Six best cycling backpacks: a buyer’s guide

cycling to work wearing a cycling backpack
(Image credit: chris catchpole)

The majority of cyclists that use their bikes to commute to work opt for a backpack to carry their luggage. Whilst there are other choices available - such as panniers and handlebar bags - a specific cycling backpack is often the easiest option.

The benefits of a backpack, versus a pannier rack, include:

  • Backpack sits on the rider and therefore swapping bike doesn't cause a problem
  • No fixings need to be attached to the bike
  • Weight distribution on the bike isn't affected

The cycling industry has settled on a capacity of 20-30 litres for the commuter bag. Most have an internal organiser with separate compartments including one for a laptop or tablet. A zipped outer valuables pocket is handy so that you don’t have to dive to the bottom of the main section in search of your keycard when you arrive at your destination.

If you’re carrying up to five kilos of stuff, the straps need to be up to the job and ideally need to be backed up by a waist strap and a chest strap. Venting is important: most manufacturers have designed their own system to channel air and fight sweaty-back syndrome.

Here are some of the best cycling backpacks we've tested.

Best backpacks for cycle commuting

orlieb commuter backpack for cycling

(Image credit: Ortlieb)

Ortlieb Commuter Daypack

Reasons to buy
+Totally waterproof+Roll closure is user-friendly+Bore test load easily
Reasons to avoid
-Can look lumpy if not packed well-Not as ergonomically shaped as other bags

Ortlieb uses a nylon cordura that looks woven rather than plastic like its famous panniers, but is still totally waterproof and this Commuter Daypack has 21 litres of capacity.

The trademark roll closure is present in a more user-friendly form that allows quicker access and an internal padded organizer/laptop sleeve - which can hold up to 15.4" laptops - is held in with Velcro so can be removed if you want a simple, compartment-free space.

The Ortlieb is finished with slotted shoulder straps for an almost modular adjustment of the straps and separate blocks of TPU to channel airflow to your back.

Despite not having compartments it swallowed the test load easily, but make sure you pack it well or it can look lumpy. It's not as ergonomically shaped as other bags but it sits very comfortably regardless.

Read more: Ortlieb Commuter day pack review

osprey radial back pack for cycling

(Image credit: Osprey)

Osprey Radial cycling backpack

Reasons to buy
+Waterproof+Numerous pockets
Reasons to avoid
-Empty List

A cycling specific backpack from the market leaders, the Radial has a capacity of 26 litres to 34 litres - by unzipping the expansion system - and comes with a plethora of pockets, including a padded laptop sleeve.

There's a waterproof cover for when the British weather strikes, and Osprey have incorporated a 'AirSpeed' suspended mesh backpanel which lifts the pack away from your back to promote cooling.

View more: Osprey Radial backpack review

proviz reflect 360 backpack review

(Image credit: Proviz)

Proviz REFLECT360 backpack

Reasons to buy
+Fantastic visibility+Nice shape and design
Reasons to avoid
-Not waterproof-Can get hot in summer

The fabric Proviz uses for the entire outer shell of the REFLECT360 comprises millions of tiny reflective beads that bounce back car headlights and make this the most visible piece of cycling kit you’ve ever seen. The fabric is also water resistant but not waterproof.

Inside there’s an organiser with a padded laptop/tablet sleeve and a zipped mesh pocket in this backpack that has a 30 litre capacity. There’s a waist strap and a chest strap, too.

We found the REFLECT360 a little hot in the summer, particularly as there’s a ‘collar’ that joins the straps behind the neck, and we thought that this also interfered with the back of a helmet when in a road bike position.

It does have fantastic visibility for nighttime commuting, a nice shape and design, but for road cyclists the strap arrangement could be reworked.

Read more: ProViz Reflect 360 backpack review

altura sector 25 backpack for cycling

(Image credit: Altura)

Altura Sector 25

Reasons to buy
+Lightweight+Reasonably priced
Reasons to avoid
-Laptop compartment won't fit a lot of laptops-No waist strap

The Altura Sector 25 has enough width to fit size 10 shoes in sideways rather than upright – but the laptop compartment is sized more for an iPad than a MacBook as it only fits laptops up to 13 inches. However, if you can do a thorough commute audit and can work with a bit less space at your disposal, the Sector 25 will serve you well.

There’s a chest strap and not a waist strap, but if you’re carrying the smaller load for which the Altura is intended, that’s enough. There are also useful side straps to compact it once loaded (or when emptier). A good lightweight backpack at a great price, but it will be on the small side for some.

Read more: Altura Sector 25 backpack reviewed

altura thunderstorm backpack reviewed

(Image credit: Altura)

Altura Thunderstorm City 30 backpack

Reasons to buy
+Large capacity without feeling bulky+Durable+Highly visible
Reasons to avoid
-Things can get lost in the main compartments

Waterproof, durable and highly visible, this roll top closure backpack from Altura will best suit commuters who venture out in all weathers and travel heavy due to its 30 litre capacity.

It has attachment points for lights to stay visible on the road and its grab handle makes it easy to carry about once you take it off your back. With a padded laptop sleeve, an internal zipped pocket and a key loop, important items can be separated but we did still find that things tended to get lost easily in the main compartment.

Overall, it was really comfortable backpack for us, both on and off the bike and although it has a large capacity, it didn't feel annoyingly bulky when riding.

Read more: Altura Thunderstorm backpack reviewed

Chrome Industries Barrage Cargo cycling backpacks

(Image credit: Chrome Industries)

Chrome Industries Barrage Cargo backpack

Reasons to buy
+Great external cargo net+Useful side pockets+Very well constructed
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive-A bit heavy

This rugged waterproof backpack is built for all conditions, with its 22 litre capacity and roll top and buckle closure system.

The external cargo net is the best part of this bag our testing found. It has tough, secure netting and four adjustable clips to hold items that don't fit well inside the main compartment, such as helmets or shoes. On the outer, there's also two side pockets which are useful for storing water bottles, as well as one vertical zipped pocket for valuables.

It's expensive and on the heavy side, but the Barrage Cargo is an expertly constructed backpack that kept its contents dry and lasts and lasts.

Read more: Chrome Industries Barrage Cargo backpack reviewed

What to look for in a cycling backpack

There's nothing stopping you from using a standard backpack for your cycle commute. However, those created with cycling in mind will tick a few boxes that might be neglected elsewhere. Here are the features to look out for:

Air channels for breathability

Chances are your body temperature will rise as you ride. Therefore, a good cycling specific backpack will cater for this with channels at the rear or the use of mesh or more breathable fabrics.

Padded straps

You don't want the straps to put pressure on your back when you load up your pack, so look for padded straps that will promote comfort on the bike.

Chest/hip straps

Extra straps at the chest and/or hips will keep the pack in place - without these you might find the pack swings from side to side or hangs over your shoulder when you get on the drops. These should ideally be adjustable, and some brands - such as Osprey - offer a greater amount of adjustability on female specific packs so that the chest strap can fasten under or over the bust depending upon preference (as opposed to directly across).

Pockets

Everyone likes to organise their kit into appropriate compartments, right?!A quality cycling backpack will have a selection of pockets so you can keep your lunch away from the rest of your luggage. Sections designed for tyre levers, tubes and a pump will be helpful too, as well as zipped compartments for valuables and side pockets for easy to reach access.

If you're cycling to work, you might also want to look for a laptop pocket with padding to keep your tech safe.

Waterproofing

If you commute on a regular basis, it's likely you'll find yourself forced to ride in the rain at some point. Many packs come with waterproof removable covers, whilst some are simply constructed from a waterproof fabric. If you're looking for a fully waterproof option, check for taped seams which will help to keep the droplets out.

Reflective details

Whilst the number one requirement when riding in the dark is a good set of bike lights, reflective details are a good idea and many packs will come with these.

Hydration system

More often a requirement for mountain bikers, a hydration system could come in handy for a roadie who dabbles in off road riding like cyclocross or gravel bike adventures.

More mountain bike orientated packs will often come with a bladder, whilst those aimed more at road cyclists may just have a compartment that will fit a bladder and a loop at the shoulder where a drinking tube can be stored if used.

Michelle Arthurs-Brennan
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan

Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.


When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.


Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6. 


Height: 166cm

Weight: 56kg