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Backpacks

Bike Commuting

Field Testing: 5 Awesome Backpacks for Bike Commuting

by , November 9, 2020

Growing up in Boulder, Colorado, outdoor activities are just a way of life. Cycling has always been a huge part of my upbringing. All through high school and most of college, I embraced bike commuting no matter the weather. I would leave for work 12 miles away in a blizzard and chug on through. At times passing cars and seeing the drivers look at me in disbelief. So naturally, I was always looking for a great bag to use, one that could hold up to all the weather and crashes and carry all my gear. Going way back, I used the original Timbuk2 messenger, then moved to the Chrome Citizen in camo for years. That bag has been with me through Boulder, Chicago, and San Francisco.

Now I prefer to use a backpack rather than a messenger when I commute. I don’t need the easy access that I did when I was thrashing the city streets on my fixie. Over the years, companies have even joined the ranks of commuter bags, especially those focused on bike commuting. So I chose a few packs that had caught my attention and decided to see which ones I thought might be the best for those who bike commute. 

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

Just a little about how I approached this article, my commute is about 15 miles each way. So I do about 30 miles each day that I ride and about 120 a week using a pack. When bike commuting, I carry a laptop, a change of clothes, my lunch, and maybe a tech pouch. I used each bag for a minimum of 120, but most for about 200 miles. Each bag is judged on four main things:

  1. Carry – Comfort & Fit
  2. Carry – Organization
  3. Harness/Airflow on the back panel
  4. Weatherproofing

Some items that I carry in my packs when I am bike commuting:

  1. Tire levers
  2. New tube
  3. CO2 canisters 
  4. A multi-tool
  5. A patch kit
  6. A cheap pocket knife

A few other items I tend to carry are a change of socks and a raincoat for the occasional downpour. 

Bike commuting

Field Testing

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

Bike commuting: Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

Size/Expandable: 21L/No

Main Material: PS50CX

Laptop Sleeve: Yes, 15″

Warranty: 5 year 

Price: $285

Having been a cyclist for many years, I was familiar with Ortlieb and their panniers. But I had never really looked at their backpacks till recently. I thought this lineup would be the perfect time to try them out and see how they compared to other companies I have used in the past. 

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

I wanted to take a look at the Commuter-Daypack High Visibility. Reflective yarn interweaves the pack. So if you are bike commuting during hours when cars may not notice you, the reflection will help. Either this or if you have paparazzi taking photos of you, the yarn will reflect and ruin their photos. 

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

One of the things I was interested in with Ortlieb was all their back panels look very interesting. They use foam in various ways to create padding and venting channels. While I picked up two packs from them, I used the Hi-Vis one for this article. The back panel of this pack has six TPU pads with three mounds each. I found that this TPU padding had some of the best airflow and venting that I have experienced. When I was commuting in 90 degree-plus heat, this was the bag of choice. The straps are extremely thin as far as padding and relatively narrow. So you feel any heavy loads, but I only ran into this being an issue once. 

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

Despite the narrow and thin straps, the bag carries extremely well. There is both a sternum and waist strap to help keep loads stable. But even fully packed, the pack sits well, without much play when sprinting through traffic or climbing a hill. The bag itself is lightweight, which is nice that it does not add to the weight you are carrying. 

Bike commuting: Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

While the bag is simple, the organization is well thought out. The Commuter is basically just a big rolltop. The exterior has a small pocket perfectly sized for keys, a phone, or your wallet. While it is not waterproof, it will take a decent amount of moisture to get water in there. When bike commuting, I always like a quick-access pocket for my keys, so when I lock up at work, it is not a pain to get them back in the bag. Several reinforced cutout straps are meant to hold a light or a U-lock. The straps can attach a carabiner or another light if needed.

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

While just one big cavern, the interior of the bag has a removable pouch that can hold a 15″ MacBook Pro. This pouch also has a front zipper pocket with two elastic pouches for organizing any items you might need to carry and locate later. 

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

Overall, this pack is pretty rad; the only issue I had was that I was looking for a little more pocketing and organization. 

Bike commuting: Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

All but the front pocket on the Commuter-Daypack High Visibility is waterproof, and this goes for most of the bags in their lineup. While the face fabric might hold onto dirt over time, the bag itself stays fairly clean. The rolltop will keep any water out of the main compartment, which is nice when it comes to keeping your clothing or electronics safe. 

Ortlieb Commuter-Daypack High Visibility

Carry – Comfort & Fit – 7

Carry – Organization – 6

Airflow on the back panel – 9

Weatherproofing – 10


Mission Workshop Rhake VX

Mission Workshop Rhake VX

Size/Expandable: 22L/kinda

Main Material: VX-21

Laptop Sleeve: Yes, 15″ (and up to 17″)

Warranty: Guaranteed/Warrantied Forever.

Price: $370-465 (depending on material) 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX

Mission Workshop is no stranger to the bike commuting world. I remember being in San Francisco and heading to their store shortly after they opened. All the bags had such style and that super rad feel. I have run through a few MW bags over the years but never really found one that worked well for the long hot commutes. Most of the back panels on the packs have a single foam padding without any channels. For me, this is a no go. But the Rhake has three padded areas, with a Y-styled channel on the back. The airflow is not great, but it is better than the other packs I tried in their lineup. The padding is well placed and comfortable but one of the thinner padding panels in the lineup. 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX
Bike commuting: Mission Workshop Rhake VX

The main compartment of the pack is thin and tall, so items are more stacked. The pack has no waist belt, which I thought was strange at first. But due to the pack being more thin and tall, you do not have a lot of bulk sticking out and wiggling around while riding with a full pack. The Rhake sits well on your back while you ride, with the shoulder straps feeling comfortable. The shoulder straps are wide, but they sit very well in the crook between the shoulder and collar bone. Both straps have the Mission Workshop Arkiv® rails. These allow accessories to be added as needed. While this is not something I utilize, it is nice to have the option if needed. 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX
Mission Workshop Rhake VX

The front pocketing is laid out nicely for quick access of items when using the pack as a work commuter. A small pocket at the bottom of the pack suits locks or items that you might need quick access to. There are two pockets on the side, which give the Rhake that distinctive look. One is formatted as a drop pocket, which I tend to use for keys and wallets, and an organization pocket with three zippered mesh pockets. I utilized this one for gadgets, like my mouse, pens, flashcards, etc. Finally, there is a medium-sized waterproof drop pocket on the top that drops between the two front pockets and the main rolltop compartment big enough to use as a tablet or notebook pocket. 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX

The Rhake was one of the few packs that I got caught in a rainstorm while wearing. The bag does not come with a rain cover, but the mix between the VX fabric, the rolltop, and the weatherproof zippers does a fantastic job keeping anything that you carry nice and dry. 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX

My big issue with the pack is the Fidlock buckles on the front. When opening one and you let go to open the other, the magnets do their job and close. So you have to get creative in how to open the front pockets or replace the buckles. 

Mission Workshop Rhake VX

Carry – Comfort & Fit – 7

Carry – Organization – 8

Airflow on the back panel – 6

Weatherproofing – 8


Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

Size/Expandable: 26L/kinda

Main Material: 22X nylon shell with Cordura TPX durable laminate technology

Laptop Sleeve: Yes, 15″

Warranty: Lifetime Guarantee  

Price: $180

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

Chrome is the one company that I have probably owned the most packs out of in my time commuting. I think at this point, this is my 6th or 7th bag. They make a great product and always build with riding in mind. So I was interested in checking out their BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0. To be honest, I expected very little from the pack before I had it in my hands. But once I opened the box, explored the bag, and took it for the first ride, I was sold.

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

The pack is lightweight and carries well. The back panel uses a ribbed foam. These are nice as they sit like little nubs on your back, giving both a good spread of venting and airflow. The fact that there are very few contact points is nice so that you do not have a huge sweat patch on your back when you take the pack off. This pack was probably my second favorite when it comes to airflow. 

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

As far as the pack’s overall carry, it does sit nicely while on the back with a full load. There is no waist strap on this pack. For the normal ride with my regular carry, I never had issues with the pack flopping around. But I never used the pack fully unrolled for the full 26L. The sternum strap kept the pack secure on my body for most of the commute. The shoulder straps are fairly padded and sit well on the body. They are not too wide, so they also do not leave a big sweat patch on the shoulders.

The pack organization is unique, but in a way that works out very well for bike commuting. A waterproof tote separates the main compartment. This comes in handy if your lunch spills inside on a Friday, and you forget about it till Monday. It was easy to clean out and left no smell. This is also nice to pack my change of clothes in one area and any food/drink in a safe area.

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

There are several other pockets throughout the bag. As well as a laptop sleeve accessed through a side zipper, this same side zipper gives access to the main compartment when the tote bag is in place. The back of the bag has two side pockets that are about the size of an iPhone 11. Both of these pockets are lined to protect your screens or glasses. On the front, there is a side drop pocket that can house a beverage container, and the front has a drop pocket that is perfect for keys and a wallet or can even house your lock if needed. 

Bike commuting: Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0
Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0
Bike commuting: Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

The BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0 does not come with a rain cover, but the 22X sailcloth, matched with the rolltop and the waterproof zippers, works as a strong defense against any H2O that might try and ruin your day. 

Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

My one issue with the pack was the way it rolls down. Instead of the sides folding in for a straight line, the top ends up being wider. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, except when bike commuting and needing to look over your shoulder to check traffic. The edges get in the way and almost look as though they are a vehicle or something in your peripheral vision. 

Bike commuting: Chrome Industries BLCKCHRM 22X Yalta 3.0

Carry – Comfort & Fit – 7

Carry – Organization – 7

Airflow on the back panel – 8

Weatherproofing – 8


Thule Paramount

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

Size/Expandable: 27L/No

Main Material: 420D Nylon

Laptop Sleeve: Yes, 15″

Warranty: Limited Lifetime

Price: $159.95

Thule has an impressive range of backpacks. I normally only think of them as a bike rack company, but they have become much more over the years. They have several great bags for bike commuting. While several others might appeal more to other cyclists, I chose the Paramount 27L for its new redesign and it fits my style and carry a bit better. Since I don’t deal with rain, I did not require the rolltop. 

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

At 27L, this is the biggest pack in the lineup. While big, it carries fairly comfortably. The airflow isn’t superb. There are two ribbed padded foam panels on the back with a center channel for venting. These are fairly thin, so on the hot days, they didn’t do a lot about airflow and venting. While most straps have a slight U-shape to them, the Paramount straps are just a flat foam. The straps are daily plain but have one loop to hook a carabiner or something on while riding. This pack was one of the bags that did leave more of a sweat trace on the back and shoulders. 

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

As previously mentioned, this pack carries quite a bit. While fully loaded, it sits nicely but really could use a waist strap to hold the load as I did feel the pack move around a bit while commuting. There is also no sternum strap, which I felt was strange for a 27L bag. So the fact that this bag does not have either makes it hard to commute with, especially for the longer commutes. 

Thule Paramount

As far as organization, that is where this bag excels. If you need to carry a lot of gadgets along with a laptop and tablet, this bag is kickass. The front of the pack has three pockets. The front pocket on the bag has both a magnetic flap as well as a zipper. This pocket is about the size of a small tablet or a U-lock. Above this, there is a small pocket that is sized for a cell phone or sunglasses. This lined pocket protects any glass that might be inside. The top of the bag has a magnetic flap with a small zippered drop pocket. I used this for my keys and wallet while bike commuting as they were easy to access when I arrived at work or home.

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

There are two side zippers. One opens a pocket that acts as an admin pocket. This pocket has organization for pens, small hard drives, and any other items you may need to work or during the commute. The opposite side (the water bottle side) opens up into the pack’s main compartment, which is nice, so you don’t have to take the pack off if you need to access a raincoat or an extra layer. A small pocket on the rear of the bag fits a cell phone. 

Thule Paramount

The main compartment has three sleeves separated by a covered foam and one mesh pocket. The main laptop sleeve, as well as the second sleeve, fit my 15″ MacBook Pro, with the main sleeve sized to fit even wider items. The third and smaller sleeve holds an iPad or other items similarly sized. I liked this setup as there are times when I need to carry both my 15″ and 13″ laptops and other items, and this bag can carry everything. 

Bike commuting: Thule Paramount

The Thule Paramount is probably the lowest on the list for weatherproofing. The material, while able to repel light moisture, would tend to soak up the water if the rain was intense. The flap cover will keep the rain from penetrating the insides, but a simple inbuilt rain shell would set this pack up for weatherproof success. 

Thule Paramount

As mentioned before, my only issue with this pack is that there is no sternum or waist strap. In my opinion, a bike commuting pack that is this size needs at least a sternum strap, if not a waist strap, to help control the load movement. 

Thule Paramount

Carry – Comfort & Fit – 6

Carry – Organization – 8

Airflow on the back panel – 6

Weatherproofing – 6


Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

Size/Expandable: 35L/Yes

Main Material:

Laptop Sleeve: Yes, 15″

Warranty: Lifetime 

Price: $219

Timbuk2 has been a big player in the bike commuter bag world for years. I remember my first messenger bag that I used from them in college. Man, I beat the shit out of that bag. Now years later, I had my eye on their Parker Commuter, and I was not disappointed. 

Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

This is a stellar bag for the long and short commutes and carries a ton while staying organized and providing superior airflow. So let’s talk about the back panel. There is a center channel with thick perforated foam padding on the sides. The center channel sits well on your spine with just enough space to allow for airflow. The thickness of the perforated foam allows for some stellar airflow. In my opinion, if they used the same foam and had some angled side venting channels, this would be the perfect back padding. 

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

The carry of the pack is very nice as well. The pack has both a sternum strap as well as a waist strap. The pack is 26L and can expand to 35L. With this type of volume, this is a great pack to not only use as a bike commuting pack but to make a store run on the way home and pick up a few items for dinner. But with this size, having a waist strap, for me, is a necessity. While I never used the expandable area during my testing, I found that the bag, while fully packed, carries extremely well, and because of this, I have used this pack longer than the rest. 

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

So let’s talk organization. This pack has one of the best organization setups out of all the packs for this lineup. Starting from the front, there are three pockets; two zippered and one magnetic closure. The top zipper pocket is a weatherproof, lined pocket, perfect for sunglasses and any other items that you might need to have protected. The center pocket is a magnetic weatherproof drop pocket that is fairly deep. If needed, you can fit an iPad inside this pocket. During use, I tend to use this for my keys and wallet while bike commuting as I like the easy access.

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack
Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

The main compartment is spacious and has one Velcro drop pocket and flap access to the laptop compartment. This space also is expandable. So if you need the extra space, it is helpful for after-work store runs or if you need to store gear if the weather changes. The laptop compartment, while accessible from the interior of the main compartment, has a side access zipper as well and fits a 15″ MacBook Pro.

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack
Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

The two side water bottle pockets secure down with elastic. These are also nice for storing a phone or keys in a quick pinch or for a tall boy when the weekend hits. Lastly, there is a small lower pocket on the rear that stores the rain cover. While I rarely ride in the rain, and when I do, it is not hard enough to need a rain cover, I did have one commute with a downpour, and just to try it out, I used the rain cover. It’s quick to deploy and useful if you need it in your climate. 

Bike commuting: Timbuk2 Parker Commuter Backpack

My one issue with the bag is the straps used to secure the bag when expanded are in the way of the zipper. I see the necessity of them, but it is still annoying to have to undo them to get into the bag. If you fail to clasp them, they swing around and can get in your peripheral vision. This can be an issue when you are checking over your shoulder in traffic. 

Carry – Comfort & Fit – 8

Carry – Organization – 9

Airflow on the back panel – 8

Weatherproofing – 9

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