Ortlieb Waterproof Bikepacking Bags – 1,500km Review

Note: This kit was given to me, from the lovely folks at Lyon Equipment, to use and abuse and give some feedback on. If I liked it, I said I’d be interested in keeping it for the Tour Divide and happily pay for a set if so. Photos in the review were taken after around 400km of riding. I’ll add a few more in on the natural wear points, and setup I’ve chose to use in another post.

I’ll be doing another post over the weekend with what is in everything, as well as whys and what the f**k opinions that people will probably have.

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I’ve always had a personal rule when it has come to bikepacking kit – no review bar an initial impression – until I’ve ridden at least 1,000km with it on my bike and used it across a variety of conditions. Simple enough – but not something that a good chunk of the general world tend to do when reviewing kit. Usually as you can see the kit has barely been ridden. Never trust a clean bike I say. But I digress.

These days, there really is no point on having something substandard on your bike that may or may not hold out for a long tour. You’re wasting your time, and probably a fair chunk of money on both kit and trip otherwise if, and when, it fails. I’ve held this view across using kit from brands like Revelate, Apidura, Wildcat, and many others I’ve strapped on my bike since the first time I can remember going bikepacking – sometime in the late 90’s. I want kit that works, fulfils a purpose, I don’t really care if I mix and match brands once they do what I want them to do. Iit’s something I apply to any kit I use these days. Function first – form after – worry about cost when the credit card bill arrives on pay day. Hence, my choice is a bit of a mish mash, and since these photos were taken, has evolved again. I don’t really care about settling on one brand, I want function. Now the bike runs a mixture of Ortlieb, Revelate, Topeak and Wildcat Gear bags. It’s at this point I start to realise where all my money for the past two years has been going.

A few months back I was approached under muted tones about the chance to get some early prototypes of some new bikepacking kit to test. Maybe I’d be willing to take them on the Tour Divide? “Maybe” I said, “it depends if they work for me or not”. Point blank – I refuse to take anything that I don’t get to make a choice on – my bike, my race, my money, my choices. As simple as that. When I was told the company were Ortlieb….my interest, and expectations, were perked. I’ve experience of Ortlieb kit for the past 18 years, nearly always good, with unbelievable customer service if something goes wrong. I was expecting the same level of robustness from the bags as with their world touring panniers. I expected something they were making to have come from some smart thinking, but mainly simple decisions in their new bikepacking bags where, unfortunately, more companies appear to be adding needless things, rather than just getting on with making things more reliable. Mainly, I wanted something where I didn’t need to faff with it to get it to work day to day – fire and forget. When I am sleep deprived I don’t want to have to think about how to make things get in a bag. I want it in there so I can just ride along wondering where the next cake stop is.

Months went past. I waited. I trained. It rained a lot. I lamented the lack of waterproofing on my current set-up. I lamented the fiddly nature of straps and clips and waterproof bags. I lamented zips that just refused to work when clogged with mud. Then a large box arrived containing a new set of bags, some stickers, and a note to go ride them. It was still raining.

Tour Divide Bike

Straight away I was interested in the rear bag – this for me is the most critical piece of kit – usually they one that is the easiest to get wrong. If this didn’t work, chances are the other pieces wouldn’t either. A rear bag needs to not sway too much, be easy to adjust, and mostly it needs to come on and go off fast if needed to. I hate fiddling with straps and other bits to get things on or adjust things when I’ve not been sleeping more than 3hrs a night for 4 or more days. Just f**king work! and so on. I took off the bungie cord on the rear – and attached a Revelate Spocket – I tend to keep snacks in here, and things I want to get to when stopped like lip balm, and my SPOT tracker. It annoys me when I can’t attach something back here. Tick one for the rear bag.

Features wise the rear bag is simple enough from the outside. The material is waterproof, sealed, and damn robust. I expected nothing else, I got nothing else. This was always going to be something Ortlieb were going to excel at. The material they use for their panniers is great – and most importantly – it’s easy to fix with tape and puncture patches if you need to. Longer term life is always a focus for me, I want to be able to repair not replace where I can. Sure, a single ride like the Divide is more riding than some do in a year, but a piece of kit should not have reached it’s end of life either – not unless it’s been designed to do so by pushing the boundaries of weight and reliability – which most consumer level kit will never be.

The rear bag is pretty much a massive roll top dry-bag with a small pull-out to dump/push in to seal, valve on the side. It’s tapered towards the seatpost, and supported internally with a PU insert on the bottom and sides which give it a nice form factor and keep some rigidity in there when packing on the bike, without it flopping around like others on the market. A single piece strap, which looks user replaceable, goes under the saddle rails as expected, and clips with some flip lock buckles and then gets compressed with some robust snap locks. Note, these can be awkward to undo when under tension – so relieve a bit of tension before you unclip…even if I forget to do it each and every time. So far, my cack-handedness and falling off a lot skills have failed to break them.

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In this image the rear bag contains: 2 normal 29er tubes, a waterproof jacket, waterproof over-trouser, down gilet, spare long sleeve jersey, longjohns, 2 burritos, shitkit, and a spare lens for my DSLR.

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The dump valve is simple – pull out – close bag roll so air escapes – push to close and waterproof. I’ve had no water ingress at all. A small pull tab or loop of 2mm Dynema cord with a Monkey Fist knot on it is all you need so that you can pull it out – otherwise it’s a little fiddly to get to with gloves on and when you’re cold.

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I won’t say that this is some sort of flimsy attachment – I’d be lying. If anything it is something I’ve considered putting a layer of protection tape underneath as it’s quite tight to the carbon post. What it does mean is no swaying under pedalling, or none that I can notice anyway. Now, you’ll notice quite a taper, which means to pack it you need to think a bit more than normal. At the taper point I have tubes and on top my first aid kit – these are things I don’t really want to be getting in a hurry. After that, pump and water proof layers, then my spare warm layers go in. Finally, the rest of the massively extendible space is reserved for food and more food. Something of which I expect to be carrying quite a bit of on the Divide.

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It’s the little touches on the rear bag that do it for me. Like these loops for putting a rear light on, or your SPOT, or a bell. Whatever you want, stick it on, if in doubt cable-tie it on. It’ll not be moving any time soon. The two reflective eyes occur further up the roll again, so even at full extension you still get more reflective spots, and the orange pull tabs are the right width to slip an Alpkit Blip on each side for a bit of side safety.

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Now on to the front bag. I’ve always had a bit of an issue with front bags being a sound lover of twatty bars – aka drop bars on a MTB. Love or hate them, I don’t care, they work for me. On something like the Tour Divide, having multiple hand position options, as well as the aerobars, make sense. Having had ulnar nerve damage in the past after the Highland Trail Race, I’m not in the mood for it again. Back to the bags. Fitting bar bags with drop bars can be hit or miss, thankfully the Ortlieb bags, in a similar fashion to Revelate, have a system whereby you can adjust the height they sit at relative to the bars. Meaning, you can drop them below where the controls push in when you change gears. Nice touch. The super strong Velcro is overlapped by another safety orange clasp should you manage to bounce it off the velcro – I have yet to do this. I doubt I will.

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The double ended roll entry works – I’ve had it on bags in the past and I really like it. I can cram what I need in either end, use it as a storage pouch overnight as I sleep with my bivi kit out, and during the day add to it with arm/leg/whatever warmers as it heats up. It’s fast and simple. Again, burly materials and actually waterproof. Can’t ask for more.
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The front pouch, for me, is the winner of the bunch. Odd, but it’s deeply satisfying how they have designed it. It clips on to the compression straps for the front roll bag above and below so it stays in form with the roll bag. It doesn’t bounce around, it has a roll top, it has a simple cinch to close it with two positions if it’s full or not. But, and key for me, it can be easily popped off and used as a bum bag – or used as a stand alone bag on another bike with it’s own set of straps on the back. I really like it and I see it getting a huge amount of use over the next few years. Yes, I’m already thinking in years of use, not months. Something that should apply to all kit really…

front-bag_26015269664_o front-rolls_26347379790_oOrtlieb have been around long enough at this point that I really shouldn’t have expected anything less than near perfection. Don’t get me wrong, these bags can be perfected, everything can. But what needs to be fixed is minimal. For a racer – they are maybe a little too big. For a normal person who is not contemplating bringing a spare pair of socks as a luxury item – they are fine. Really that is my only gripe, they allow me to carry a bit too much, but the upside to that is easy packing as well as ample food and water storage space.

Can’t say no to that really.

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