Calling all cyclists, these 5 panniers store everything from groceries to gear — & yes, you need one

Natasha-Aleksandra / Shutterstock
ByIleana Morales Valentine

When a bicycle is a main transportation mode, consider adding one of the best bike panniers to your gear. Panniers are designed to securely attach to a bike rack (rear or front) yet easily detach upon arrival. Finding the best one comes down to use: whether that's commuting, touring, or groceries shopping. More spacious than a standard basket, panniers hold it all, some even convert to backpacks or shoulder bags. Those intended to hold shopping bags fold down for storage after a ride.

Choose a bag big enough without being so large that it interferes with pedaling or carrying. About 26 liters is typical, though this capacity may be distributed between the pair. Since panniers often come as a set, they generally attach to each other to become a single bag off the bike. Touring or camping cyclists can benefit from a bigger bag, up to about 40 liters.

Backpack- or shoulder-bag panniers usually have exterior pockets for easy access to phone or keys, but zippered pockets are best. Most options are waterproof or water-resistant, and are made of rubberized or synthetic materials, like 600-denier polyester. Water-resistant panniers are good enough for most commuters, but for longer adventures opt for a waterproof bag's security. It's also nice when panniers have reflectors for added visibility, especially at night.

The best panniers should be easily mounted and removed. While bike panniers attach to bike racks with hooks, clips, or cords, they don't come with racks.

With all this in mind, keep scrolling for the best bike panniers to take the weight off your back.


The best bike pannier for commuting

If biking to work, this Timbuk2 Tandem Pannier will upgrade your commute. It sits on the bike rack as a set of dual saddle bags, for weight distribution. The pannier converts and combines the two panniers quickly to a single shoulder bag with the help of built-in magnets, so it doesn’t look like a pannier once you reach your destination. The shoulder strap is removable and comes with top handles. It also has an easy on-and-off rack attachment with two hook and loop straps.

With a total 30-liter capacity, the two internal pockets fit up to a 15-inch MacBook each. Founded in San Francisco by a bike messenger, this brand makes bags cyclists love. Made of extremely water-resistant 600-denier polyester, this pick keeps everything inside dry, even after hours in the rain. Commuters love the dual-flap zip pockets that make small items easily accessible. Choose from either black or gray.

Fans say: “Been using these for the past few months. I felt compelled to write [a] review after biking home in an absolute downpour yesterday. Everything including laptop was bone dry including things in the top zippered compartment. [...] Obviously I like them. They fit work clothes (incl shoes), toiletries, and laptop without a problem. New version has internal and external pockets. Nice not to have to dig through clothes to find keys or phone.”


The best set for a grocery run

This pair Bushwhacker Omaha panniers attach to the bike rack's sides and can hold one full-size grocery bag each. Reviewers love these panniers' depth for ensuring groceries make the trip home safely. Secured at the top of the rack with two metal hooks and at the rack's bottom or bike frame with a bungee cord and S hook, these can be mounted individually and fold flat for storage on or off the bike. Shoppers also love the panniers' sturdy material, which retain their shape well, though it's unclear what exactly the material is.

Fans say: “These panniers are perfect for grocery shopping...Attaching and unattaching the bags is super simple. It takes seconds to mount these. And when they're empty, they fold up nicely. Now, for the durability. These bags can hold a lot. I must have put fifty or so pounds between the two bags, and they handled it fine. The first time I used them, I definitely went overboard with the grocery shopping. I'm still relatively new to biking everywhere, and loaded up my grocery cart with the mindset of driving. However, these bags fit it all. You can easily fit a whole week's worth of groceries. The bags also feel very durable. Overall, excellent quality.”


The best for touring or camping

Here's this heavy-duty bike pannier pair to protect all your stuff when touring or camping. Don’t be deterred by the few reviews on Amazon; Ortlieb is the leading brand for panniers, known for their durable and waterproof bags with roll-tops that buckle for added moisture protection.

With a combined 40-liter capacity across the two bags, optional shoulder strap, and durable polyester material that's scratch resistant and has lateral 3M Scotchlite reflectors, these bags are ready for your adventures. The panniers mount with an easy on-and-off QL2.1 mounting system and combine with accessories for waterproof transport of a tent, sleeping bag, and even air mattress.

Fans say: “After many [disappointments] I finally bought these panniers. Worth every single penny.”


A stylish bike pannier

If you're looking for a more stylish bike pannier, here's one that comes in khaki, blue, or green. The single pannier is made of high-quality waterproof canvas and tanned leather, with handles and adjustable shoulder straps to use off the bike. Reviewers love the look and size of this bag for commuting; an internal pocket holds a 15-inch laptop, and the main compartment has a magnetic closure while the front pocket has a snap closure. Just note, this isn't the most secure bag in this list since it uses snaps rather than zippers. The bag has lightweight yet strong hooks that easily clip on and off a bike rack.

Fans say: "Awesome bike bag. It looks sleek while on my bike. It hooks on and off easily and securely. It holds just enough to make it perfect for my commute to work. I'm able to fit my 13" MacBook Air in it plus wallet, lunch, phone, etc. My favorite feature is that when I lock my bike off I can pop the bag off my bike and wear it as a tote bag-- great for errands. I get compliments all the time."


The best budget pannier

With more than 1,000 reviews on Amazon, this set of highly-rated bike panniers are a great way to try panniers for just over $20 for the pair. Cyclists are really happy with this purchase, and the panniers even come with a few special features.

Their 26-liter combined capacity fits a 13-inch laptop or a DSLR camera, according to reviewers, and it mounts easily with two adjustable bungee hooks and four shelf straps that fit most bicycle racks. A top handle and rigid back panel make it easy to carry the dual bags off the bike, and commuters love the front, zippered pockets for easy opening and main compartment pull tabs for hanging lights or key chains. Made of durable and water-resistant 600-denier polyester and 1000-denier Cordura with 3M Scotchlite reflective trim, choose from either black or gray.

Fans say: “Mine have held up for the best part of a year's frequent use in FL, and look to be good for another. They easily carry a complete picnic for four or (with careful packing) a large reusable sack of groceries. Their design is basic and features single stitched coated nylon fabric, light-weight single zippers, four compartments, elastic straps to keep over-packed bags from contacting spokes and four difficult-to-remove nylon carrier straps. I highly recommend these light duty panniers for day trips and shopping.”

Mic may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was created independently of Mic's editorial and sales departments.