The Great Commuting Debate: Backpack vs Pannier

ArleighColorado Cycling, Commuting, Cycling, Featured17 Comments

Pannier vs Backpack for Commuting

How do you carry things when you are commuting? Backpack. Panniers. Frame bag. Handlebar basket. Trailers. Sherpa?

For this first week of my new 20 mile round trip bike commute I used a pannier 100% of the time. One day I used my Chrome Niko camera bag in addition to the pannier, but a pannier was always used for the past week. Yesterday, I switched it up to my trusty Mission Workshop Vandal backpack as I was carrying a laptop and more expensive camera gear.

Granted, I was carrying some heavier gear (an extra 4 lbs for my laptop with charger) with my backpack but it changed many things riding up my 20 mile roundtrip commute. Some good and some bad, I won’t do too much talking on this until I do some more testing. For the month of September I plan on experimenting more on the backpack vs pannier debate. At the end of the day I believe it will depend on what you are carrying and for how far. Having a go to “setup” that I don’t have to think about too much will be ideal.

What do you prefer? Backpack, pannier, front basket or something else?

17 Comments on “The Great Commuting Debate: Backpack vs Pannier”

  1. I combine a pannier and a rear-rack basket. My commute is quite short though and so I commute in my office clothes and don’t want to sweat on my back from a backpack. I think if I had a longer commute, I’d probably change my “luggage” to something more sporty.

  2. My normal trip is a bit less – more like 10 km for each direction. I have an ancient Batavus with a rear rack with basket and tie downs and a small front rack that is attached to the frame and clears the handlebar when you turn. The heavier weight and larger items go on the back rack and my handbag into a basket on the front rack.

    Backpacks have too high a center of gravity and uncomfortable for me as the Batavus is an upright bike.

    I don’t have a car and do most of my shopping with the bike (I’m in København). When I have larger items like furniture I rent a cargo bike.

  3. Frame bag. When I first took that thing off my back and bungied it to a rack I cried “Free at last, free at last, thank GOD ALMIGHTY I’m free at I’m free at last!” Currently using a Topeak MTX Quick Trac, the one with the big drop-down panniers big enough for a choir folder, so now I don’t have to hook up a pannier on rehearsal days. I use a backpack only if I need to carry my laptop. I don’t want to jounce it. For the record, my daily commute is 14.5 miles round trip.

    1. Like I said Bike Shop Girl it’s the larger model Topeak. In addition to a choir folder (think loose leaf binder) once a week in one of the drop down panniers, I have my lunch, tool bag, tire pump, light, zipper bag of miscellaneous crap, wallet, and a few other things in the main compartment. The panniers also hold my cable lock, rain gear if the afternoon looks shaky, and anything that I need that won’t fit in the main compartment. It’s a great bag: Capacious and securely connected. Securely connected is important to me as I once had a bag fall off without my knowing it: Wallet, cell phone, tools and all that I mentioned above, all gone! What a lousy day THAT was!

  4. My commute is ~24 miles round-trip so panniers 100% of the time (Thule pack-n-pedal large commuter panniers). One with office cloths and lunch, the other with my laptop. The few times I’ve had to take my non-commuter bike and use a backpack, I’ve regretted it.

    1. I use a string bag every day-we have plastic bag charges. I pan on putting a rack on as I buy too much stuff some days for the small bag.

  5. I used to use a Baileyworks messenger bag, and then a backpack, but with a laptop, I prefer my Ortlieb pannier by far. And I prefer that one to some of the other panniers I’ve tried. Why?
    – It’s light
    – With the shoulder strap, it’s easy to carry around.
    – It holds a lot (esp if you need to pick up something extra on the way home).
    – The hardware doesn’t catch on my clothes when I carry it (unlike the S hooks on my Swift pannier 🙁 )
    – No back sweat
    – Better center of gravity

  6. Medium-sized messenger bag for daily commuting (large enough for laptop and some other items) and Ortlieb waterproof panniers for rainy days and daily winter commuting (Chicago is wet and snowy). For tours longer than a single-day metric century, I do panniers and a front mounted bag, both waterproof. Pretty much never a frame bag or backpack.

  7. I used a Topeak MTX DXP for five years. I loved the slide it on/off functionality. I was able to carry a 15″ laptop on one side, clothes on the other and the center I used for lunch and other items. I did not like the bag OFF the bike; it was very awkward to carry.

    When the zippers started failing this spring, I switched to an Arkel Bug. It is a pannier on the bike and a backpack off the bike. I love it. The rail hooks are higher than the straps so you never feel them on your back. The bungie and lower hook can be stored behind the rail hooks. The backpack straps fold up and are stored behind velcro flaps when on the bike.

    I can fit my laptop and clothes plus a few other items in the one bag. I usually bring lunch and snacks for the week in on Monday using a cheap grocery pannier.

    I also bought the Arkel laptop sleeve that hangs inside the bag and a pair of rain covers, one for the Bug and one for the grocery pannier. This has worked out very well. Love the Arkel bag; very well built and thought out.

  8. I ride 4 days a week, 28 miles and 1800 ft climbing on a Single Speed. I have tried both and have strongly settled on panniers. The reasons are; more room, back comfort, lower center of gravity and less weight on crotch. It’s the last point that most people forget and with a long commute very important

  9. Panniers. My commute is 22 miles round trip. I need the space for clothes, lunch, and purse, without the sweat factor. It’s humid enough here in Vermont isn the summer!

    Close to home, I use a front and rear basket with bungees on a step through bike.

    For me, baggage choice depends upon the distance and style of riding.

    Isn’t it great that we can choose which style works best for the individual?

  10. I like my backpack because I don’t have to think about it too much. But, I’ve used my trailer for groceries and been really happy with that. I’ve never had panniers, but I’d love to have them. Cargo bike (basically any kind) would be pretty awesome once I’m ready for the space/money commitment. 🙂

  11. Green Guru Hauler seat bag. I only usually carry office casual clothes though. No laptop or lunch. Or shoes, those stay at the office. It’s the closest I’ve come to feeling like I’m not carrying anything extra with me on the bike.

    I’ve used panniers, a backpack, and messenger bags in the past. The backpack had been my favorite choice prior to the seat bag.

  12. I’ve been using a messenger bag for my 20 mile round trip commute, carrying 15-20 lbs. It’s brutal, but I have no choice but to carry my work laptop with me as I go to six offices and must be self-sufficient. I also carry work clothes, shoes, lightweight rain/wind jacket, sometimes lunch in a Ziploc, U-lock, tube/pump/levers, hygiene items (baby wipes, inhaler, lip gloss, sunscreen) and some work supplies like ID badge and business cards. I leave my laptop charging cord at home and track one down when I get to the office.
    I do own panniers but no longer have a bike with fender mounts. I mounted my panniers on the rear and noticed that my panniers got so filthy on the wheel-facing side that it prohibits me from carrying them with a shoulder strap once I take them off the bike. Any suggestions on filthy panniers from the pannier-users out there? Would a fender help? Maybe put them on the front instead of the rear?

Leave a Reply