Panniers vs backpacks for bike commuters

Alternative ways to transport your belongings with your bike come with pros and cons depending on your priorities

August 21st, 2019 by | Posted in Gear Reviews | Tags:

Being able to carry your belongings while travelling around on the bike is quite essential. You can run errands that way, transport your work supplies and pick up groceries. The two most practical and common ways of transporting things by bike are in panniers or in a backpack. Depending on the length of your ride, the amount of stuff you plan to transport around and even your bike you’ll likely be inclined to choose one over the other. Here are the pros and cons of both backpacks and panniers for bike commuters.


The simplest and likely cheapest option for carrying stuff on your bike is a backpack. You probably already own a backpack that has a suitable amount of space to transport your belongings in. Backpacks are easy and familiar. You can dismount your bike and as easily carry things in it. They are quick and easy to pack up. You don’t need to mount them with straps or clips, just swing your bag over your shoulder and off you go.

On the bike, backpacks aren’t perfect. In hot weather, carrying a backpack will likely leave your back sweaty which isn’t ideal if you are arriving at work or a social event. Carrying anything heavy can put strain and pressure on your shoulders and back. It’s also difficult to carry a lot of weight on your back when on a bike. A weighted bag could alter your reaction time. You will feel a little top-heavy and it can affect you pedalling and bike handling. All this is exasperated over longer rides where the increased strain can begin to wear you down a bit.

A backpack can also hinder your line of sight when shoulder checking. Additionally, carrying a lot of volume can be a little trickier and it’s hard to hold as much weight on your shoulders. However, using a backpack doesn’t require you to make any altercations to your bike and can be used on virtually any bike.


A bike rack with panniers is the most popular alternative to a backpack. Panniers are the most efficient way to move things around with your bike. But you’ll need a bike that can accommodate the racks and panniers. To use panniers you’ll likely need to install additional equipment on your bike. Panniers sit on a rack and can be installed on the front and back of your bike. Installing panniers will cost more than purchasing a backpack as well.

With panniers, you can more efficiently carry a lot more weight and volume. Packing groceries, a change of clothes or work essentials is more efficient with panniers with their increased carrying capacity. Good pannier bags are often better weather sealed than backpacks so your belongings are less likely to get wet.

By moving your luggage from your shoulders to your bike, you also free up your body reducing the strain to your back and shoulders. You will be able to pedal and control your bike unhindered riding with panniers. This will make longer commutes much easier on your body.

Adding the weight to your bike does have disadvantages. You increase the profile of your bike putting bags on it so you’ll need to be more spacially aware around vehicles and other cyclists. The added weight to the bike can also alter the way it handles and behaves on rough road surfaces which will take some getting used to. The racks and added carrying capacity will also make your bike weigh more making climbing harder.

You are also more limited off the bike with panniers. The pannier bags may have handles and straps to make carrying them easier but hopping onto the subway or a bus with your bags in hand is less convenient than a backpack. It also will take fractionally more time to get going because you’ll need to reattach your bags every time you stop.

Panniers may be more expensive, but if you ever intend to do a trip by bike, you’ll have some of the equipment already on hand.

Pick the carrying option that’s best for you

Both panniers and backpacks make carrying your belongings by bike convenient and pretty straight forward. You can experiment with both to determine what suits your commuting needs. Your choice will depend on how much you intend to transport on your bike, the length of your commute and what your bike is suitable for.

You can even combine both giving yourself more options for shorter or longer trips. If you have bike packing frame bags, you may have another option at your disposal. However, you choose to transport your belongings, doing it by bike is a good option allowing you to get outside and exercise.