Was thinking of doing a mountain bike tour this summer and looking into paniers or bar bags for the cargo. I have a sturdy back rack already and an older (heavier) trek dual suspension racing bike. Looking for which bags or panniers to invest in and where to go as I don’t want to be on many paved roads. I’m on the east coast.

@debdeb Most likely you will find both necessary.  Panniers for bulk items, infrequently accessed.  Bar bags for items frequently accessed.  At least that has been my experience.

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Yes, it has been awhile since I have toured. Been riding single track in AZ but harder to find here in the east where I live. (I was truly spoiled). Going to try touring again. Thank you!


Greetings @debdeb 

You have asked some great questions! The debate between panniers or bags has been growing as bikepacking bags have evolved greatly over the years. If you already have a rack and are not planning on riding an overly technical or rocky trail, you could easily go the pannier route. Hearing that you have a full-suspension bike however leads me to believe that you may have a pannier rack that secures to your seatpost. If this is the case, once loaded down, these racks have a tendency to sway considerably and would be less than ideal for off-road touring. 

If your rack bolts directly to your bike frame, you will have better success and could start shopping for panniers here

Using bags on the frame and handlebars provides an advantage in a few ways. 

  1. The bags mount directly to the bike, keeping the weight close to the frame. This enables the bike to ride more naturally and prevents the additional weight from really changing how the bike handles. 
  2. Are able to be stuffed with gear without the restriction of a metal pannier rack. 
  3. Are lighter weight. 
  4. Won't rattle lose as is the case with bolts holding on rear racks on rocky off-road tours. 

If you are interested in exploring your options, here is where to start. I would suggest a frame bag, handlebar roll, and feed bag as the essentials to hold your gear. Follow this link to see what we have to offer. 

Finally, to answer your question about where to go. While I am not from the east coast, I can recommend an awesome resource for you. Bikepacking.com has a great interactive route guide that will be sure to get you scheming on your next adventure and equipped with route suggestions. 

Have fun out there!

At REI, we believe a life outdoors is a life well-lived.

Thank you, this information is very helpful and more food for thought. I love bike the packing.com site. 😊


@debdeb One thing not mentioned is capacity.  

If you're doing a short tour, bar bags (expandable seat bag, an under the top bar bag and a handlebar bag) should work.  Using a set of bar bags is generally for more minimalist riders.

Panniers will give you more volume for longer tours or if you prefer to pack for every contingency.  The flat space on the rack also gives you a good area for bulky items such as tents, sleeping bags, etc.  Yes, these items can be attached to the handlebar, but the extra weight in the front affects steering and the nimbleness of the bike.  Will you be comfortable with that?  Some riders are and some aren't.  Also, if you have a dropper post on your bike, an expandable seat bag will affect the full use of the dropper post.

Many tourers use panniers and a small handlebar bag for items you want quick access to such as glasses, a phone, camera, wallet, rain jacket, etc.

Good luck on your ride and be safe.



Lastly, you may find that a quality set of waterproof panniers (not water resistant) such as Ortliebs, may be cheaper than a set of quality bar bags.

@mak Yes! I do have a back rack that connects to the seat post but I think your ideas are spot on. If I got a bar bag in between my legs it would have to go on top of the bar because of the dual suspension. Can’t see that working well. I was looking at the Ortleibs waterproof ones and think I could get those for starters. Thanks!