Rucksack vs pannier for commuting

When I first started cycling into town, I used a rucksack. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I already had a rucksack, so it was easiest to just use this for cycling. After a few years, I was tired of carrying a heavy weight on my back so bought some panniers. It was a great relief to get the weight off the back and onto the bike, and I’ve never gone back to rucksacks, unless I can help it.

Cyclists -backpacks

Looking at cyclists in Oxford, there seems to be a rought 70/30 split between rucksacks / other-bags and panniers.


If you can tell such a thing, the more ‘serious looking commuters’ are more likely to have panniers. The more ‘casual looking cyclists’ are more likely to have rucksacks. In a way this is what you would expect. When I started cycling, I use a rucksack for convenience, but as I spent more time cycling, you start to think of investing in better equipment – panniers and pannier rack was one of the first investments.

Advantages of rucksacks

  • Most people don’t even have to buy one because they already own one.
  • Easy to put on and off.
  • Easy to carry around when not on the bike
  • There are specialist rucksacks / messenger bags for cyclists, if you want to have a relatively light weight on the back, these specific bags are easier to carry, and don’t hinder neck movement, like some bigger rucksacks.
  • For the bike messenger who is jumping on and off the bike, a messenger bag is most efficient because you don’t lose time putting on and off the bike.
  • If you only carry small amount of stuff or travel short distance, the weight is not such an issue.

Disadvantages of rucksacks


  • It is extra weight on your back, which can become tiring after a while.
  • It makes your back sweat more. In summer you can arrive in town with a dripping shirt – with the bag acting as insulation.
  • It makes it harder to look over your shoulder and see cars coming from behind. This alone is a reason to try and avoid rucksacks. It just makes movements slower. It can even subconsciously discourage you from looking over your shoulder because it is more effort.
  • There is less weight and volume that you can fit in a rucksack.

Advantages of panniers

  • Take weight off your body.
  • Gives full freedom of movement, vital for being fully aware of what is going on around you.
  • You can carry a lot more. For example, if you got a double 20 litre bags – that is pretty much a big weekly shop. I shop with just a 20 litre bag (though I do get Tesco to deliver heavy things like soya milk e.t.c)
  • Most panniers come with a shoulder strap so that you can still carry around the pannier in between cycling.
  • When I bought panniers, I found my shopping habits change. Rather than buy a small amount of stuff at supermarkets, I could buy a lot more and carry it back on the bike.
  • Some people worry about having 1 pannier on the back of a bike makes it harder to manoeuvre. Maybe, but it’s never been an issue. You can always buy two to spread weight.

Disadvantages of panniers

  • You have to buy and fix a pannier rack
  • A good pair of panniers is an extra cost.
  • There is some faffing around putting panniers on bike and taking off (though this can be really quite minimal.)
  • If you’re carrying a lot of weight on a shoulder strap when walking around in between cycling, you can place a lot of weight on one side. In this case, a rucksack is more balanced because it shares the weight.

What should I use?


If you commute regularly, it is essential to consider panniers. They are much better for cycling than a rucksack.

The only people who would be better off with specific rucksack or messenger bag are:

  • Those who only carry small amount of weight
  • Those who cycle infrequently.
  • Those who aren’t sure about spending £60 for pannier rack and bags.
  • Those who make frequent stops and spend a lot of time off the bike.

Things to consider

Pannier + Backpack


-After years of using panniers, I actually wanted the best of both worlds – a pannier that converts into a rucksack. I got a strained back because I was carrying a lot of weight in a pannier bag with a shoulder strap. What I really wanted was a pannier that was also 2 straps like a backpack. I bought an adapter for an Ortlieb pannier  (pictured above)- but it was too much hassle, so I don’t really use.

I still think there is possibility to make a rough rack-sack inbuilt into a pannier.

Panniers attaching to seat post.

If you don’t want to fit pannier rack, you can get panniers which attach to the seat post. These have a weight limit, but it means you can save fitting a pannier rack.

For example, the Topeak QR Beam rack – with side panels.


Topeak QR seat post mount – weight limit 15lbs

Cost. You can buy a pannier rack for £20 and a basic pannier for £20. SO it’s not expensive.

Front basket


Many cyclists in Oxford get on quite well with a front basket

Related posts

Panniers online





5 Responses to Rucksack vs pannier for commuting

  1. steve January 13, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    One other disadvantage of rucksacks — visibility.

    The number of people I see with a dark or camo-coloured rucksack over their hi-viz outfit because they clearly don’t want to be seen by traffic overtaking them just astounds me.

  2. Paul January 13, 2016 at 11:17 am #

    I’ve been using an Altura Aero Post Pack for the last year. It’s big enough for a full change of clothes as a commuter bag and clips on/off very quickly. It’s not suitable for carbon seatposts and does have a fairly low weight limit, but it ticks a lot of boxes for light usage.

  3. Hamish January 13, 2016 at 1:10 pm #

    Off topic question Tejvan, i see the mention of Soya Milk, out of interest do you not eat dairy?

    • tejvan January 13, 2016 at 1:27 pm #

      I do eat dairy. But, I prefer soya milk to cows milk on cereal. But, when ordering a tea, I take cow’s milk.

  4. Runner 5 January 13, 2016 at 1:26 pm #

    I have a back basket which I just put my rucksack, handbag, grocery shopping, etc in and then a multi strand bungee thing over the top to make sure it stays there. Easy peasy. When I don’t want to wear my hi vis vest I usually put it on the basket.

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