How to Choose the Best Bike Pannier

How to Choose the Best Bike Pannier

June 16, 2020

The North St. Bags Guide to Choosing a Pannier

How do you pick the right pannier? Like so many great questions the answer is: more questions! This guide will help you ask the right questions, and how to pick the best panniers for your ride.

What are panniers?

There are a ton of different types of bike bags. "Pannier" comes from an Old French word for "bread basket". Fast forward through a few hundred years of technology and language development and you find it's now a blanket term to cover any bag, basket, or box attached to the side of a bike or motorcycle. 

North St. Bags panniers are made to work with most standard rear and front racks for bicycles. We may be able to make some accommodations for cargo racks with thicker tubes, or racks smaller than the suggested sizing.

If you have any questions about your rack, reach out!

We also offer convertible backpack-panniers. These are packs with hidden, modular backpack straps that transform the way you carry the bag off-bike. Their versatility makes them some of the best panniers for commuting. Did we mention they rock for traveling, touring, and day trips, too?

How do you say "panniers"?

We have this conversation a lot in the shop, and we can conclusively say: you're doing it the right way. Don't be afraid to have some fun with the pronunciation - we know what you mean, and if we don't, we'll ask. The regional accents on our team mean that we tend to go for "pan-ear", but give us a "pan-yey" or a "paneer"? Don't worry - we got you.

What do you pack? 

Each ride and rider is a little bit different, and you know your needs best. Make your own daily commute checklist, including any off-season clothes and accessories that you might not be carrying right now. We have a suggested list below– tailor yours to suit your life.

Suggested Daily Carry Packing List:

  • Laptop
  • Charging cords
  • Tablet
  • Change of clothes
  • Shoes
  • Rain jacket
  • Water bottle
  • Lunch
  • Lock & keys
  • Flat repair kit
  • First aid kit

What weather do you ride in?

Are you aiming for postal service levels of rain-or-shine, sleet-or-snow commitment? Or do you bring your bike out to soak up seasonal sunshine? There’s no wrong way to travel by bike - you’ll likely find your priorities change over time. Considering what kinds of weather you face will no doubt help you choose the right materials for your bike bag.

We make our gear with two basic kinds of material - a rugged waterproof sailcloth, and a super abrasion resistant, water resistant nylon. If you’re interested in going deep on our fabric choices, you'll find more on that here. Our classic panniers and convertible backpack-panniers are made with both of these in layers. The nylon outer shell protects the cargo and liner from friction, while the sailcloth lining helps keep the interior compartments dry.

The Gladstone Grocery Pannier is a single layer Cordura bag. It boasts light water resistance and heavy durability. The Gladstones pair really well with larger panniers or a convertible backpack-pannier to add extra hauling space.

The Micro Panniers are made with a single layer of waterproof sailcloth. These have a high level of water resistance, rugged durability, and are a minimalist addition to any set up. They’re designed to be extremely lightweight panniers, and are some of our best panniers for bike touring.

How to Choose the Best Pannier for Your Needs

Now that you have your packing list and weather forecast it’s time to talk about finding the best panniers. 

We note our bag volume in liters. It's industry standard bag sizing description, but isn't always a clean translation to reality for folks just starting to pack.

I.E. Can’t visualize what 20 liters of clothes, snack bars, and supplies looks like off hand? You’re not alone!  If you don’t have a pack to compare size to, grab everything on your packing list and a couple brown paper grocery bags.

Grocery bags are not 100% standard, but most are between 18-22 liters. Knowing this, you can get a good estimate of what you’ll need to pack your daily carry.

Here’s a breakdown of how our panniers size up:

north st bags micro panniers best bikepacking panniers

Micro Panniers

14L | Single layer waterproof sailcloth

"...Perfect in every way. Made with great material, high quality build, and the perfect size for a daily commute." - Adam F., real life Micro Pannier user


north st bags grocery pannier

Gladstone Grocery Panniers

15 liters | Single layer water resistant 1000d Cordura

"Easy to install on my rear bike rack and looks great." - Sylvia L., real life Grocery Pannier user

north st bags route 6 waterproof pannier

Route 6

22 liters | Waterproof sailcloth liner & Water resistant 1000d Cordura outer shell

"Strong, solid construction. Big enough to accommodate all my necessary items. The addition of the interior removable pocket helps me stay organized and not lose my essential charging tools. Awesome bags." - Morgan S., real life Route 6 user


north st bags route 7 waterproof pannier

Route 7 Waterproof Pannier

24 liters | Waterproof sailcloth liner & Water resistant 1000d Cordura outer shell

"Love these panniers. Ridiculously burly with high build material quality." - April N., real life Route 7 user


north st bags morrison backpack pannier

Morrison Convertible Backpack-Pannier

22L | Waterproof sailcloth liner & Water resistant 1000d Cordura outer shell

"Best damn bike bag pannier/backpack I have ever owned." - Sam B., real life Morrison user

north st bags woodward backpack pannier

Woodward Convertible Backpack-Pannier

32L | Waterproof sailcloth liner & Water resistant 1000d Cordura outer shell

"I have used the same midnight Woodward since 2015. On the bike, on the bus, on a hike, weekend trips. It has never fallen off the bike, it has never hit my heel, and it has kept all my gear dry since day one. On top of that it just looks fantastic." - Jackson M., real life Woodward user


Remember that you can split up your equipment between different types of bike bags. Panniers are great for the big items that you don’t need to access until you get where you’re going.

Pair the versatility of a convertible backpack-pannier with the simplicity and space of a dedicated pannier.

Handlebar bags, fuel pouches, and fanny packs keep smaller items at your fingertips. A trunk bag by itself is a compact and aerodynamic alternative to panniers, or can be paired with a set of rear rack bags for a fully loaded back seat.

If you have any questions about which bag is right for you, we're always happy to make recommendations! Reach out to us and we'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Travel Well and Adventure Right

-The North St. Bags Team