Many of the best examples have specially moulded pads that cushion your back against any load you’re carrying yet let air flow freely to keep you cool and fresh.
Some have built-in sleeves for laptops and tablets, while others have outside pouches for water bottles, plus reflective strips to help you stand out at night. You can even find examples with holders for U-locks so you can have your bike secured safely in seconds without having to rummage in the bottom of your bag.
And if you’re a year-round rider, make sure you buy a fully waterproof example that will cope with anything mother nature can throw at you.
We have been out commuting, shopping and heading into the hills to find the best backpacks at a range of prices. We’ve looked for comfort, practicality, and in some cases sheer style to find a line-up we think you’ll love.
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Chrome barrage cargo backpack
We love the yoke-style straps on this rugged bag – they really help to spread the load across your shoulders, especially when it’s fully loaded. Our test model was in “ranger tonal” – a sort of olive green that makes a nice alternative to plain black.
It’s said to be the toughest bag in this US maker’s range, with a 100 per cent waterproof liner and a reinforced section at the bottom to resist scrapes when it’s resting on the pavement as you rummage inside. That big cargo net across the front is great for storing wet jackets or your helmet, and there’s a sleeve for a laptop or tablet inside, although it’s not padded. The two open pouches on the sides are ideal for carrying bottles, locks and other cycling paraphernalia, while a sternum strap with Chrome’s trademark seatbelt buckle helps to stop everything moving around when you’re riding.
Café du Cycliste backpack
Are you a fan of cycling’s most stylish brand? Show off your allegiance on and off the bike with this cool but practical carrier. Although it boldly bears the brand name and flying fish logo, it’s not a case of style over substance – it’s made from totally waterproof fabric with heat-sealed seams. The main buckles are made from tough alloy too. Four raised pads keep things comfortable and ventilated at the back, while the roll-top is held closed at both the sides and in the middle.
There is 24l of carrying capacity, with a handy outer zipped pocket plus a lightly padded zipped internal sleeve that will take a medium-sized tablet. You can buy it in khaki or a summery light blue – both look so good you’ll find it hard to pick between them.
Proviz reflect360 touring backpack
If you have never seen Proviz’s reflective material in action, prepare to be amazed. It shines bright silver at the merest hint of a headlight, making this one perfect for anyone who commutes in the dark or low light. There are enough pockets and pouches on it to keep anyone happy.
At 20l, it’s not the biggest bag in our selection, but it’s got some great features including a well-ventilated back support and a very comfy harness. There’s a removable phone/wallet pocket on the straps, a pop-out rain cover in one of the pockets, and the option to use it with a hydration bladder if you are going on adventures rather than commuting. Plenty of straps mean you can make micro-adjustments to ensure the load is always in the perfect position.
Brooks pickwick backpack
Looking for something unique? These arty roll-tops are individually decorated with brushstrokes of a reflective paint that looks fantastic and stands out in car headlights too. The waxed canvas fabric is water-resistant and there are plenty of leather and alloy details to add to the premium feel. The main straps are simple canvas webbing with no padding, but they’re a lot more comfortable than they look, and the addition of a sternum strap means the bag stays in place well when riding.
The capacity is 12l, with a padded internal sleeve for a 13in laptop, a zipped section for valuables and a couple of slots for books and smaller items. A small pocket with a waterproofed zip for your phone and wallet has been hidden at the right hip, away from prying eyes.
Rapha roll top backpack
A big, 25l capacity and its use of rugged waterproof fabric mean this bag could be just what you need to tackle the commute. Inside there’s a good-sized main compartment with a 15in laptop sleeve and a zipped compartment for smaller items. The roll-top buckle is on an elastic strap, making it easier to open and close than some others. There’s also a small zipped compartment hidden away at the side where you can keep your phone, keys or wallet close at hand. The shoulder straps are comfy and simple to adjust.
We loved the dark green colour we tested, and all versions come with the signature Rapha stripe up the back with handy loops to carry a U-lock.
Carradice rydal rucksack
This one doesn’t just look great – it’s built to last too. This old-school 20l pack should survive decades of use if you look after it, just as the brand’s superb saddlebags do. It’s made from traditional waxed cotton duck material with a leather protective patch on the base and a closure made from a leather pedal strap. Cotton duck is 100 per cent waterproof, but you will have to renew the waxed coating every few months to keep it that way.
There’s no laptop sleeve inside but there is a zipped pocket under the main flap where you can stow items you might need in a hurry. There’s minimal padding at the back but we found it really comfortable to ride with, and those simple shoulder straps with their metal loop adjusters spread the load nicely. It’s available in black, green and burgundy.
Altura heritage 12l backpack
If you’ve not got a huge amount of kit to haul around, this little 12l pack could fit the bill. It’s got a sleeve big enough for a 15in laptop, three internal pockets and room for a change of clothes. There’s even a nifty key keeper you can clip on and off at the press of a button. It’s another roll-top design, this time backed up with a zip. There’s an old-fashioned feel to the water-resistant waxed cotton fabric that has the look of a lived-in Barbour jacket about it.
Our only gripe lies with the detachable stability band between the shoulder straps – it’s a bit fiddly to unclip, especially with cold hands. Given that you’re never going to lug around huge loads in a bag this size, we’d just ditch it – the bag works perfectly well without it.
Restrap hilltop backpack
Yorkshire-based Restrap have come up with a bag you can use on a bike or a hike. Rather than being a roll-top, it’s closed off with a broad flap that clips down on both sides and contains a handy zipped section where you can store items for easy access.
It’s not got a laptop sleeve or any internal pockets – there’s just a single section you can adjust to anywhere between 28 and 10 litres using the compression straps on the sides just above the external bottle pockets. The whole thing is made in waterproof nylon and comes with Restrap’s lifetime guarantee.
Ortlieb velocity PS
Ortlieb’s name is synonymous with load-lugging on bikes – along with backpacks they make excellent panniers, handlebar bags, frame bags and more. This 23l carrier is constructed from waterproof PVC-free fabric that’s plenty tough enough for life on the road. It’s really comfortable, even when fully loaded, with broad, comfy shoulder straps supported by an adjustable chest strap and a waist belt.
The roll-top is held closed via a velcro strap, while inside you’ll find a sleeve for a 15in laptop, plus a zipped section for items you want to keep close at hand. There’s a five-year warranty on the bag and it comes in a range of colours including the smart “dark chili” we tried and an eye-catching “petrol blue”.
Upso burtonwood backpack
If you’re keen on recycling you’ll adore this quirky-yet-tough transporter. It’s made from an old tarpaulin used on lorries, with a section of used fire hose to protect the base. The straps are even made from car seatbelts. Each bag is unique as the designs depend on whatever tarpaulins turn up at the factory door – just bear in mind that your bag will have the odd scuff or mark picked up during its previous life on the road.
It has a capacity of up to 26l if you leave the top unrolled and closed only with the press studs. There’s a pocket for a 15in laptop inside but it’s only got limited padding so you had better carry it in a sleeve for safety.
The verdict: Cycling backpacks
It was really hard to pick a winner from our line-up – any of our selection will serve you well, it’s more a matter of finding something to suit your needs. Our best buy from Chrome barrage cargo backpack is expensive but it’s tough enough to give years of use – on or off the bike – and it’s a joy to carry around. We also adore the old-school vibe of the Carradice rydal rucksack, and in our experience, you can’t go wrong with anything from the Ortlieb.
For more cycling favourites read our 8 best cycling water bottles for staying hydrated on every ride
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