay in place and do not interfere with steering efforts. If these bags have a drawback, it would be riding comfort, but if you have a decent bag, you should have nothing to worry about. Also, biking backpacks can be quite expensive depending on what brand or model you choose so keep that in mind as well.

In order to sum it up:

  • Panniers are great if you want some extra space on your bike but not for everyday commuting.
  • Saddlebags can be used as panniers as well and they do come as an attachment without any additional costs. These bags are reliable as long as you don't overload them. But watch out, thieves!
  • Backpacks have many advantages - one being that they allow airflow so your back won't get all sweaty during hot summer days. They also let you keep a closer eye on your belongings since they're right in front of you and not hanging on the back wheel.
  • If you're a courier, then by all means go for a messenger bag but if you want to use it as an everyday carrier then think again!
  • One more thing - always keep your eyes open and if there's a chance that someone will steal something from your bag (e.g. when someone is riding behind you), make sure to take out anything valuable beforehand...  

So, biking backpacks are probably the best choice for commuting purposes. Panniers are great if you want to go on long tours but that's pretty much it. Saddlebags are not really suitable for any kind of riding style- they only come in handy if you carry stuff like tools and tire pumps (which don't take too much space). There is also one more thing I would like to mention before ending this article...     

Even though it takes an entirely different course than panniers or saddlebags, there is yet another option when carrying your belongings simply because there's no need to buy anything new courier bags! Although these kinds of bags might be very comfy due to the fact that you carry them on your belly, they aren't really practical especially if you are not a bike courier.

Some people might say that the only reason why these kinds of bags are popular is because of their hipster status but I disagree with them- courier bags allow easy access to the things inside and come in many different shapes and sizes. They can be great when it comes to carrying stuff like clothes, documents, etc.- if you find the right courier bag then this could solve all your problems!

In case you don't want or can't afford a new bike or any other accessory then think about buying a messenger bag instead since pretty much every bike shop has one lying somewhere around... And even though you say "but I've never seen a messenger bag with a bicycle on it", the majority of them come in inconspicuous black color which will make you blend right in with everyone else!

Bottom Line

When it is about bicycle travel, there cannot be a single one right way to pack. One can only answer the question of saddlebag vs panniers in the context of a rider and a specific trip. A backpack can be the best choice for the majority of casual riders. An excellent saddle bag can be an ideal choice for a serious cyclist, whereas long-distance riders should definitely consider a nice pannier. 

It is always better to start with one type of bag, then try the other, mix and then match them until you are able to get the perfect setup that suits your needs.