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 thoughts on “Rucksack vs pannier for commuting”

  1. 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. 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. 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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