When deciding between trailers and panniers, remember that it’s not a case of which is ‘best’ but rather which is right for you.
Also, it’s possible to combine a bit of both. For example, you could have two back panniers with a lightly loaded trailer – or even more if you’re two people, cycling through a remote part of the world.
Here’s how to combine a trailer with a few panniers. Photo by Patrizia & Bro.
To help you figure out which option is the most appropriate, here are some pros and cons to both panniers and trailers.
- Easily carried one-by-one into your tent or hotel room and over obstacles like fences and streams (no single bag is very heavy)
- Your luggage can be sorted into different parts and stored per bag, making things easier to find (in theory!)
- Accessible while riding; you can reach things strapped on top of panniers or stored near the top, without getting off your bike
- Simply designed, with few moving parts that can get lost or break
- Versatile. Use all 4 for longer trips or take just one on a short day trip; carry a single pannier as a ‘day bag’ when visiting cities
- Put strain on a bike, particularly the back wheel, possibly causing broken spokes
- Increase tire wear and wind resistance
- Need to be reasonably well balanced between the left and right sides or the bike will feel unstable
Panniers are perhaps the most common option for bike touring.
- Ideal for carrying bulky, heavy items such as lots of water across deserts
- Kids trailers give the children a place to rest, away from strong sun or bad weather
- Handy for home use as well as touring (carrying groceries, collecting large purchases from shops)
- Often built with a wide profile that encourages cars to leave more room when passing
- Easily unhooked so you can ride a ‘naked’ bike without racks
- Aggressive dogs tend to chase the trailer, keeping them away from your legs
- May be harder to pack for train, plane and bus journeys
- More mechanical parts that could need repair or replacement (spokes, tire, skewers)
- Can be tricky if you need to back up, park or navigate through narrow gaps