Pannier packing is an art. There are a million different ways to do it and no one way is correct, but there are a few commonly-held practices that, if you are aware of them, will help you out tremendously once you jump in the saddle and hit the streets.
1. Center Your Weight
Not only do you need to keep your weight as low as possible, but you need to keep it centered on your bicycle. There shouldn’t be too much weight in the front of your bike or too much weight in the back. On the same note, there shouldn’t be more weight on one side of the bike than on the other. Keeping your weight centered will not only help you keep control of your bicycle, but it will help prevent mechanical breakdowns, broken spokes, and stress to your body’s back, neck, shoulders, and arms.
2. Leave Some Extra Space
When you are packing for your trip, be sure to leave some extra space in your panniers for items you might need/want to pick up along the way. If you leave home and your panniers are already stuffed to the gills, you have too much stuff!
3. Everything Has Its Place
Living out of your panniers requires that you pack and unpack your gear on a daily basis. To make sure you don’t lose anything in the packing process… and to save yourself huge amounts of time, make it a practice to put everything back in the same spot each time you pack. This will prevent you from having to unpack every single pannier when you need to find a particular item.
4. If You Need To Get It While You’re Riding, It Should Be Up Front
While you’re riding, there are going to be a few items that you will want to access regularly. Packing these items inside your handlebar bag (or at the very least, inside your front panniers) will make reaching them much easier. Having your water, map, sunglasses, camera, and snacks for the day all within arm’s reach ensures that won’t have to get off your bike every time you want to check the map, take a photo, or get a quick snack.
5. Practice Packing Before You Leave Home
Before you ever leave your home, practice packing your panniers. Practicing will help you figure out what items you really need for your tour, and help you figure out how to distribute your weight evenly (see secret #1). I recommend living out of your panniers for at least two weeks before you leave home as this will make your first several days of bicycle touring that much easier.
6. Protect Your Gear And Secure Your Valuables
More and more cyclists these days are traveling with high end cameras, GPS devices, and pricey laptop computers. To make sure these valuable items are secure, I recommend packing them in your rear panniers and placing them on the non-traffic side of your bike. Front panniers are often less stable than rear panniers and more likely to bounce off their racks. Placing your expensive gear on the non-traffic side of your bike will ensure that if, for some horrible reason, you are clipped by a passing vehicle, the only bags affected by the accident are ones that contain dirty clothes and easy to replace food items.
7. Consider The Elements
Finally, consider the weather you might experience while on your travels. Waterproof (or water resistant) panniers help to keep rain and snow from soaking your clothes and computer. The sun and heat also need to be taken into consideration — especially if you are planning to travel with expensive electronics. If you are carrying a computer or camera, do what you can to place them on the shady side of your bicycle and consider packing especially important items inside additional padding, covers, or waterproof sacks.
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This article was originally written as a guest post for the Adventure Cycling Association blog. I wrote the article because I thought it would be good opportunity to share my simple and down-to-earth pannier packing secrets. Click here to read the original article and discover my “7 Secrets To Successfully Packing Your Panniers.”
One of the tips I give in the article is to leave some extra space inside your panniers before you leave home so that you can pick up additional items, if the need be, as you go along. However, the most important part of this tip was edited out (Maybe because Adventure Cycling disagrees with me on this particular point? Or maybe because the article simply needed to be shorter?)
Whatever the case may be, the part that was cut out stated that you should attempt to have at least half of a pannier empty when you leave home at the start of your tour. I personally shoot for having an entire pannier free if possible.
The point here is that if you leave home and you are already stuffed to the gills, you are simply carrying too much stuff. Having some free space (the more free space – the better), will really come in handy once you hit the road.
To read the full article and get some additional hints on how to pack your panniers for your next bicycle touring adventure, head on over to the Adventure Cycling blog and read my guest post titled, “7 Secrets To Successfully Packing Your Panniers.“
11 thoughts on “7 Tips For How To Pack Bicycle Panniers”
Good post. It’d be nice if you had a diagram or explain exactly what gear you put into each pannier, just for reference for newbies. i.e. which pannier do you put food, spare clothes, etc.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you tend to get on/off your bike on the left side, (and.or park it leaning on its right side), that you should pack items more frequently used on the left side. Also general rule is 60% of gear/weight in back; 40% in front.
Hey Jim, thanks for the comment and additional tips. I’ve actually already produced an article that shows where I recommend placing your items inside your panniers, etc. The article contains a video and a diagram. You can see it here: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-pack-your-panniers-for-a-bicycle-tour-an-inside-look/
Anyone know of any unusual rugged “hike and bike” panniers out there that allow for biking to a location, stashing the bike, converting to backpack, and then continuing on foot? I suppose I could rig something myself, but was hoping for an easier off the shelf solution. Ideas? Anything creative you’ve seen others do?
Rob, this is the best backpack/pannier I have ever used. Lone peak also makes one, but this one by Arkel is a lot more comfortable https://www.arkel-od.com/us/bug-cummuting-bag.html
Hi Darren, I love your site it is very informative and i have taken a lot of useful information that I hope to put into action this spring.
You have met many fellow bike tourers on our travels, I wondered, what age was the oldest tourer?
I ask because I’m 68 and will be travelling alone, well not exactly alone because I will have my dog with me who who will travel in a dogggie trailer.
I have all the lightweight gear and lots of enthusiasm but, I find myself wondering if maybe I’m taking on too much at my age?
It will be a UK tour to begin with, so that if anything goes badly wrong a phone call home will bring a rescue posse! If all goes well, and if I can find a way to get across the Channel with bike and dog (at the moment none of the ferry operators will accept bike travellers with dogs) then I will tour Europe.
If you know of any ‘older’ bike tourers, I would take inspiration from their experiences.
Keep up your good work.
Hi Laura, yes, I know lots of people in their 70’s and 80’s who are traveling by bike. In fact, bicycle touring has two main age groups of people who get out and participate in the activity. 1) Those in their teens and twenties (college age students, etc) and 2) Those in the retiree age-group (age 55-75 most commonly). So no, you are not at all too old to be going on a bike tour. It just depends, of course, on how well prepared you are for the trip – both mentally and physically. As much physical training as you can do before the start of your tour, the better! Otherwise, you can bike tour just like anyone else. And bringing your dog along, yes, sounds like some extra work. But it might also be good for you – to have a companion, etc. Have fun out there, stay safe, and enjoy every moment!
This is a reply to Laura and Darren, Probably too late for Laura’s UK tour. I’m surprised that she wasn’t aware of the UK’s quarantine laws regarding dogs. She would not be able to travel with her dog. But, I also wanted to assure her that 68 isn’t too old, assuming you are in reasonable physical condition. I do month long cycle solo tours there at 76.
The message for Darren relates to your advice to leave at least one half of a pannier empty. Given the need to balance the weight–it would be clearer if you suggested leaving each pannier three-quarters full.
Hi Darren, I thought u liked the ortlieb panniers, by the way great info thanx.
I have encountered a few problems while touring in south east Asia. Some malls are not bicycle friendly and did not allow bicycle to be park near their premises. As such,I have to carry all my 4 panniers together to the mall to prevent it from getting stolen. This is a problem for me as it’s quite troublesome to carry the bags every where I go. Do you have a solution to batter manage this problem?
My first question is… why are you going to the mall during the middle of a bike tour?
This article I wrote on the subject of bicycle security might help you: http://bicycletouringpro.com/how-to-secure-your-bicycle-belongings-when-going-inside-a-building/
Also, you might want to read, “The Bicycle Touring Blueprint.”
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