Of the three major bikepacking bags (handlebar, frame, and saddle), the saddle bag is to my mind one of the most critical to get right.
Why is this? Well, saddle bags can, if they’re poorly constructed and overly-filled, have a huge negative impact on the performance of the bike, especially the balance. If saddle bags don’t have a solid build (including the saddle/seatpost attachment mechanism) and have too much gear stashed in them (particularly when the heaviest items are positioned furthest away from the seatpost) then the bag can start to wobble dangerously from side to side. Like a really big tail wagging a really small dog, this is never going to end well.
What do you need to consider when you’re choosing a new saddle bag for bikepacking? Well, we’re going to take a look over the key features now. We’ll also discuss what the typical items of kit are that go well in a saddle bag (AKA a seat pack) and along the way I’ll also give you some recommendations for my favorite saddle bags.
So, without the slightest hint of a wobble, let’s dive into the details.
Choosing a saddle bag for bikepacking
Commercially-available saddlebags for bikepacking are actually a fairly recent invention. Back in the day, stylish cyclists would have a small leather bag dangling from the rear of their saddle. This looked great and still looks awesome on a hipster fixie bike riding around town. However, they aren’t really practical for bikepacking as they won’t fit more than a small bar of candy and a multitool. Pannier bags for bike touring will certainly fit everything you need inside them, however they are bulkier and impact the bike’s aerodynamics, as well as requiring a pannier rack to fit them on.
A bag that attaches to the saddle and seatpost, tucked in behind the rider, is perfect then for bikepacking. But, search online or in your local bike shop, and you’ll see a myriad different bags available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. How do you choose between them? What are the most important features to look out for? Let’s take a look.
Important features to look out for:
Not all bags are waterproof and, if you have a non-waterproof or water-resistant bag, then you’ll need to team this up with dry bags or plastic bags for your gear. My preference though is to go with fully waterproof bags in the first place. These eliminate the weight of dry bags (and hassle!) and mean that you can stuff your gear into every nook and cranny of the seatpack.
Easy and secure fixing mechanism
Saddle bags fix on to the saddle underside and the seatpost. You’ll find two different types of fixing mechanism: straps and brackets.
Brackets are a new style of fixing. These require a bracket that clamps to the bike and then the bag connects to this. The selling point for these is that they provide a much more rigid fix for the bag. However the downside is that you need to buy the bracket as well as the bag, and the bracket then needs to be transferred between bikes if you want to swap.
I think the far better fixing method is the more traditional Velcro straps around the seatpost and webbing and buckles for the saddle. They give a very secure hold, are easy to adjust, and a cinch to release in order to remove the bag.
Decide what you’re going to store in your saddle bag and this will determine the size of bag you need. Too small a bag is clearly a problem, but so is too large a bag. If a bag is bigger than you actually need it will encourage you to bring extra ‘things’ that you could probably do without. Remember the less you can take with you, the easier it will be to pedal.
If you’re unsure what you’ll need to pack, or you’re buying a bike with a variety of different length trips in mind, then it’s worth looking out for bags with adjustable volume. These use the straps to change the length of the bag, adding extra space on the interior. It can make a big difference to the amount of space you have. One of recommended bags above can go from 7L to 16.5L.
What to pack in a saddle bag for bikepacking
The rule of thumb for saddle bags is to pack items that are bulky but fairly lightweight. Any heavier items should ideally be stored in a frame pack as these will have less of an impact on balance there. Items that fit the bill here include sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and spare clothing.
It’s also handy to store items in there that you might need quick access to, such as a rain jacket or waterproof overtrousers.
Unless your saddle bag is waterproof then you’ll need to store any items you put in it in a waterproof stuff sack. Though, in a pinch, you can always use a plastic bag making sure you twist and fold down the opening to ensure a good watertight closure.
When you’re packing the bag try and put the heaviest items nearest to the seatpost (particularly those that you won’t need regular access to – not your rain jacket!) Placing those heavier items there will help to keep the balance tight and avoid any side to side wobbling of the seatpack.
Selecting the right luggage option for your bikepacking adventures is the best way of ensuring that those adventures go smoothly. With the right saddle bag, you’ll probably not give it another moment’s thought. But, with the wrong bag? You’ll be cursing it every time you open and close it, every time it wobbles about, and every time it lets water in and soaks your gear.
Get the right seat pack and ENJOY your bikepacking.
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