Best cycling backpack 2020: here are the most practical (and stylish) cycling bags for all manners of riders

The best cycling backpack can be a roll-top, zip-through or messenger bag but whatever the style, for bike commuting and long leisure rides, it’s a must. If you cycle to work, chances are you’ll need to take your gear with you – a change of clothes, your laptop, packed lunch, etc. And maybe one of the best cycling gilets, for if it gets chillier.

Sure, a regular best backpack will do the job – and bike-friendly covers exist to up their visibility – but a cycling-specific backpack will make life easier if you regularly pedal to work, and will mean other cyclists see it and muse on how discerning and hardcore you are.

Cycling-specific backpacks come with features such as a padded laptop sleeve, easy-access pockets, reflective detailing and attachment loops for essentials like locks and lights. They’ll also have ergonomic straps to hold the backpack steady while pedalling and, ideally, be built with aerodynamics in mind, as far as possible.

This buying guide includes our pick of the best cycling backpacks for all budgets.

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How to choose the best cycling backpack

Today, we have the luxury to be able to choose between literally hundreds of bags for cycling. Cycling bags generally fall into three categories, though: zip-through, roll-top or messenger.

First you have the nylon, utility-style zip-through backpacks, of course. These gap the bridge between full-on cycling bags and ‘regular’ backpacks. If you are ever concerned that you will be labelled a ‘cyclist’ at work for sporting a messenger bag, choose one of these.

Then there’s half-shoulder messenger bags – convenient if you need to get items out of the bag quickly. You can just swing the bag around your shoulder and open the flap to access the main compartment or any other smaller compartment which always seem to placed very ergonomically just under your hands.

Roll top backpacks are also very popular. They can hold a metric ton of stuff and are most usually water tight, too, given the roll top closure that seals the main compartment away from moisture. 

A cycling backpack can hold anything upwards 10 litres and most usually is around 20-30 litres in volume, which is a good compromise in size and portability. You can also get 75-litre backpacks if road aerodynamics are not a big concern.

The best thing about a cycling backpack is that it can be simple and stylish for the fashion conscious, or you can opt for something more ergonomic and practical if you’re going to be using it frequently. If it’s the latter you’re after, then looking out for waterproof linings and reflective padding will come in handy for those who use their bike as their main form of transport. 

If you’re more of a weekend rider, for sport or leisure, then something small and lightweight, with compartments that allow you quick and easy access to your stuff can come in handy. You may wish to opt for a cycling backpack with a bladder compartment for hassle-free hydration, and backpacks with bungee cords to attach other essential items for ease of access. 

We’ve picked out a range of different cycling backpacks to accommodate all styles and preferences, from city bikers to adventure bikers and everything in between. 

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Altura is best known for producing a range of wallet-friendly cycling clothing but this backpack shows the British brand isn’t just a one-trick pony. It’s primed for commuting by bike, with a range of compartments and pockets to keep your gear safe, including a 15-inch laptop sleeve, fleece-lined valuables pocket, an easy-access pocket for bike tools and stretchy mesh pockets on the outside. The main compartment also has an expansion zip to increase the capacity up to 30 litres in total.

On top of that, there’s an LED light attachment on the outside, along with an external D-lock pocket, while a high-vis rain cover is also included. Compression straps and a hip belt help keep things comfy when you’re stamping on the pedals.

The list of features I expected from the Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0 as follows: (somewhat) waterproof constriction, loads of storage space in the main compartment, roll-top closure. But what I actually got was way more than just this, although this roll-top backpack does have all the features mentioned above, too.

The Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0 is just one of the most practical cycling backpack I’ve seen in a while. It has a big main compartment that can be filled with 26 litres-worth of stuff, so that’s pretty straight forward. But it has a removable waterproof liner that can be used as an additional bag if needed.

On top of this, it has two padded ‘hidden’ compartments on the side for phone or other valuables, a bigger, also ‘hidden’ pocket for laptops – although I used it as a place to transport my D-lock separate from the rest of the stuff in the bag – and a smaller zipped front pocket for keys and other small bits. Oh, and on the side, you will also find a longer zipped pocket for water bottles or brollies. Never thought I’ll have a roll-top with so much organising potential!

As for ergonomics, the Yalta 3.0 has a moulded back panel with 10 little ridges so instead of having one big sweat patch on your back, you’ll have 10 smaller ones. Jokes aside, the moulded back panel actually helps air circulation between your back and the bag, so you will feel less hot and more comfortable as you ride. The shoulder straps are padded and have little storage daisy chains on them, although I would have appreciated the chain on the front of the bag so I can carry my D-lock outside the bag. I’m being super picky here, though.

The outer shell is covered in water repellent nylon which is better than having a waterproof liner inside the bag: this way, the water will roll off it and the bag won’t get heavier as it doesn’t soak up all the water. The ‘BLCKCHRM’ bit in the name refers to the colour of the bag and the Yalta 3.0 is indeed black, which won’t help visibility in the dark but you should always have bike front lights and bike back lights on anyway, even in broad daylight, so there is that.

The Rolltop Backpack is a quite new one from Rapha, the London-based brand favoured by cycling fashionistas, and combines city slicker styling with bike-specific features. The bag is designed for the rough and tumble of commuting and is made from a tough, water-resistant, abrasion-resistant fabric. The rolltop design has a retractable clip that ensures it’s easy to rummage around inside the cavernous interior, while the black stripe on the back has a series of attachments for lights and locks.

The bottom of the pack is entirely reflective and inside you’ll find a laptop sleeve and essentials pocket, along with another small pocket on the exterior for quick-to-grab items like keys. For comfort and style, this is hard to top.

This canvas backpack is both a practical and stylish option for anyone who cycles to and from work. The cycling backpack features a padded laptop compartment which can hold any device up to 17” and the roll top closure is expandable for when you have a few extra items to carry.

You’ll also have a side pocket which has enough room for a drinks bottle or anything else you want quick and easy access to.  As well as being a stylish choice, the pack itself is made from durable waterproof canvas. It’s doubtful this will stand up to a monsoon, but it’s enough for your average UK shower.

This small but stylish backpack can hold just about enough items for quick trip around town during the day. Thanks to the small form factor and the padded shoulder straps, The North Face Explore Fusebox S backpack won’t be a burden to carry around town.

Thanks to the two daisy chains at the front of the backpack, you can clip items to the bag, even a D-lock, which then won;t rattle around on the handle of the bike as you try to dodge cars in the morning traffic.

With its 14-litre capacity, The North Face Explore Fusebox S – where ‘S’ stands for ‘small’ – won’t be able to hold loads of items, but if you are a minimalist, you wouldn’t need more than a few things anyway.

We love minimalist cycling bags here at T3. What we love even more is when style matches high-quality materials, and this is just the case with the Brooks Dalston Tex Nylon backpack. Made out of hard-wearing Tex Nylon, this waterproof bag is just perfect for urban riders who couldn’t care less about having 7,000 separate compartments in their bags and just want a bag that looks good and feels good on the shoulders.

It might not have loads of extra pockets, but the Brooks Dalton Tex Nylon does have a dedicated laptop sleeve, of course, along with internal organisation for small items as well as two outer pockets for water bottles and umbrellas. 

The genuine leather straps are just the icing on the cake, as well as the two new colourways, Octane and Orange, which will surely make you stand out from the crowd. Possibly.

Looking for a bag that can be used for hiking and trailing as well as cycling? Look no further than the Osprey Talon 22, a not surprisingly 22-litre backpack with excellent breathability at the back panel.

The Talon 22 feels smaller on the back than how big it is, thanks to the clever holster system that golds the bag securely wrapped around your torso: the bag won’t slide onto your neck, even in more aggressive racing positions, being bent over the lower bar on your bike.

The Talon also features a bike helmet attachment, reflective graphics, twin zippered hip belt pockets, stretch pocket on harness, external hydration access and a single ice axe loop.

There is a lot to like about Crumpler bags and if you are even slightly familiar with camera bags and/or cycling bags, you’ve heard about them already. Crumpler’s 1000d Chicken Tex Supreme Nylon fabric is waterproof and hard-wearing, making it an ideal cycling bag material that will last, even if you keep throwing your bag around, which you will most likely do, let’s face it.

Although the Dinky Di Messenger M is only 16 liters in volume, you can still fit a 15-inch laptop (e.g. Macbook Pro) in the main sleeve AND a 9.7-inch tablet (e.g. iPad) in the smaller sleeve. Plus all your other stuff, like phone. keys and smartphone, of course.

This large city backpack is large enough to accommodate all of your daily essentials for the office, including your laptop, a change of clothing and lunch. Owners say the roll top closer is great for expandability when needed and the padding and back supports mean you rarely feel the difference when adding extra weight as it distributes so well.

There aren’t many pockets so sometimes it can be a fumble to find things inside if it’s very full,  but it’s waterproof and comes with reflective strips so overall this pack is rated highly for those daily commutes to the office. 

Sometimes, you’ll need some extra storage space, even if you’re cycling. A 14-litre backpack won’t cut it when you have to pack for both colder and hotter weather, camping accessories, sleeping bag and so on.

Enter the Salomon Prolog 70 backpack. It is a hybrid backpack/weekend bag that can be carried around as a backpack as much as a duffle bag and can store away pretty much everything you might need for a long weekend away from civilisation.

As expected from a bag such a size, the Prolog 70 comes with a large range of different pockets and organisational features including a wet compartment for all your laundry and wet shoes. No need to carry single use plastic bags anymore!

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