The majority of cyclists that use their bikes to commute 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:
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- 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. We all know it’s impossible to avoid if you’re putting in any kind of effort but it’s a bonus if sweat doesn’t soak into overly luxurious padding.
Here are some of the top options on the market. With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Ortlieb Commuter Daypack
Ortlieb uses a nylon cordura that looks woven rather than plastic like its famous panniers, but is still totally waterproof. The trademark roll closure is present in a more user-friendly form that allows quicker access and an internal padded organizer/laptop sleeve 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 seperate 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 Daypack review (score 9/10)
Osprey Radial 26 cycling backpack
A cycling specific backpack from the market leaders, the Radial 26 has a capacity of 26 litres 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 ‘AirSpeed’ which lifts the pack away from your back to promote cooling.
Read our full review here (test score: 9/10)
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. We haven’t tested this since we’re in the middle of a heatwave, but running it under the tap the water runs off rather than soaking in. Inside there’s an organizer with a padded laptop/tablet sleeve and a zipped mesh pocket. There’s a waist strap and a chest strap.
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 found this also interfered with the back of a helmet when in a road bike position. Fantastic visibility for nighttime commuting, a nice shape and design, but for road cyclists the strap arrangement could be reworked.
Read more: Proviz REFLECT360 review (score 8/10)
Altura Sector 25
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. 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 backpack at a great price but it will be on the small side for some.
Osprey Pandion 28
The Pandion 28 has a metal skeleton “kickstand” designed to keep it upright when on the floor. When empty the kickstand makes it seem bulky but it actually helps the bag hold its shape and even when filled to the brim it still sits remarkably flat without any bulges. Thanks to additional side straps, there’s no swinging when it’s on your back fully loaded.
Inside, the Osprey has multiple sleeves to accommodate your laptop or tablet, a notebook, shoes, clothes, cycling tools plus food and snacks.
Read more: Osprey Pandion 28 review (score: 8/10)
Rapha cycling backpack
A stylish staple that’s been floating around the bike industry for some time, the Rapha backpack has changed very little.
A water resistant fabric has been used so it’s reliable in all weathers, and padded panels are positioned to suit the riding position. For days when conditions are poor, there’s a high-viz pink rain cover as well as some reflective detailing on the side panels and straps.
There are some nice premium touches – including a padded laptop compartment, lined sunglasses pocket and outer key compartment. The key compartment expands to five litres.
Read out full review here (test score: 8/10)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.