One of the first things any bike tourist discovers is that we all do things differently. Some of us like large panniers, others small. Some want lots of pockets, others prefer one big bag. Waterproof or not… Easy removal or made to stay on… heavy and durable or lighter weight but won’t last as long…
On our three-year journey to the ends of the earth we are using three different brands of panniers that differ enormously – Overland, Jandd, and Ortlieb. I will review these three here, giving information on both the pros and cons of each brand.
Unfortunately, this company stopped making panniers several years ago, but I’ll include this review in the hopes that some other company can pick up where they left off. We bought our Overland panniers in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and they have served us well since then. We only wish we could buy more now – we would stock up for the rest of our lives!
Functional pockets – We like pockets. For a short tour, I can see how having a lot of pockets simply leads to confusion (where did I put that, anyway??), but for extended tours it is really nice to have gear sorted and easy to find. The Overland panniers have pockets that are well positioned and easy to access. My larger set has three pockets on each pannier – one as the cover of the pannier, another on the very outside, and a long, skinny one in the back. The other, smaller, set of panniers has one good pocket on the outside. I really enjoy having a variety of sizes of pockets for different items.
Mounting system – Once these panniers are on, they’re on to stay. They have two hooks on the top to hang on the rack and two separate nylon webbing straps with hooks for the bottom. Once the straps are cinched tight, the pannier won’t move. This is a great security feature in that thieves can’t take the pannier easily.
The mounting system is both a pro and a con. Once the pannier is on the bike, it is very secure – too secure sometimes. It can be difficult to get them on and off the racks – having to reach behind the pannier to loosen the straps is a hassle. If you have been going through mud, the straps can be extremely difficult to loosen. This makes it difficult to take them into the tent or hotel room with you.
Easy access – one of our sets has zippers to close; the other has two side-release plastic buckles. They are both very easy to open and close, and once they’re open are easy to reach into to access gear.
Breathable, not waterproof – The bags are made of nylon cordura which is breathable. You can put damp items in the pannier and the vapor won’t remain trapped inside. The panniers will repel a light rain, but nothing substantial. If you will be riding through rain, you’ll need to stash your gear in plastic bags. We’ve found the easiest way of bagging gear is to bag each item individually in plastic grocery bags.
We are carrying two sets of Jandd panniers – the Large Mountain Pannier and a smaller set they no longer sell.
Durable – Generally speaking, Jandd panniers will last quite a few years. We had one set whose zipper broke after one year and Jandd replaced the set free of charge. It appears as though the zippers used are not quite as beefy and strong as those on the Overland, but we’ve only had a problem with one pannier. They also have some funky rubber sleeves for the metal hooks that tend to come off – you can just slip them back on, but it’s easy to drop them and lose them. The rubber sleeves are not necessary though. The fabric and general construction of the Jandd panniers is solid and should last for many years.
Mounting system – Like the Overlands, the Jandd panniers have two hooks on top to hang the pannier on the rack. To attach it securely to the rack, it has a nylon webbing strap used to cinch a hook onto the bottom of the rack. There is only one hook, but it attaches quite securely. These panniers are easier to remove than the Overlands, making them easier to take into the tent or hotel, but are still quite a pain to get on and off.
Breathable; not waterproof – The Jandds are made of cordura nylon and are breathable. They repel a certain amount of water, but will not keep gear dry in a steady rain.
Access to gear – The design of both sets of Jandd panniers that we are using is a bit awkward. On the large mountain panniers, the top pocket gets in the way unless you can flip it up onto the rack to get it out of the way. However, if you have gear strapped to the rack, that may not be an option. The smaller set has zippers to open but, again, they are designed in such a way as to be a bit awkward to get gear into and out of. This point is certainly not enough to deter one from using them, but if you are getting picky, it’s something to consider.
Ortlieb has taken the touring market by storm these past few years, but I honestly don’t understand why. Although they are fine panniers, they are the one brand I don’t think I will be buying again.
Durability – The Ortliebs simply are not as durable as the other panniers we have. The plastic used in the clips broke within a year of use and they all had to be replaced – a major hassle involving a trip to a furniture maker. Fortunately, the hooks attaching them to the rack have not broken – and Ortlieb included extras in case they do – but we still don’t trust them. The fabric itself is fairly durable. I have a large hole in one of mine where a mouse chewed through it, but I can’t blame that one on Ortlieb. There are a lot of screws on the panniers which can loosen up – we need to keep a constant eye on them to be sure we don’t lose them.
Waterproof – This is the strongest pro of the Ortliebs – they are completely waterproof and you don’t need to worry about your gear at all. You can ride through the most severe rainstorm and your gear will be perfectly dry when you open the pannier. However, that waterproofness comes at a cost – you can’t pack anything even remotely damp in the pannier or the moisture will seep into everything else. We found having both types of panniers to be a good idea – we can put cameras and Kindles in the waterproof Ortliebs and other gear in the rest.
Easy on/easy off – This is another very strong feature of the Ortliebs – you can take them off in a second and put them on just as rapidly. The easy on feature, however, comes at a cost – they tend to rattle around on the bike and aren’t as secure as the others. The newer ones come with a small insert so they don’t rattle, but the inserts are extremely easy to lose. They are also very easy for a thief to steal if he knows how to get them off.
No pockets – the design of the Ortliebs is one big compartment, which makes it hard to organize your gear. Many cyclists find using small ditty bags works, but I rely on the pockets on my other panniers for that and just put larger items in the Ortliebs.