Modern ultralight/minimal panniers are worlds apart from what we were using 15 years ago. They’re simple, have no complicated hardware, require no tools for adjustment, and are completely rattle-free. John worked with Colorado bag maker San Util Design on designing these in-stock Mini Panniers ($125 each) for his Ritchey restoration project and has a full breakdown review comparing the Mini Panniers to the normal-sized custom-order Light Weight Panniers ($140 each) below.
Two Sizes for All Adventures
San Util offers two sizes for its panniers. The brand new Mini Panniers are based on the dimensions I sent Adam for my Ritchey (which needed to be 8″ exactly), while the Ultra Light Panniers are larger overall. When used together, you’ll be amazed at how much you can carry in a nice, neat, and minimal presentation.
I love racks and panniers on a bike used for touring and bicycle camping. The result is so pleasing to look at, and not to mention the ride is superior to a bunch of bags flopping all over the place. When installed correctly, all your camping items’ weight is low, and in general, your bike will handle better for it.
Before we get into all that, let’s look at the details…
Shorthand Specs: Mini Panniers
- Width – 8”
- Height Rolled – 11”
- Height Unrolled – 21”
- Depth- 3”
- Holding Capacity:
- Rolled – 4.25L
- Overstuffed – 7L
- EPX200 – 227g w/ Voile Straps
Shorthand Specs: Ultra Light Panniers
- Width – 10”
- Height Rolled – 12”
- Height Unrolled – 23”
- Depth- 3”
- Holding Capacity:
- Rolled – 7.5L
- Overstuffed – 12L
- EPX200 – 282g w/ Voile Straps
Typically in traditional road and MTB touring setups, the larger panniers will go on the rear rack, while the smaller panniers on the front rack. However, mid-low trail bikes often benefit from having large panniers on a front low rider rack, with a saddle pack or bag on the rear. If additional space is required for either setup, people often use a front handlebar bag or backpack. Luckily, on my overnighter with the Ritchey, I fit everything I needed in these four bags with a Wizard Works Hobgob hip bag for my camera.
San Util’s Mini Panniers (4.25L expandable to 7L) fit my front Jim Blackburn rack, clearing the cantilever brake arms with plenty of room. Meanwhile, the Light Weight Panniers (7.5L expandable to 12L) fit on the rear rack, which had more real estate to adjust their mounting position for heel clearance. I run 175mm or 180mm cranks and have a size 12 shoe, so getting the clearance dialed is important.
Unlike the “old school” method using a metal hook to ride the rails and a loop bungee hook attachment to “tie down” the panniers to the lower rack strut found in panniers of the 1970s and 1980s, modern panniers typically attach to your rack via bar-tacked daisy chain loops and Voile or webbing straps. In my experience, this simple ” T ” layout will accommodate both old-school racks like the Jim Blackburn racks on my Ritchey or new-school racks like Tumbleweed’s T-Rack/Pannier rack and Old Man Mountain’s offerings like the Elkhorn or Divide. Low-rider racks aren’t as commonplace anymore but excel for off-road touring. The Tubus Tara rack is legendary!
See the Tubus Tara rack in action in my Stargazer review:
Best in Class? John’s Review of the Tumbleweed Stargazer Touring Bike
Other rack attachment systems eventually evolved like Ortlieb, who still to this day makes the best waterproof panniers. Unlike Ortlieb’s pannier attachment method, there’s no need to “shim” the locking rack attachment clamp, and no tools or hardware needed to adjust the mounting point.
The best way to use these bags is to first mount them on your rack and then stuff them with your items. My preferred process is to situate the bags, ensuring you have heel-rub clearance. Then run the mini Voile strap (supplied with the bags) through the lower daisy chain. Then, attach the top daisy chains to your rack’s horizontal member with the Voile straps.
A good rule of thumb is to roll these bags at least three times to ensure nothing will pop out; this is typically a problem when using the panniers as a compression sack. I like rolling these particular panniers to the point where the plastic D rings are at the top. I’ve found not rolling them as such made the D rings rattle on the rack. These D-rings are for a shoulder strap and make hanging the bags from a tree all the easier if you’re in an area where critters like munching through bags to get to your food.
Then, cinch down the side straps, tucking the excess webbing into the elastic band to ensure the straps don’t get tangled in your spokes.
It is of the utmost importance to ensure panniers are securely fastened. Are your Voile straps as tight as they’ll go? What about your staps? Are they dangling? Make sure there is minimal movement on the rack. Movement = not a secure connection, resulting in the bags either jettisoning off the bike or into your wheels. Yikes!
Adam uses EPX200 for his panniers (he also offers waxed canvas as an option) which means they are very lightweight. Both the Mini Panniers and the Light Weight Panniers are sub 300 grams each. They’re constructed from double-walled EPX200 and are water-resistant. If you’re planning on touring in wet conditions, you should load your gear in a dry bag and then load the dry bag into the pannier.
The webbing on the back is bar-tacked and solid. Pulling on the webbing showcases this connection’s resilience.
One thing that makes the Mini Panniers and Light Weight Panniers different from other offerings on the market is the lack of internal armature or stiffening material. These are literally wide and narrow EPX200 bags with roll-top access. There is no stiffening plate or anything keeping the panniers from getting “fat,” so be mindful of how you stuff them.
I didn’t have an issue on an overnighter, but if I were taking these on something like a long singletrack tour, I might want to add a sheet of corrugated plastic or Coroplast to evenly distribute the bag’s bulk against the rack body.
Wrap-Up and Pros/Cons
Whether embarking on singletrack, fire road, or pavement tour, ultralight panniers are a great way to stuff your stuff into a secure and flap-free experience. Unlike vintage panniers, the San Util Mini and Light Weight panniers have no plastic mounting hardware to break, no bungee attachment to stretch out, and, yet, no internal stiffening armature or boards. They are super minimal and super lightweight at the expense of being only water-resistant.
Packing your bike for a tour can be a daunting experience, but the space and security off-road touring setups gain from racks and panniers is by far the most efficient use case. The peace of mind you get from these setups is worthwhile, and you save your bike’s finish from excessive wear and tear.
- Lightweight (both sizes are well under 300g)
- Custom colors or in-stock options are available
- Secure, Voile strap connection makes installation a cinch
- D-ring loops for a shoulder strap
- Mini Panniers are in stock and shipping today
- Not waterproof
- No stiffening board but you can easily make your own from Coroplast or corrugated plastic
- Light Weight Panniers are a custom order with a week+ lead time. Depending on queue and fabric stock.