When it came time for me to choose some bikepacking bags I knew I wanted 3 of them. I wanted a handlebar bag, a frame bag, and a seat pack. The names pretty much explain what they are and where they will attach to the bike but in this post I’ll be going into a little more detail. After all, these bags are the only things you have to carry all of your gear. It’s important they are up to the task!
Firstly I’ll be covering exactly what bags I purchased and why. Then we can dive into their functionality, ease of use, and how they have performed on my trips so far.
My Ortlieb Trio
There’s no denying it – I definitely treated myself when it came to what bags I purchased. I had snooped around the internet, spent a decent amount of time on YouTube, and read an article or two along the same lines as this one all before I made my decision.
The 3 bags I purchased are below and are also links to the products themselves:
1: Seat Pack (16.5L)
2: Frame Pack
3: Handlebar Pack (9L)
The Ortlieb Seat Pack
This one is my favourite. With a huge 16.5L capacity I always seem to be able to find room in there when I need it. It has numerous features which at first you may glance over but, when it comes time to attaching it to your bike and getting the most from the capacity, they become very useful indeed.
Let’s start with how you get it on the bike. I had visions of me being pretty useless when it came time to get this bag on but if I can do it easily then it’s a safe bet that almost everyone else in the world can manage it also!
It has two very thick, very robust, velcro straps that thread through two metal buckles once you have wrapped the straps around your seat post. Just like that it’s already on your bike! However, as an extra measure to reduce bag movement whilst riding, and increase security to the bike, there are two sturdy plastic clips that thread into and out of your saddle bars and attach to the bag.
All of these attachment points can then be tightened. Due to the strong velcro straps and the metal buckles you can really pull on these to get the bag as tight as possible to your seat post. The two plastic clips can also be pulled tight (don’t go crazy though!) and this combination will have the bag tight to your bike. The bag is reinforced with some firm plastic along the sides where the velcro and buckles are. The rest of the bag is just the fabric of the bag.
The key thing for me was that I didn’t want the bag to sway side to side whilst I was riding. That was extra energy I didn’t want to expend. The combination of the straps and clips keep this bag in place very well.
Once it’s on it’s time to load it up with whatever you like. My only criticism of this bag is that the reinforced velcro / buckle sides could have been extended along the bottom of the bag to add some rigidity. I use my tent along the bottom because the small tent poles give the bag structure that would otherwise not be there. Once the tent is in I squash in all of my clothes. When I say squash I really mean it! The clothes fill up all the small spaces so no space is wasted. I put my food, waterproof jacket / socks, hat and gloves towards the top of the bag. If the weather turns I want access to this stuff quickly.
The roll top closure is very simple to use. Two or three roll overs and the straps that run the length of the bag attach to each other diagonally. These plastic clips have a lock mechanism on them so that when you have pulled them nice and tight you can push the clip down to stop the strap becoming loose as you ride. These clips are brilliant!
Then we have the three features you might look at and not bother with. Don’t be that person!
Firstly, we have the bungee cord on the top of the bag. Make use of this for items you might need access to regularly. I attach my water filter system here along with a small roll top dry bag for any rubbish etc, and sometimes the occasional snack. Whenever I stop for water I want it to be quick and easy, I don’t want to be rooting around in my bag. The bungee cords, as with all the other straps on this bag, can also be tightened firmly. Even on rough terrain I know my water filter isn’t going to fall off.
Secondly, we have the four 3M Scotchlite reflectors that are on show when the bag is packed and attached correctly. These run 2 either side of a daisy chain system that allows you to thread all sorts of attachments through. I use it to attach a rear light. The light plus the reflectors gives me the best chance of being seen in all conditions. You could also attach other items such as a cap, flip flops etc. A cable tie will do the job nicely.
Finally, my favourite little touch, the air release valve. So there you are, bag packed to perfection, surely no more space is available? Well… pull out the air valve, squash your bag down, let all the air out, then pop the valve back in. Your bag is now perfect. Nothing will be rattling around or moving. It’s just a little thing but it can really make a difference when your bag is fully loaded. Maybe you can create enough room for one more bag of Haribo!
The material for the bag is tough and highly waterproof. My first ever trip (read all about it here – Part 1 & Part 2) resulted in me getting absolutely drenched. This bag, as well as the next two I’ll be writing about, kept all of my gear dry throughout. Exactly what is needed when travelling on your bike.
The Ortlieb Frame Pack
When it came to choosing a frame pack there were two choices. Ortlieb do one with a zip and one without. At first I definitely wanted the one with a zip, it made sense to have quick access to the contents inside. However, the more I thought about it all I could think was that the zip was one more thing to break. If the zip went it would be a full replacement, or a very suspect looking home DIY fix. Plus, the items I would be putting in the frame pack were not items I would need very regularly, barring some sort of mechanical issue, or at least until the end of the day when setting up camp.
This pack is filled with spares, morning coffee, my titanium mug, a head torch, and other various bits and bobs. I try and put the heavy things in this pack because it’s the most direct mounted bag I carry. The bike frame can easily take that weight plus it attaches quite tight to the bike frame which stops the bag moving whilst I’m on the move. Granted, there have been times where I have punctured and the pack has had to come off to allow me access to all of my spares. This is unavoidable though, not everything can be accessed immediately and in all honesty it only takes a minute.
The bag, just like the other two, has rolltop closures. It is made from the same material as the seat pack and is extremely waterproof and rugged. It has three similar velcro straps that you wrap around your top tube and it has been designed in such a way that there is a natural channel on the bag where the underside of your top top tube fits in nicely. This allows the pack to sit nice and snug to your bike frame, again reducing any movement. Once you have pulled the velcro straps tight there are three additional, one per strap, rubber bungee cords. These pull over and attach onto the hooks provided adding more security for your belongings.
It’s not the biggest bag in the world, but there is good reason for that. If it was any bigger then I wouldn’t be able to fit my two water bottles in beneath it, and if you pack it in such a way that the width bulges too far beyond the frame width it is quite easy to feel your legs rubbing on it as you pedal. It is made to be packed narrowly and made to be full. After all, no one likes to hear things rattling around as they pedal along!
I did consider a full size frame pack, you know the ones the big triangle shape ones, and I thought I could simply attach my water bottles elsewhere. It turns out I didn’t need that kind of space for the things I carry. Plus it saved me some money on having to buy adapters or doing some DIY job of attaching water bottles to my front forks. I could definitely see the benefit of one of these bags in the winter when you might be carrying more clothing but for now this bag is doing just fine.
The Ortlieb Handlebar Pack
I nearly made a massive mistake when purchasing this bag. In my head I had it that I wanted as much packing space as possible. So in my shopping basket on the Ortlieb website I had a 15L version of this pack. Luckily, I stopped to do a little bit more research and discovered that this pack was going to be too wide for my drop handlebars. I guess it was going to be the 9L version then! If you are running a flat bar set up the 15L bag will fit just fine so why not go with the extra packing room!
A little bit of me was upset that I couldn’t get the bigger version but once it arrived and I gave it a trial run I realised it was going to be absolutely fine.
As the name states this pack attaches to the handlebars and therefore I wanted it to be as light as possible so that the handling of the bike wasn’t affected. The last thing I wanted was to be on a gravel track wrestling my bike over the terrain due to loads of weight in this bag. That was a recipe for disaster!
Therefore, this bag is dedicated to my sleeping equipment… and my cooking gas canister. I treated myself to a nice new sleeping bag from Alpkit (but that’s for another review) which squashes down beautifully to leave me plenty of room for my bivvy bag, my cheeky little pillow, my sleeping mat, and the gas.
These contents keep it nice and light and because it’s one of the more awkward bags to fit and access they are items that I don’t need until the end of the day.
Again, the bag has rolltop closures on both sides. It is made from the same rugged, waterproof material, as the others and also has an air release valve just like the seat pack. This is especially handy considering the contents – it allows me to squash my sleeping bag down even more. It also comes with the plastic clips that you can lock in place once tightened because out of all the bags you don’t want to be moving around whilst riding it’s the one that’s around your steering apparatus!
As I briefly mentioned above this bag is a little more awkward to fit than the others, mainly due to its location and the different sections of your bike it has to attach to. However, there are numerous YouTube videos to guide you and it also comes with an instruction pamphlet. To be fair it can only go on one way so even if you were to just use trial and error you would eventually get there. The foam attachments are all quite firm and are placed in the perfect positions to keep the bag from rubbing on your bike frame. It also allows you extra room for your drop handlebars, with their integrated brake / gear combination, to work without the bag getting in the way.
This trio of bags have been with me on all of my bikepacking adventures so far. All of them have been through some pretty tough conditions including torrential rain for hours on end, and they even went bikepacking on the hottest day of the year. Granted, in Scotland I guess that’s not that hot.
I would definitely recommend all 3 as they seem very tough and durable as well as fitting to the bike very well no matter what conditions are beneath your wheels. I particularly like the safety features on the rear of the seat pack, the air release valves, and the matching black and orange look that all of the bags possess. Not once have any of the velcro straps come loose or any of the plastic lockable clips popped open.
As mentioned in previous blogs I’m a firm believer in the phrase “you get what you pay for“. This is definitely true for these bags. There are many types and brands of these kind of bags on the internet and I’m sure they do a good job. However, as always I will only review what I have actually used. These bags give me the peace of mind to ride anywhere, in any weather, without ever having to worry about whether or not my gear is safe and protected from the elements. It’s just a given that they are all fine. That’s what the extra money pays for I think.
If you have any questions about these bags or I can be of any help with any additional pictures etc then feel free to leave a comment below. Don’t forget that the links for these bags were posted towards the top of this review just in case you decide to treat yourself to something new!
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