Panniers or backpack for a cycling tour?

Travelling with our own bicycles is one of our favourite ways to wander around and explore new places. There is no need to talk about the advantages of riding a bicycle and I am sure that everyone is aware of how bike touring gives you freedom and makes your body fit at the same time.

Bike touring with panniers 

If you never tried bike touring, you should do it at least once, trust me you won’t regret it. You don't have to be a professional or athletic to be able to get on a bike, you only need to learn how to cycle, that is all you need. The length of a bike tour depends on you, it could be for a few hours, one day, a few days or weeks or you can even take a longer trip.

No matter how far or how long you are going to cycle. You should keep in mind that you are going to carry all of the things you need and the weight can affect your journey.


If you follow my travels you have noticed that we sometimes go on bike touring and we went for our first camping in the UK with our bicycles. We used to pack all the necessities, including sleeping bags and our tent, into our backpacks. But since we have a long upcoming trip we decided to try out panniers. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, we are going to cycle through 6 countries to raise money for children in war zones.

Since this is our very first long bike tour, we decided to have a trial trip with all our gears, but instead of backpacks, we used our panniers. We have noticed a few main differences between carrying backpacks and panniers and here I am going to share our experience with you.

Weight:

It is obvious that if you are going to carry the same things in either your backpacks or your panniers the weight you need to carry will be the same because backpacks and panniers are not really heavy. Therefore, the main difference about the weight would be: it's either on you or on your bicycle.

Space:

Keep in mind that longer trips usually require you to have more equipment, clothes, bicycle repair kits and you might want to have your laptops, cameras and drone with you as well. Of course, in this case, you will probably opt for a pannier because you will have more space available, and you definitely don’t want to cycle with a massive backpack.

Speed:

As I mentioned before panniers make your bike heavier, especially since the weight would be most likely attached to your rear rack, which means that to accelerate you should use more energy. When you are riding on a flat or downhill road, you might not notice the added weight to your frame, but going uphill could be a hindrance. Not only you have to push the pedals stronger than before, you will also feel the extra work on your legs while your speed is slowing down dramatically. On the other hand, it won’t be much of an issue cycling uphill when you are carrying a backpack.

Backache:

When I carry a heavy backpack, the one which contains my sleeping bag and tent, for example, I would definitely be able to go faster and riding uphill would be smoother, but since I carry all the extra weight on my back, I usually end up suffering from a backache or pain on my shoulders for a while after a long ride. Besides, I sweat more since the backpack is laying on my body and can feel like an additional layer of clothing. So, if you add the weight on your panniers, you will free up your body and take the strain off your shoulders. In this case, you can move your body freely while you are pushing the pedals.

On a bike ride with my backpack 

Lifting the bike:

Let’s go back to the extra weight on your bike. If your tour involves lifting your bikes between trails or carrying it up and down some stairs, keep in mind that it won’t be a simple task with your panniers on it. In some occasions, it requires you to bring the panniers first then come back for the bike or vice versa. You should also keep your eyes on your belongings. This situation is a bit easier for us since we travel together and we can always split the job and have one of us guarding our things while the other can move them around. Furthermore, whenever you want to leave your bike parked for a natural break or to go into a shop to buy some food or drink you should take the panniers with you to avoid being targeted by thieves. Obviously, with a backpack, you won’t have this issue, you can lift and carry your bike at the same time. It’s also worth mentioning that some types of panniers can actually be carried as a backpack, so consider these situations when you are buying a pannier bag.

Our backpacks: Jack Wolfskin Rucksack Moab Jam and Osprey Men's Stratos 34 Hiking Backpack.

Our panniers: Ortlieb Uni Back Roller City Rear Bicycle Bag.

Backpack vs Panniers

For sure, both panniers and backpacks are good options, but we are more than happy to use panniers for long trips for various reasons, including that we can actually carry more equipment, we will be on our bikes for longer hours and we don’t want to increase the fatigue of our backs and shoulders. But we do prefer to use our backpacks for shorter trips or commuting to work.

Share your opinion in the comment section about which one you prefer and some of your reasons behind your choice.


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