You want to buy a new bikepacking bag – but which one to buy? I tested a few bags from Ortlieb, Arkel and Vaude on various tours during the last year.
ORTLIEB Seat Pack (11L) | Handelbar-Pack (15L) | Accessory-Pack | Frame-Fack (6L) | Cockpit-Pack.
ARKEL Seatpacker (15L) | ARKEL Rollpacker 15 (which has an accessory-bag attached).
If you live close to ZURICH and would like to test or borrow a bag, you can do this here: borrow bikepacking gear from GET CHANGED!.
If you have little time – skip through the text: GREEN what is great. RED what was not good.
I have posed some questions I found relevant and will discuss the bags.
1-How is the handling of the bags?
ARKEL: The Canadian company has developed a special hanger system (see picture below) – i.e. you fix an aluminium hanger at your seatpost and saddle (it takes 10 sec) – and then you put your SEATPACKER bag onto this aluminium hanger and fix it to the seatpost with velcro. This allows you to very easily take off your bag when you leave your bike and put it on again. I love it. But you have an extra item on the bike.
One of the really nice things about Arkel’s hanger construction is that there is no left-right shaking. Watch the video below and evaluate for yourself. Also nice is that the bag has a small pocket with a waterproof zip, which matches e.g. a phone.
Arkel’s Rollpack has a similar system with an aluminium hanger – but unfortunately it did not fit my bike properly, due to my Moloko bar and my cabeling. I once tested it and liked it. But at the front the fixing is a little bit more tricky.
ORTLIEB: On the Tuscany Trail an estimated 50% of the people had Ortlieb bags. Riding behind many people, I saw that a general problem with seatpost bags was that they shake a lot (from left-right) the larger they get, particularly on trails, which does not look comfortable for the rider. I myself experienced not much shaking with the Orlieb Seat-Pack (11L), because it is small. But on the Tuscany Trail I saw a lot of 16.5L Seat-Packs shaking a lot left-right.
You fix the Seat-Pack with one (11L) or two (16.5L) broad velcro to your seatpost and additionally to the saddle. The velcro is a bit difficult to fix through the then metal thing, but it is still very to attach. I only had the 11L bag for testing, which I used for shorter trips. For my overnight trips I found 11L too small.
The Cockpit-Pack is easy to install on the toptube – but while riding, it is almost non usable because the waterproof zip is very very difficult to open with only one hand. This is a real manko – and I will definitely look fo another toptube bag.
The Handelbar-Pack is also easy to install with velcros and secure clips. Taking stuff out is very easy: you just roll open on of the ends. I usually left the bag on the bike during nights because I was too lazy to put it on and off. When riding, I had absolutely no problems with the Handelbar-Pack. I was able to stuff my 2/3-person UL tent (without poles) plus a thick 0 degrees down sleepingbag and a small mat into it – so basically I have my sleeping equipment in it. Michael from Bikepacking Adventures tests Orlieb (German).
I also liked the Accessoire-Pack a lot- because it is very very easy to handle, you can easily take it on an off, and you can even open it while riding – and because it holds quite a lot (food, phone, powerbank, windbreaker, merino longsleeve). It has one manko: the strap to close it does not close the bag properly, i.e. it closes, but not not too tight. On rocky decents I was afraid that stuff could fall out – but it did not happen.
The Frame-Pack was easy to fix to the bike. I liked that it attached smoothly to the tubes because it has a certain breadth (as compared to the Vaude-bag). However, its zip is very difficult going – and on my new bag it did not close properly. I heard similar problems from other people.
VAUDE: So far, I only tested the Vaude Framebag – because the front bag looks like too much to handle and the saddlebag seems like a shaky thing. But these are mainly from seeing them. What I loved about the Framebag is that you can open it at one end and that it my tentpoles fitted into it (the Ortlieb bag did not manage to do this). But compared to the Ortlieb framebag it didn’t have the breadth so it did not nicely attach to the tubes. Also, one really strange thing is that the rubber straps with which you fix it to the toptub are around 20 cm long, and they have not place to go. So while riding, my leg kept on touching them. I need to inquire with Vaude, what the intention behind these long straps is.
I also tested the Vaude Cockpit bag, which is really cheap, but ok for the price. I used it for carrying repair equipment. Main critique is that the velcro straps are too long and are hanging loose (scrubbing your legs).
2-Robustness and quality: How robust is the bag? How long does it last?
ARKEL: The Canadians offer a lifetime warranty, what I find great because this is real sustainability: „We offer a lifetime, transferable, no receipt needed guarantee on the workmanship (meaning the product has no inherent defect to it), stitching (meaning NO stitching will ever rip), aluminum hooks, rails, nuts and screws, and inner stiffening backplate. None of these will ever break. And if one should, you can be sure that we’ll repair it!!! If it can’t be repaired to our high standards, we will replace it. Note that we do not guarantee abuse nor the wear and tear of the fabric and zippers.“
ORTLIEB: Ortlieb offers 5 years warranty – and I was wondering: why it is not longer? Because the most sustainable bag is the one that lasts long. The material is thin and light, but I had the impression that it is still robust. Plus lI have good experience with my Ortlieb panniers. Well, time will tell…
Update 1.7.2020: The zipper of the framebag ist fully broken and the velcro does not stick anymore. Ortlieb replaced the bag without problems, saying that waterproof zippers break in under 1% of cases. Next year they will launch a rolltop framebag, which is great, because you find only few.
VAUDE: The company only offers disappointing 2 years of warranty, although Vaude makes a lot of effort in sustainability, and also offers to repair broken stuff at the HQ in Tettnang. The material is quite thin, but seems to be robust (however, I will see).
3-How waterproof are the bags?
ORTLIEB: Update 1.7.2020: So far the bags are waterproof. However, when I wash the closed Cockpit bag in the shower, it fills with water.
ARKEL: The bags have two layers: An outer layer, made out of Cordura, which is very robust, but only water-repellent: „Our bags start with coated Cordura; a durable, water repellent American-made fabric, nearly impossible to rip or tear, that keeps water out! The same hydrophobic finish used on world-class tents and expedition gear. Water beads up and rolls off, but our coating doesn’t close the tiny spaces between fibers, so condensation won’t build up inside the bag. Great protection during showers, commutes, and regular rain rides.“ Sewn inside the Arkel bag is a waterproof and sealed liner. Update 1.7.2020: So far the bags are waterproof.
VAUDE: Update 1.7.2020: So far the framebag is waterproof.
4-Sustainability of material: How environmentally friendly is the material?
There are more and less sustainable materials. Some materials are toxic to the environment, if they rot or are burned, like PVC. But usually, the most problematic about material is the finishing, which makes the nice water-repellent effect. Greenpeace had a large DETOX campaign about this topic on outdoor gear.
ARKEL: The Cordura material is apparently made in „America“. I got no more info on that.
ORTLIEB: Compared to other Orlieb bags, these are PVC-free, which is a good because PVC is toxic and disposal is problematic. Ortlieb production is CO2 neutral (electricity is 100% renewable and the rest is compensated) and most production takes place in Germany (also of material). I like that Ortlieb produces most bags in Germany.
VAUDE: Vaude has its own Green Shape label on this product, which poses a high standard (even if it is a company label). And it uses Eco-Finish that makes the bag water-repellent without PFC. I found no information regarding how much CO2 it takes to make such a bag.
5-Working standards in production: Do the workers in production have good conditions?
ORTLIEB produces in Germany, which I find great.
ARKEL produces in Canada with their CRDITED Crew, which is also great.
VAUDE produces the bags in Asia. It is member of the Fair Wear Foundation, which is a good organisation that supports its members in improving working conditions in the supply chain – and also makes a lot of this information transparent.
The Orlieb and Vaude bags are a bit lighter than the Arkel bags, because they do not have the aluminium hanger.
ORTLIEB weighs around 325g (11L), 456 (16.5L)
ARKEL weights 440g (bag), 280g (rack)
The ORTLIEB seat-pack system is around 300g lighter than the same Arkel bags.
Arkel: 179 Euros for the 15L bag (1.7.2020)
Ortlieb: 198 Euros for the 16.5L bag (although you get it for around 120 Euros),
Vaude: 120 Euros
You can buy the Ortlieb or Vaude bags in almost every store (although I like that Ortlieb is suing Amazon because they sell their bags without Ortlieb allowing them), while it is very difficult to get the Arkel bags in Western Europe. It is certainly not very environmentally friendly to order single bags in Canada – but maybe some resellers want to include Arkel into their offer, plus you can test the bag, if you live in Zurich.
The Vaude / Ortlieb bags are cheaper when you calculate the buying price. But I prefer to calculate the TOTAL COSTS of OWNERSHIP (TCO), which is an advanced method of calculating costs of products or services. Using a TCO model, the Arkel bag is cheaper, even if you only calculate 20 years of use vs. 5 or 2 years. Having said this, my own Ortlieb bags are already 25 years old (but they have a thicker material).
Before buying: Go and test the bags!
Borrow them from us!
I think that we do not need to own everything and that we own too much stuff. Why not borrow a bag, you might only use 5 days a year?
I have good news for you: If you live close to ZURICH, you can borrow the bags starting with 1 Euro a day from GET CHANGED! via SHARLEY. We will try to offer the same for the Ortlieb bags. By the way: GET CHANGED! members get most of their money refunded.