The best cycling backpacks combine the portability of messenger bags with the comfort of backpacks. Messenger bags may be the bag that comes to mind with thinking of cycling, but unless you are an actual bike messenger who needs to access his bag regularly on the move, backpacks are a more comfortable choice.
Backpacks distribute the weight more evenly over the back, secure more tightly, and can hold more cargo than your average messenger bag.
That said, a cycling backpack is different from your average school backpack. While a normal backpack can do in a pinch, if you’re going to bike regularly, a backpack geared for cyclists is a must.
A cycling backpack needs to be able to secure to your body so that it’s not flopping around and interfering with your balance. Good cycling backpacks will also hang a little lower so as not to impair your range of vision.
Other important qualities include water resistance, a place for your helmet and U-Lock, and reflective surfaces for safety.
Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack
The Banjo Brothers is a small, independent company based in Minneapolis created to produce quality bags specifically for cycling. The Banjo Brothers Commuter Backpack is a backpack designed by cyclists for cyclists, with a 24 liter capacity. The backpack comes with a waterproof liner, removable for cleaning. The shoulder straps are wider to distribute weight better and come with a shoulder-mounted cellphone pocket for easy use. It sits lower on the back for better line of sight, and has two reflective strips for higher visibility. There is an outside pocket for your U-Lock, and a tab for a safety light.
Ortlieb Velocity Bag
Ortlieb is famous for its waterproof bike panniers and bags. Ortlieb is what you get if it absolutely has to be waterproof. The Ortlieb Velocity Bag comes with a roll-top closure, which besides helping with waterproofing, also lets you adjust the size of the bag. The 20 liter bag can hold a lot, but if you don’t have that much cargo you can roll it down and make the bag even more compact. The bag has a padded back for comfort and chest and waist straps to secure the pack. It has a low profile to help with your line of sight while biking and a place to hook a light for bike safety.
Osprey Packs Radial 26 Daypack
Osprey, a company based out of Colorado, makes good quality bags for all outdoor sports, including cycling. The Radial series is specifically geared towards cyclists, with the Osprey Packs Radial 26 Daypack striking an ideal balance between available space and overall size. At 2.4 pounds, it’s not overly heavy, and the heavy-duty nylon will stand up to abuse. There’s a dedicated laptop pocket for 15” laptops and two zippered front compartments with sleeves for a tablet and cell phone. The bottom of the bag has an attachment for a blinker light for better visibility at night. A high visibility rain cover is also included. Special LidLock helmet attachments give you a place to put your helmet, and a special dedicated front pocket holds your U-Lock. The Radial 26 has chest and waist straps to keep the pack secure, with a rigid frame to keep the pack slightly off your back and keeping you from getting too sweaty during your commute.
Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Bag
At 1.8 pounds, the Timbuk2 Rogue Laptop Backpack is a lightweight and stylish cycling backpack. There is mesh webbing on the front and sides of the backpack to hold your helmet, U-Lock, or bike pump. The outside has a easy-access pocket for keys, cellphones, or other personal items. The custom fit straps for your shoulder and sternum even come with a bottle opener. The Rogue Laptop Bag says it fits a 15” laptop, but the mesh laptop pocket is stretchable and can fit laptops up to 17”, if a little snugly. The backpack is waterproof for commuting on those rainy days.
CamelBak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack
CamelBaks are used in the military when soldiers have to go on long marches. CamelBaks have large reservoirs for water, with a tube that attaches to the shoulder strap so the water can be drunk while on the move. While CamelBaks come in every size from just the reservoir to a full rucksack, the CamelBak M.U.L.E. Hydration Pack is the perfect size for cycling day trip. The reservoir, removable for easy cleaning, holds three liters of water, and the bag itself holds 11 liters, enough room for equipment and snacks. There is a helmet hook, small pockets for keys and cell phones, and airflow channels on the back to give you some ventilation when you’re exercising. The CamelBak M.U.L.E. doesn’t have a lot of storage space for a daily commute, but you can’t go wrong taking this backpack on a weekend trail ride.
A Bicycle Backpack Alternative
You also may want to consider bicycle panniers. Think of them as backpacks that a bicycle wears. While some are mounted semi-permanently, many are actually portable and can be removed for packing and unpacking away from the bike.