When you’re in the market for a new touring bike, it’s important not to dive too deep until you’re clear about what kind of cycle tour you actually want to go on.
Especially with the current trends towards ultralight bikepacking, gravel bikes, touring e‑bikes, etc, manufacturers will work extremely hard to sell you something you never knew you needed.
They’ll even give top-of-the-range bikes to social media influencers (yep, they’ve discovered cycle touring and bikepacking too!) to promote products that for most riders are a waste of precious travel funds.
If you’re not careful, before you know it you’ll have bought all the gear for a tour that looks little or nothing like the one you originally dreamed of.
So let’s take a break from industrial-strength marketing tactics and pose three critical questions about your current circumstances and future bike touring plans.
You can do this by talking to yourself, grabbing a pen and paper, jotting down notes on your smartphone, meditating on each question, or whatever form of self-reflection works for you.
Just try not to rush it – this is one buying decision you really don’t want to get wrong.
1. What type(s) of riding are you planning to do?
It’s often said that no two cycle tours are ever the same. But I’ll bet yours can be placed somewhere on the following spectrums:
Will you ride fast or take it slow?
Are you touring short-term or exploring long-term?
Will you be cycling ultralight or going fully-loaded?
Is your route mostly on-road or off-road?
If you’re not sure where your planned bike tour falls on these spectrums, it might be time to stop reading blogs about touring bikes (bookmark this page, though!) and write down a few thoughts about what kind of experience you actually want to have.
Your answers are important because they’ll change your criteria for choosing the right touring bike – and being clear on your priorities as a buyer is the best way to shine a light through the fog of marketing spiel and the (often undisclosed) commercial interests of influencers.
Back to the original question, the law of averages dictates that most bike tours are somewhere in the middle of these spectrums.
That’s why the major bicycle manufacturers – Trek, Kona, Cube, Fuji, etc – tend to offer a single, do-everything touring bike.
The only specialisation of these bikes is that they are generalists, catering for a wide range of bicycle travel scenarios, as manufacturers strive to sell enough bikes to break even in the small and not-very-fashionable niche of cycle touring.
Being distributed alongside road, commuter, mountain and gravel bikes from the same brands, mainstream touring bikes are relatively easy to find at your local bike shop. This is good, because going for a test ride is the single best way to avoid buying the wrong bike.
Cycle touring is a traditional and conservative niche, with touring bike specifications changing little year on year, meaning many commercial touring bikes have a tried, tested, and relatively undiluted heritage.
I’ve listed the most highly-regarded mainstream touring bikes in this popular and regularly-updated blog post. A large proportion of people exploring the touring bike market will find that one of these touring bikes will serve their needs very well.
If you find an off-the-peg touring bike isn’t a good fit, digging deeper will reveal a vast diversity of niche touring bikes, from off-road and gravel oriented adventure bikes and bikepacking rigs to recumbent touring bikes, custom-built touring bikes and framesets, touring e‑bikes, tricycles, hand cycles, tandems and triplets, unicycles, penny farthings… yes, whatever the most esoteric kind of pedal-powered vehicle you can imagine, I’ll bet you someone’s taken one bike touring!
2. What’s your startup budget for equipment?
The next basic question is a financial one.
What’s your budget for your new touring bike?
Hold on – you have already budgeted for your bike trip, right?
So you already know what the on-the-ground costs of your trip are likely to be, and how much money you’re putting aside for the big equipment binge before you hit the road?
If you’re in the early stages of planning a bike trip, I’m guessing there’s a chance you haven’t got this far. You may still be wondering just how much you’ll need to spend on the single most important piece of gear of all, so you know what kind of number to put in that budget you’ve been meaning to make.
Well, the good news is this:
A new touring bike can be as cheap or expensive as you want it it be.
Let’s take a quick look at what you might expect from touring bikes at the range of price points, from next to nothing up to thousands of pounds or dollars.
No-budget or low-budget touring bicycles.
Short of cash? No problem. It’s possible to use almost any bike for touring, as long as it’s about the right size. All it needs to do is carry you – and your luggage.
You will (eventually) get from A to B on the rusty heap that’s been sat in the garage for the last decade.
Or if you’re coming to touring from another cycling discipline – say, road biking or gravel riding, mountain biking, or bicycle commuting – then you already have a bike. For your first tour at least, and if money is limited, all you need to do is adapt your existing bike to carry a few bits of luggage.
Pannier racks are available to fit bikes with traditional frame mounting points, and some brands offer mounting kits for those without. Trailers are cumbersome but take the strain off the bike and are perhaps the easiest adaptation, usually requiring nothing more than a replacement rear axle skewer or bolt. And mountain-bikers are better served than ever by the explosion of frame luggage, which even outdoor megastores like Decathlon and REI produce and sell.
Entry-level touring bikes for newcomers to cycle touring
Got a bit of cash but still on a budget? Capable touring bikes can still be bought new for well under £1,000 (USD$1,200 or CAD$1,500).
Touring bikes at this price point are considered entry-level. These bikes usually differ from premium models by having cost-saving aluminium frames, cheaper drivetrain components (ie: gearing systems), rim brakes aka: V‑brakes rather than disc brakes (though this is changing), and often only a basic rear rack to carry a pair of panniers.
They are nevertheless designed and built specifically for light touring (sometimes called ‘trekking’ in parts of Europe), often sharing a frameset with models at the higher end of the budget spectrum.
Entry-level touring bikes are often prime for future upgrades for longer and more demanding tours – perhaps after you’ve tried your hand at a short cycle tour a little closer to home.
Premium touring bikes for exploring almost anywhere
Got serious funds for a serious new touring bike? Accepted wisdom is to get the best bike you can afford – without compromising your overall trip budget.
This is the domain of the premium touring bike. The top design priority here is long-term durability, using higher-specification components, framesets built specifically to the rigorous demands of long-term touring, and the highest quality touring-specific accessories (racks, lights, etc) available.
There’s a rich selection of bikes at this price point, and almost all cycle tourists could conduct their travels successfully on any of them. It’s a mature niche filled with capable, tried-and-tested machines, with sensible price-tags and in need of nothing more than some tough panniers and perhaps a nicely broken-in Brooks saddle – and, of course, an intrepid rider.
Expect to spend between £1,500–2,000 (US$1,600–2,200 / CA$2,000–2,800) on an off-the-peg premium touring bike. It will last a lifetime if well cared-for and handle most touring scenarios very well.
Expedition touring bikes for the toughest rides on Earth
Shortly beyond mainstream touring bikes, we find ourselves entering expedition touring bike territory.
This is an obscure and daunting place most commonly visited by riders planning transcontinental or round-the world rides. It is also, however, where riders come to find the holy grail: a unique bike for which every single aspect of the design, build and fit will have been tailored to your exact needs.
Likely prices might start from £2,000 (US$2,200 / CA2,800) for a custom build on a stock frame up to double that or more if bespoke framebuilding is involved. If you’re planning the ride of a lifetime or a lifelong touring career, and you have the necessary funds, it’ll almost definitely be worth the investment.
And I’ve also partnered with Richard Delacour at Oxford Bike Works to offer the Expedition – a line of custom-built touring bikes produced to order in Oxfordshire, England, and designed with exactly this kind of ride in mind.
This bike, in fact, was the prototype that led to the above-mentioned Expedition being launched.
3. Where are you buying your new touring bike?
Don’t forget that not all touring bikes are available everywhere.
Many of the big bike manufacturers have global distribution networks – but their one-size-fits-all touring bikes, by definition, don’t always cater for everyone’s needs.
Smaller, more specialised bike retailers (such as these in the UK) can offer far more in the way of individual tailoring – but they typically operate on a local or regional level, limiting their potential customer base.
This means that the touring bike-buying decision will change with where you’re looking.
Last updated on March 9, 2023, adding new screenshots of the subscription-only features of the official WarmShowers app.
While I will always encourage you to make your first cycle tour as low-tech as possible, almost every rider today is packing a smartphone by default. But what exactly are the best apps for cycle touring and bikepacking?
It’s a tricky question. To my knowledge there is no single app that provides a comprehensive range of features for someone travelling by bicycle long-term.
And that’s probably because the cycle touring or bikepacking lifestyle is a complex, multi-faceted thing, taking in an incredibly diverse range of activities and needs. No one app can (or should) serve all of them.
My list therefore represents a suite of apps for life on the road on two wheels.
In other words, I’ll be listing apps that augment all aspects of cycle touring and bikepacking – for example, accommodation and hospitality exchange apps, weather forecasting apps with an outdoor focus, community-generated maps of safe wild camping spots, apps to help with common travellers’ concerns such as budgeting, communication and translation, apps to monitor and conserve battery usage for big days on the road, and an eclectic selection of other apps I’ve personally found useful on long cycle tours.
This is not a comparison of navigation apps like the ones you’ll find if you search your preferred app store for “cycle touring apps” or “cycling apps”. That list would be hundreds of entries long, and the mainstream cycling media have published plenty of listicles in the battle for search engine traffic anyway.
Smartphone technology moves fast, and the app scene is constantly changing. That’s why – like all my other ultra-detailed posts about aspects of planning a bike trip – I’ve been updating this post regularly since I first published it way back in 2012. My goal for the original post was to answer the frequently-asked question of what the best apps for cycle touring or bikepacking are. This latest version of that list has been curated with the same goal in mind.
I’ve included links to Android and iOS (iPhone/iPad) versions of each app wherever they exist, and broken the list down into eight handy categories covering navigation, weather, accommodation, transport, communication, photography, finance, and everything else.
But if you do intend to use digital mapping apps and the navigation features that come with them, and you don’t already have a favourite app that works for you, I would suggest trying all of the following apps to see which one best matches your riding style. Most have free trials or some way to try them out before upgrading to a paid premium version.
Unlike the robot writers of spam blogs about cycling apps, by the way, I have actually used all of these apps on my own bike trips. Here’s my current pick of the bunch…
1. Google Maps (Android/iOS, free)
Why start with the most obvious mapping and navigation in the known universe? Well, because commercial mapping is often your best friend in places there’s money to be made – ie: urban areas. Most bike trips start in, end in or pass through towns and cities where you commonly need to find specific street addresses. This is where the big platforms like Google Maps excel.
In terms of navigation, bicycle-friendly routing is offered alongside directions for motor vehicles in cities across much of the developed world. Where it isn’t, using the walking directions will often offer you a low-traffic route. You can also bookmark places and categorise these bookmarks into preset and customised lists.
The latest versions of Google Maps have incorporated the Street View functionality that used to be the domain of a separate app. I tend to use this handy 360-degree VR imagery if I’m heading for a specific spot in a city, such as a Warmshowers (see below) host’s house or a local bike shop, and want to visualise the location in advance.
In short, if you’ll have good cell service throughout your ride and you’re sticking to paved roads in developed parts of the world, Google Maps may well do everything you need in terms of navigation.
Using Google Maps on a bike tour becomes more limiting when you switch off mobile data or stray beyond the reach of cell service. The app does allow you to download offline maps in the default style, and your lists of saved places will be accessible, but it won’t cache terrain or satellite basemaps, which makes it difficult to judge a route’s elevation profile and impossible to use aerial imagery for following unmapped routes. Nor can it store anything about saved places other than their name and street address, plus any text notes you may have made about them. Many aspects of route planning and directions also depend on being online.
Finally, map coverage remains poor across much of the developing world, and even in remote regions of developed countries where there’s little or no no commercial activity. This is why it’s often worth pairing Google Maps with one or several of the other mapping apps in this list
Pro tip: In the former Soviet Union and in other countries where Russian is the default second language, you’ll usually find that the Russian equivalent to Google Maps, Yandex Maps, has better map coverage and traffic data. As a bonus, the smartphone app is available with an English-language interface.
In the last few years, Maps.Me seems to have fought off masses of competition to become the most popular Google Maps-style alternative mapping app for travellers. And with a wealth of offline functionality, it’s easy to see why.
When you first open the app, you are prompted to download parts of the world region by region, starting with your current location. All of the app’s main functionality will then work offline within these regions. Usefully for cycle tourers and bikepackers, this includes bicycle-optimised routing and directions. This means you can conserve battery power by activating flight-safe mode while retaining the ability to use your phone as a GPS navigator.
On my 2018 trip in Thailand, I used these features daily. Typically, I planned my route by cross-referenced Maps.Me’s routing suggestions with Google Maps’s walking directions, and then used Maps.Me’s offline maps to follow quiet, back-road routes across the country. This combination worked like a charm.
You can also search offline for nearby points of interest such as cafes, grocery stores, lodgings, drinking water fountains, etc – all of which are downloaded with the offline maps. When you’re online, accommodation searches are supplemented with results from booking platforms like Booking.com – indeed, affiliated links to these platforms are a significant part of the app’s revenue model.
Like most of the other apps in the mapping and navigation section of this list, Maps.Me depends on the OpenStreetMap (OSM) database to generate its basemaps. This can make it vulnerable to coverage issues in less-visited and/or less well-mapped regions, although not necessarily any more so than Google. In some regions, you’ll find the mapping is actually better, more detailed, and more up-to-date than commercial mapping platforms, simply because of the strength of the mapping community contributing to it.
If I have one issue with Maps.Me, it’s that the map does not display any topographical data (contours, hillshading, elevation colour coding, etc). This is partly compensated by the elevation profiles generated along with the cycling and walking routes. If detailed elevation data, tracktypes, and other detailed cycling-specific navigation functionality is important to you, however, you may be better off with one of the other navigation apps in this list.
With its raster maps, dated-looking interface, and lack of route planning or sat-nav style navigation features, it may not be immediately obvious why the Android-only app BackCountry Navigator is still recommended for cycle touring or bikepacking in 2023.
For me, the main reason is its ability to download for offline use a wide variety of specialist basemaps beyond the often simplistic vector maps that come with most other modern mapping apps. Preconfigured basemap styles include OpenCycleMap, which (as its name suggests) is an OpenStreetMap-based map style for cyclists, showing cycle-friendly infrastructure and points of interest; OpenTopoMap, which resembles a modern outdoor-oriented printed topographic map; and high-resolution satellite imagery layers from Esri and Bing.
Offline aerial imagery at this level of detail is a rare feature among apps in this list, and riders going off the beaten track to explore off-road, off-grid routes will find plenty of reassurance in having satellite imagery to refer to while navigating.
There’s plenty of other functionality in BackCountry Navigator that will be more familiar to hikers and outdoorspeople, such as the ability to load in GPS tracks in various formats and overlay them on the basemap, as well as keeping a tracklog of your movements if you so desire.
Really, though, it’s the wealth of offline raster maps at your fingertips that make the Pro version of this niche app worth the $20.99 one-time purchase price.
Download BackCountry Navigator Pro ($20.99) for: Android
4. Russian Topo Maps (Android)
Previously known as Soviet Military Maps, this wonderful app has now been renamed to Russian Topo Maps, but it still offers a fantastic mix of genuinely useful topographic and landcover detail and Cold War nostalgia which may hold particular appeal to map nerds (like me).
Produced during Soviet rule and updated every few years until the late 1970s, the scanned sheet maps offered by this app cover the entire world at the 1:100–200,000 scales. In places where OpenStreetMap, Google/Yandex and paper map coverage is sketchy or non-existent, and particularly in the former USSR, these may still be the best maps you can find without raiding a little-known railway depot on the outskirts of Riga in search of the captured wagons containing vast caches of original printed source maps. I wish I’d known about it before that time I went to Outer Mongolia. (Then again, it was 2010, and this app probably didn’t exist.)
The free version allows you to browse these maps and use all of the GPS features, while the paid version allows you to also download the maps for offline use.
Offering some of the most in-depth navigation and route planning features available, RideWithGPS is also the only mapping and navigation app in this list which is built specifically for cyclists (as opposed to the range of outdoor activities catered for by some of its rivals).
The result of this focus is that RideWithGPS has grown into an established favourite in the long distance cycling community, particularly among off-road bikepackers, who often need to plan extremely detailed routes in remote regions. Indeed, Bikepacking.com use it as their preferred platform for delivering their vast library of community-created routes.
The platform has a web interface with plenty of additional screen real-estate, allowing you to plan routes at your laptop and then seamlessly switch to navigation mode on the smartphone app. Once you’ve planned or recorded a route, you can also use the platform’s social features to share it with friends, followers or fellow riders.
As with many apps of its kind, there’s a free version with basic functionality or a premium subscription version currently priced at $59.99/year. Upgrading unlocks the app’s turn-by-turn navigation mode, offline functionality, and a couple of other features you’ll probably find useful if you decide to make RideWithGPS your primary route planning and navigation app.
In short: if you’re keen to plan, track, analyse and share your daily cycle touring or bikepacking activities, and you prefer extreme detail over simplicity in your route planning, RideWithGPS is currently a hot favourite. If, on the other hand, you’re after a simpler and perhaps more passive way to get directions from A to B, you should probably look elsewhere in this list.
komoot (with a small ‘k’) is a relative newcomer to the smartphone mapping and navigation scene. Its particular strength for the cycle tourer or bikepacker is in its automated route planning features, which will appeal to those who want to spend less time poring over waypoints and more time actually riding.
Using one of the most powerful routing algorithms of any of the apps in this list, komoot draws on the OpenStreetMap database and combines it with third-party elevation data to calculate an optimal route via any number of points. Usefully, it allows you to specify variables such as the type of bike you’re riding (road, mountain, touring, e‑bike, etc) and how fit you think you are, resulting in a variety of generated routes and accompanying information on gradients, road surface types, etc.
It has some nice social features, too, which set it apart from competing platforms. Users can submit highlights of places they’ve visited – either specific points of interest or favourite segments of a route – which are then rated by the community and included in future generated routes based on their favourability.
Like RideWithGPS, komoot has a web-based interface which makes route planning a little easier to manage.
All said, komoot is my personal favourite of all the apps in this category when I’m exploring new places – so much so that I’ve published a full review of the app separately from this post.
Thanks for subscribing! Check your inbox to confirm your address – and look out for an introductory email from me in the near future.
Weather Forecasting Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
For multiple reasons including comfort, safety and route planning, it’s good practice to check the weather forecast before setting out on another day of cycle touring or bikepacking, or indeed when looking for a place to wild camp.
While there’s no substitute for learning how to read nature’s signs, the following apps will at least help you confirm what you suspect, or highlight something you’ve overlooked when it comes to upcoming weather conditions.
7. Windy (Android/iOS, free)
I’ve tuned into the finer details of the weather in recent years as a result of spending a ton of time in the mountains, where the effects of weather tend to be multiplied. In terms of sheer quantity and range of data, nothing I’ve found beats Windy, which visualises almost every weather factor you could ask for on a zoomable interactive map, as well as generating 11-day forecasts for specific point locations.
As the name suggests, Windy’s featureset was originally designed for outdoor pursuits in which wind is a major factor, such as sailing and surfing. But it’s easy to switch the map overlay to show cloud cover, cloud base elevation, precipitation, ground temperature, and a wealth of other metrics. You can even see isobars and air pressure across altitude bands if, like me, you’re into that level of nerdy detail. When it comes to forecasting, Windy can draw from a variety of models, including ICON for Europe and ECMWF for global coverate.
There is a premium version (£18.49/year) which enables 1‑hour forecast resolution and higher data precision, but in my opinion the ad-supported free version is more than enough for 99% of cycle touring or bikepacking scenarios.
If you’re into making your own forecasts or want an in-depth perspective on what you’re seeing and experiencing, give Windy a data connection and it will give you all the information you could wish for.
Accommodation Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
When you’re ready to stop for the night, here’s my pick of the currently-available apps to help cycle tourers and bikepackers find a bed for the night – whether that be staying with hospitable local people, checking into a nearby hotel or campground, or wild camping for free under the stars.
9. iOverlander (Android/iOS, free/donation)
Though primarily aimed at overland travellers with motor vehicles, iOverlander’s app is incredibly useful to cycle tourers and bikepackers. Why? Because it’s the closest thing to a ‘wild camping app’ in existence.
With an active community behind it, this user-generated global database of points of interest includes vehicle- and bike-friendly hostels, paid campsites, wild/free camping sites, mechanics’ workshops, water refill points, and more. Other apps do exist that aim to serve the wild camping niche, but none as successfully on a global scale as iOverlander.
As with so many community platforms that rely on user-generated content, iOverlander is free and volunteer-run. You can contribute either by making a donation, adding your own content (including reviews of existing points of interest), or both.
It’s worth mentioning that in some countries you may find that another platform has, for whatever reason, gained preference over iOverlander. For example, when I began planning a ride along the New South Wales coastline and noticed that iOverlander content was lacking, a friend told me that in Australia – a country with a huge bush camping culture – WikiCamps was in fact the ubiquitous platform.
When it comes to paid accommodation in many parts of the world, you’ll often find that the Netherlands-based Booking.com features the widest range of hotels and guesthouses, having grown over the years into a global market leader in the vastly lucrative business of online accommodation bookings.
One of the features I like best about it is that you can often book accommodation at extremely short notice, ie: for the same night, as well as being able to search accommodation based on your current location on the map. Google’s partnership with the platform means you can often click through directly from a Google Maps search results listing to the Booking.com app reservation page for that property, making it possible to source nearby overnight accomodation on the fly and with minimal friction.
Be aware that booking platforms like this charge accommodation providers a lot for the privilege of appearing in their listings – up to 15% of the value of the booking. While big hotel chains can build this into their pricing and negotiate for discounts, the impact on revenue for a small accommodation provider can be substantial. For that reason, if you want to help give small businesses a fairer deal, I recommend you do your research on Booking.com or its local equivalent, find the phone number on Google Maps, and then contact the provider directly to make your booking. You’ll often find that guesthouse owners will thank you for this gesture.
Note that in specific locations you may find another platform has gained prominence. In South East Asia, for example, the Singapore-based Agoda often has a bigger selection and better prices.
Low-budget hostels are underrepresented at Booking.com (perhaps because they can’t afford the fees!), but Hostelworld steps in to fill this niche.
Especially in the developed world, you’ll find way more cheap beds here than through the mainstream booking sites.
There’s little more to say – with Hostelbookers having shut down, Hostelworld now holds the monopoly on hostel bookings, and its free app has all the features you’d expect of any accommodation booking platform.
Though it’s by no means the quirky and inexpensive alternative it used to be, AirBnb is still worth checking out, particularly if you want your own self-catering apartment for a few days off, or if you like the B&B experience as it used to be (ie: an actual person hosts you in their home and cooks you breakfast).
Sign up through this referral link to get £25 in credit towards your first stay, then install the app to search for options and make your bookings.
The original online hospitality exchange platform for cycle tourers and bikepackers was Warmshowers. Starting as a passion project, it is today incorporated as a nonprofit organisation based in Colorado, USA, with nearly 200,000 members worldwide. My own profile page tells me I’ve been a member for over 15 years.
The original Warmshowers app was a noble volunteer-led effort. It was recently replaced by a new professionally-built app, which makes searching for willing hosts much easier and has an interface that’s arguably better and more user-friendly than the website itself. The map search function is particularly useful. The trade-off is that using the app to find hosts now requires a small subscription fee – £2.79/month as of the time of writing, which I personally think is a small price to pay for keeping the app updated. Using the web interface remains free, as does signing up as a host.
The distribution of hosts is not exactly even in a global sense, but it’s always worth looking at the map to see who’s about on any given route. Other hospitality exchange networks do of course exist, but none offer the instant common ground you’ll share with people who’ve signed up specifically to host people on bicycles.
While some in the community have noisly abandoned the platform over the introduction of fees to use the app, I’ll continue flying the flag for WarmShowers for as long as it exists and I’m still riding my bicycle. I love the spirit of it, and – having some experience of running a nonprofit – I don’t mind lending a little financial support to those who voluntarily keep this community going.
Where WarmShowers hosts have not yet reached, Couchsurfing is still there with its however-many-million users, and if you can be bothered to wade through the oceans of inactive profiles and unresponsive hosts you might still find someone cool to stay with. The lack of a map search is a woeful omission, but most other aspects of the app interface are fine.
Personally, I use Couchsurfing more now to meet travellers and locals for a drink and a wander in a new city than to find a host, for which I either use WarmShowers (see above) or – now I’ve been on the road a few years – ask around my networks and usually end up finding a friend of a friend to stay with.
If you do use it to find a host, make sure they know you’re showing up on a rather expensive bicycle and that you probably won’t want to leave it locked to the fence outside!
Travel & Transport Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Sometimes you need to take a plane, train or bus to get yourself and your bike from A to B. This could be at the start of a cycle tour or bikepacking trip, at the end, or even in the middle if you’re taking an open-minded approach to where you travel by bike. That’s where the following apps may come in handy.
15. Kayak (Android/iOS)
When it comes to searching for and booking flights, Kayak is my go-to platform these days. As well as extensive search result filtering capabilities, it also usually turns up the cheapest tickets – especially if your dates are flexible, as it’ll search for the cheapest fares in a given month or in a 7‑day window.
Of particular interest to the cycle tourer or bikepacker is the ability to filter by airline, which can make a huge difference at the check-in desk depending on the baggage policy of the carrier in question (a topic for another article, perhaps).
Kayak is mainly just a search aggregator – you have to click through and book elsewhere, though they have started selling tickets direct now too.
This one is a simple itinerary management tool. Allow TripIt access to your inbox and it will pull in confirmation emails for flights, hotels and what have you and spit out a simplified, offline-accessible itinerary with all the details you’re likely to need while you’re in transit.
Communications Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
You’ll be wanting to communicate while you’re on the road, both to the people you meet and to the people back home. Guess what? There’s an app for that…
17. Signal / WhatsApp / Viber / Telegram (Android/iOS, free)
I’ve listed four phone number-based instant messaging apps here because, at the time of writing, three of them predominate depending on what country you’re in, and one of them won’t sell your data (Signal).
You’ll be likely to use these apps for such common travel tasks as communicating with Warmshowers or Couchsurfing hosts; making enquiries with local businesses such as guesthouses, hostels, bike shops, etc; or joining group communication channels with other riders in the areas you’re passing through. Telegram in particular, with its ability to locate groups and users within your local area, can be a good way to connect with other travellers you’d otherwise struggle to meet.
Don’t forget that you’ll also likely use at least one of these apps for keeping in touch with friends and family back home.
Such is the competitive nature of this market that other apps may one day replace those listed here. But for now, if you’re heading off on a bike and you plan to use your smartphone to communicate, you may find it’s best install all of the following:
I’m listing Google Translate here as an aid to face-to-face communication with people whose native language you, as a foreigner, are unable to speak.
It’s more and more common to find travellers realising they can dictate to the app in their mother tongue and have a translation audibly read out to their conversation partner – then simply reverse the direction of translation for the reply. I’m sure it won’t be long before this evolves into near-simultaneous translation, probably via some kind of futuristic earpiece or neural implant.
Translate also allows you to download offline translation dictionaries for a large (and growing) number of languages.
One tip I recently learned is that if you rotate your phone to landscape orientation, the word or phrase you’ve translated will be enlarged to fullscreen, thus allowing you to brandish it at roadside noodle stands while trying to order a stir-fry with ‘no onions’.
Finance & Budgeting Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Here are a few selections on the financial end of things, which may ease your pedal-powered wheelings (sorry, couldn’t resist) and dealings:
19. XE Currency (Android/iOS, free)
Based on the highly popular xe.com currency exchange website, the XE Currency app will allow you to choose a handful of currencies and convert between them all at the latest mid-market rates.
I mainly find this useful to ensure I’m not getting ripped off by money-changers, but also to watch for spikes in conversion rates that may affect my travel budget (other Brits abroad may remember 23rd June 2016 particularly well).
My travels of late have tended to involve a slightly more complicated financial picture than the ‘spend as little as possible, preferably nothing’ approach of my earlier cycle tours. To track and visualise what I’m spending, I use an expense tracking app called Toshl, into which I spend a few minutes each day putting my expenses.
For someone who was more or less financially illiterate, this has shed a remarkable amount of light on the actual flow of funds through my travel activities and, in turn, helped me adapt my ways to better fit my means.
If keeping track of travel money is a source of stress for you, I would highly recommend starting to use a simple tracking app such as Toshl as the first step towards a remedy. It can also simply produce an interesting summary of the financial aspect of your journeys, which I’m planning to demonstrate in a future article.
The UK’s newest fee-free overseas spending debit card provider, Starling Bank, relies on this app to communicate with its customers. Though technically not just an app but also a bank account, I’m including it here because of its particular relevance to the bicycle traveller looking to keep their overseas card withdrawal and spending fees down.
Download the Starling app and sign up for an account here.
Photography & Media Management Apps For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Most new smartphones come with absurdly good cameras, sensors, processing algorithms and editing software built-in, so I no longer consider any third party app truly essential in the photography department. Keeping your photos backed up is another story, however…
22. Google Photos (Android/iOS)
My main reason for including Google Photos here is for its automatic backup feature, which upon detecting a WiFi connection will upload in the background all the photos you’ve taken since the last backup, storing them in your Google Storage account.
In its free incarnation, Google Photos used to allow you to backup an unlimited number of compressed photos a slightly reduced quality in ‘storage saver’ mode. Nowadays, only the owners of Google-branded (ie: Pixel) phones get this perk. You can, however, pay to upgrade to a 100GB or 1TB capacity account if you need it. Connect with a compatible ‘proper’ camera, copy the images over, and it’ll backup these photos too.
Recently-added features I also find useful as a cycle tourer and blogger include the ability to search my image library by location and keyword.
But for me, this app is mainly for backing up my images, rather than photography per se (and you do care about having backups, don’t you?).
If you don’t like everything being Google-oriented, the Dropbox app will perform exactly the same backup function for your photos via its Camera Uploads feature, though I find Google’s web interface and in-app editing features more appealing. Again, free and paid options differ mainly in terms of the amount of storage you get.
Finally, I’ve come across many other useful apps for cycle touring and bikepacking that just don’t quite fit into any of the other categories. Here are a few:
24. AccuBattery (Android, free)
AccuBattery will give you detailed stats on your phone’s power consumption, including estimates of how long it’ll currently last with the current fleet of running apps; useful when you don’t know where the next charging opportunity is going to be.
It’ll also prompt you to disconnect your charger at a level that’ll reduce battery wear and help prolong its life – useful if you’re charging your phone on the go with a power bank or dynamo hub.
I’ll probably never learn the constellations unless I actually need to navigate by them, but the (formerly Google-owned) Sky Map app is great fun when you’re lying out under a starry sky and you want to identify what you’re looking at. It’s also great for picking out other celestial bodies when they’re visible to the naked eye.
The apps accompanying the open-source flashcard platform Anki allow you to memorise things effectively on the go, using the scientifically-proven learning technique of spaced repetition.
I find it particularly useful for language learning, memorising words, phrases, letters of new alphabets, etc. The open platform gives you access to shared, community-created ‘decks’ of cards covering most such topics.
The Android app is free; the iOS equivalent is paid and the revenue supports the broader Anki project.
Ride for long enough and you’ll inevitably reach a country where some website or app or service you rely on has been blocked by the government. Pre-empt this by installing a VPN (virtual private network) app and setting it up in advance.
What these services essentially do is make it look like you’re accessing the internet from somewhere else, encrypting your data in such a way that your actual whereabouts is untraceable.
There are thousands of free VPN apps out there. Choose one that’s been audited by a trusted and impartial source with a reputation worth losing. TechRadar have an updated list for 2023. I personally use ProtonVPN*, which is included with my ProtonMail subscription.
That’s it for 2023’s best cycle touring and bikepacking apps! Any I’ve missed that you’d recommend to another adventurous rider?
Last updated on March 14, 2023 with new pricing for 2023-season products. As with much outdoor and cycling gear, retailers are currently struggling to keep up with demand for cycle touring panniers, so some of the items linked to in this article may temporarily be listed as out of stock.
One day in 1884, Thomas Stevens left California on a bicycle, carrying a bag of gold and a pistol rolled up in a blanket, and became the first person in recorded history to cycle round the world.
Today’s cycle tourists, of course, pack much more gear than that. That’s because we want to enjoy seeing the world, rather than bribing and bullying our way through our bike tours as Stevens did.
Indeed, the humble bicycle pannier has been the traditional luggage of cycle tourists for more than a century. (Even trendy bikepackers are finally starting to catch on!)
This article is all about how to choose a set of panniers that’ll fit your budget, your style of cycle touring (aka: bikepacking), and the equipment and supplies you’ll be carrying with you.
It’s based not just on my own 16 years of bike touring experience but that of countless veteran riders who I’ve cycled alongside and interrogated about their own gear setups, with the goal of creating the most well-balanced cycle touring pannier buying guide possible (no pun intended).
Within the listings of the best touring panniers on the market right now, I’ll include direct links to manufacturers’ webpages and buying links for retailers in Europe and North America (affiliate links are identified with an asterisk (*); click here to read my full affiliate policy).
But I don’t want to assume anything about your prior knowledge, so let’s start by laying out the basics about panniers for cycle touring before we dive into the details.
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 are almost always designed to be used in pairs, for what I hope are obvious reasons of balance and stability.
I am reliably informed by several readers in the comments section that the name ‘pannier’ originates from a French word meaning ‘bread basket’. So now you know.
Do I Need Two Or Four Panniers For Cycle Touring?
The traditional setup for long-distance cycle touring 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.
For lighter-weight bike tours, two panniers (either front or rear) can offer sufficient capacity. Many short summer rides close to home, with lots of bike shops, resupply stops and other facilities on your route, would fit this category.
You might also use two panniers on longer rides with a minimal approach to packing, especially as camping equipment grows ever lighter. You’ll often see more experienced riders taking this approach, because they’ve spent a long time learning what they don’t need to pack.
Increasingly you’ll also see a hybrid approach, with a pair of small front or rear panniers supplemented by bikepacking luggage such as frame bags, seat packs and cockpit pouches. Panniers can then be removed and stored temporarily for shorter side trips, allowing more 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 drybags, baskets, handlebar bags, backpacks, or other more easily accessible bags which don’t require you to stop and unpack everything just to find one commonly-used item.
Sometimes, in very special cases such as deep winter, desert crossings, or just because you want to bring your guitar and jewellery-making kit, you might consider a 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 panniers for, say, grocery shopping) come in a variety of sizes, colours andmaterials, 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; around 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 today, 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 retaining tab on the back of each pannier to hook around the rack tubing and 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 ‘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 and rack mounts.
What Materials Are Panniers Made From?
In terms of design and construction material, there are two main categories of pannier: fully waterproof and semi- or non-waterproof (often aka: “water resistant”).
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, you should always pack a simple repair kit – a length of Gaffa Tape at the very least, or perhaps a roll of Tenacious Tape.
Non-waterproof (or sometimes “water-resistant”) panniers are usually made of heavy canvas, with backpack-style lids with zips or buckles, and have some degree of water resistance and/or a waterproof backing plate on the rear to protect against road spray. The repair kit you should pack for this type of pannier is a heavy-duty needle and thread.
(As for which type is better, we’ll come to that later on.)
Some people get hung up on the colour of the material. There’s an argument that using black waterproof panniers in sunny climates will result in your belongings being well and truly cooked. Conversely, some people think high-visibility panniers are better for safety, although panniers of all colours are adorned with the same reflective patches.
Personally, I don’t believe there’s much practical difference. If it’s really that hot, lighter colours will be of limited benefit, and you – the rider – should always be more visible than your panniers. My advice is to choose whatever colour panniers you like… and make a hi-viz vest the first thing you put in them.
In short, there’s a lot of variety out there. There are, however, a few specific makes and models of bicycle pannier that have proven themselves over many decades on very long and demanding tours.
We’ll start, however, by looking at basic, budget-friendly panniers, and work our way up to durable and hard-wearing panniers capable of withstanding years of constant daily use.
Thanks for subscribing! Check your inbox to confirm your address – and look out for an introductory email from me in the near future.
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 or free second-hand panniers you can find on eBay*, Freecycle, Gumtree, or get donated or lent to you; add a basic sewing kit, a roll of Gaffa Tape, some cable ties and a few plastic carrier bags, and leave.
Rectangular 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 continents in the same way (see photo above). The REI blog has a lengthy and useful post on making your own DIY bucket panniers*.
When it comes to cheap panniers at the bottom end of the market, a trip to any mainstream bike shop or outdoor retailer (eg: Go Outdoors or Decathlon in the UK, REI in the USA, or MEC in Canada) 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, because who exactly are these customers anyway?).
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 thicker canvas, then waterproof everything inside the panniers with plastic bags or drybags as necessary.
Consider buying or making waterproof pannier covers, which are essentially giant elasticated shower caps; they’ll get you to the next shelter (especially 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 budget brands in the UK and Europe include Altura, Topeak, and Elops (Decathlon’s in-house bike luggage brand, which includes the Ortlieb-esque roll-top waterproof panniers pictured below).
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 few things 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 (Poland, £55/£60 front/rear)
Crosso is a Polish company which has been manufacturing panniers commercially since 2006. If you’re based in Europe and can find a retailer, 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, but in many ways this is a good thing, and they will serve you well if you look after them.
The waterproof Dry panniers come in front/universal and rear pairs with a capacity of 30 and 60 litres per pair respectively, with roll-top closures and welded seams, and a choice of 10 colours. (I’ve had a pair of the rear ones for 12 years, which I’m still happily using after a few repairs.)
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.
Not all racks have a lower horizontal rail to attach the bottom hook, so there is also the more expensive Click option, using traditional-style fixtures from German company Rixen+Kaul (who make the popular and widespread KlickFix system). These might be a better choice for extremely long journeys as the fixtures are replaceable.
UK-based Carradice’s CarraDry panniers are waterproof, feature a generous capacity (58 litres per pair at the rear) and are very good value for money. They share a very durable mounting system with the heavy duty Super C expedition panniers (below).
Though they can’t be described as 100% watertight, with a lidded drawstring closure system rather than a roll-top drybag-style closure, they’re made of a similar laminated synthetic waterproof fabric as the other panniers in this section, with welded seams and waterproof zips, which will still keep out the heaviest rain. Like other Carradice products, they feature outer pockets as well as the main compartment.
The CarraDry might be a good choice if you’re looking for a high quality pair of waterproof panniers (and you don’t plan on floating them across deep rivers), but your budget can’t quite stretch to the top-end Ortliebs, and/or you want to support this long-running British maker.
Ortlieb Sport-Roller/Back-Roller City (Global, €85/€95 front/rear)
The City series of Ortlieb panniers is a cheaper, simplified version of the Classic/Plus series usually chosen for touring (see below).
The Ortlieb City range is marketed to commuters, but in reality they are 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 missing features.
So what do you lose by saving some cash? Aside from the limited choice of colours, the most significant thing you lose is full roll-top closure. Instead, the top buckles attach to clips on the sides of the pannier, and there’s no extra cinch strap over the top (although you can add one afterwards). This is a less flexible setup with a variable sized load, and less waterproof in the case of a pannier being completely submerged.
There is also no shoulder strap or inner pocket, though neither of those are hugely important for touring. 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 huge issue.
On the plus side, all of this reduces the overall weight; 760g per pannier for a rear Ortlieb City as opposed to 950g for a rear Ortlieb Classic. And, as mentioned, it reduces the price too.
In my opinion, the extra versatility and feature set of the Classic/Plus panniers is probably worth the extra money if you’re already looking at panniers of this kind of quality. 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.
Relatively new on the British pannier scene (whoop!) is the waterproof Toliari pannier range from the certified B‑corporation and 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 relatively untested on really massive multi-year expeditions.
Available in two sizes (12/20 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 more buyers, especially outside the UK.
Buy Alpkit Toliari panniers direct from Alpkit in the UK, with worldwide shipping also available.
MEC World Tour (CA$240/260 20/30l pairs)
Canadian outdoor equipment retail cooperative MEC has been outfitting adventurers since 1971. Their World Tour bicycle panniers, available in 20- and 30-litre capacities for front and rear use, are a solid and reasonably-priced mid-range option.
Simply designed with one main compartment plus a small front pocket, the panniers are water-resistant, although not fully waterproof – MEC does offer optional rain covers if you want more protection from the elements, as well as a wide selection of dry bags for the contents.
The widely-used Rixen and Kaul hook mounting system is easy to work with and compatible with almost all racks and carriers, and the designers have also incorporated extra gear loops on top of the pannier – useful for strapping on extra bits that you might pick up on the road.
If you’re based in or starting a tour from Canada, the MEC World Tour pannier is a decent option if you want something simple, durable and very functional without putting a huge dent in your bank balance.
Buy the MEC World Tour20L or 30L panniers online from the MEC website or at any of their stores in Canada.
The All-Time 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. I’m talking multi-year, round-the-world odysseys with a single set of bags. That kind of ‘long-haul’.
As you might expect, the biggest concern at this end of the market is durability. Panniers take a lot of abuse, and not just the bag material – it’s also where fabric and rack mounts meet that forces 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 first-aid kit. Broken attachment systems 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 expedition 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 of many 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 rule it’s better to distribute weight evenly and have a little extra space than to be overloading your bags and having an unbalanced bike.
Remember that – regardless of ‘official’ capacity rating – most roll-top or buckle-lidded panniers will cinch down or expand a certain amount to accommodate what’s inside.
OK! Let’s look at the all-time best expedition 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.)
Ortlieb Cycle Touring Panniers
Let’s get this out of the way: 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 first 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 for most users. 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: the price is competitive and they’re proven to work. You certainly don’t need them, but they’re highly unlikely to disappoint you.
(By the way, second-hand Ortlieb panniers are prime for being snapped up for cheap in early spring, because they’re the kind of thing people buy in January when resolving to start cycling to work and a few weeks later sell barely-used 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 (Global, €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 panniers at the rear of the bike, all in matching his-and-hers / his-and-his / hers-and-hers / theirs-and-theirs 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 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.
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. Apart from that guy in the comments. There’s always one.)
Buy Ortlieb Sport-Roller Classic panniers online in Canada from MEC (also in-store) or Amazon
Ortlieb ‘Pro’ Variants
The Ortlieb Sport-Roller and Back-Roller Plus/Classic panniers above are available in a further variation: Pro.
What makes them “pro”? They’re bigger. Instead of 40 litres per pair, you get a whopping 70 litres of capacity.
Can your rack handle that amount of weight? Does your bike have enough heel clearance? Do you need an extra 30 litres of pannier space?
Truth is, the people who’d benefit most from these panniers would be tandem riders (which is who they’re made for), and perhaps people biking in deep winter. The rest of us can just strap a big drybag to the rear rack and only fill it when necessary.
Carradice Super C (UK, £99/£130 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 various touring bikes for 15 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.
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 Vaude Aqua Front/Back panniers online in the EU from Vaude.com or Amazon
Buy Vaude Aqua Front/Back panniers online in the USA from Amazon
Buy Vaude Aqua Front/Back panniers online in Canada from Vaude.ca or Amazon
Arkel GT-54 (Canada, CA$525 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 range of waterproof panniers, which are of the simpler roll-top design and come in three different sizes. More like Ortliebs, basically.
Buy Arkel panniers online globally direct from Arkel (with worldwide delivery)
How To Hit The Road is here to take the pain out of researching and buying equipment for a long bicycle adventure, with contributions from over 50 veteran riders. Available now as a low-price ebook or print-on-demand paperback.
Bonus: The Great Cycle Touring Pannier Waterproofing Debate
There are lots of noisy opinions on the internet about pannier waterproofing. Discovering this ‘debate’ can be worrying for people who are spending several hundred pounds/euros/dollars on a full set of panniers, and planning to put a lot of stuff inside them that they really don’t want getting wet.
The debate 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.
Here’s my take.
Although the 100%-waterproof option looks appealing, I haven’t met a long-term rider (ie: who’s spent years on the road) whose 100% waterproof panniers have stayed 100% waterproof.
This is nothing to do with quality. It’s because no piece of fabric can survive an unlimited amount being bashed into things, falling off the bike, being trodden on, tripped over, tied to sharp metal roof racks on buses and taxes, thrown into 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 is another legitimate 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, thus getting you more likes on Instagram.
The extra ‘pannier admin’ involves putting your gear into drybagsinside the pannier (good ones are made by SealLine, 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 ones mentioned above – 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.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty burned out from discussing the minutiae of bags with hooks on them. Time to grab a bike, tent, stove and cooking pot and hit the road!
Last updated on March 3, 2023, updating tent images and manufacturer links to match the latest 2023 models. I also chose a nice new cover image for the post. Enjoy!
Perhaps the biggest challenge in choosing the best tent for your cycle tour or bikepacking trip is the fact that there’s no recognised category of tent for two-wheeled adventures.
Instead, you’re left to browse the hiking, backpacking and mountaineering tent selections, which are filled with ultralight tents, freestanding tents, 3‑season and 4‑season tents, double wall and single wall tents, tents with or without awnings or footprints, tarp tents that don’t even have a floor – and at prices from next to nothing up to hundreds (even thousands) of pounds or dollars.
Which of these tents is right for your upcoming two-wheeled adventures? The truth is that you’ll be lucky to find a tent designed specifically with cycle tourers or bikepackers in mind.
And why the industry bias towards people with backpacks rather than bicycles? Simple: the market is much bigger. This is where the money is. We cyclists sit on the margins, and are lucky if we get more than a quick mention in the product description.
Given that, it’s natural to look for recommendations from the community when choosing a tent for cycle touring or bikepacking.
But before you get bogged down with what other people think is the best tent, here’s one important thing to remember:
‘Best’ means nothing outside the context of your bike trip. Every ride is different.
So before you go any deeper into researching the best tent for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip, take a moment to ask yourself:
Are you a heavyweight tourer who likes plenty of living space and room for luggage, a minimalist ultralight bikepacker, or somewhere in between?
Do you have racks and panniers to take bulky and heavy loads, or are you bikepacking with frame luggage, handlebar harnesses and fork cages alone?
Do you plan on staying mostly at nice campsites with perfect tent pitches, or wild camping in the woods with your own stove and cookware?
Are you planning a fair-weather ride in good weather, or will you encounter winter temperatures, strong winds, high altitudes, or other extreme conditions?
As I mentioned, there are a few tried-and-tested tents for cycling and camping adventures that have proven themselves on a massive range of journeys.
But if you want to delve any deeper, you’ll find there’s no real ‘best tent for cycle touring or bikepacking’ until you know the answers to the basic questions above.
If you haven’t asked them of yourself, now’s the time to do so. And if you’re struggling to find clear answers, I’ve written introductions to the what, where, when, who and how of adventure cycle touring and bikepacking to help you.
Got a clear idea of what kind of bike trip you’re going on? Great! Read on…
What Types Of Tents Are Good For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking?
I’ve spent a long time – too long, probably – looking at the trends over the last 15 years or so.
And I can tell you that the most popular kind of cycle touring or bikepacking tent for one rider is a freestanding, double-walled, 2‑berth, 3‑season tent in an inconspicuous shade of green, weighing 1–2kg (2–4 pounds), striking the perfect balance between comfort, durability and weight, and strapping nicely to a rear rack or a handlebar harness, with room inside for the rider and the most valuable bits of their luggage.
For a couple or pair, it’s the 3‑berth model of the same tent.
And for a solo ultralight rider, it’s the 1‑berth model.
If you were short of time and you asked me to pick just one range of tents that ticks all of these boxes, it would be MSR’s Hubba Hubba range, which is available in 1‑, 2- and 3‑berth models.
(Click here to skip down to the full details, photos, and manufacturer links for the MSR Hubba Hubba range).
I’ve used and abused many tents in the Hubba Hubba range over the years, including a 2014 2‑berth Hubba Hubba NX, a 2012 1‑berth Hubba, and a 2010 3‑berth Mutha Hubba HP. They’re heavily patched-up with seam seal and repair tape, but I still use all of them regularly (see the photos above).
If you don’t have any highly specialised requirements and you’re looking for a top-quality tent you can simply grab and ride out the door with, the MSR Hubba Hubba range is what I’d usually recommend.
That said, the 2022-season MSR Hubba Hubba range has unfortunately suffered from some well-documented issues with build quality, in particular splintering poles, so I’d recommend holding out for the 2023-season update of the Hubba Hubba range, and double-checking with your chosen supplier that these issues have been rectified before you buy one.
How Do Tents For Cyclists Differ From Tents For Hikers & Backpackers?
Before we start listing the best cycle touring and bikepacking tents, I feel it’s important to explain how the priorities for cyclists differ from, say, hikers, and how that might affect your choice of tent.
The first big difference is that packed weight and volume is usually less important for cyclists.
On a bike trip, you have a two wheeled, pedal-powered vehicle to carry your gear, rather than shouldering the burden yourself. This means – generally speaking – that you can safely consider slightly bigger, heavier tents that will allow you to live more comfortably, fare better in bad weather, last longer, and possibly cost less too.
Long-distance thru-hikers in particular are often concerned with minimising their pack weight, and for that reason sometimes carry single-skin shelters held up by carbon-fibre trekking poles that weigh just a few hundred grams. Unless you’re hoping to win an endurance bikepacking race, you probably won’t be sharing this obsession. (But in case you are, there are suggestions below for ultralight tents for bikepacking too.)
A second difference is that cyclists often camp close to roads, as well as in the backcountry.
This brings with it slightly different priorities when it comes to visibility.
Many hikers prefer to be as visible as possible in remote landscapes in case of needing assistance. Cyclists just as often want the opposite: to be able to wild camp (or stealth camp) undetected, close to civilisation when necessary. For that reason, the colour of the pitched tent often factors into the buying decision.
This is less of a concern for remote, off-road riding in wilderness areas where you’re going to be a long way from people. But because trips like this often involve road sections too, both cycle tourers and off-road bikepackers are served best by tents suited to both scenarios.
A third, possibly marginal difference is that hikers have access to ultralight shelters which use trekking poles for structure.
If you’re on a bike, then although some of these shelters may seem to offer a fabulously lightweight and packable solution for a bikepacking expedition, you’ll have to bring an additional set of poles to set them up. These poles will have no other use, which cancels out the weight savings. If reducing your luggage is really your top priority, consider using the bike itself to support a tarp shelter.
Thanks for subscribing! Check your inbox to confirm your address – and look out for an introductory email from me in the near future.
The Best Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Tents For 2023
To the listings!
The following tents are specifically recommended for cycle touring and bikepacking, and have been extensively road-tested by the community.
Items in this list come from a variety of manufacturers worldwide, so whether you’re reading this article in the UK, the USA, Australia, Canada, or elsewhere, there’ll probably be options here you can find locally, as well as online.
Some of these recommendations are inspired by my interviews with highly experienced riders who have spent countless miles and years road-testing these tents. Others are tents that frequently appear in trip reports and receive unanimously positive reviews from real-world users. The listings are fully updated to reflect the latest models and prices for the 2023 season.
We’ll start with low-budget tents for short and simple trips, move on to the most popular tents in the mid-range for general cycle touring and bikepacking service, and work our way up to the most durable lightweight tents for world-ranging rides of months or years.
To finish, we’ll looking at a few examples of specialist tents suited to the weight and pack size restrictions faced by ultralight bikepackers with minimal frame luggage (though this niche is not my usual focus).
For each tent, you’ll find links to manufacturer’s websites where you can get detailed, up-to-date specifications. Wherever possible, I’ve included links to online retailers in the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada offering the best deals I can find (affiliate links are marked with an asterisk; you can find out more about my affiliate policy here).
These are not the only tents that’ll do the job.
But I can promise you they represent the very best of what the global cycle touring and bikepacking community is using successfully today.
Wild Country Zephyros Compact 2 (UK, £230)
Wild Country is the budget marque of the premium British manufacturer Terra Nova. The 1.95kg Zephyros Compact 2 takes more than a little inspiration from Hilleberg’s Akto, a favourite high-end tent for minimalists since it was popularised by TV outdoorsman Ray Mears. It requires staking out at each end, but you get a lot of interior space for a reasonably low weight and with a single pole supporting a single-pitch structure.
The Compact tag was added to the name in 2020, with the tent now featuring shorter pole sections for a more convenient 30×16cm packed shape for bikepacking luggage and small panniers.
There’s also a 1‑berth version which weighs in at 1.65kg, but in my opinion – especially given the small awning – the 300g you’d save isn’t worth the loss of interior storage space for your gear, unless minimising weight is your number one priority.
Exclusive to Tom’s Bike Trip readers: Get 20% off the Wild Country Zephyros Compact 2 on the Terra Nova website when you use the voucher code TOMA20 at checkout.
This is a British brand, so (especially post-Brexit) it’s quite hard to find elsewhere in the world.
Alpkit Ordos 2 (UK, £235)
Direct retailer and manufacturer Alpkit have made a splash in the UK bikepacking and cycle touring scene with their Ordos ultralight 3‑season wedge tents. I used one on a traverse of the central highlands of Armenia, and I’d still be using it if it hadn’t later been trampled by a herd of cattle.
With 2- and 3‑berth models available and a choice of a red or green rainfly, the lightweight Ordos tents – just 1.4kg for the 2‑berth and 1.7kg for the 3‑berth in their most minimal configurations – are roomy, practical, well-ventilated, easy to pitch, and reasonably priced, doing best in warmer weather.
The classic wedge design echoes long-standing tents such as the Vaude Hogan (see below) and Big Agnes Seedhouse. It’s not quite freestanding but close enough for most real-world scenarios, requiring a minimum of four stakes for a good pitch.
Bikepackers will be interested to know that the most recent versions of the Ordos feature shorter-section collapsible poles, making the 42cm-long pack shape and size slightly more handlebar harness-friendly (though not as friendly as the Zephyros Compact above).
Order the Alpkit Ordos 2 or Ordos 3 direct from Alpkit in the UK or with worldwide delivery.
REI Co-Op Quarter Dome SL 1/2/3 (USA, $330/350/400)
If your tour is beginning in the States and you need a new set of camping gear, you’d do well to head to the nearest branch of REI.
REI is a well-known outdoor co-operative manufacturing a range of top-rated gear and selling it without the third-party mark-up, so you get a lot for your money. Sign up as a lifetime member of the co-op and you’ll also get 10% of your spend back in store credit at the end of each year, as well as free delivery and various other benefits.
Their ultralight, semi-freestanding Quarter Dome, available in 1‑berth (2lb 6oz / 1.1kg), 2‑berth (2lb 14oz / 1.5kg) and 3‑berth (4lb 9oz / 2.1kg) versions, was the most popular cycle touring tent among Stateside riders in my most recent survey of cycle touring and bikepacking tents.
The mesh inner can be pitched fully freestanding for warmer weather and stargazing, with the rainfly needing just a couple of (included) stakes.
Expect plentiful headroom, excellent build quality and one of the best warranties you’ll find in the outdoor equipment industry.
Try eBay.com for second-hand models of this popular range of tents.
Alternatively you can buy the Quarter Dome range in-store from any of REI’s 132 retail locations in the lower 48.
MEC Spark 2.0 (Canada, CA$450)
Looking for a tent for a cycle tour bike originating in Canada? Look no further than the Spark 2.0 dome tent from Canadian gear retailer MEC. Formerly Mountain Equipment Cooperative, the organisation was bought out in 2020 and now trades as Mountain Equipment Company.
The 1.75kg, 2‑berth Spark will house you and your partner, or just you if you want a bit of space, at a very reasonable weight for the price. With two doors and two vestibules for easy access and extra storage, the 3000mm waterproof, 30D polyester ripstop fly will protect you from the heaviest of North American springtime downpours.
And because the Spark 2.0 is designed in-house by Canada’s largest gear retailer, it also works out considerably cheaper than similar-looking tents from better-known brands, and is covered by MEC’s famous ‘rock solid’ guarantee.
If saving weight is not of utmost importance, and you’re looking to save money, but you still want a quality tent from a reputable brand, the MSR Elixir range is a very good bet (click for Europe/USA/Canada official manufacturer webpages).
These tents have a very similar freestanding dome structure and a range of 1- to 4‑berth variants – similar to the much-loved Hubba Hubba range (see below) but for significantly lower prices. Why? They’re considerably heavier: 2.77kg compared to 1.76kg in the case of the 2‑berth Elixir versus the 2‑berth Hubba. That’s almost 60% heavier, although we’re still only talking the weight of a 1‑litre water bottle. For a fully-loaded rider carrying a tent on a rear rack, that’s a marginal difference, though the 51cm-long packed size will exclude it from many bikepacking handlebar harness setups.
Slightly more spacious than the Hubba Hubbas, and with a more complex pole structure, you can expect the Elixir tents to last even longer than their more expensive brethren. As such, they’d be an excellent choice for fully-loaded riders heading off on long-haul trips for whom maximum durability is key.
UK/European markets get a choice of green or grey rainfly while North Americans are, for unknown reasons, stuck with grey.
In the long term, the MSR Hubba Hubba range (Europe/USA/Canada webpages) is possibly the all-time most recommended series of tents among the global community of cycle tourers and bikepackers, as mentioned in the introduction. As a result, it has spawned a thousand cheap and inferior imitations on Amazon.
Riders love the generous headroom, the inner mesh pockets, the vast luggage awnings, and the low packed volume and weight.
The range features 1‑, 2- and 3‑berth models (all three of which are pictured above) and has been updated several times over the years as tent technology evolves. Today, the MSR Hubba Hubba range aims to strike that finest of balances between weight, comfort and durability. In other words, they’re neither the lightest, biggest, nor longest-lasting tents in this list, but you’re unlikely to find fault with the end result.
The updated-for-2022 North American models (pictured above) now come with a “Sahara” yellow-tan rainfly, replacing the light grey of previous iterations. Feedback of the 2022 model has not been entirely positive, as you’ll see from the many reviews on the manufacturer’s own webpage, so if you’re looking at buying a Hubba Hubba right now it may be worth waiting until the 2023 models start to hit the stores.
In Europe (where the range still goes by the old ‘NX’ naming scheme), grey and green rainflys are still available. If you have a choice, I’d recommend green for more inconspucious wild camping.
Most solo fully-loaded cycle tourers go for the 1.5kg, 2‑berth Hubba Hubba (known before 2022 as the Hubba Hubba NX), which may also suit those bikepacking in pairs. If I’m running out the door and don’t have time to choose the perfect tent from my stash, I’ll usually grab this one.
Couples with a full luggage setup tend to prefer the spacious 1.7kg 3‑berth Hubba Hubba (known before 2022 as the Mutha Hubba NX). This is my and my wife’s go-to tent when we ride together.
Ultralight solo bikepackers usually go for the 1‑berth Hubba Hubba (known before 2022 as the Hubba NX) with a minimum packed weight of 1.1kg. I took an older one of these down the US West Coast a few years back and wrote this review.
There has in the past been a 4‑berth variant called the Papa Hubba, but this is not part of the current range.
Expect MSR tents to last many years if well looked-after, with top-quality weatherproofing, well-designed ventilation, superb build quality, and super-easy setup, with a variety of pitching options for different climates, including inner-only and fly/footprint-only. If you do encounter difficulties, warranty repairs or exchanges can be requested from MSR’s service centres in WA, USA and Ireland.
Another tent that has stood the test of time, German brand Vaude’s classic Hogan UL 2‑berth tent was, back in 2007, my first real high-quality tent. I rode across Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Mongolia with it for four years, so I guess you could say I’ve put it through its paces (read my very outdated original review here).
At 1.9kg it’s not the lightest tent in this list, nor is it truly freestanding, but it is extremely durable, waterproof, with a decent-sized porch and a nice natural shade of green available for the fly.
As with other wedge-shaped tents, it’s a little more sensitive to side winds than tunnel or geodesic (aka: dome) tents, so you’ll do well to be mindful of wind direction when pitching.
Vaude doesn’t currently have an official distributor in North America or Australia.
Terra Nova Voyager (UK, £660)
A British design that’s been on the scene for decades, the semi-freestanding classic Voyager is a long-term favourite among round-the-world riders originating from the UK, in part because Terra Nova don’t feel the need to change the design of or discontinue perfectly good tents at random (like certain other manufacturers seem to do), allowing the tent to build up a second-to-none reputation.
With a packed weight of 2.15kg, lightness is not the Voyager’s top design priority – but instead, you get top-class construction and weatherproofing, loads of liveability, and extreme durability for years (decades!) of riding.
The Voyager’s inner tent can be pitched fully freestanding, so in good weather you’ll also be able to take advantage of its part-mesh construction for ventilation and views of the night sky.
Buy the Terra Nova Voyager online in the UKdirect from Terra Nova, with an exclusive 20% reader discount when you use the voucher code TOMA20 at checkout.
As with their subsidiary brand Wild Country, Terra Nova tents are not easily found outside the UK.
Hilleberg Nallo 2/3/GT (Sweden, £910+)
The most lusted after (and expensive) tents for long-haul trips for which durability is the key consideration are undoubtedly those in the Nallo range from Swedish tentmakers Hilleberg.
They’re not the most lightweight, nor the best choice for hot climates, but they do have an unmatched reputation for quality and longevity. Hilleberg have long resisted following the trend for ever lighter and more flimsy materials: these tents are among the most tried and tested in the world and will last – literally – for decades.
The Nallo 2 (2.4kg) is recommended for solo heavyweight tourers, with the Nallo 3 GT (3.1kg) delivering luxury on-the-road living for couples and their luggage.
Other Hilleberg tents often seen on the road include the lighter 1.7kg Akto for soloists and bikepackers, and the freestanding and spacious 3.3kg Allak 2 for couples and heavyweight tourers. The Swedish brand of course makes excellent winter tents, with the 2.4kg Soulo standing out.
Hilleberg does not appear to have an official dealer in Canada, but you might as well check eBay.ca anyway.
Ultralight Bikepacking Tents
The following tents are included in this list as examples of shelters that have either been developed with bikepacking in mind or crossed over from thru-hiking circles because they’re the lightest and most packable shelters you can get.
The range of minimalist tents and shelters serving this niche has only grown with the rise of bikepacking, so consider this a sample of the kind of options you’ll find if you start digging deeper into this market. It is certainly not an exhaustive list: for that, you’ll have to visit a specialist bikepacking gear blog.
You’ll find some of the lighter tents from the list above – such as the Alpkit Ordos 2 or the MSR Hubba Hubba 1P – making their way onto bikepacking kit lists, possibly in stripped-down form.
Six Moon Designs Lunar Solo (USA, $260)
Weighing just 680g (that’s the same as a full, standard-sized cycling water bottle), the single-pole, single-wall Lunar Solo relies on being staked out and requires you to supply your own pole (it’s designed to be used with a trekking pole). It’s never going to be as comfortable as a double-wall tent with a geodesic structure – but if you’re OK with that, it’s difficult to imagine a more minimal shelter that isn’t a bivvy bag.
Launched in 2018, the Terra Nova Starlite series, available in 1‑, 2- and 3‑berth options, was one of the first British tents specifically designed with bikepacking in mind. Aside from striking a great combination of weight and weather-resistance, the 2‑berth Starlite 2 weighs just 1.5kg and, thanks to a reduction in pole section length, has a packed length of just 29cm. This means it’ll fit easily into a small pannier, or strap to your handlebars using the stuff-sack’s integrated webbing loops.
Some might consider its non-freestanding tunnel design a negative, but in the type of climate and terrain it’s designed for, staking it out really shouldn’t be a problem if you choose your pitch accordingly. Once up, it’s as roomy as you’d expect from a tunnel tent and very stable. That the optional footprint extends to cover the awning floor is a nice bonus.
This is a detailed introduction to choosing camping cookware for cycle touring and bikepacking trips. From individual pots, pans, and mugs to full cooksets, I’ll cover the options for all budgets and requirements.
But first, some good news: when it comes to cycle touring cookware, ‘best’ does not necessarily mean ‘most expensive’.
Yes, a high quality camping stove is a sensible investment for a long cycle tour or bikepacking trip when reliability is paramount.
But that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on cookware – the collection of pots, pans, mugs, and other cooking equipment you use with that camping stove.
Stoves are often complex and highly engineered pieces of equipment. A metal pot is just a metal pot. Metal pots don’t leak, break, wear out, or explode in a ball of flame. They don’t need maintenance, spare parts, or repairs. They just need to be metal. And pot-shaped.
What this means is that you can – if it will help you save money for your ride – take whatever cookware you already have in your kitchen, pair it with your very expensive, ultra-reliable camping stove, and start pedalling.
You don’t need the 5‑star-rated-on-Amazon, ultralight, all-in-one, folding, titanium, non-stick, lifetime-guaranteed, massively overpriced camping cookset your stove manufacturer would very much like you to buy. It won’t elevate your cookery skills, lower the boiling point of water, make instant noodles taste better, or improve your life in any measurable way.
So! Now we’ve put the role of cycle touring cookware firmly in perspective, let’s take a closer look at the type of cookware you might consider taking on your next overnight bike trip.
What Makes Camping Cookware Different To Regular Cookware?
I don’t want to assume anything about your prior knowledge of this subject. So, unlike AI-written blog posts created to put as many money-earning affiliate links in front of you as possible, I’d like to cover some of the basic principles first, starting with what actually defines cookware made specifically for the kind of camping you do on a bike trip.
The first thing to know about camping-specific cookware is that it is generally designed with the needs of hikers and backpackers in mind. This is by far the biggest market for such products. Hikers want their cookware to be light, packable, and compatible with the range of hiking/backpacking stoves they’re also likely to be carrying.
We cycle tourers and backpackers don’t have the luxury of an industry making cookware specifically for us. But, just like backpackers, we also have a limited amount of luggage space, and we also want to be able to camp and cook in a self-sufficient manner.
So it’s the hiking and backpacking department of your favourite outdoor retailer – as opposed to, say, the car-camping or caravanning department – in which you should be looking.
In terms of design, the most obvious difference when you pick up a piece of camping cookware and compare it to domestic cookware is the weight.
Heavy-based pots distribute and retain heat better and so, under normal circumstances, are usually favoured by chefs. Our priorities differ; we’re trying to minimise pack weight to have a better time cycle touring or bikepacking, so we’re willing to compromise.
For this reason, most lightweight backcountry camping cookware is made of aluminium (or, in North America, aluminum), which is less dense and therefore lighter for the same pot size and thickness than steel or copper. Thin grades of metal are typically used, sacrificing heat distribution to save weight.
Uncoated (ie: bare) aluminium is commonly used in the simplest of camping cooksets, including no-fuss military mess kits, and can take plenty of abuse being used over open fires and being scoured with sand and gravel from nearby streams. Bare aluminium is relatively soft, however, and the vibrations of a moving bicycle can – over time – cause surfaces to rub against each other, creating a greyish metallic paste that gets everywhere and is of little nutritional value.
Higher-grade camping cookware often has a protective hard-anodised coating – basically a dissolved, oxidised and hardened layer of aluminium on top of the base metal – which is more durable, has better nonstick properties, is less reactive to acidic foods, and is easier to clean. It isn’t indestructible; too many sand-scouring sessions will eventually tarnish even the best coatings, and it isn’t recommended for use over open fires.
Cookware with a non-stick coating may appeal to your inner chef, but avoid all but that which has been well and truly road-tested (see the listings below for some good examples); otherwise expect to find bits of black stuff floating around in your food after a couple of weeks of use.
Ultralight titanium cookware is growing in popularity, especially among bikepackers. It’s lighter, tougher, and significantly more expensive than aluminium. Usually uncoated, it stands up to a lot of the abuse that would wear out a more delicate cookset.
Camping pots, pans and mugs have either folding or detachable handles (aka: lifters or grippers) for portability. For the same reason, an all-in-one cookset consisting of several items will often be designed to pack into itself like a Russian doll. Any remaining space can then be stuffed with cleaning supplies, instant coffee sachets, crushed packets of instant noodles… you get the idea.
Experienced riders sometimes break down these kits and carry only the subset of the items that they actually use, using the remaining space for storage. How will you know for yourself? By going for a test-ride and finding out!
But Will You Really Be Cooking?
If you’re riding alone and your meals are going to be simple, there’s little point taking more gear than you need. Eating directly out of a cooking pot or mug is perfectly acceptable when you’re wild-camping and nobody’s looking. A separate, insulated mug is useful for hot drinks and leftover boiled water, especially on cold mornings. The simplest solo cooksets typically consist of little more than these two items.
Remember that your appetite will reach hitherto unimaginable proportions, and that the capacity of a ‘2‑person’ cookset may be appropriate for one hungry cyclist. Some ultralight solo riders get away with a single titanium mug and use it for everything, but may find themselves cooking two (or more) servings at the end of a long day.
On longer trips with two or more people, the evening meal can be quite a social occasion, and the carrying capacity of a group allows for a more extensive kitchen. Some such groups take one massive pot and share it around until all involved are stuffed. Others discover the joys of ‘proper’ on-the-road cookery further down the road and thereafter ride with a full blown catering operation in their bags.
This is the time to figure out your priorities and plan your equipment needs accordingly. Perhaps one simple pot and a high-powered gas burner makes the most sense. Perhaps two ‘simmer stoves’, a five-piece nonstick cookset and a portable titanium pizza oven are going to better satisfy your culinary ambitions. Maybe, like most of us, you sit somewhere in the middle.
And the best way to know what you’ll actually need is to go for a shorter bike trip, experience a few days in the life of your future self, and make a note of what you used, what you didn’t, and what you wished you’d brought, then adjust your kit list accordingly.
This simple exercise will answer more of your questions about planning and preparing for a cycle tour or bikepacking trip than any amount of blog-reading ever will.
The Best Camping Cooksets For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Basic principles covered – check! Let’s now go through some of the most popular and reliable cooksets, pots, pans, and other cookware for cycle touring and bikepacking, from low-budget options to the very top of the line, and from ultra-minimal to pro-chef gourmet.
As well as globally-available brands, I’ll list a variety of popular regional options for readers in the UK, USA and Canada. Affiliate links are marked with an asterisk (*); read my full policy here.
Again: this is not a list of stuff I found when I googled “best cycle touring cookware” for my new AI-generated spam blog full of affiliate links.
I’m not a robot. I’ve been riding the world and writing this blog for 15 years. I’ve known hundreds of other riders around the globe and have met thousands more on the road. So this post represents what cycle tourists and bikepackers are using in real life, not which company has the most effective influencer marketing campaign or paid for the most fake 5‑star reviews on Amazon.
Cheap & Basic Pots & Mugs For Boiling Water On A Bike Trip
If you’re trying to save every last penny or cent, simply grab the smallest metal pot or mug you can find at the nearest charity shop/thrift store/yard sale, or whatever people are giving away on Freecycle in your local area, or whatever your parents hoarded somewhere in case it one day becomes useful, or whatever you can swipe from your own kitchen without the landlord noticing. Pair it with a homemade beer can stove and you’re ready to go. You can stop reading and start riding now. Have fun!
For cheap but durable cooking pots, a good place to start is with military mess tins, aka: mess kits.
In the UK, the British Army issue kit since 1937 has been a pair of rectangular aluminium mess tins with folding handles which fit inside each other and pack down as a storage box (which, with a depth of 6cm, will fit nicely into a full-size frame bag). Usually used to heat ration packs and boil water for a brew, the kit is designed for a type of solid-fuel stove commonly known as the hexi or Esbit, but will work fine on any camping burner. You’ll find them on eBay for less than £10.
Elsewhere in the world you’ll find similar military-issue mess kits (for my first big ride I used a set of Czech army cooking pots off eBay), as well as plenty of imitation military gear. Stick to original equipment if you can.
Elsewhere in the category of cheap camping cookware, it’s easy to find entry-level backpacking and hiking kits at big outdoor retailers and from mainstream global brands. Expect such cooksets to be lighter, flimsier, and possibly more colourful than the military kits. Avoid clever-sounding gimmicks and features, and look for simple offerings with as little to go wrong as possible.
In the UK and Europe (and increasingly beyond), Decathlon make and sell a basic stainless steel cookset for £10, which at just over 1 litre is about the right capacity for a hungry solo cyclist. It’s made of very thin metal and will doubtless burn anything but water, but it’ll get you through your first bike tour.
Slightly higher up the budget scale, Alpkit make the AliPots hard-anodised 2‑person cookset for £30, which won’t break the bank and will suit a couple or pair (or can be split up for a solo rider). The folding handles are slightly flimsy and you’ll eventually melt their rubberised coatings by accident, but that’s a criticism common to similar cooksets from other brands.
Individual pots and pans from the Trangia cookset range can be purchased very affordably, with either bare aluminium or hard-anodised finishes. It’s worth mentioning that if you’re planning on using the Trangia stove system anyway, the all-in-one kits will probably work out better value, and you’ll be sure that all the bits will fit together when packed – see the following section for recommendations.
Trangia products can be ordered worldwidedirect from Trangia, and in the UK are available on the high street from Go Outdoors or Millets, as well as online from Amazon. Having been so popular for so long, second-hand Trangia cooksets can readily be found on eBay. The brand isn’t officially distributed in the USA but you can still find their products on Amazon.
For bikepackers looking to minimise weight and pack size but on a low budget, a single-wall metal mug can fit nicely in a frame bag or cockpit pouch and allow you to boil water on a stove or campfire for instant meals and hot drinks (don’t burn your lips!). Look for something with at least 500ml (18oz) capacity; a lid will speed up your boils and keep the contents hot for longer.
Durable & Versatile Camping Cookware For Long-Haul Bike Trips
Thin, bare metal cooking pots – especially when used with tiny gas burners – diffuse heat poorly and therefore tend to suffer from ‘hot spots’. This can restrict your cookery ambitions to things that can be boiled, with a lot of stirring to avoid food sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning.
But with hard-anodised aluminium or titanium cookware, and perhaps a really good non-stick pan – plus a carefully-chosencamping stove with an adjustable flame – your culinary options open up considerably.
If you’re a keen cook, you may have already decided that you’re happy to invest in premium cookware. But if you are unaccustomed to the feeling of having cycled for eight hours while hauling half your bodyweight in luggage over mountains on bumpy roads, it is very easy to romanticise the end-of-day camping experience.
In reality, dinner on a bike tour tends to involve shovelling an alarming amount of calories down your throat with no concern for what it tastes like, let alone what equipment you used to prepare it.
This is yet another reason why it’s worth heading off on an overnight test ride in advance of departing on a big trip.
All of the premium camping stove manufacturers sell high quality cooksets to match the stoves themselves, but you’ll pay a premium for your brand loyalty. Affordable options from other makers can also achieve the same thing. In any case, let’s have a look at the most highly-rated options in this broad category.
Premium Camping Cookware For Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
Titanium single-wall cooking mugs are becoming more popular and affordable thanks to the bikepacking boom, being lighter and more resistant to denting and oxidisation, and fitting nicely in a cockpit bag – but the prices can still be double or more that of the basic steel or aluminium equivalent. As with so many types of outdoor gear, you pay more to carry less.
Good options in the UK include Alpkit’s MyTiMug range (I use the 98g/650ml version pictured above) and Snow Peak’s Trek range of lidded titanium cooking mugs, which come in 136g/700ml (direct / Amazon) and 175g/900ml (direct / Amazon) capacities and are designed to house a stove and gas canister. Snow Peak products are also well distributed in the USA, including the aforementioned Trek 700 (REI / Amazon) and Trek 900 (REI / Amazon) titanium mugs.
You’ll find tons of similar-looking no-brand or fake-brand products at big online retailers such as Amazon and eBay. Always remember: a metal pot is just a metal pot. Look for at least 600ml (21oz) capacity to ensure you can cook a decent portion of food – this is also roughly what a typical dehydrated meal requires – and a lid for more efficient boils.
Moving on to ‘real’ pots and pans, MSR’s Quick Solo cookset was a favourite among solo riders (including me) until it was replaced by the Trail Lite Solo, which appears almost identical but is yet to be road-tested in the long term.
Thankfully, the upsized Quick 2 cookset (Alpine Trek / REI / MEC / Amazon) lives on and remains highly recommended for couples and pairs. The set includes two insulated mugs, two sensibly-sized (1.5- and 2.5‑litre) hard-anodised pots with strainer lids and detachable handles, and two deep plates, all colour-coded for separation. The Quick 2 cookset has been in production for decades and continues to win awards for its tried-and-tested design and proven durability.
From Swedish manufacturer Primus, look for the LiTech range of hard-anodised aluminium pot sets, which come in 1.3- and 2.3‑litre sizes for soloists and pairs/groups respectively, again with a useful strainer lid and a detachable pot gripper. The non-stick frying pan from this range, bought separately, is one of the few whose durability and long-lasting non-stickiness have been proven on long haul rides.
Finally, and also hailing from Sweden, long-running stove makers Trangia also make hard-anodised pots and pans, both with and without a non-stick coating. Their products are broadly split into two counterintiutively-named ranges based on capacity: the 27 series is designed for soloists, and the 25 series for pair/group use.
A common criticism levelled at Trangia cooksets is their weight and bulk, but with a decades-long track record their durability is a big selling point for riders looking at months or years on the road.
A bewildering array of combination sets is available, or you can choose individual items. The classic example is the DofE-recommended 27–1 UL set for 1–2 people (pictured above), which consists of two pots, a frying pan/lid, a pot gripper, and the stove and windshield assembly itself, all made of ultralight bare aluminium.
Solo minimalist bikepackers should consider the ultralight Mini Trangia cookset (Amazon / Millets / REI / MEC), originally designed for adventure racers, which consists of a single 800ml pot with detachable handle, a non-stick frying pan which doubles as a lid, the spirit burner itself, and a windshield. It all packs down into a 67mm-deep unit weighing just 350g, and you can fry an omelette on it. Pretty neat.
Non-Stick Camping Cookware For Gourmet On-The-Road Cookery
No non-stick coating will last forever, no matter how durable or expensive. Years down the line it’ll be those bruised and beaten aluminium mess tins that are still serving up noodles as happily as they were on day one. You can prolong the lives of coated pots with a simple routine of protecting the inner surfaces when packed by stuffing them with cleaning cloths and making sure nothing rattles.
Bonus: A Short Rant About Camping Utensils & Accessories
You do not need a titanium spork.
You don’t need folding cutlery. You don’t need a miniature silicone chopping board, a branded 1‑shot moka pot, or any of the other bolt-on gimmicks that get sold alongside stoves and cookware to double the value of your shopping cart.
For most, a spoon and fork from your cutlery drawer will be all you need. If you’re concerned about non-stick cookware, grab a wooden spoon as well.
Get a simple, good-quality knife to prepare food, to eat with, and for other camp-craft activities, and learn how to sharpen it properly. A so-called Swiss army knife or a multi-tool such as a Leatherman or Gerber may seem like the perfect solution but the folding mechanism will end up full of cheese. A classic choice here is the much-copied and ubiquitous Opinel range, hailing from the French Alps and in production since 1890. The No.8 (Amazon / Backcountry.com / MEC), with an 8cm-long blade, is the original and most popular size – I’ve personally been using this knife for over a decade.
Do you need plates? Bowls? Plastic champagne flutes? Maybe – if your cooking style (and whim) demands it. I’ve travelled with riders whose mobile kitchens dominated their luggage, and for whom dinner was a two- or three-hour celebration of bush cookery and subsequent feasting.
My advice? Don’t spend any serious money on this stuff unless you absolutely know this is the way you do things. Especially if you’re alone, it’s far more likely that after a few weeks on the road you’ll be slurping noodles out of an upcycled food can with a tyre lever, having long since stopped caring about anything other than calories.
A few more hot tips from experience:
Find a small, airtight container such as a film canister and top it up with salt whenever you have the opportunity, as you’ll need more salt in your diet to replace what you sweat out during the day,
A larger, lidded, airtight ‘Tupperware’ container will serve you well as a leftover food container, spare plate/bowl, draining board, chopping board, and a whole host of other uses, ticking that all-important ‘versatile’ box which your titanium spork does not,
Rinse out one of those free hotel shampoo/shower gel bottles, fill it with washing-up liquid, cut a standard abrasive dish sponge in half, and put both in a Ziploc bag to create a handy washing-up kit,
One tough (ie: non-ultralight) drybag can be very useful for packing away damp, greasy, soot-covered cookware in the rain and keeping it isolated from the rest of your gear, and
A touring cyclist can never have too many plastic carrier bags – in fact, you may find you become quite the connoisseur.
In general, the cooking/eating/cleaning scenario is either one for which you already know exactly how you like to do things (from experience), or for which you very quickly discover what does and doesn’t work for you (through experience). It’s difficult to design a routine in advance if you are not familiar with the circumstances in which you’ll be operating.
Luckily it’s also unnecessary – basic cooking and cleaning supplies will be found wherever you’ll find settlements, which on a road trip will be a daily occurrence.
By the time you reach anywhere remote enough that there aren’t any settlements (if that ever happens), you’ll have had plenty of time to whittle your routine down to a fine art.