Trailers Or Panniers: Which Is Best?

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.

Trailer & Panniers
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.

Pannier Advantages

  • 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

Pannier Disadvantages

  • 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.

Trailer Advantages

  • 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

Trailer Disadvantages

  • 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

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  1. charles fleury
    11th July 2013 at 10:37 pm #

    I do not ride my bikes..I float on top like a cloud.
    The biggest mistake is bringing too much stuff.
    I have spent 2 years with a seven pound base weight.
    May you float like a cloud instead of being buried under materialism.
    A If you need it…. do not bring it
    B Pack as light as you can,then cut it in half before going

    bikes are not donkeies

    • Lance
      1st January 2015 at 9:02 am #

      Yes , and even donkeys travel/live better without a whole lot of stuff…

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