How Do I Choose a Bike Backpack? Beginners Guide

How Do I Choose a Bike Backpack? Beginners Guide

So you’re looking to get a backpack for cycling – great idea.

A good backpack can be a gamechanger for carrying your stuff comfortably on bike rides.

But with so many backpacks out there, how do you even choose?

I’ve tested my fair share of packs over the years, so I’ll walk you through the key things to consider when picking your perfect cycling companion.

We’ll go over:

  • How to measure your torso and bike frame for ideal backpack fit
  • Must-have features to look for in cycling-specific packs
  • Top backpack brands loved by fellow riders
  • And plenty more backpack buying tips!

By the end, you’ll be a pro at finding a cycling backpack that carries your gear without weighing you down.

Let’s dive in!

How Do I Choose a Bike Backpack?

Choosing the right backpack starts with thinking about how you’ll use it.

Backpacks for quick grocery runs differ greatly from ones needed for all-day trail adventures.

Key Usage Cases

Here are the most common ways cyclists use backpacks:

Bike Commuting: Carrying work items like your laptop, lunch, and daily office essentials.

The bike commute is often short distances in the city. You generally want decent capacity without tons of bulk.

Groceries/Errands: Hauling goods like produce, canned items, and miscellaneous shopping items from the store back home.

Easy access and load stability are key for keeping your eggs from cracking!

Road/Fitness Riding: Longerdistances for exercise, training, and pushing your cycling fitness.

The backpack weight matters more here, as does hydration reservoir compatibility.

Bikepacking: Multi-day cycling trips and excursions where you need camping gear and provisions.

Requires larger capacity and durability to carry substantial loads.

Mountain Biking: Riding off-road trails and dealing with all weather conditions.

Larger capacity for tools/protection and highly rugged build are musts. Reflectivity is less important.

Really envisioning how you plan to use your future backpack will help tremendously in narrowing down your needs…

Capacity Considerations

With your likely usage identified, next consider your ideal capacity:

  • Under 10L: Perfect for essentials like your phone, wallet, keys and a snack/small first aid kit. Super compact and lightweight.
  • 15-25L: Solid for short commute with work items, or carrying a decent grocery haul from the store. Still very manageable size.
  • 25-35L: Allows you to carry a full work complement – laptop, notebook, documents, large lunch, gym clothes and shoes. Enough for an overnight.
  • 35L+: Necessary for longer trips with extensive carry capacity – bikepacking, trail riding, backcountry adventures. Can get very bulky.

I suggest resisting the urge to get a massive backpack even if you occasionally need huge capacity.

Oversized packs are annoying for most daily usage.

Instead, get the smallest pack that fulfills 95% of your regular needs, then use specialty camping bags for the big hauls as needed.

How Do I Measure My Torso and Bike for a Backpack?

Getting the right fit is absolutely critical for comfort, performance, and keeping loads stable while riding.

Take the time to carefully measure your body and bike frame:

1. Measure your torso length:

  • Start at the bony bump at the base of your neck (your C7 vertebrae for you anatomy nerds).
  • Have a friend use a flexible tape measure and run it straight down your back to the mid-point of your hip bones.
  • That’s your “torso length” and a key sizing metric for backpacks. It’s often between 20″-24″ for most adults.

2. Measure your bike frame:

  • Measure from the center of your bike’s bottom bracket (where the crank arms meet the bike’s frame) vertically up to the junction of the seat tube and top tube.
  • Note this bike frame height measurement – it will determine how well a prospective pack pairs with your bike’s proportions. Stable bike-bag pairing is crucial.

3. Use your torso and bike frame measurements to find a backpack with listed dimensions that fit you well.

Most packs will list both the compatible torso length range and bike frame size match in their product details or sizing chart.

Dialing in the right torso and bike fit ensures your new pack will be comfortable, balanced, and high-performing.

For ideal stability, also look for packs with fully adjustable shoulder, chest, and hip straps so you can customize the fit.

Don’t overlook this measurement step!

What Features Should I Look for in a Cycling Backpack?

With your measurements done and the right backpack size identified, let’s explore the key features you should look for:

1. Ventilation and Airflow

Proper ventilation is extremely important for keeping your back cool and sweat-free on long rides.

Look for backpacks with:

  • Mesh covered suspension systems and back panels that allow airflow
  • Contoured or raised air channels that don’t sit flat and create a dead air space
  • Moisture wicking fabrics next to your back instead of thick padded panels
  • Adjustability like cinchable straps to fine tune distance off your back

The last thing you want is a sweaty back 3 miles into your commute!

Prioritize ventilation and airflow in any cycling backpack.

2. Stability and Security

Key features that help keep loads balanced and reduce pack shifting/swaying:

  • Well-padded shoulder straps distribute weight effectively and minimize pressure points
  • Adjustable sternum straps and hip belts prevent side-to-side sway as you pedal
  • Compression straps let you cinch and stabilize cargo tightly
  • Pickpocket deterrent features help protect valuables

Look for packs that really lock in tight across multiple points rather than basic slack dual shoulder straps.

This vastly improves riding performance and control.

3. Reflectivity and Visibility

Being visible from all angles is hugely important for road safety:

  • Look for reflective trim/logos that shine brightly when headlights hit them
  • Rear-facing blinker lights alert traffic coming from behind
  • 360° reflective exteriors that light up all around the pack
  • Bright colors and patterns also help you stand out

Reflectivity may matter less for mountain biking, but it’s a key consideration if you’ll ride near vehicles.

Be a shining beacon out there!

4. Weather Protection

For wet riding conditions, seek out these features:

  • Water resistant fabric construction made of PU or silicone coated ripstop nylon, polyester, etc.
  • Integrated stowable rain covers or highly water resistant shells included
  • Waterproof zippers that won’t let moisture in and pocket covers/flaps

Nothing ruins a ride like a soaked laptop or damp clothes. Make sure your pack has your back if the clouds open up.

Specialized Features

Some nifty extra features to look for include:

  • Integrated bike light mounts to reduce bulk
  • Tool organizers and pockets tailored for cycling repair items and spares
  • Inner compartments and dividers for electronics, shoes, helmet, and other delicate items
  • Attachment points for walking/hiking poles if you bikepack
  • Padded laptop sleeves to protect your device from bumps

Prioritize the core essentials like ventilation and stability first, then enjoy the specialized features as bonus add-ons specific to your riding style.

What Are the Best Cycling Backpack Brands?

With countless brands in the market, here are my top recommendations to consider:

Osprey: My overall favorite for bike commuting and daily riding.

Osprey’s backpacks have fantastic ventilation in their AirScape system and highly adjustable, comfortable fit.

The Radial series is made specifically with cyclists in mind.

Deuter: A legend in backpacks, this German brand builds super stable and sleek profiles without bulk.

Favorites like the Bike One and Aircontact series perform wonderfully for all-around cycling.

Camelbak: Best known for hydration reservoirs, but Camelbak also crafts cycling-specific packs like the Fourteener with great strap designs.

That water pack compatibility doesn’t hurt either!

Thule: This Swedish outfit makes solid outdoor gear including reliable, well-built bags ideal for bike commuting and urban use.

Models like the Pack-n-Pedal Commuter are perfect for city riders.

Timbuk2: Known for trendy and tough messenger bags, Timbuk2 also produces quality backpacks suited for cycling around town.

Options like the lane-changing Spire integrate reflective details and urban style.

Ask fellow cyclists in your area what packs they recommend too. And always try packs on fully loaded before buying to assess comfort and fit.

Final Thoughts

I hope this backpack-buying guide gives you a helpful head start on finding the perfect cycling companion!

Taking the time to carefully consider your personal usage needs, ideal dimensions, most important features, bike integration, and reputable brands means you’ll be able to carry all your essential gear comfortably and securely on your cycling adventures.

Let me know if any other backpack questions come up!

I’m always happy to geek out over cycling packs and help a fellow rider get their setup dialed. Your dream backpack is out there, now go find it! Happy trails!

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Joey B. Ramsey
Passionate cyclist, father, and blogger.
I've been riding bikes since childhood and enjoy sharing my knowledge with fellow cycling enthusiasts.
My diverse bike collection allows me to write reviews and advice based on personal experience with various bikes and accessories.
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