Battle of Cycling Backpack Panniers

I like a good pannier bag on the bike and a backpack off the bike. Being a commuter and a city dweller, I need to carry things on my way to work or simply for running errands.

When it comes to carrying the bag off the bike, I have a strong preference for backpacks. I tried panniers with shoulder straps in the past, but I don't find them comfortable to carry for a long period. On the bike, I prefer to have my back free.

Unfortunately, finding a good pannier that can also function as a backpack has proven to be a challenge. Over time I bought a couple of such bags and thought it could be interesting to share my feedback on them. Maybe that will help you pick one.

I will be comparing the Banjo Brothers Backpack against the Arkel Bug and the Ortlieb Vario PS.

Banjo Brothers Backpack

The Banjo Brothers backpack is the first convertible pannier backpack that I bought. At that time, I could not find one that I liked around me. One day, visiting a bike shop in Paris, I found this model on display and immediately knew it was what I needed.


  • Relatively affordable
  • Decent grocery hauler
  • Two side pockets (one open, one closed)


  • No laptop pocket
  • If not careful, in pannier mode it can behave like a parachute

Arkel Bug

Arkel is a manufacturer based in Québec, Canada. Some of its products are made locally and they are known to offer a lifetime warranty. The first bag I bought from them was the Shopper bag. I was very pleased with this product, so I decided to give their backpack offering a go.


  • Cam-lock system ensures the bag is very secure
  • Multiple pockets
  • Holds a helmet without sacrificing carrying capacity
  • Very sturdy + lifetime warranty


  • Does not stand on its own once on the ground
  • The metal hook is annoying to tuck away in backpack mode
  • Cam-lock system is a bit tricky to figure out at the beginning
  • More limited internal volume compared to other options

Ortlieb Vario PS

The Ortlieb Vario PS is the most recent backpack I purchased (January 2022). I like my Arkel backpack but I often want to get groceries on my way back to work and I can only buy a few items before it gets full. I needed something with more capacity.

While it is a matter of taste, I like the look of the Ortlieb Vario PS.


  • A large pocket that can cram a lot of stuff
  • Laptop sleeve built-in
  • Lightweight
  • Quick transition
  • Padding makes it a decent backpack
  • Freestanding


  • Smart system hook/transition system, but it has a bit of a learning curve
  • Lacks pockets and compartments
  • Don't put too much stuff in the external pocket or it will make the transition between pannier and backpack more difficult

Bonus: The Theravada Backpack for Brompton / Dahon, Tern, etc.

This one is a bit special. The first bike I ever bought for myself as a student was a Dahon Eco C7, a folding bike. Bike theft is a big deal in cities and I did not have a lot of space to store my bike. I also traveled a lot by regional and high-speed trains back in France and could easily bring the folding bike with me.

I recall learning about this bag and the Dahon luggage mount that was compatible with Brompton bags at a bike shop specializing in Dutch and folding bikes in Paris.


  • The bag does not interfere with the steering and has minimal impact on the handling of the bike
  • Quickest to put on the bike: it slides onto the front mount, no conversion needed.


  • Discontinued
  • Niche (folding bikes with Brompton-like mounts)


On my day-to-day usage, I am turning to the Ortlieb Vario PS most of the time. As a convertible backpack pannier, it does fit my need well: great for commuting, not too bad for getting groceries along the way, and is a pretty good backpack.

To sum up my main takeaways from the different bags:

  • Arkel Bug: if you value its ruggedness and the lifetime warranty
  • Banjo Brother: the better value, good grocery bag option
  • Ortlieb Vario PS: versatile, lightweight, capacity and is a good backpack

Overall, I think that the three of them are worth considering. I hope this helps!