Got Ortliebs? Got Pockets?

30 01 2011

My LHT loaded on tour...

One criticism I hear frequently about Ortlieb panniers is the lack of pockets to organize gear.  I figured I’d share my technique since I never find myself unable to find something. First off I have an external pocket on each pannier plus a handlebar bag [most of the time]. That gives me 4 pockets plus the bar bag to keep small items or stuff I need to access fast.  I could add two more external pockets…one on the front of each front pannier for a total of 6 pockets, but I don’t feel the need.

Left Rear Pannier

  • holds all my clothes
  • I use mesh bags for small items like socks and underwear
  • I organize my stuff logically depending on what’s happening that day
  • if no rain is expected I’ll fold all my rain gear up and put it on the bottom
  • I tend to start the day wearing warm clothes and take them off as I warm up…these items are put inside the bag on top so if I cool off I can easily grab a warm layer
  • this bag’s external pocket will hold something I don’t need often, but want fast access to when I need it like a First Aid kit
  • I often hang a safety triangle from this bag to make myself visible night and day

Dusty Ortlieb rear panniers with external pockets...

Right Rear Pannier

  • sleeping bag in compression sack
  • thermarest air matress
  • sometimes a tarp
  • sometimes part of a tent with remainder on top of rear rack or shared with touring partner
  • this bag’s external pocket contains something I don’t need on the bike like toilet paper and hand sanitizer or stove fuel

Front Ortlieb with external pocket...

Front Right Pannier

  • contains my cooking equipment and food supplies
  • extra water bottles
  • this bag gets hung up at night in bear country or stowed in a metal storage locker at a campground
  • this bag’s external pocket contains snacks

Top view of Ortlieb's on my Pugsley...

Front Left Pannier

  • tools and spare parts like tubes/tires
  • a 6′ x 6′ piece of sil nylon to sit on at camp
  • extra water bottles
  • extra food if supplies are scarce on this tour
  • this bag’s external pocket will hold bear spray if I need it on a trip, but it’s not a high risk area [in that case the spray is ziptied to bars [like in photo above]

Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus panniers have an external pocket on the side...

Handlebar Bag

  • maps
  • wallet
  • camera
  • snacks
  • headlamp
  • knife
  • cell phone
  • GPS

Can you tell I love my Ortliebs?

Even though my load is a bit different for every tour by keeping this organized in a similar way for each trip it’s very easy to figure out which bag or pocket something is in. I load each bag or pocket so that what I’ll need most is on top and what I don’t need until an emergency or breakdown is on the bottom.  Where it makes sense I use mesh bags to organize stuff inside a bag.

Another trick I use to stay organized [day to day as well as on tour] is to always put stuff back in the same spot right after each use.  That way it’s always where I expect it will be.  If I’m camping for a while rather than pack and unpack my bags all day long I use a few dumping points for frequently used items like my tent’s pockets or my bar bag stashed in my tent. When I pack up camp everything from these dumping point goes back in its proper spot before the bike starts rolling.




10 responses

30 01 2011

Great article! I’m still undecided at this moment on which pannier bags to go for. Some say go waterproof, some say don’t but to pack items in waterproof bags inside the pannier, so I’ll have to look more into it before pulling the trigger.

Thanks for describing your set up in detail, re where you stash each item in what pannier.

30 01 2011
Val Garou

I spent a lot of time on my ride up the Atlantic Coast last last summer envying my buddies traditional, pocket-rich panniers. I’ve thought a lot about the Ortlieb add-on pockets since then. The thing that keeps holding me up is that one of the things I really like about the Ortliebs is their sleek, streamlined simplicity.

I like the idea of a few quick-access pouches, but I’m not thrilled to think about them sticking out and flopping around.

30 01 2011

Thanks for sharing this. I also take a pretty organised approach to my packing with each pannier being packed with like-minded gear etc. However I am not a pocket guy. Maybe given my days backpacking but I got used to using stuff sacks and continue to do so now that I am into bicycle touring.

I also pack what I need during the day at the top of the allocated pannier and if rain is likely when I reach camp the tent is easy to get to as well.

@Znook My front panniers are waterproof whereas my rear ones are not so my keep dry gear (quilt, clothes etc) goes in the front bags and other gear which is also the heavy gear goes in the rear panniers. Has worked fine for me so far.

31 01 2011

Those pockets are removable when you don’t want them and I’ve never noticed them flopping around even on rough dirt road tours.

31 01 2011

I couldn’t speak anything but praise for my Ortliebs. Mine have been through hell and back and they still work great. I had run a pannier before that had pockets, but it seemed to complicate things when I needed big, bulky space. I use a laptop sleeve and a smaller camera bag (even without a camera) in the top of one of the rear bags to keep things organized.

Great post, Vik.

2 02 2011

Vik, One thing I looked for was a dog repulsion device – pepper spray or the equivalent. I’ve had a few close calls with dogs, and have been bitten once while walking by a house. So far I have been able to outride the dogs chasing me, but if my partner is behind me, I’ll slow down to block the dog. I wonder if you’ve had any experience in this realm.

2 02 2011

@Chuck – many anti-dog options…there is a spray called halt which is a small size bear spray, you could use bear spray…some people like air zound horns or fox 40 whistles to started dogs with a loud sound…beyond that a squirt of water in the face is another option.

I’m no expert as I don’t often encounter dogs.

6 06 2011

Hi Vik, great review. I am now convinced to buy some Ortliebs. I have a couple of questions. Did you buy in Canada or the States, and if the States, did you have to pay duty on the bags? Just trying to figure out what the shipping/duty will end up costing me if I ship up here. Thanks so much.

6 06 2011

@Ben – I bought mine from Wayne at the touring store:

Get them shipped USPS and you only pay HST + $8 or so CRA handling fee. There are no duties.

20 09 2011

Each tour is different and thus some of the equipment taken is different and placed in different panniers for weight distribution. A few days before the tour, I ride with all of my equipment in my panniers. If I like the weight distribution and setup, I then will make a list of items in each of the panniers and laminate it. If I forget where something is or should go after using it, I can refer to the list that details what is in which pannier. After a few days, I find that I do not need to refer to list.

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