Welcome to the Ultimate Motorcycle Luggage Guide! This article is packed with detailed info on all the best luggage options out there for adventure riders, tourers, commuters, off-roaders and round-the-world globe trotters. You’ll find everything you need to know right here with links to more in-depth guides if you fancy digging deeper.
The Ultimate Motorcycle Luggage Guide
We’re geared towards adventure bikes and motorcycle travel here, and while this article leans that way, all of the luggage options can be applied to any style of bike from touring to commuting and even sports bikes. This is a comprehensive guide covering all the motorcycle luggage options out there.
TYPES OF MOTORCYCLE LUGGAGE
Hard panniers are synonymous with adventure bikes. They’re boxes made out of aluminium and are fixed to the side of your motorcycle by attaching to a luggage rack. The main benefits of hard panniers are that they’re secure, lockable, waterproof and tough. Being aluminium, if you crash the bike and dent them, they can often be hammered back into shape. These are all excellent qualities for adventure bike riders and long-distance travellers.
Waterproof and dustproof – Your luggage will be kept dry and dust free. You can also place your gear inside waterproof bags in your panniers, which makes it easier to take your gear out and take into a hotel at night instead of taking a huge muddy box in with you.
Security – Hard panniers are the most secure form of motorcycle luggage on the market. They often come with key locks, although not always as some manufacturers supply the locks as an optional extra. You can match up your keys so both boxes and your top box all use the same key.
Although they’re secure, that doesn’t make them 100% theft proof. If a thief really wants to get into your pannier, it’ll only take a chisel and a hammer to smash it open.
Tidiness – Hard panniers easily compartmentalises your kit and keeps your bike and luggage tidy. It’s a lot less messy than having soft luggage and straps flailing in the wind. It’s also easier to pack gear into a solid hard box than it is soft bags.
Multi-use – Hard panniers can be taken off and used as a table or a stool. This makes working on your bike easier or as campsite furniture.
Safety – The big con with hard panniers is how much damage they can do to your legs if in a crash. There are many travellers who have been round-the-world and crashed plenty of times without a scratch. But you’re still far more likely to break a leg with a hard pannier versus a soft pannier.
Weight and size – Hard luggage weighs a tonne. You’ll be significantly increasing your bike’s weight and that’ll effect your riding, handling and how difficult it’s going to be to pick up your bike if you drop it.
They will also increase your overall size and make the bike far wider, which will filtering harder (if not impossible) and also make it tricky to ride down narrow and gnarly trails.
Off-road – Hard panniers aren’t as well suited for off-roading as soft panniers. Their heavy and wide, can break a leg in a fall and paddling your way through slushy mud isn’t easy – and if you catch your foot in a rut then you could do some serious damage.
If you ride on gravel and rough roads then the constant vibrations can cause bolts to loosen and it’s common for overloaded bikes to have their pannier racks snap.
Cost – Hard panniers are also the most expensive luggage option out there. A well-made hard luggage setup can easily cost a £1,000
What to look out for…
Top loading vs side loading – Hard panniers can either be opened from the top like a shoe box, or from the side like a suitcase. There are benefits to both. A top opening box means you can strap additional gear or bags to the lid, it’s also likely to be more waterproof, stronger and easier to keep secure and locked. A side opening box makes it is easier to find your gear, but more likely that everything will fall out when you open it. The top opening box is the standard for aluminium, while side opening is more common on plastic side boxes.
Pannier racks – Some hard boxes can only be attached to specific pannier racks due to their fixing mounts. Pannier racks for hard boxes tend not to be universal. So, when researching your hard panniers, look into the price of the matching rack too and make sure it fits your bike’s fixing points.
Edges – Check to see if the boxes you’re interested in have rubber or plastic edges. Rudimental boxes don’t and if you drop them or crash often then the corners can begin to split. A sharp metal corner can also cause a lot of damage to your body if you get caught in a tumble.
Extras – Some boxes come with additional loops and fixings to attach nets to the top or slots for straps so you can attach a bag to the lid or bottles to the back. If you’re travelling and know you’ll need additional storage space then it’s worth opting for the extras. Some boxes also come with fixed nets inside the lid for storing light items like papers, maps, sunglasses, toilet roll etc.
Check out our dedicated guide for a selection of the very best panniers on the market.
READ MORE: The Best Hard Motorcycle Panniers
Soft luggage is perfect for riders who are more serious about the off-road side of travel. It also works especially well for smaller, lighter bikes. And those who don’t need or want the costs and restrictions of heavy hard panniers.
Soft panniers, range massively in price from £50 all the way up to £600 and so do their features and build quality. The main benefits of soft luggage are the cost, ease of use and how much better they are off-road.
The panniers can be fitted to your bike by attaching to a rack or as throwover bags which rest on the rear fairings. There are specially made panniers that are rackless like the Mosko Moto bags. And there are bags that have built in back plates so they clip on and off the pannier frame – some of these options use lockable keys too.
Ease of use – Soft panniers are easier to use and set up than hard panniers. Most soft panniers need to attach to a rack to stop the bag from swinging into your rear wheel. However, the rack can be universal as it won’t have to match up to specific fixing points like with a hard pannier set.
A throwover set of panniers can literally just be thrown over a rack and tied to the bars and you’re good to go. If you don’t want a pannier rack then you can always go for a rackless system. However, as they’re usually tied down to your bike, they’re not always as easy as hard panniers to take on and off the bike – but this depends on your personal set-up and the bags you go for.
Cost – Soft motorcycle luggage is on average far cheaper than hard luggage. For example, a pair of soft Lomo panniers are around £50. Check out our Lomo Adventure Panniers Review for more info. Mid-range panniers are priced at around £200 and top of the range panniers hit the £600 mark.
Off-road – Soft panniers are perfect for adventure bike riders and off-road riders. They’re extremely lightweight, won’t increase your bike’s overall size, and won’t catch your legs in a fall. If you’re serious about riding off-road on your bike trip, then soft panniers are the way to go.
Security – When people discuss the downsides of soft bags, security is always at the top of their list. Sure, they are made of textile and can be simply unzipped or cut with a knife. But there are measures you can take such as a padlock, PacSafe mesh net or even opting for soft bags with built-in slash proof netting like the Adventure Spec Magadan panniers.
However, how much you have to worry about your gear getting nicked is subjective. Many travellers ride round-the-world without ever having anything stolen, and as mentioned above, hard panniers are not 100% secure either.
Toughness – Soft bags are more likely to rip and get damaged when compared to hard boxes. But the quality of middle range bags these days is so impressive, you’d really have to go some to damage them. And with the budget ones, they’re so cheap now that you can just get a replacement for next to nothing and they can be repaired easily on the road.
Waterproofing – Most soft panniers are fully waterproof now. You can always use waterproof inner bags inside your panniers to double up and it also makes it easier to take your kit out at night and take it into a hotel.
What to look out for…
Racked or rackless – First up, decide on what type of soft bags will suit your motorcycle. If you want to use a rackless system you will be limited to specific bags like Mosko and Giant Loop for example. If you can fit a rack to your bike then you’re open to a huge variety of bags.
When looking at panniers for a rack, you can either go for throwover panniers (which basically have a big strap that rests on your pillion seat) or individual bags that attach directly to the rack.
Space – How much luggage are you taking with you? It’s easier to pack more into hard boxes and there’s the possibility of attaching extras to the lid. You don’t have that option with soft bags, so consider how much space you need and opt for the right size panniers. Also bear in mind that soft bags use a roll down closure system. This keeps the contents protected and waterproof, but will also make a difference as to how much you can stuff in there.
When travelling on a motorcycle, regardless of it’s a weekend tour to Europe or a mammoth round-the-world motorcycle adventure – packing light is key. So the less space you have, the less you’ll fill your bags with unnecessary items anyway!
Semi rigid panniers
Lone-Rider’s semi-rigid moto bags claim to be the best of both hard and soft panniers. The company say that’s because they’re ultra tough and wont get damaged in a crash like soft bags, are fully waterproof, can carry more weight and have a secure locking system.
Polycarbonate and plastic panniers
Pelican cases are an excellent example of polycarbonate panniers. They’re far superior to plastic panniers and make an excellent alternative to aluminium boxes. You can get top opening and side opening cases. However, Pelican cases are more commonly used as top boxes because they’re not as deep, secure, waterproof, ultra-tough and lighter than aluminium top boxes.
Plastic panniers are another alternative. These are more commonly used on touring bikes and commuters over travel and adventure bikes. The reason is that they’re far easier to break if you crash on them. They’re not suitable for going off-road or travel.
But if you’re on a tour, then plastic panniers are a great option as they’re light, usually built to be aerodynamic, are lockable and secure and aren’t as wide and cumbersome as aluminium hard luggage.
The top box is an incredibly handy and widely used luggage option for just about every motorcycle. You’ll find them on everything from commuters to tourers and round-the-world adventure bikes because they’re so versatile.
If you’re just scooting about town, they’re great for quickly and securely stowing your helmet. Excellent for holding your work bag while commuting without affecting your bike’s width and filtering capabilities like wide panniers. And they’re perfect for motorcycle travellers because they offer a safe and secure place to keep your electronics, important paperwork or simply things you need quick access to.
The only real negative with a top box is that they can affect aerodynamics and cause a bit of wind buffeting at speed. If you’re concerned about that, then opt for a short, plastic top box.
What to look out for…
You have three options with top boxes.
Aluminium top boxes are the toughest and the heaviest. You can get a three-piece hard pannier and top box set and have the same key to unlock all three. They’re taller and bigger than the other two types of top box and so aren’t as well suited for high-speed touring bikes. They are, however, geared towards adventure bikes.
Polycarbonate (like the Pelican cases mentioned above) are also great options for adventure bikes. They’re shorter and smaller and make great tough cases, especially for riders who want to thoroughly protect their camera and video equipment with padding. And as they’re shorter you can always strap more gear on top of them.
Plastic top boxes are well suited for touring and commuting. They’re light, won’t affect your handling as much as the other two and are made for it.
You will need to attach your top box to your motorcycle tail. Usually, the manufacturer of the top box will also supply a mounting plate suitable for your specific bike. Quite often you will need to remove the pillion grab handles to fit it. If you’re riding an adventure bike and going off-road, then you may want to consider reinforcing the attachment and ensuring you don’t overload your top box.
READ MORE: The Best Motorcycle Top Boxes
Tank bags are an excellent luggage option if you need additional storage space. They’re perfect for touring riders, commuters and casual riders. Wind buffeting can affect your handling when using big side panniers and top boxes, but you don’t have that problem with tank bags. And they don’t affect your bike’s overall width so you’re not going to struggle when filtering.
They also work well for long distance motorcycle traveller as they’re convenient for storing valuables and items you need to access quickly and take with you when off the bike instead of unloading all your panniers. If you have an exceptional amount of gear, then you can go for large tank bags with zipped expandable sections to increase their size too.
Quick access – This is the main benefit of a tank bag. You have instant access to your essentials like camera, paperwork, gloves, wallet, sunglasses etc without having to get off your bike and open up your top box or saddle bags.
Easy to remove – You can store your valuables in a tank bag and quickly remove the bag and take the entire thing with you when off the bike.
Fuelling – They can be a pain when topping up with petrol as they sit directly over your fuel cap.
Off-road – They’re not ideal for off-road riders as they can get in the way when standing on the pegs.
What to look out for…
Size – There’s a huge range of sizes available for tank bags; from tiny bags that can just about take your phone, wallet and keys to large, expandable bags that’ll carry a decent chunk of luggage. What you go for depends on where you’re riding and what sort of luggage capacity you need. Bear in mind that the bigger you go the more likely it can affect your steering. It’s worth noting that long distance riders who use sportsbikes, often use the tank bag to rest on as they ride. Check out Sjaak Lucassen’s article on our Stories section where he describes his luggage set up (the man who rode around the world on a Yamaha R1).
- Straps – These are the most secure, but make sure you go for a quick release strap otherwise it renders the tank bag pointless because you won’t be able to quickly release the bag and take it into places with you. If you’re riding off-road or on an adventure bike then a tank bag with straps is the best choice because of how secure they are.
- Magnets – Quick and easy to take on and off. However, that means they’re also easy to be swiped off your bike and can even be nicked while you’re riding. And they’re very likely to slide off if you’re riding off-road. Magnetic tank bags can also easily scratch your fuel tank because of dirt rubbing between the material and your paint finish.
- Ring – There are tank bags that attach to your petrol tank ring using an attachment specifically made for your bike. However, these aren’t available for all bikes and before you buy the bag, check the ring is compatible with your motorcycle. These are a great option because they’re very secure, can be lockable, won’t scratch your tank like magnetic bags and there’s no faff like with strapped tank bags. The downside is they’re a lot more expensive.
Waterproofing – Tank bags are seldom 100% waterproof and most come with a rain cover that you can just wrap over the top when the heavens open. These are either attached with straps or simply have an elasticated opening which hugs your bag. They can easily fly off in the wind, so if you find them irritating, it’s worth going for a bag that claims to be waterproof (although the zips will leak if it’s torrential) and put your contents in waterproof bags.
There are a few handy extras to look out for when buying a tank bag.
Sat-nav, map or phone pocket – Some bags come with this extra feature to help with navigating. Using this clear top pocket means you don’t need to bother with extra fixings on your handlebar for navigation devices. You can also find some tank bags come with holes for charging your phone or nav device while on the move.
READ MORE: The 5 BEST Motorcycle Sat-Navs
Multi-use – Some bags double up as rucksacks. They’re never as comfortable as proper rucksacks but are good enough for a brief walk around town. If your bag doesn’t double up as a rucksack, then check to see if it has a single strap for slinging over your shoulder. At the very least, you want a decent carry handle for when you take it off the bike.
Pockets – If you need the extra space, look for a bag that comes with external pockets either on the side or top for stashing quick access items. Some bags come with internal pockets and compartment dividers too.
Crash bar bags
Crash bar bags are a great additional luggage option for adventure bikes. If you’re on a motorcycle trip and have packed your bike up with luggage, chances are you’ll need to consider weight distribution as the mass majority of your gear will be in panniers and over your pillion seat. Crash bar bags are excellent for redistributing some of that weight to the front of your bike. You can put heavy items in there like a chain and lock, tools, food, spares etc. They’re also good for storing items you might need quick access to like waterproofs, spare gloves etc.
Crash bar bags are a lot smaller than your rear panniers and are usually around 10-15 litres. They attach to your bars using straps, but you can easily use your own attachments including cable ties to keep them secure. Another option are throwover crash bar bags, which use a strap over your tank – much like throwover panniers. You can, however, use any bag as a crash bar bag and simply attach it yourself.
For more examples of crash bar bags, check out our reviews below.
Motorcycle handlebar bags aren’t that common and there aren’t many out there to choose from. They’re small bags that fix to your handlebar usually via Velcro wrap arounds.
They’re surprisingly useful, especially for long distance riders as they make great places to stash a bit of lose change, a toll booth ticket, sunglasses, ear plugs and so on.
Here are four of the best options on the market today:
Roll bags and dry bags
Roll bags are synonymous with motorcycle trips and adventures. They’re the minimalist way of travel for many short trips and tours as you can quickly and easily stuff your gear in the bag, strap it down and off you go – no fuss.
They’re often called roll bags but are also referred to as dry bags, saddle bags, holdalls and duffle bags. Roll bags come in a huge variety of sizes – anything from 15 litres to 100 litres – but are cylindrical in shape and either open from the top, side or both sides.
They make carrying large loads easy and can take high volume items, which makes them ideal for use as your camping kit bag. Roll bags often use compression straps as well over the top of the roll down closure and at the sides so you can get the bag as small as possible.
They’re almost always waterproof nowadays and are usually made out of strong PVC and use welded waterproof seams. Some bags also double up as rucksacks to make lugging them around off the bike easier.
What to look out for…
Top opening bag – This is the best and most common opening method for roll bags. The entire length the of the bag opens from the top and you can see the entire contents of your bag. To close it, you close the two sides together and roll the bag down (stopping water ingress and making it waterproof). Two straps are usually buckled over the roll down and then a clip either side to shorten the overall height.
Side opening – This is less common. The roll closure is on one side of the bag and this makes them far more effective at keeping water, dust and dirt out. The downside is that you need to take everything out of your bag to get to the items at the bottom.
Double side opening – The same as above but there are roll down openings on either side of the bag. Again, the downside is ease of access to your gear. But the upside for both side and double side opening bags is that you don’t need to take the straps that are keeping it tied down to your bike off in order to quickly access your gear like you would with a roll top.
Colour – If you’re going for a roll down, it’s worth thinking about a lighter coloured bag on the inside as it makes finding your gear far easier. You can always place your kit into individual compression bags inside it to help compartmentalise.
Straps – Check to see what carry straps and shoulder straps your bag comes with as big bags are quite heavy to lug around. Some bags also come with rucksack straps. Also, check to see if it comes with security straps as some bags are able to be fastened to the pillion seat and have special loops on the sides and front to make attaching them to a motorcycle easier.
Motorcycle specific – If you’re only using your roll bag for casual use then this isn’t that big of a deal. But if you’re travelling with your bag, go for a motorcycle specific one as they’ll be stronger, better quality and will be able to handle being chucked around and the elements.
Tail bags are a soft luggage alternative to plastic and aluminium top boxes. They’re lighter, have more compartments and are easier to store gear. They’re also more versatile because tail bags come in a big range of shapes and sizes and can vary from a small 10 litre dry bags with a single compartment to huge 45 litre bags with multiple pockets and capable of carrying a spare helmet.
Lightweight – Tail bags are lighter than top boxes and usually easier to fit.
Storage – They come in a wider range of shapes and sizes so it’s easier to find something that fits your exact needs.
Versatility – You can use your tail pack to store a spare helmet, shopping, work stuff, travel gear or even a small one just to hold your lock and chain or a few small items. Unlike with roll bags, tail bags are usually strapped down without affecting the opening and closure system so you’ve effectively got a textile top box.
Security – Not as secure as a hard aluminium or plastic top box so you will need to be wary of your gear’s safety when leaving the bike. Also pay extra attention to how the tail pack is fixed to the bike as an incorrectly attached bag can either fly off or get caught in your rear wheel.
What to look out for…
Waterproof – Is your tail pack a roll top and 100% waterproof? If not then you will need a rain cover (usually supplied) but don’t always expect it to be there when you get off your bike as they’re notorious for flying off in the wind.
Attachments – How does it attach to your bike? Check to see if it straps to your pillion seat or if you need a rear tail plate and if that affects taking a pillion etc. Whichever way you attach it, make sure it’s extra secure.
READ MORE: Kreiga US-30 Tail Bag Review
Here’s a bunch of different tank bags to show the range of shapes and sizes they come in.
Tool boxes, tubes and DIY luggage
Carrying your own tools on long distance motorcycle trips is a good idea. You’ll be more self-reliant and it’s a necessity for those travelling off the beaten track. The question is how to store them on your bike. Tools are heavy and the rear of your bike will already be loaded with gear. So, an alternative is to buy a tool box or tube and position it further towards the front of your bike.
We carry our tools in an old army ammo box (£12 from eBay) bolted to the sump guard. We also carry a spare fuel bottle and our waterproofs in a gutter tube (£4 from B&Q) cable tied to the inside of our pannier rack.
We have a dedicated guide on how to make your own tool luggage for you to check out.
Waist packs are great for touring, off-road riding and adventure riders. They provide a quick and easy way to stash important gear such as wallets, cameras, phones etc on your person. So you don’t have to worry about taking a tank bag in to places with you or leaving important stuff on the bike. They’re also a handy alternative to rucksacks as they don’t put any pressure on your shoulders and back.
READ MORE: Kriega R3 Waist Pack Review
Backpacks are a popular option for their convenience and ease of use. Your important stuff comes with you when you’re off the bike, there’s no fixing or attaching and it’s just…well, easy.
The downside comes from the strain it puts on your shoulders and back after a long day in the saddle. If you’re commuting or on short rides then they’re great. Motorcycle specific rucksacks that are waterproof and have comfortable harnesses for riding in that redistribute the weight of the bag from your back to your chest are great options. But, for long distance touring and travelling, they’re not a good choice.
READ MORE: Kriega R30 Rucksack Review
Rok Straps are an absolutely brilliant way of fixing your luggage. Forget bungee cords and ratchets, once you use Rok Straps you won’t go back. They’re safer, stronger and better in everyway. Check out our review for more info.
READ MORE: ROK Straps Review
Cargo needs are cheap, budget friendly and super handy. I keep a cargo net strapped over my fuel tank instead of a tank bag. I use it stuff things under in a rush, for example a map or my gloves or an old oily rag. They’re great for the back of your bike too as you can stuff your riding jacket or boots in there etc when off the bike or when riding in hot conditions.
WHAT MOTORCYCLE LUGGAGE DO I NEED?
How to choose your motorcycle luggage setup
Your first task is to think about what you need your luggage for. If you’re heading on a long-term epic adventure and crossing multiple countries or even continents, then you’re looking at soft panniers or aluminium hard cases. Plastic cases are out. You may also want to consider a roll bag if you’re camping and/ or a top box for valuables.
While, if you’re touring and don’t need a large amount of gear, then you can get away with plastic panniers, or a top box/ tail pack and tank bag.
If you’re commuting or just need luggage for the casual outing, then rucksacks, tank bags and tail packs are the way to go.
The key here is to really be honest with yourself about what you need this luggage for. For example there’s no need to spend thousands on hard luggage if you just don’t need all that space and won’t be travelling as you’re spending unnecessary money, weighting your bike down, making yourself wider and reducing the enjoyment you’ll get from riding.
Any additional weight will affect your bike’s performance and handling. The more you load up the more you need to carefully consider weight distribution. There are ways to counter a heavy rear load by using the luggage options mentioned above. For example, crash bar bags, tank bag and tool box.
Hard vs soft motorcycle luggage
This is the big question when choosing luggage for travelling and adventure bike riders. The answer comes down to whatever you feel comfortable with, but the general guideline is hard luggage if you’re primarily on asphalt and are willing to spend the money and sacrifice weight and size for security. And soft luggage if you’re geared more towards off-roading.
To help you decide, we have a dedicated article which answers this question in more detail.
The perfect motorcycle travel luggage set-up
After 17 years of riding motorcycles around the world we have found the best set-up for adventure bike travelling to be soft panniers and a hard top box. You get the best of both worlds. You can off-road like crazy without worrying about hard metal boxes smashing into your legs in an off. And we have a hard top box to store all our values, mitigating the security risk of leaving a bike unattended, which is one of the main reasons people go for hard luggage.
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