The Best Cycling Backpacks for Commuting 


Commuting by bicycle is a great way to get exercise while reducing your carbon footprint. Having a high-quality cycling backpack to carry your gear makes commuting practical and comfortable. This guide examines the key features to look for and reviews the top cycling backpacks of 2023.

When choosing a commuting backpack, prioritise comfort, stability, storage capacity, and weather resistance. Padded straps, chest and hip straps, air channels, and compartments for organisation are ideal features. Waterproof materials and roll-top closures help keep contents dry.

Top Picks for Best Cycling Backpacks

Based on expert tests and user reviews, the most recommended cycling backpacks for commuting are:

  • Camelbak Mule Commute 22L
  • Ortlieb Commuter Daypack Urban Line
  • Chrome Barrage Cargo 22X
  • Rapha Roll Top Backpack
  • Osprey Radial

1. Camelbak Mule Commute 22L

With 22 litres capacity, the Mule Commute is a lightweight and weather-resistant backpack optimised for cycling. Key features include:

  • Padded air channel back panel to reduce sweat
  • Helmet carry system
  • Multiple external and internal pockets
  • Water reservoir compatible

The Mule Commute provides excellent comfort and storage at a reasonable price point. Some users found the helmet carry system tricky to use properly.

2. Ortlieb Commuter Daypack Urban Line

Ortlieb’s commuter backpack is completely waterproof, with high-end materials and construction. Notable aspects include:

  • 100% waterproof fabric and sealing
  • Padded back for ventilation
  • 21 litre capacity
  • Roll-top closure
  • Laptop sleeve

The Urban Line offers the best water protection for commuters. However, it lacks significant reflective details and has limited external storage options.

3. Chrome Barrage Cargo 22X

Chrome’s heavy duty Barrage Cargo backpack prioritises rugged materials and storage flexibility:

  • Durable, waterproof tarpaulin liner
  • External cargo net holds bulky items
  • Abrasion-resistant shell
  • 22 litre capacity

The Barrage Cargo is extremely durable and versatile. But it has a high cost and over 2kg weight.

4. Rapha Roll Top Backpack

Emphasising style and visibility, Rapha’s Roll Top backpack stands out through:

  • Sleek, minimalist aesthetic
  • Multiple zippered pockets
  • 25 litre capacity
  • Highly reflective fabric coating

The Rapha Roll Top works well for the design-conscious commuter rider. However, it lacks complete waterproofness when heavily soaked.

5. Osprey Radial

Osprey’s high-end Radial backpack is loaded with features:

  • 26-34 litre adjustable capacity
  • AirScape mesh back panel for ventilation
  • Stowable raincover
  • Helmet and shoe storage
  • Laptop and document sleeves

With excellent comfort and storage, the Radial works great for commuters carrying substantial loads. Yet its weight and bulk limits more athletic rides.

Also Consider: Additional Recommendations

Other cycling backpacks to consider include:

Altura Thunderstorm City 30 – 30L storm-proof commuter backpack with low-key aesthetics. We review the Thunderstorm here too and were impressed.

Proviz Reflect360 – Lightweight (570g) bag with exceptional reflectivity

Thule Paramount – Stylish 27L backpack optimised for cycling storage and visibility

Buyer’s Guide to Cycling Backpacks

Do you really need a cycling-specific backpack?

For short rides in good weather, any backpack will suffice. However, for regular bicycle commuters, a cycling-specific design offers essential benefits:

  • Ventilated back panels and harness systems prevent that dreaded sweaty back syndrome. Mesh fabrics, contoured designs, and air channels improve airflow and moisture wicking.
  • Enhanced stability features help keep the backpack centred and balanced while leaning forward over the handlebars. These include chest straps, waist straps, frame sheets, and adjustable harness systems.
  • Weather resistance saves your gear from getting soaked in sudden downpours. Many cycling packs have durable water repellent (DWR) coatings or waterproof outer fabrics with taped seams. Some come with separate rain covers.
  • Visibility details like reflective piping and prints help other vehicles and pedestrians see you, especially at dawn, dusk, and night. Bright colours also aid visibility.
  • Lock storage allows easily carrying U-locks and chains so they don’t clutter up the main compartment. Loops, daisy chains, and side pockets provide dedicated space.
  • Attachment points for blinky bike lights enhance visibility and safety. Helmet holders keep your lid secured while off the bike.

Backpack or Panniers: The Eternal Debate

Pannier bags need special bike racks and can only be used on that bike. Backpacks provide flexibility across different bikes and off-bike use.

Panniers better distribute heavy loads over both wheels rather than concentrating weight on your back. But modern backpack designs and harness systems effectively handle commuter-level loads.

For maximum cargo flexibility, some backpack/pannier hybrid designs allow shoulder strap and rack mounting use.

Choosing the Right Capacity

The ideal size correlates with your average commuting gear and cargo. Consider:

  • Laptop dimensions – will it fit the laptop sleeve?
  • Work/casual clothing layers – blistering heat or frigid winter?
  • Lunch, snacks, drinks?
  • Cycling apparel – room for post-ride change of clothes?
  • Miscellaneous items – gym shoes, toiletries, spare tube, tools?

Add an extra 10-20% capacity beyond your typical commuting loadout for unexpected items and future growth.

Roll-Top, Zipper, or Both: Closure Compatibility

Roll-top closures withstand years of frequent opening/closing without failing. The flexible design also seals out rain. Roll-tops lack quick exterior access though.

Zippers allow versatile access, pockets, and shaping. But the closures can break over time and leak water through stitches.

Many modern cycling bags pair waterproof roll-top main compartments with durable water-resistant zippered pockets. This optimises protection, access, and organisation.


Commuter-focused cycling backpacks enhance comfort, cargo, stability and visibility – well worth the investment for regular riders. Consider ventilation, weatherproofing, capacity, security, and visibility features tailored specifically to life on two wheels.


1. Should you cycle with a backpack?

Answer: Yes, you can cycle with a backpack, and many cyclists do so, especially commuters. Backpacks provide a convenient way to carry your essentials, like tools, spare clothes, or a laptop. However, it’s important to choose a backpack that is designed for cycling to ensure comfort and minimise strain on your back.

2. What size backpack is best for cycling?

Answer: The best size backpack for cycling depends on your specific needs. For short commutes or everyday rides, a backpack with a capacity of 15 to 25 litres is typically sufficient. It can hold the essentials without being too bulky. For longer rides or if you need to carry more gear, consider a backpack in the range of 25 to 35 litres. Always ensure the backpack fits well and does not hinder your movement or balance.

3. Can you ride a bike with a heavy backpack?

Answer: Yes, you can ride a bike with a heavy backpack, but it’s not always advisable. A heavy backpack can cause discomfort, strain your back, and affect your balance and riding posture. It can also make maneuvering more challenging and potentially increase the risk of accidents. If you have to carry heavy loads regularly, consider using bike panniers or a bike trailer as alternatives.

4. Is it harder to cycle with a backpack?

Answer: Cycling with a backpack can be more challenging than riding without one, especially if the backpack is heavy or not designed for cycling. It can affect your centre of gravity, cause strain on your shoulders and back, and lead to sweating. To minimise these issues, choose a cycling-specific backpack with ergonomic features, such as a padded back, waist straps, and ventilation systems. Adjusting the load distribution and keeping heavier items at the bottom can also help in maintaining balance and comfort.

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