Choosing a biking backpack to perfectly suit your needs can be a difficult venture. This article will help break down key components, to make you think about what you need and want out of your backpack.
Function: what type of biking will you be doing?
Picking the right biking backpack for you depends greatly on your intentions for the pack.
Remember the backpack you are looking at buying is for biking purposes, so you should try your best to find a pack specifically designed for that. A biking specific backpack features proper ergonomics that help with the comfort and stability of the pack. A person’s body positioning while riding a bike is much different than when walking, hiking, running, etc.
If your bike pack is going to be used for a commute to your school or office, make sure you get one designed for that. Commuter packs usually feature padded compartments for laptops and tablets. They also tend to have organizers for pens, papers, and other miscellaneous items for a day at a desk. Be sure the pack will ride comfortably when loaded with books. Harness systems on commuter packs are usually good, but not great. If your ride features rough terrain and requires a lot of body movement, take a look at mountain bike packs instead.
Mountain bike backpacks have one main advantage over regular cyclist packs, they have some of the best harness systems on the market. When riding off-road, riders have to move around on the bike in order to keep their balance and center of gravity in the right place. This rider movement causes pack designers to manufacture systems that keep the backpack in place, no matter what. As a result, quality mountain bike packs hug the wearer’s body and feature extremely adjustable harnesses with chest, shoulders, and waist straps.
Road biking or cycling
If you’re a cyclist (pro or enthusiast) you’ll probably be looking for a lightweight hydration pack, or even a vest. You’re not going to be carrying as much, and easy access (e.g. shoulder straps for water, or hydration cords) is going to be most important.
All purpose packs
For a rider who just needs a bag to pick things up from the grocery store, look at cycling bags that are simple, with one spacious main compartment. The best are usually top load bags that are easy to put things in and take things out of.
Arguably the most important thing to think about when choosing a biking backpack is the size.
When riding a bike, you need to be comfortable. Having a pack that is too big may causing rubbing on the back tire, or push you into an awkward body position. You really need to think about what size you need to have, in order to comfortably fit your gear.
If you live in the United States you’ll notice that most packs are labeled in liters. Instead of bothering to convert that to cubic feet, or something you’re more familiar with, you can just use the list below as a quick guide.
- 10L to 15L = small, compact pack
- 16L to 20L = medium pack
- 20L to 30L = large
- 30L + = probably too big for anything besides an epic trek
Getting a bag with extra space “just because” is never a good idea. The solution to people who want that extra space is to get a backpack that has expansion possibilities.
The extra space is often accessed via zippers that when undone, allows extra material free, making the main compartment larger. There are also bags that open up more when compression straps are loosened. Either option is a good one, so pick which you feel will work better for you. They will allow you to have a bag that fits right, and more often than not, you will probably find the expansion zippers closed.
A final helpful expansion feature is a roll top bag, the less the top is rolled down, the more packing space you will have.
For all of the minimalist riders out there, be sure to make sure you do not choose a backpack that is too small either. You are looking at getting a backpack for a reason, make sure it is big enough to fit your phone or tool, or whatever you wanted to bring along that made you decide you should get a biking pack.
This is the segment where you decide on where you can compromise, and what you really need. There are hundreds of features to choose from. Below we break down some popular or sought after ones.
Laptop Pocket. Like mentioned above, laptops and tablets are often carried around by commuters. Many packs feature padded pockets to protect your electrical investment. The standard laptop compartment fits up to 15” laptops. However, if you look hard enough, you can find backpacks that have special pockets capable of holding up to 17” laptops.
Rain Cover. Rain covers keep water off of your actual backpack, and leave your stowed items water free. Another highlight of rain covers is that they also feature reflective detailing for to keep you viable. (We talk about waterproof and water resistant packs in more detail below)
Reflective Details and Bike Light Attachment. If you ride before the sun comes up, after it goes down, or in miserable weather, it is important to consider reflective details and a bike light attachment. Reflective details shine in the dark whenever light is directed on it. So if a car is coming up on you at night, the headlights will cause the detailing to reflect light back, making sure the car driver sees you. A bike light attachment allows for the use of a light that stays on your backpack to showcase your presence to other people. Unlike reflective detailing, this does not require light to be shined on it.
Glasses Pocket. Many bags feature a handy pocket specifically for the storage of glasses or sunglasses. These pockets are lined with soft fabrics to assure your lenses will not be scratched.
Camera Dividers. Photographers and videographers alike will benefit from dividers and special compartments to keep their cameras and lenses safe. These are usually only found in camera specific backpacks.
Bottle Opener. On occasion you will find a bag that features a bottle opener. This is more of a novelty feature than anything but it is nice if you tend to enjoy a beverage after your ride.
Hydration Pack. A backpack with room for a hydration system is perfect for people who go on intense rides, or people who do not fancy carrying around water bottles. Some backpacks actually come with the hydration system, while others only come with a compartment for them. So be sure to check before buying. Hydration bladders also come in many different sizes so decide how much water you think you will need in order to buy the one that will best suit your needs.
We talked about the most common “additional” features above, but one very specific feature that’s important is “waterproofness” or IP rating.
A few questions to consider:
- Do you live in a wet climate?
- Is rain a constant occurrence when you are out your bike?
- Do you carry items that water can easily damage such as electronics?
- Even if it is not often, does the chance of rain make you rethink a bike ride?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you need to seriously consider how weatherproof your backpack should be.
Water resistant backpacks can hold up to light rain and keep the contents dry in short bouts of time. They work just fine for most people who are not exposed to heavy rain seasons. Water resistant bags also often come with a rain cover for serious rainfalls.
Fully waterproof backpacks often feature welded liners, coated zippers and synthetic fabrics that assure you no water will get in. If you are hauling around expensive equipment such as cameras or laptops, going for a fully waterproof option is highly recommended.
Some backpacks come with a rain cover. Although this is not as convenient as a fully waterproof backpack, a rain cover will keep your contents dry no matter what. They are a bit of a pain to pull out and put on, but if rain is not a constant occurrence, a rain cover may be the only protection you need.
Styling and Looks
What is the point of buying a backpack that you do not like the looks of?
When everything else is said and done, the style of the backpack may be the deciding factor for you. For the sake of this article, there are three main style categories to choose from.
Urban. The urban style of backpacks can feature a wide variety of colors or be quite simple. It is the type of pack that you can picture being worn out in the city. Chrome is a company that manufactures urban style packs.
Rugged. Rugged style packs look like they could be thrown off of a cliff and suffer no damage. They often include multiple attachment points and intricate harness systems designed for adventure. A rugged bike backpack is often chosen by mountain bikers as it looks durable and ready to challenge the elements.
Sleek. Backpacks with a sleek style are used to compliment your outfit and offer a sophisticated look. Walking into an office with a sleek backpack style is a natural choice. They look simple, and offer class to the wearer.
If a backpack is not quite your style, try out a messenger bag. Messenger bags offer the same carrying capacities of backpacks but look quite different when worn. Like backpacks, there are messenger bag designed specifically for cycling so make sure to choose one of those if you spend a lot of time on a bike saddle.
Like most purchases, a bike backpack requires a lot of individual thought in order to choose the right one. By following this article, you will be able to break down what you really want from your bag. Remember, cycling is about transport, but it is also about staying fit and enjoying the outdoors. Choose a quality bike backpack and make good use of it.