Cycling with a Backpack

August 28, 2010

While you can usually fit all of your touring gear in panniers, or a trailer, we see many people adding a small backpack into the mix. For some riders, this incorporates a hydration bladder that either replaces water bottles, or adds some hydration range between refill stops. For others, it can sometimes replace a set of panniers, if you're in between the need for two and four panniers. I like to haul a small pack along to keep some small items on hand for quick, off-the-bike excursions, such as my camera, wallet, some food, maps, and a book.

Whatever your reason for a backpack may be, there are some good features and techniques to be aware of that can make hauling it around a little easier. In the area where the pack comes in contact with your back, it can be really nice to have a built-in mesh frame that holds the pack an inch or so from your back, allowing air to circulate across your back, keeping you cooler, and preventing a great deal of sweat buildup.

Having a lot of adjustment options is also very important when cycling with a backpack. This will help you fine tune the fit to distribute the weight properly over your shoulders and back. Look for straps to adjust the height of the bag on your shoulders, as well as hip and chest straps.

Your riding position too can play a large role in your overall comfort, and this is an area where touring bikes have a great advantage. The lower your back on the bike, the heavier the pack will feel, so having a more upright position on a touring bike can help increase comfort. If you are experiencing back pain, perhaps you need to raise your handlebars.

As far as weight is concerned: know your own personal limits, and then knock a few pounds off of that.

If you're interested in looking into some brands, I have had great luck with CamelBak, Osprey, and Deuter packs.

Photo by Sarah Raz.


TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack of Adventure Cycling's member services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.


Bob Silfies December 14, 2013, 12:47 PM

Unless one has to carry books to school or one needs some kind of hydration system, carrying anything on your back only lends more weight to your rear end. That, in turn, can exacerbate any discomfort you may have or may develop in the future. That includes ass pain, back pain and arm and hand pain. Let the bike carry the load, not you.

Kimberly January 15, 2011, 4:26 PM

I too am more of a hiker but want to get more into biking. My husband rides quite a bit but normally carries water bottles which never seem to hold enough water to get him though. I would definitely wear a pack like Osprey or Camelback.

Bronx Chiropractors January 2, 2011, 1:15 AM

Wearing a backpack while riding your bike is very uncomfortable for me. I have a small chrome wire rack attached to the rear of the frame and I just toss it in. I like the saddlebag idea I see in the pictures too, but for balance you need 2!

Winona, Media Director December 16, 2010, 2:28 PM

Thanks so much Harrystewart! So glad it is inspiring for you. Thanks for your support.

Harrystewart December 16, 2010, 1:31 AM

I have been not biking for long time. Reading your blog makes me want to bike again with my friends. Thanks :)

Tulsa Chiropractor October 5, 2010, 12:21 AM

I'm more of a hiking backpacker, we're taking our youth group on a 10 mile hike in a couple weeks. Your post intrigued me. I hadn't really considered wearing a backpack on a bike. Good suggestions though. Thanks for the post.

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