Which is better for bike touring: a trailer or panniers?

While bike touring, we needed to carry everything on our bikes. Everything. If we had it with us, it had to be somehow strapped, lashed, and buckled onto our bicycles. One of the most common questions potential cycle tourists ask is:  which is better – a bike trailer or panniers?  My response is – it depends on your personal preference. There are pros and cons of each.


cycling the Dalton HighwayThere are many trailers out there – BOB  or Extrawheel seem to be the best choices at this point, but new ones are coming on the market at a fairly steady rate.


  • can carry more gear
  • gets weight off the bike so less chance of problems with the bike


  • can carry more gear (notice how that’s both a plus and a minus?)
  • one more piece of equipment to transport and maintain
  • depending on the trailer, you might end up with an additional sized tire, which means extra tires/tubes
  • maneuverability suffers and you have to make very wide turns


bike touring in argentinaPros:  (lots of good companies – Jandd, Arkel, and Ortlieb are some I’m familiar with, but there are plenty of others)

  • everything is right on the bike so it’s a compact unit
  • can make tight turns and get through most places an unloaded bike can
  • can get panniers with lots of pockets for organization


  • more weight on the bike so more chance of wheel problems

There are many options and a lot of it comes down to personal preference.  I prefer only panniers, but hauled a trailer on our PanAm journey so we had more carrying capacity.  Either way is fine – there is no “best” option here.

 For those of you who have toured, please add your thoughts in the comments! What do you think the pros and cons of each are?

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About Nancy Sathre-Vogel

After 21 years as a classroom teacher, Nancy Sathre-Vogel finally woke up and realized that life was too short to spend it all with other people's kids. She and her husband quit their jobs and, together with their twin sons, climbed aboard bicycles to see the world. They enjoyed four years cycling as a family - three of them riding from Alaska to Argentina and one exploring the USA and Mexico. Now they are back in Idaho, putting down roots, enjoying life at home, and living a different type of adventure. It's a fairly sure bet that you'll find her either writing on her computer or creating fantastical pieces with the beads she's collected all over the world.

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18 Responses to Which is better for bike touring: a trailer or panniers?

  1. Jonah October 20, 2012 at 6:58 am #

    I think panniers are better for finding stuff more easily. I have used both and prefer panniers for organization. I use my trailer on s24o to carry heavy stuff like cast iron Dutch ovens and charcoal for luxury cooking! On our longer trips though panniers for organization and lighter loads!

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 20, 2012 at 4:35 pm #

      @Jonah, Panniers are definitely easier for finding things. If I could choose, I would go with panniers only. I like the feel of a nice, tight, little bike.

  2. Ken Bettencourt October 20, 2012 at 10:29 pm #

    Well panniers r great but I like to tour with my bob and 2sm front panniers trailers r good easy load and unload. Panniers r good but to much weight on your bike is not best .for the long hauler trailer is the way to go safe peddling kennyb

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 20, 2012 at 11:23 pm #

      @Ken Bettencourt, There is definitely something to be said for getting the weight off the bike, that’s for sure. I spent 2 years traveling on bike with no trailer – just had everything in panniers and on my rack. My bike held up OK, but all that weight does take a toll.

  3. Alice Strong October 21, 2012 at 7:28 am #

    I prefer to go as light as possible so that’s panniers for me. Makes it easier to go multimodal and use a bus, also if there is a front rack on it and you find yourself in that situation or a boat/train with limited capacity. I don’t weigh that much myself so weight on the bike isn’t as much of a problem.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 21, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

      @Alice Strong, Not having a trailer DEFINITELY makes it easier to go multi-modal!! Having to get both a bike and trailer on a bus or train is a definite deterrent to using those.

  4. SRD October 21, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    We’ve only done weekend trips with the kids, but the trailer sure makes things easier to pack. And an articulated trailer fits through most places that a bike will. I actually find full panniers worse for turning in tight places, and then there is the issue of the bike toppling over because of the weight especially if you have a kid on it too. If I have the choice and am touring, and not also on train, would definitely take a trailer.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 21, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

      @SRD, The trailer is easier to pack, but I find the panniers are easier to find things. A trade-off for sure.

      I am really surprised you found panniers easier for turning! I could turn on a dime with my ExtraWheel trailer, but when I had my BOB I had to turn extra-side like a semi-truck! When I needed to turn around to go back, I couldn’t turn in just the shoulder – had to wait for a break in traffic big enough that I could go out and take the lane.

      What I find interesting about this one is that MOST of it comes down to personal preference. There is no one clear best choice at all.

      • SRD October 22, 2012 at 8:54 am #

        @Nancy Sathre-Vogel, I guess if you cycle on highways etc then panniers fine. We cycle a lot on cycle paths, some with chicanes, gates etc, and then a fully loaded bike can be a challenge to get around corners. ditto into train carriages. Especially if you also have weight of a child on the bike, then the bike is very unwieldy to wheel through a train station etc.

  5. Nancy Sathre-Vogel October 21, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    @Nancy Seibel, If you aren’t carrying a lot of weight, just panniers is definitely the way to go. when it gets tricky is when you’re carrying a lot – if you put it on your bike you risk more bike troubles. If you take the trailer, you can carry that gear, but also have to deal with the trailer. Hmmmmm…..

  6. John Sachu August 28, 2014 at 9:02 pm #

    I have never used a trailer but have seen plenty who have used them. They always seem to be struggling with parking, finding things inside, and struggling in traffic. I do think panners are a much wiser choice for tours but only with one set and a handlebar bag. If you’re using two sets you need to reevaluate your gear down to what you honestly need. If I can pack compact and light, stay safe and comfortable, so can anyone. And keeping panniers small to medium in size goes a long way towards enjoying a sleek lightweight, and fast tour.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel August 28, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

      @John Sachu, I think it really depends on the person. We carried a lot of stuff – way more than most bike tourists. That said, we were on the road for 4 years, with kids, in a variety of countries. We needed to carry homeschool stuff, spare parts, clothing for all four seasons, full camping equipment, etc… It was a lot, but there was very little in there that was not necessary.

      In general, I would prefer to use panniers only, but I know many who prefer the feel of the trailer. Once you get used to the trailer, parking isn’t any more hassle than parking a bike with panniers – it’s a matter of getting used to the longer vehicle.

  7. Carrie March 18, 2015 at 7:54 am #

    I have used both and am currently trying to decide for a trip through Africa. I am using panniers for Scandinavia as am going ultra light and on road. The African continent however is a different kettle of fish; I think BoB might win out – dodgy roads, extra kit. It was Mexico that got me onto trailers, I had loads of bungees on my Ortliebs but they still kept bumping off and rolling down mountainsides! Decisions decisions 🙂 Anyone want to join us – http://www.theubuntucycle.wordpress.com

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel March 28, 2015 at 11:27 pm #

      Your Ortliebs bounced off? Wow! I hadn’t heard that one before. I am not a huge Ortlieb fan, but having them bounce off was not an issue at all. As for the trailer/pannier issue – there is no “right” answer. It can be hard to decide. Have a blast!

  8. Jason April 1, 2016 at 12:19 am #

    I am see both the pro’s and con’s of what people are posting here, but it makes me questions on how they are defining what a tour is for them. I will admit I consider myself new to touring. While I am in my very late 50s, my first tour was self contained and down Natchez Trace in the US several years ago. I was riding my Hase Recumbent Delta trike with a Pannier Rack on the front wheel with two Ortlieb Plus Front Rollers, and an Orlieb Bag between my rear wheels, a camel backpack on the back of my seat, and pulling my Burley Tail wagon Dog Trailer behind my Delta Trike for a cargo trailer. Needless to say I was inexperienced and overpacked.

    This was my first solo experience ,self contained, and self supported. I learned a lot. For one thing I had two heavy of a cot with me. In all honesty My trailer was no trouble. I was out for almost 3 weeks. By the way Natchez trace is 444 miles in each direction and a great trip to do. Just plan well.

    Since that time, I now have several supported or what I consider organized tours under my belt. I consider Events like Ragbrai ( ride across Iowa) and organized supported tour. I am signed up this year for Ragbrai again.

    I have acquired an HP Velotechnik Scorpion FS 26 Tadpole Trike. It has a set of Ortlieb Recumbent Panniers on the rear but there is no place to mount Panniers up front. So I purchased a Burley Nomad Cargo Trailer. I have 20 Inch wheels on order for it and I added the optional cargo rack on top. I have to be careful not to over pack, but even the manufacturer says use a trailer like the Nomad because the bob, yak, and similar trailers put undue stress on the frame of the bike and the rear wheel.

    • Nancy Sathre-Vogel April 18, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

      I agree entirely that people have different definitions of “bike touring,” and different needs. What works great for one, doesn’t work as well in other circumstances. Personally, I prefer the feel of panniers only, but realize there are very good reasons one might use a trailer. The idea of overpacking is also a hard one – we were very loaded on our Alaska – Argentina journey, but felt it was worth carrying every single item we had on our bikes.

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