Cyclist putting orange pannier on their back bike rack

How to choose bike bags and panniers

Whether you’re cycling across town, going on a bikepacking trip or touring across Canada, you’ll need to carry gear with you. You’ve got lots of options, so the main thing to think about is how much stuff you’re carrying and what style of bag is the most convenient for the type of bike ride you have planned.

Seat bags and seat packs

Bikepacking bikes leaned up against a fence

Large seat packs that sit under the saddle are great for bikepacking.

Seat bags and packs attach under your saddle. Most of them are small-capacity seat bags that are handy for out-of-the-way key storage, a small repair kit, spare tube, energy bar or wallet.

You can also find large seat packs (up to 10L+) for bikepacking and adventure cycling. They’re popular for bikepacking since they give you space to carry a decent amount of gear without needing a bike rack or panniers, which adds weight and can rattle around on bumpy terrain.

Great for: Seat bags let you always have a few essentials, no matter what kind of riding you do. Seat packs are an ideal piece of kit for bikepacking.

Handlebar and frame bags

These attach directly to your handlebars or your bike frame; you can get handlebar bags for both drop- and straight-style bars. Most often used by bike tourers, these bags keep gear like maps, cameras, gloves, sunscreen and snacks within easy reach. Avoid overloading handlebar bags because that can impair your steering.

Great for: Bike commuting, bike touring, bikepacking or long rides where you want to have a map and items in an easy to access spot.

Cycling backpacks and hydration packs

Mountain biker wearing a hydration pack and pushing bike uphill

Compared to a regular backpack, cycling backpacks often come with a few bike specific features. Look for things like bike-lock pockets, loops to attach a blinky light, reflective details, waterproofing, helmet attachments and flexible back panels that keep your riding position in mind.

Hydration packs give you a way to drink without taking your hands off the handlebars, along with room for other items. Some mountain bike backpacks have special compartments sized for bike tools, a bike helmet or body armour.

Since backpacks (obviously) cover your whole back, you might get a little sweaty underneath.

Great for: Bike commuting, urban cycling, road cycling, mountain biking and anyone who wants a bag for more than just cycling.

Bike messenger bags

The one-shoulder bags you’ll often see on bike couriers. Some models have a stabilizing waist strap, or shoulder straps that let you switch it up and carry it like a backpack. They usually have multiple compartments for storing a change of clothes, documents or bulky items such as mailing tubes.

Great for: Urban cycling, bike couriers, bike commuting, being useful off the bike too.

Bike panniers

Fully kitted out for bike touring, with front and back panniers, a handlebar frame bag and a small seat bag.

Panniers are roomy, rack-mounted bags that keep heavy loads low and centred on your wheels. Sometimes sold solo, sometimes sold as a pair, they’re designed for either front or rear racks (although some models will work on both). Most people use rear panniers for short trips, and then double up with both front and rear panniers for longer trips. In any case, be sure to divvy up the weight so the bike rides smoothly. You can also find panniers that convert to a backpack for easy carrying off the bike, too.

If you expect to be riding in heavy or consistent rain, then waterproof panniers or rain covers are a good idea. An inexpensive other solution is to line your panniers with plastic grocery or garbage bags to keep your change of clothes and laptop dry(ish).

You’ll need a bike rack to hold your pannier. Many bikes are equipped with braze-ons (little fittings you can attach screws to) to mount a rear and front rack. If you don’t have braze-ons, there are clip systems available. Need a hand installing your bike rack? Contact your local MEC bike shop.

Great for: Bike commuting, bike touring and camping, urban cycling and long rides.

Bike baskets

The beauty of clipping on a bicycle basket is that any bag will work, as long as it fits inside. If you expect to be riding in wet weather, opt for a metal or plastic basket over a wicker one. Some baskets unclip easily so you can load up at the farmers market and then re-attach it to your bike and ride home.

Great for: Urban cycling and bike commuting.

Bike trailers

Person cycling with a bike trailer behind their bike

Trailers are another option when you are carrying a lot of gear over a long time period. Be aware that trailers add quite a bit of weight to your system, but it’s distributed in a different way compared to panniers and frame bags (which some people like). Some trailers are designed especially for biking with kids.

Great for: Biking with small kids, bike touring, carrying loads of groceries around town.

Special bike accessories offer

When you buy any bike from MEC, you can save 10% off accessories for that bike – which includes panniers and pannier racks.