Frame bags or panniers? Those are basically the two options you have for hauling your gear on bikepacking trips. If you prefer panniers, Arkel’s Waterproof Dry-Lite Saddle Bags are hard to beat. Weighing just 19 oz (540 g) per pair, they can hold 28L of gear.
Specs at a Glance
- MSRP $89/pair
- Position: rear
- 19 oz / 540 grams for the pair
- 400 denier ripstop Nylon with TPU coating
- Volume for the set: 28 litres / 1708 cu.in
- Waterproof roll-top design
- Ultralight horizontal stays kept bags clear of the wheel
- Reflectors on all sides for safety
- Built-in handle or optional shoulder strap
- Rolls tight for easy storage
- Dimensions per bag: 14.5” X 11” X 5.5” / 37cm X 28cm X 14cm
- Compact rolled size 15” X 4” X 2”
Frame bags and bike panniers both have their advantages and disadvantages and which you pick depends on your intended route, volume needs, and personal preferences. For example, if you ride a mountain bike and plan to ride single track or on narrow trails, frame bags are usually preferable because they won’t limit your clearance like bulging hamster cheeks in a tight squeeze.
But if you ride more of a road-style gravel bike, panniers can be more convenient, in part, because they’re higher volume and more flexible. Panniers also tend to be much easier to take off and put on a bike at night than frame bags that have a million straps. For example, the Relevate Designs Tangle frame bag attached to my top tube, in the photo, above has 7 different straps that have to be unattached and reattached every time I step away from my bike so it’s not stolen. Panniers are a lot easier. You can usually just unhook them from your rack.
Arkel’s Dry-Lite Saddle Bags have a simple roll-top closure that clips close like a dry bag with taped seams to prevent moisture from seeping in. The two bags have hooks at the bottom to secure to your rack and a horizontal lightweight stiffener (a wooden dowel) to help them keep their shape. They connect together at the top using a system of overlapping velcro straps and drape over the top of your rack so you can just unhook them and pick them up as a unit. You can also configure the velcro straps to wrap around the top tubes of your rack if you want a bit more holding security. This isn’t well documented, but it’s easy to make it work as long as you realize that you have to drape the bags as a pair over the rack: you can’t just connect just one pannier bag at a time.
Each of the panniers has reflective accents for safety and they roll up completely flat which makes them very easy to pack in a suitcase. Arkel has a good video on their website that illustrates the panniers in use.
How much storage does 28L equate to for a bikepacker? I can easily fit all of my camping gear and extra clothing minus my stove and food in both the Dry-Lite Saddle Bags without busting a gut trying to roll them closed. Instead of using a trunk bag, I pack my food, stove, and water filter in a 3 oz. waterproof bear bag called The Lunch Box made by Superior Wilderness Designs which has 12L of capacity. Separating my food from my gear and clothes prevents it from getting contaminated by food smells and the Lunch Bag is easy to hang from a tree on trips to prevent bears from getting my food. Finally, I store all my biking tools, patches, and spare tubes in a frame bag and wear a small hydration pack if water is not abundant.
How much lighter are Arkel’s Dry-Lite Saddle Bags compared to other lightweight panniers? They’re over 50% lighter weight that Ortlieb’s new Gravel Pack Panniers, which weigh 40.9 oz for 25L of storage. Nuff said!
As more and more ultralight backpackers discover how much fun it is to bikepack with ultralight camping gear, you can bet that frame bags and pannier weights are going to matter to them as much as ultralight backpack weights do.
Disclosure: The author purchased all of the products discussed here with his own funds, with the exception of the SWD Lunch Box which was a sample.Editor's note: If you’re thinking about buying gear that we’ve reviewed or recommend on SectionHiker, you can help support us in the process. Just click on any of the seller links above, and if you make a purchase, we may (but not always) receive a small percentage of the transaction. The cost of the product is the same to you but this helps us continue to test and write unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides. Thanks and we appreciate your support!