If you cycle around town to run errands, like stopping by the grocery or pharmacy, you know that having a bike basket is clutch. But while it can hold plenty of small essentials, it doesn't have a whole lot to offer for carrying additional gear.
Sure, you could just stuff things into a backpack, but some packs aren't functional for cycling and don't weather the elements like bike bags and panniers are designed to do.
Most bike bags have hidden side pockets on the outside so you can access your wallet and phone easily while biking, and panniers, which are bags that attach to a bike's rear rack, take the load off your (tired) back.
More often than not, bike bags and panniers are waterproof and have reflective details to help you stay visible in low light. They also feature ventilated designs and extra padding on the straps for a more comfortable ride.
So, how do you choose a bike bag or pannier that fits your needs? We tapped some of the best cycling athletes to share what they look for in a bike bag.
How to Pick the Best Bike Bag and Panniers
When purchasing a bike bag, you should think about what specific features are most important to you.
Consider Where You Live
"Riders should take their location's climate into consideration when purchasing panniers," Meaghan Praznik, an IRONMAN athlete in East Bay, California, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "For instance, I live in the Bay Area, which means rain, and lots of it. Because of this, having waterproof panniers is really important for me," she says.
You'll also want to consider how long you'll be on your bike. If you have an hour commute to work, or if you plan to go on a serious ride through some trails, then you should invest in a bike bag that has padded straps and is made with more breathable material.
Take Note of What Things You Carry
Some people might be using their panniers or bike bags to stash their groceries and work supplies, so having a spacious pack with several leakproof compartments, and maybe even an insulated pocket or two, are a top choice.
"As a chef living in Boulder, I'm lucky in that I'm able to use my bike to pick up most of the ingredients and groceries I need for recipe development and events, but I need reliable equipment to get the goodies home safely," says Lentine Alexis, a former professional endurance athlete and an adventure cyclist and chef.
"In looking for a bike bag, the size and roominess is super important to me. I also look for secure closure methods that allow the bag to expand for odd-shaped ingredients and items, like market flowers, very long carrots or beets, and more," Alexis says.
5 Bike Bags Worth Buying
Now that you know what to look for when shopping for a bike bag or pannier, here are some of our experts' favorites and top user-rated options to choose from.
1. Best for Large Storage: Ortlieb Roller Back Plus Pannier
This spacious pannier from Ortlieb is ideal for a big grocery haul, when you're getting everything you need for the week, but it can also be shrunken down for smaller trips. It comes equipped with removable outer pockets for storing extra gear, and the top handle makes it easy to carry by hand. Bonus: The durable material is reflective so you can ride safely at night.
"I love these panniers because they're huge, secure with super stability to my bike and can be expanded to fit as much as I want (including a yoga mat and all of my groceries!), or rolled down to be slim and barely noticeable if I'm just rolling down the street to pick up something small," Alexis says.
"The internal pockets make it easy for me to shop with the bags, and the waterproof material means that my ingredients are never compromised."
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $153
2. Best for Commuting: Rapha Roll Top Backpack
A must-have for the urban commuter or weekend warrior, this bike backpack has padded straps for extra comfort on longer rides and includes a 15-inch laptop sleeve and smaller pocket for storing tiny essentials. (Think: wallet, phone and keys.) Plus, it has back panels designed with an ergonomic fit to keep you cool during sweatier commutes.
"This pack is waterproof, which is a must, because you don't have to worry about your stuff getting wet if it's raining out," says Andrew Kalley, CPT, USA triathlon level II coach and a personal trainer at Chelsea Piers in New York City. "It's easy to put on and take off, which is also key. It's fairly lightweight, stylish and has lots of pockets and storage compartments, which I really enjoy," he says.
Buy it: Rapha.cc; Price: $108
3. Best Pannier With Light Attachments: Thule Shield Panniers
With built-in attachments for lights, these large, waterproof panniers are easy to detach from your bike so you can carry them. The bags can hold up to 25 liters of gear and have three interior pockets for securing everything from snacks to an extra pair of shoes. Plus, they have reflective details to keep you visible at night.
"These pannier bags are waterproof, good quality and aren't too expensive," Praznik says. "I try to avoid bags with zippers and opt for buckles instead. I've had panniers with zippers that have torn when I've tried to stuff too much into the bag. You can easily avoid this with buckles or roll-over tabs, which these panniers have," she says.
Buy it: Thule.com; Price: $170
4. Best Lightweight Pannier: Chrome Industries Urban Ex Pannier Pack
Designed with a laptop sleeve and attachment loops for added storage (if you need to bring extra gear), this pannier pack has back pads to cool you down when you're cycling hard. It also houses a small internal pocket for valuables.
The bag has a minimalist design, but it also has some reflective hits on the straps, in case you journey early in the morning or late into the evening.
Buy it: Chromeindustries.com; Price: $150
5. Best Pannier-Turned-Shoulder Bag: Arkel Signature H Urban Pannier
If you're looking for a crossbody or briefcase-style bag to carry after locking your bike, consider this durable, waterproof pannier. It features an easy-to-access pocket outside — perfect for your phone and other personal items you might need to grab quickly while biking — and a zippered inner pocket, along with a padded laptop sleeve. The waterproof material also has reflective patches to keep you safe on your early morning and evening rides.
Carry it by the handle or use the padded shoulder strap, which makes it comfy to carry. When it's fully opened, it has shopping bag-style handles, which make it a great grocery run companion, too. Even better: The flat bottom allows the bag to sit upright, so it won't topple over and spill out all of your belongings.
Buy it: Arkel-od.com; Price: $170