Gear Review: Panniers

One of the toughest gear challenges we made at the beginning of this trip was finding the best panniers for us. Panniers are an intensely personal choice, and the subject of much debate on touring forums. The usual tradeoffs are multiple pockets vs. waterproof fabric, weight vs. durability, and ease and solidity of attachment.

We began our shakedown cruise with four different types of pannier, of which only one stayed with us until the end of our journey. In addition to panniers, we each strapped a dry bag between the panniers on our bottom rack, another dry bag between our rear panniers on the back rack, and a waterproof duffel (rack-pack) across the back rack.


For our shakedown cruise we had:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (40 L)  (Scott’s rear panniers)
  • Arkel RT-40 recumbent touring under seat panniers (40 L) (Scott’s front panniers)
  • Vaude World Tramp II Plus rear panniers (44 L ) (Becky’s rear pannier)
  • Ortlieb front roller plus under seat panniers (25 L) (Becky’s front pannier)

After our shakedown cruise, we made some adjustments. We replaced Becky’s Vaude panniers with Orlieb Bike Packer Plus panniers. We also replaced Becky’s front panniers with Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers. We also purchase two Ortlieb medium sized rack packs. When we finished touring in Eastern Canada, Scott replaced the Arkel RT-40s with Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus panniers.


Arkel RT-40

The Arkel RT-40 have lots of pockets and lots of space, but suffer from two key flaws. They are not waterproof, and they do not have a rigid bottom. Without the rigid bottom, they hang too low, leaving only a few inches of clearance. We tried adding a strap around them, which helps a little, but they still scrape the ground/curbs on occassion.  The waterproof rain covers were an inconvenience, needing to be put on when the rain starts, but taken off in order to access the pockets.


The folks at Arkel are planning a redesign of these panniers, to include a rigid bottom. They offered to retrofit our existing panniers, but we decided our preference was for waterproof fabric rather than pockets.

Vaude World Tramp II

Note: Vaude does not appear to makes this pannier any longer. It has been replaced with Aqua Back Plus.

These come with a roll top rather than drawstrings and a lid. Roll tops are submersable, where the lid tops aren’t. Both are waterproof, even in torrential downpours. Personally, Becky dislikes the roll tops, as she finds them a pain to close properly, and inevitably overfills her bags. Given that submersability wasn’t a requirement for us, this became one strike against the Vaude’s. In addition, Becky found the outter pouch on these panners to be useless, as you could not place anything in them if the pannier was full. Also, the cover left a gap, such that the pouch fills with water when it rains.

Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus

Note: Ortlieb has changed the pouch design. It is no longer a mesh outer pouch.

We love these as back panniers. They stand up well when it rains excessively. The outer pouches are small, so they can only be used for small things like tools or snacks. Becky added external rear pouches to her Bike Packer Plus panniers giving her more outer pouch access. The only issue with the outter pouches is that they are black and often directly in the sun, causing skin creams and chocolate to melt!

Ortlieb Front Roller Plus

These are OK panniers for running around town, but we found them too small for our purposes. The Orlieb Sport Packer has the same ground clearance, but sits about 2 inches taller. Between the two panniers, you get 5 L more space with the Sport Packer.

Ortlieb Sport Packer Plus

With the extra space over the Front Roller panniers, these won out for our preferred front pannier (in our case they are under-seat panniers). The outer pouch is small, so we find it only useful for carrying one or two granola bars, which Scott can reach while riding (Becky’s arms are not long enough).

Ortlieb Rack Pack

We each have a medium sized rack pack. We find them very handy as overnight bags when travelling on trains and ferries. They are very water proof and have more room than we need. We also use them for overflow food storage. Because they have a roll-top enclosure, they provide us with scent proof food storage.

Ortlieb accessories

We purchased a set of attachable pouches for Becky’s rear panniers. These work rather well for us, and we recommend them for anyone looking for a little more space – just don’t put chocolate bars in them on hot sunny days!

We purchased the security kit for the Ortlieb Plus series panniers but never got around to installing it. Instead, we use a carabener on the handle and clipped to the rack. The carabiner is easy for us to clip on and remove but it prevents anyone from simply grabbing and running with our panniers. It is also handy when hanging and carrying panniers.

We purchased the backpack attachment for the Orlieb Plus panniers. We used it a couple of times but found that it made an awful backpack and was bulky to carry. On our next trip, we will bring decent day/overnight pack instead.

We purchased the Plus series for the security system and the backpack attachment, both of which we did not like. The material on the plus is lighter and durable enough for us, but the regular material might have been a better choice. We do not recommend spending the extra on the Plus series unless weight is of primary concern.


If we were to start over and buy bags again, we would use the following panniers and bags.

Scott’s bike:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer or Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (Rear Pannier)
  • Ortlieb Sport Packer or Ortieb Sport Packer Plus (Front Pannier)
  • Tent 12L drybag (between rear panniers)
  • Ortlieb Medium Rack Pack (ontop of rear panniers)
  • Tool pouch 5L drybag (between front racks)

Becky’s bike:

  • Ortlieb Bike Packer or Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus (Rear Pannier)
  • Ortlieb Sport Packer or Ortieb Sport Packer Plus (Front Pannier)
  • Tent 10L drybag (between rear pannier)
  • Good collapsable day-backpack

Note: We purchased our Ortlieb panniers from Wayne at the Touring Store. He provided us with great service and had the best prices we could find in North America.

3 thoughts on “Gear Review: Panniers”

  1. Thanks for writing all that up – very interesting. I’m not riding a recumbent but your thoughts on arkel and waterproofing are still very useful for my decision making. I’m surprised you haven’t had more comments!

  2. Thank you, Scott and Becky for the bag review. On your recommendation I bought a pair of Bike Packers for light camping tours on my Street Machine

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