Do You Really Need Ortliebs? A Complete Guide To Panniers For Cycle Tours & Expeditions

One day in 1884, Thomas Stevens departed California on a penny farthing and proceeded to become the first man in recorded history to cycle round the world. He did so carrying little more than a bag of gold and a pistol rolled up in a blanket.

Today, us long-distance cycle tourists tend to leave the precious metals and firearms at home, instead packing about half our own bodyweight in other equipment. That’s because we expect to enjoy cycle touring, rather than bribing and bullying our way around the world as Stevens often did. The lightweight gear available today – tents, stoves and the like – is light years ahead in terms of practicality for cycle touring. And so our packing habits reflect this.

To carry it, those of us not on an ultralight off-road mission or breaking a world record (ie: most of us) will be riding a touring bike fitted with carrier racks and lowriders. This article is all about buying a set of panniers to fit to them and hold all that gear – the traditional luggage setup for cycle touring for more than a century.

(This is not an article about how to squeeze everything into fancy little bikepacking frame bags. For that, you’ll need to look elsewhere.)

I don’t want to assume anything about your prior knowledge, so let’s start by laying out a few basic facts about bicycle panniers for cycle touring, before we get into the details.

What Exactly Are Bicycle Panniers?

Panniers are purpose-made bags designed to be hung off the sides of a bicycle or motorbike (or, originally, slung over a pack animal). They almost always come in pairs, for what I hope are fairly obvious reasons of balance and stability.

(Ironically, the name comes from an old French word meaning ‘handbag’: you really don’t want to be carrying these by hand.)

Do I Need Two Or Four Panniers (Or Something Else)?

The traditional setup for long-haul riders is four panniers – a small pair at the front and a larger pair at the rear – plus a handlebar bag and a few other bits.

This is simply because, when you make a list of everything you’d need for a transcontinental or round-the-world ride, buy it all, and try to fit it onto a bike, it usually fills four panniers.

Two rear panniers alone can easily suffice for undemanding trips, such a summer jolly in the developed world with bike shops and campsites aplenty.

You might also get away with two rear panniers with a more minimal approach to packing, especially as camping equipment grows ever lighter and more minimal. You’ll often see more experienced riders taking this approach, because they’ve spent a long time learning what they don’t need.

Increasingly you’ll also see a hybrid approach, with panniers supplemented by bikepacking luggage. The panniers can then temporarily be jettisoned for shorter side trips on dirt roads, allowing much additional flexibility over the traditional setup.

In any case, you’ll rarely see panniers used exclusively as a means of storing belongings and supplies. They’re almost always used alongside rack-top bags, baskets, bar-bags, backpacks, or other more easily accessible receptacles which don’t require dismounting and unpacking everything just to find one commonly-used item.

Sometimes, in very special cases, it might be worth considering a cargo trailer instead of or as well as panniers, which is a topic I’ve covered elsewhere.

How Do Cycle Touring Panniers Vary In Design?

Bicycle panniers for cycle touring (as opposed to shopping) come in a variety of sizes, colours and materials, and are generally labelled as ‘front’ or ‘rear’. They usually (though not always) are sold in pairs, sometimes with differences between left and right, and sometimes without.

Front panniers tend to be smaller, and for good reason: whatever weight you’re carrying on the front wheel will feed directly into the steering and handling of your bike. Lighter is therefore better, particularly on rough roads.

A typical front pannier might have a 10–15 litre capacity (ie: 20–30 litres per pair). Larger panniers at the front would also be at risk of hitting the down-tube of the bike (or even the ground) when turning sharply, or interfering with disc brakes.

Rear panniers tend to have about twice the capacity; anything from 20–30 litres each (ie: 40–60 litres per pair). Tandem panniers can be even bigger.

As mentioned above, a single pair of rear panniers might suffice for even the longest trips if packed thoughtfully with lightweight gear.

What Kind Of Pannier Rack Attachment Systems Are There?

A variety of attachment systems exist, but they almost all make use of a pair of hooked clips attached the back of each pannier, allowing them to be hung from the rack tubing, plus some kind of adjustable retainer clip lower down on the back of each pannier to stop them swinging about.

Although pairs of panniers can be identical out of the box, setting up the attachments to fit your racks will usually result in them being configured as ‘left’ and a ‘right’ panniers from that point forward.

You’ll occasionally see a pair of panniers attached together with a strip of fabric between them, the whole of which is then slung over the rack.

As a general rule, don’t buy these unless it’s the only thing you can get, as this style is far less durable and versatile than individual panniers with hardware fixings.

What Materials Are Panniers Made From?

In terms of construction and material, there are two main categories: fully waterproof and semi- or non-waterproof.

Fully waterproof panniers are usually made of laminated fabric with sealed seams, often using the same ‘roll-top’ closure system found in drybags for paddlesports. As with any waterproof gear, of course, you’re well advised to pack a simple repair kit – a length of Gaffa Tape at the very least, or perhaps a roll of Tenacious Tape.

Non-waterproof panniers are usually made of canvas and have backpack-style lids with zips or buckles, and have some degree of water resistance and/or a waterproof plate on the rear to protect against road spray. A more appropriate repair kit for this type of pannier is a needle and thread.

(We’ll come back to the pros and cons of each in the section on ‘expedition panniers’ below, as these things matters more on longer-term trips.)

Some people get hung up on the colour of the material. There’s an argument that black waterproof panniers in sunny climates will cook your belongings slightly faster than white ones. Similarly, some people think high-visibility panniers are better for safety.

Personally, I don’t believe there’s much practical difference: If it’s hot, it’s hot, and you – the rider – should always be more visible than your panniers. So from my point of view, feel free to choose whatever colour or design you like.

In short, then, there’s a lot of variety out there. There are, however, a few specific makes and models of bicycle pannier that have proven themselves on countless very long and demanding tours.

We’ll start, however, by looking at basic, budget-friendly panniers, and work our way up to the most durable and hard-wearing of panniers capable of withstanding literally decades of use.

No-Budget Panniers For Cycle Touring

For the most ultra-low-budget of trips, you are very welcome to stop reading this article, take whatever cheap/free second-hand panniers you can find on eBay*, Freecycle, Gumtree, etc, add a basic sewing kit, a roll of Gaffa Tape, some cable ties and a few plastic carrier bags, and leave.

I did this in 2013, wrote a detailed article about it, then cycled the length of England to prove it worked.

Conclusion: you’ll be fine, and you’ll save a month or two’s food budget in the process.

Have fun!

43 the full package

If you’re good at DIY, consider making your own panniers.

Cuboid plastic buckets with lids are available from hardware stores and pet shops and can be converted into panniers with a few commonly available fixings. Cool-boxes have travelled across Europe attached to bicycle racks. REI have a good article on this topic.

Cheap Panniers For Cycle Touring

When it comes to cheap panniers at the bottom end of the market, a trip to any mainstream bike shop or sports retailer (eg: Halfords, Sports Direct, Decathlon, etc) or a quick browse on Amazon* or eBay will demonstrate the endless options in this category.

None can really be said to be better or worse than any other, due to the lack of substantial documentary evidence besides customer reviews (which should always be taken with a pinch of salt).

To help you choose reasonably durable cheap panniers, and keep them on the road as long as possible, here are a few tips:

  • Cheap panniers are often aimed at commuters and shoppers, rather than cycle tourists, so see if you can find something that at least claims to be designed for touring use.
  • Avoid anything that relies on zips for closure of the main compartment, as cheap zips are liable to break. Go for something with straps and buckles/clips instead.
  • Avoid cheap and flimsy ‘waterproof’ material in favour of real fabric, then waterproof everything inside the panniers with carrier bags or drybags if and when it rains.
  • Consider pannier covers, which are essentially giant shower-caps for panniers; they’ll get you to the next bus shelter when paired with an effective mudguard to stop road-spray soaking the bags from behind.
  • Finally, pack a sewing kit, Gaffa Tape, and cable ties. (I know I’m repeating myself, the point being that you can save a lot of money and solve a lot of problems with a pragmatic attitude.)

Recognisable brands at the budget level include Altura, Topeak and B’Twin (Decathlon’s own brand). There are plenty of people who’ve been happily touring with Altura panniers for 20+ years. (You won’t necessarily find their cheapest models on their websites, by the way.)

What you’re looking for at this end of the spectrum is a capacity that matches your packing needs, compatibility with your racks, and as little to go wrong as possible.

Of course, if it’s a simple question of what you can beg, borrow or steal, anything is better than nothing!

Mid-Range Panniers For Cycle Touring

There are a few mid-range models of pannier that don’t quite meet the criteria for high-end expedition panniers but have nevertheless been shown to cope well with some very long and arduous bicycle journeys. Here I’ll list a few of the best-known examples, as well as introducing a couple of lesser known brands that show promise in this category.

Crosso Dry (RRP £55/£60 front/rear)

Crosso are a Polish company who have been manufacturing panniers commercially since 2006 (including making panniers for the second generation Extrawheel trailer for many years).

If you’re based in Europe and can find them, they make for a good option in the mid range, being considerably cheaper than the big-brand panniers. They’re quite basic in terms of design and materials – don’t expect the durability of Ortliebs – but will nevertheless serve you well if you look after them. (I’ve had a pair for 9 years which I’m still happily using after a couple of repairs.)

The waterproof Dry panniers come in front/universal and rear pairs with a capacity of 30 and 60 litres respectively, with roll-top closures and welded seams, and a choice of 10 colours.

The standard attachment system features two fixed steel hooks at the top, with an inverted hook on an elasticated strap at the bottom to secure the pannier in place. Once you get used to the system it is very easy to mount and dismount the panniers, and it’s surprisingly stable.

If your rack isn’t compatible (not all racks have a rail to attach the bottom hook) there is also the more traditional and adjustable but more expensive Click option, using durable fixtures from German company Rixen+Kaul who make the extremely popular and widespread KlickFix system.

Carradice CarraDry (RRP £55/£85 front/rear)

Sharing the mounting system with the heavier-duty Super C expedition panniers (see below), Carradice’s CarraDry panniers are waterproof, feature a generous capacity (58 litres per pair at the rear) and are very good value for money.

Though not technically 100% watertight, with a lidded drawstring closure system rather than roll-top, they’re nevertheless made of a similar waterproof laminated synthetic fabric as the other panniers in this range, with welded seams and waterproof zips, which will keep the heaviest rain out, if not survive a deep river crossing. Like other Carradice products, they feature additional outer pockets rather as well as the big hold-all compartment.

The CarraDry perhaps be a good choice if you’re looking for a good quality pair of waterproof panniers but the budget can’t quite stretch to the top-end Ortliebs (though you could probably pick up a second hand pair of for a similar price to these).

Ortlieb Sport-Roller/Back-Roller City (RRP €85/€95)

The City series of Ortlieb panniers is a budget version of the Classic/Plus series usually considered for touring (see below). The series is marketed to commuters, but in reality they are more or less the same as the higher end Ortliebs in terms of shape, capacity, waterproofing and construction materials, made slightly lighter and quite a bit cheaper by a couple of feature omissions.

So what do you lose by saving some cash? Aside from the limited choice of colours, the main downgrade is to the full roll-top closure, the buckles instead fastening only to clips on the sides of the pannier, with no extra cinch strap over the top. This is a less flexible setup with a varying load over time, and one less layer of security for the contents and the waterproofing.

There is also no shoulder strap or inner pocket, though neither of those are really deal breakers. The rack attachment system is the slightly older QuickLock1 mechanism, previously used on Classic/Plus panniers which are still going strong after decades – again, not a deal breaker.

On the plus side, all of this shaves a little weight off the package; 760g per pannier for the City as opposed to 950g for the Classic. And, as mentioned, it shaves a little off the price too.

If you ask me, the additional versatility of the Classic/Plus panniers is probably worth the extra money if you’re already looking at this end of the market. If you’re commuting with a pair of City panniers already and thinking about a tour, however, you’ll get on absolutely fine with them.

Alpkit Tolari (RRP £70/£80/£90 24/40/60-litre pairs)

Relatively new on the UK scene is the waterproof Tolari pannier range from direct retailer Alpkit. If the quality of the rest of their products is anything to go by, they’ll prove durable and well-made, which is why I’ve included them here, but it’s important to say that they are as-yet untested on multi-year expeditions.

Available in three sizes (12/20/30 litres per pannier) in a single graphite colour and sold individually, they’ll probably be of most interest to brand loyalists, being about the same price as the Ortlieb City panniers whose reputation will likely win over many buyers.

  • Buy Tolari panniers direct from Alpkit

The Absolute Best Expedition Panniers For Cycle Touring

Here we’re going to look in detail at panniers that have at least a decade (often two or more) of proven and documented reputation as being suitable for long-haul rides.

As you might expect, the biggest benefit as you reach this end of the range is durability.

Panniers take a lot of abuse, and not just the surface of the bag fabric: it’s also at the interface between fabric and attachment system that stresses will be concentrated over thousands of miles of bumpy roads.

Holes in canvas can be repaired with a sewing kit, and waterproof material can be patched with Aquaseal, Tenacious Tape, Gaffa Tape, even puncture patches, all of which are part of a more general ‘gear-aid kit’. Broken attachment systems, however, are harder problems to solve. Buying top-quality panniers from a tried-and-tested brand will largely – though never entirely – negate this risk.

The same pannier-buying considerations apply to top-end panniers as they do to budget ones: are they compatible with the racks on your bike? And are they appropriately sized for the gear you’ll be carrying, plus food space?

As mentioned at the start of this article, many of today’s bicycle travellers could get away with two large rear panniers, a varying rack-top bundle and a bar-bag. Packing for a round-the-world ride traditionally calls for four panniers – a smaller pair of panniers at the front and a larger pair at the rear – because any trip years in length will inevitably require flexibility.

You’re unlikely to know exactly what your capacity requirements are until you’ve got your gear laid out in front of you, but as a general rule it’s better to distribute weight evenly and have a little extra space than to be overloading the rack and having a rear-heavy bike.

Remember that, regardless of ‘official’ capacity figures, most roll-top or buckle-lidded panniers will cinch down or expand a certain amount to accommodate what’s inside.

A Note On The Pannier Waterproofing Debate

There are lots of noisy opinions on the internet about pannier waterproofing. Discovering this ‘debate’ tends to worry people who are looking at spending two or three hundred pounds on a full set of panniers, and planning to put a lot of stuff inside them that they really don’t want getting wet.

As I mentioned briefly at the start of this article, the question boils down to whether you should buy fully waterproof, roll-top, seam-sealed, drybag-style panniers and never worry about rain or river crossings ever again, or whether there’s any other type of pannier worth considering.

Now, although the 100% waterproof option looks appealing at a glance, let me say that I haven’t met a long-term rider (ie: who’s spent years on the road) whose 100% waterproof panniers have remained 100% waterproof.

No piece of fabric is invincible against being bashed into things, trodden on, tripped over, tied to the roofs of buses and taxes, chucked in aircraft holds and pickup trucks, or ripped apart by hungry bears hunting for the smell of toothpaste (true story).

Some riders anticipate this and prepare for it by bringing a repair kit. Some don’t, and then criticise their expensive panniers for not being 100% waterproof. A lucky few somehow manage to avoid getting a single hole in their panniers, and claim this as evidence that they’ll be ‘bomb-proof’ for everyone else. They won’t.

If very heavy rain and wading through rivers is likely to be a regular feature of your trip, then drybag-style panniers and a patch kit is probably the better option. If you don’t mind a little extra ‘pannier admin’, however, there’s another approach: waterproof what’s inside the pannier as and when you need to.

For a little extra effort, this approach will allow you to exploit the many advantages of breathable, canvas panniers:

  • Wet gear (and smelly gear) can be isolated from the remaining contents and allowed to dry during a day’s riding,
  • Fuel bottles and other potentially messy items can be prevented from contaminating other contents,
  • In hot weather, perishable food can be kept longer in a breathable pannier than inside a sealed drybag,
  • Canvas panniers are easier to repair with a needle and thread or by giving them to a local tailor or cobbler,
  • Top quality cotton canvas is, all else being equal, more abrasion-resistant than laminated synthetic fabric, and on a long tour this will bear the brunt of the punishment while the drybags inside remain protected.
  • Canvas looks cooler. The odd hole here and there will simply add to a pannier’s character.

The extra ‘pannier admin’ involves putting your gear into drybags inside the pannier (good ones are made by Seal Line, Exped, Sea to Summit, Alpkit and many other brands); either one large drybag used as a pannier liner, or lots of smaller ones for organisation and selective waterproofing (or a combination of the two).

Either approach will carry your gear and keep it dry if you know the strengths and weaknesses of each and have a packing routine to match.

I’ve used both types myself on long-term rides in all conditions, from a free pair of shopping panniers for a rainy spring ride through England to heavy-duty canvas bags across the Middle East and Africa to roll-top waterproof panniers and canvas bags together in Mongolia. Analysing which of these systems is ‘best’ is not something I feel the need to spend any more time discussing, because all of them can be made to work.

The truth is that most long-term riders use roll-top waterproof panniers – in particular, the Ortlieb-branded ones mentioned below – because everyone else does. It’s a conformity thing. Non-conformists might prefer the tramp-like image engendered by dusty canvas. If you can’t decide, flip a coin.

Now, let’s look at the top-end panniers available today that have accumulated the most miles around the world on tours of every length, location and level of challenge. (All the RRPs I’ve listed below are per pair.)


Let’s get this out of the way first: the single most interesting thing about Ortlieb’s range of roll-top waterproof panniers is that they’re the most popular of all the panniers being used on world-ranging tours.

Indeed, in a highly unscientific Twitter survey I conducted while researching this article, about ⅔ of respondents used Ortliebs.

Seeing everyone using them attracts more people to buy them, and then claim that they’re the “only choice” despite never having used anything else. And so the inertia continues.

Of course, about ⅓ of respondents didn’t use Ortliebs, yet somehow were still perfectly happy.

So: do you really need Ortliebs?

Well, there’s no doubt that they make very good panniers. They’re about the right size. They’re available in a choice of colours. They’re compatible with most touring racks. They’re durable (which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bring a repair kit), and come with a 5‑year warranty. And they’re in the same price range as most of the other expedition panniers in this list.

In short: they work, the price is competitive, and loads of people use them.

(By the way, the popularity of Ortlieb panniers makes them prime for being snapped up second-hand and hardly used – especially in early spring. This is because they’re the kind of thing people will buy (or get bought) in January when resolving to start commuting to work or do more exercise. A few months later they’ll get round to selling the barely-used panniers on eBay. Take advantage*.)

Ortlieb panniers come in several varieties. Let’s look at those of most interest to bicycle travellers.

Ortlieb Sport-Roller/Back-Roller Plus (RRP €125/€145)

If there was a Standard Issue Cycle-Round-The-World Kit (now there’s an idea), it would probably include a pair of Ortlieb Sport-Roller Plus (formerly known as Front-Roller Plus) panniers at the front and a pair of Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus at the rear of the bike – and an Ultimate 6 handlebar bag – all in matching his-and-hers colours.

At 25 litres per pair for the Sport-Rollers and 40 litres per pair for the Back-Rollers, they’re slightly smaller in rated capacity than other panniers in this list. As with all roll-top panniers, however, you can make fewer rolls when closing (3 is normal; perhaps 4 if you’re going swimming with them) to create more space.

The buckles at the top can either be clipped together, as with a regular drybag, or clipped into a carry strap which then secures to the front of the pannier via a retaining tab near the bottom edge. For additional peace of mind when overloaded, another short strap can be fastened over the top of the closed pannier.

Other useful features include a small handle attached to the rack mounting points for easy attachment and removal of the pannier to the rack, and a removable pouch attached to the backing plate on the inside of the pannier for flat items such as travel documents and diaries.

The current version of the Plus panniers makes use of the QuickLock2.1 attachment system, which is an updated version of Ortlieb’s original system with broader compatibility with the range of racks on the market today (this includes the popular Tubus racks, if you’re wondering). With this system, the hooks are locked in place by sprung retainers, which are released when you pull up on the grab handle for easy removal. Inserts are supplied for different rack tubing diameters to ensure a secure, rattle-free fit.

What distinguishes the Plus series from the Classic series (see below) is the fabric used in their construction: a high-grade Cordura-branded nylon weave which is laminated on the inside. This makes the outer surface almost as abrasion-resistant as a canvas pannier, while remaining waterproof due to the laminated inner. As weave is less dense than laminate, the Plus is therefore slightly lighter than the Classic; 840g per rear pannier as compared to 950g.

Ortlieb Sport-Roller/Back-Roller Classic (RRP €110/€130)

Slightly heavier, cheaper and less abrasion-resistant, going for the wipe-clean Ortlieb Sport-Roller Classic and Back-Roller Classic will save you a few days’ food budget whilst still giving you the sleep-easy feeling of ‘having Ortliebs’. As noted above, the fabric used in construction is a lighter and slightly more basic double-laminated polyester. Besides this, every other aspect is the same.

(It’s worth noting that I have never heard of anyone buying the Classics and then later wishing they’d bought the Pluses.)

Ortlieb Pro Variants

The Ortlieb Sport-Roller and Back-Roller Plus and Classic panniers above are available in a further variation: ‘Pro’. The difference? They’re bigger. Instead of 40 litres per pair, you get a whopping 70 litres of capacity.

(One might argue that an actual ‘pro’ rider would have less luggage, but that’s by-the-by.)

Can your rack handle that amount of weight? Does your bike have enough heel clearance? I’ve met very few riders who really need this much space. To my mind, the people who’d benefit most from these panniers would be tandem riders and people biking in deep winter. The rest of us can just strap extra stuff to the rear rack when we need to.

Carradice Super C (RRP £95/£120 front/rear)

Carradice’s Super C range is a classic line of British hand-made bags and panniers, the designs changing little in decades. (I’ve had a pair of the rear panniers hanging off my own touring bike for 12 years and counting.)

Stitched from heavy-duty waxed ‘cotton duck’ canvas of the type used for military kit and old-school tents, they’re far more resistant to abrasion than waterproof panniers with laminated fabrics or even synthetic canvas. You’ll hear stories of pairs of Super Cs being used for upwards of 30 years, by which time Ortliebs will be straining your tea, so if it’s pure longevity you’re after, they’re some of the best panniers going.

The front (or ‘universal’) panniers have a capacity of 28 litres per pair and, aside from the removable fixtures, are symmetrical in design, with one large main compartment and a small outside pocket in which I might be tempted to store a few snacks. The rear panniers have a capacity of 54 litres per pair, with an outside pocket at the rear. Both sizes have buckled lids with adjustable straps, in addition to a drawstring for the main compartment.

Carradice’s attachment system, based on two self-locking hooks along the top inside edge of the bag and with a retaining tab on the rear, has proven its durability on many a round-the-world tour. The fixtures are very adjustable, making them compatible with a wide variety of racks (adapters are available for rack tubing thicker than 13mm), and enabling them to be shifted back a long way for heel clearance. These fixtures are removable – always a good idea when transporting the panniers on planes, trains and buses.

What they are not is 100% watertight. Although the waxed canvas will keep any amount of rain out, it will eventually absorb water if fully immersed, and the lidded closure system will never be as watertight as a roll-top pannier, as discussed above.

Despite this, they are supremely durable receptacles for the (drybagged) gear you’ll keep inside, and I’ve never come across anyone who regretted buying them.

As an example of an ultra-durable canvas pannier, the Carradice Super Cs are certainly the best in the UK, with one of the longest heritages of any pannier on the market.

Vaude Aqua (RRP £110/£120 front/rear)

Part of a bigger line of commuter and messenger bags, German manufacturer Vaude make the very nice 100% waterproof Aqua touring panniers in front and rear variants.

These are strikingly similar to the Ortlieb Classics (see above), and not just superficially: they are also made in Germany, also come with a 5‑year guarantee, also have a versatile one-handed attachment system, also have inside pockets and shoulder straps, and also have a (smaller) following of satisfied users who’ve taken them round the world by bicycle.

The biggest difference is that they’re slightly larger (despite being about the same weight), with a rated capacity of 28/48 litres front/rear compared to 25/40 for the Ortliebs.

If you’re concerned about your environmental impact (and obviously you should be), you might be interested in the fact that the Aqua panniers are ‘climate neutrally manufactured’, ie: all manufacturing and shipping emissions have been carbon offset, and are fully PVC and PFC free. Indeed, Vaude have put a great deal of emphasis on their green credentials in recent years.

Why don’t more people don’t buy them, then? Simple: they’re not Ortliebs.

  • Buy the Vaude Aqua front and rear panniers online direct from
  • Buy the Vaude Aqua Back panniers online from Amazon UK* / Wiggle*
  • Buy the Vaude Aqua Front panniers online from Amazon UK* / Wiggle*

Arkel GT-54 (RRP CAD$450 rear)

Arkel are a small Canadian outfit established in 1988 whose panniers’ reputation (and price) exceeds even that of Ortliebs. Their top-end GT-54 classic touring panniers come from an entirely different line of thinking, full of pockets and sections and zips and straps and other finery – consider them the Rolls Royce to Ortlieb’s Land Rover.

There are plenty of riders out there who would claim that these panniers are, in fact, the very best in the world.

Slightly more affordable – and perhaps easier to get hold of if you’re based in Canada or the USA – is their Orca line of waterproof panniers, which are of the simpler roll-top design.

Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m just about burned out from discussing the minutiae of bags with hooks attached to them. Time to grab whatever’s lying around and hit the road, no?

16 Responses to “Do You Really Need Ortliebs? A Complete Guide To Panniers For Cycle Tours & Expeditions”

  1. Tomasz

    I looked at Vaude and seemed nice. In the end though I returned them and replaced with Mainstream-MSX SL 55 ZX (

    They are great and match my handlebar bag too 🙂

    • Tom Allen

      Thanks Tomasz! Why did you return them, so future readers can know?

      • Tomasz

        In the end it was just a matter of taste. Both have similar layout and volume. MSX seem to hav a slightly kore convenient handle and rack hooks

  2. David

    I would recommend the Carrdice Carradry rear pair for £85/pair.

    Ortlieb’s similar offering comes in at over £100 per bag, making it £200+/pair.

    I’ve used these panniers for years and the hook bad rail system distributed the shocks much better than my old Ortliebs, that are famous for having the hooks drill mounted to the bag directly. They then fail over time. £85/pair for Carradry is a bargain — not had any items wet, yet.

  3. Derek

    Hi Tom, I chose Ortlieb for primarily on water proof capability. Until recently I lived in Australia’s tropical north and needed a way to keep my work clothes etc. dry during my commute. I purchase my first set of (rear) panniers over 12 years ago and haven’t looked back. I now also have a set for the front and am equally satisfied. My brother swears by Crosso’s and wouldn’t change as he thinks they are more durable than anything else on the market. There you go!

  4. Nick

    “(It’s worth noting that I have never heard of anyone buying the Classics and then later wishing they’d bought the Pluses.)”
    That would be me. I’ve had several pairs of ortliebs and find the pluses much, much more durable. Eventually, over a decade or so, something sharp will poke a hole through the classics. The pluses are not impervious, but are much more so. I also think the seam sealing is better.
    I originally had classics in the back and pluses in the front due to low availability in the us in the early 00s.
    My classics all developed leaks shortly after the warranty expired, during a transam. My pluses survived the classics that replaced the old classics. I now have pluses front and rear. (The fronts are the OGs from 2000 something, the rears are the new super reflective models)
    The same fabric on the bar bags is less durable though because the corners encourage wear.

  5. YvesA

    First off, in french it’s panier with just one N and they are generally made of tiny wood branches woven together.
    From wikipedia it comes from bread baskets “pain” in french “pan” in many other latin languages.
    As for front low riders, namely Ortlieb, take care of curbs ! In ruined my right one in and out of town at cross stops.

  6. Brian Allen.

    Hi Tom, thanks for the comprehensive guide. I’d like to point out that there are some very good cheap options available. I have used Chris Boardman waterproof panniers from Halfords for three years. I am not sure that they are still in production but may be available from old stock or on eBay?? As with any kit the most important part is looking after it. The zip on the front of the pannier is not fully waterproof but the bags are. I think I paid just £10 for each pannier and they have served me well.

  7. Tim Anderson

    I’ve just spent the last 2 months going past heavily laden 100liter plus “tourers” (beasts of burden is more appropriate). I was once one of them. I now tour 7 months a year on all continents, with 8kg total, which is the EMPTY weight of a typical set of Ortliebs w/racks. Saint Exupéry quote: everything that is not absolutely necessary, is useless. LibreTour

  8. Jeffrey

    I really recommend the Potters Pannier made by Upso (run by some of the Carradice people I believe) – they’re roll-top panniers made from recycled truck tarps. Much more affordable than Ortliebs (half the price actually), water resistant, and so far have held up to regular use in a wet climate (both bike camping and in-town commuting/grocery hauling). They use Carradice’s quick release system to clip onto the rack; very easy to remove yet have never come off when I didn’t want them to. The fact that they’re recycled also means that each pannier’s design is unique (I found matching white ones but they come in different colours).

    The tarpaulin material is a bit tougher than other pannier materials which means you’ll have to break them in a bit and they’ll never be quite as easy to roll down as other bags. And the seams aren’t sealed, but I’ve never had an issue with leakage. I’m taking them out on a weekend bike camping trip next week when it’s supposed to rain every day, and I’m confident they’ll keep my stuff dry. I was honestly a little bummed that I couldn’t afford Ortliebs when I bought my Upsos, but I’m really glad I got them.

  9. frazbro

    Hi there, pannier does not come from the French for ‘handbag’, it comes from the Latin word for ‘bread basket’, via French.

  10. JD

    No love for JANDD Mountaineering here…? I have used their gear for decades and found it priced well, extremely well made, and thoughtfully manufactured (among other things). In particular, their Running Rabbit line of gear which is made from remnants and recycled material. They often have generous sales on items, and all their stuff really is designed to last. They sell replacement parts for the most vulnerable wear and tear points on panniers (etc.), and although not the sexiest stuff on the market I would argue is one big bang for the buck.

  11. Rory

    Great article! Do you have any recommendations for robust non-waterproof canvas panniers? I’m considering using drybags inside them but don’t want to have to deal with ripped bags. Thanks!


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