A good quality backpack for cycling to work can be the difference between arriving at your destination with your stuff safe and dry, and arriving to find it all soaked through from an unexpected rainstorm.
Whether you need something lightweight and small for carrying your essentials, or something bigger to transport your laptop and a change of clothes, our expert testers have picked six of the best cycling backpacks on the market and put them through their paces.
We looked for backpacks that had effective and dependable waterproofing or water resistance. This is perhaps the most important feature, as even if you intend to cycle just on nice days you’ll eventually get caught out by a freak rainstorm.
On top of that, we looked for durable and easy to use closure systems, such as a roll-top or waterproof zips, and enough capacity to carry everything you’re likely to need on a day to day basis.
As this guide is mainly geared towards cycling backpacks for commuting and urban use, we’ve focused on the hi-viz or reflective options. If those colours aren’t to your taste though, many of them are also available in more muted tones.
Once you’ve read through all of the reviews, keep reading for our buyer’s guide to cycling backpacks.
The best cycling backpacks in 2020, as rated by our expert testers
- Lomo Hi-Viz Dry Bag: £32.99
- Altura Thunderstorm City 30: £79.99
- Overboard Velodry 20L: £119.99 / €144.95 / $179.99
- Oxford Aqua V20: £54.99 / $64.95
- Proviz Reflect 360: £69.99 / €90 / $120
- Ortlieb Commuter Daypack Urban Line: £155 / €159.99 / $225
Lomo Hi-Viz Dry Bag
- 30 litres
- Spacious, waterproof and durable
It’s big, it’s tough, it’s waterproof, it’s bright, it’s cheap and its hi-vis fluorescent yellow PVC is decked in reflective stripes.
So what are the downsides? Well, you’ll get a bit sweaty on longer rides or carrying heavy kit, but this 30-litre PVC bag will swallow all your belongings and keep them bone dry, thanks to the roll-down top and welded seams.
It lacks any extras but for under 40 quid we really aren’t complaining.
Altura Thunderstorm City 30
- 30 litres
- Available in two colours, subtle reflective details
Altura’s hi-vis yellow bag adds little reflective dashes all over the sides, back and bottom for highly effective, all-round visibility. If the hi-vis yellow version is a little too loud for you, it’s also available in black.
The 30-litre compartment has a laptop sleeve and two internal pockets, but the outside’s clean lines are completely pocket-free.
There’s a light loop, the roll-top is cinched with a metal buckle for effective waterproofing and the padding is well vented, which prevents sweat build-up.
Overboard Velodry 20L
- £119.99 / €144.95 / $179.99
- 20 litres
- Submergible for 30 mins, reversible hi-viz front panel
The ‘Velodry’ name gives a clue to this bag’s imperviousness to water – you can submerge this for half an hour – as well as being able to resist snow, dust and sand. It certainly survived our shower without leakage.
The reversible front panel lets you choose between yellow hi-vis and reflective, the back is well-padded and there are two mesh side-pockets. The roll-top buckle can be a little awkward when the bag’s not full.
Oxford Aqua V20
- £54.99 / $64.95
- 20 litres
- Available in lots of different colours, excellent waterproofing
A simple design – an effective roll-top opening into a single 20-litre compartment – but this is available in loads of colours all of which have extensive reflective details with 360-degree visibility.
With the top tightened this proved impervious to water with even the external pocket waterproof.
The bag is tough and easy to clean too, although it may leave you a little sweatier than some. Bright, straightforward and well-priced.
Proviz Reflect 360
- £69.99 / €90 / $120
- 30 litres
- Incredibly effective reflectivity, quality construction
This looks like a muted grey until car headlights pick it out, and it reflects over pretty much all the exposed surfaces. ‘Bright’ really doesn’t do this justice.
Unlike some, it’s not fully waterproof, but we found it coped with heavy showers, helped by fully waterproof zips.
It has a healthy 30-litre capacity, a laptop sleeve, light loop, mesh and zip pockets, while hip and chest straps keep it stable. A quality bag, great reflectivity and a good price.
The following bag scored fewer than four stars in our test but is still worth considering.
Ortlieb Commuter Daypack Urban Line
- £155 / €159.99 / $225
- 21 litres
- Tough construction with lots of good details
Roll down the top of this high-quality PVC-free 21L bag and it will keep the dirt and rain out. It also has reflective stitching for night-riding safety.
Features include a light, D-lock loops and a padded laptop sleeve. The German-made PU-laminated Cordura and cotton blend bag has a reinforced base, comfortable back-pads and adjustable/removable chest and waist straps for maximum versatility.
A fantastic bag… At a price.
Buyer’s guide to cycling backpacks
Do you really need a cycling-specific backpack?
If you’re just looking to pop out for sunny pootles around your local park, then you’ll probably be fine with any old backpack.
Just watch out for unexpected showers and think about lining your bag with a bin liner if you’ve got anything in there you don’t want getting wet.
Those who cycle regularly or on mucky roads, though, will almost certainly appreciate the extra features cycling-specific backpacks offer. These usually include waterproofing, vented rear padding, increased visibility and mounts for locks and lights.
Backpack vs panniers
When deciding between the best bike bags for commuting, you typically have two choices: a backpack or pannier bags.
Most people riding short distances and carrying reasonably light loads are likely to be better off with a backpack rather than panniers.
The simplicity and take-anywhere nature of a backpack is hard to beat. A cycling backpack can also usually be pressed in to double duty as a backpack for hiking or city use.
Panniers are great for touring, or for cyclists who want to carry larger or heavier loads such as shopping, but you’ll need to install a rack on your bike (assuming it has the requisite mounts) and they’re usually more cumbersome to carry when off the bike.
Zips vs roll-top
Roll-top bags are usually what you see professional cycle couriers using, and for good reason. Zips are compact and flexible for shaping but can be a weak point for waterproofing, and are also much more likely to wear out and break with heavy use.
A roll-top bag on the other hand can be opened/closed hundreds, if not thousands, of times without any major wear and tear. For this reason, many bags will use a combination of zipped pockets and roll-top main compartments. This helps maximise both durability and the convenience of having separate pockets for specific items.
How much capacity do you need?
The majority of commuters carrying items such as a laptop, some spare clothes and valuables will generally need around 20 to 30 litres of space. Aspiring pro bike messengers might need up to 40 litres, but that’s probably overkill for most people.
Those who commute during the winter will need a little more room for carrying bulkier jackets and the like.
Likewise, if you commute in Lycra kit with clipless pedals and cycling shoes/sandals, you’ll probably want to change into something else at the end of the journey too. Don’t forget to factor in extra space for a change of clothes and shoes.
All things considered, it’s probably best to have a little more room than you think you’ll need – it’s always going to be useful to have enough space to be able to pop to the shops on the way home.