Living off the bike brings a new level of attunement to product testing and during his tenure as a bikepacking nomad these past few years, Ryan Wilson has certainly vetted a lot of gear. Today he reviews Tailfin‘s Aeropack and Mini Panniers.
Note: The gear being reviewed here was provided at no cost for product feedback and review.
Over the years I’ve had the pleasure to try out a variety of touring and bikepacking bags, from traditional Ortlieb panniers to my tried and true stable of Porcelain Rocket waterproof goods. Since I got my hands on a Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion XL seat bag, few other options have intrigued me enough to stray from this trusty setup, which had served me well for quite some time. But then Tailfin’s AeroPack and Mini Pannier system came onto my radar…
At first glance online, the Tailfin AeroPack didn’t immediately persuade me. I wondered if I would miss the simplicity of a seat bag that requires very little in terms of hardware and about how all of the AeroPack’s attendant little bits would hold up on long and rough tours. It wasn’t until the system saw more design development—with Tailfin eventually offering multiple pannier sizing options and cargo mounts—that I knew I wanted to test the AeroPack against the gear I’ve come to rely on. Now, after about 16 months of heavy use in Peru, Colombia, Mongolia, and beyond, I can say that I’ve come away extremely impressed.
The AeroPack in Use
The foundation of the Tailfin system is the AeroPack. The bag itself is a top-loading, waterproof roll-top with a semi-rigid structure that relies on alloy or carbon struts for mounting to the rear axle, or rack mounts, and a stainless steel clasp (covered in polyurethane) for securing the front of the bag to the seat post. In use, this creates an extremely stable system with zero sway or wag which is commonly found in bikepacking-style seat packs.
The maximum storage capacity of the AeroPack itself (without panniers) is about 20L of volume and 9kg of weight according to Tailfin, but the useable space will largely depend on a rider’s bike of choice, seat post height, and amount of space under the saddle. In my use (on size XL frames), I found it to be quite cavernous and easy to push the limits above my typical carrying capacity for those stretches in the Mongolian desert that lacked re-supply points. Beyond that, the version that comes with pannier mounts allows for an additional 18kg of weight (9kg per side) by utilizing Tailfin’s variety of pannier offerings (more on that later).
Luckily, for riders with smaller frames, there are options available to optimize carrying capacity by using the optional seat-post extender to push the bag further out from under the saddle. The obvious caveat is that, naturally, every bike will be a bit different and the hard fail point is that if you’ve got less than 4” of room between your saddle and the tire, this bag might not work for you at all.
While I found the length of the arch legs to be a nice happy medium for me in terms of clearance, smaller riders might prefer an option for struts that are designed a little bit shorter to open up more space for the bag under the saddle.
In terms of the gear, something like the Porcelain Rocket Mr. Fusion will likely be better suited for packing items like sleeping bags and tents that can be heavily compressed, but the AeroPack is supremely versatile for more oddly shaped items that you don’t want to cinch into oblivion like pots, stoves, food, first aid kit, electronics, spare parts, tent stakes, or even a 13” laptop.
The top rolls down, clipping at both the front and rear of the bag, and two compression straps run the length of the bag to keep everything snug and minimize annoying rattles. I found it best to crisscross those straps with a full load, otherwise, they tended to slide their way down the bag. When using this method, I did make the observation that it would be nice these straps they were a bit longer.
There are three ways to mount the AeroPack to your bike. The best option (in my opinion) is via a Tailfin replacement axle (QR or TA), with the fast-release dropout. The second is via a strut at your frame’s rack mount location, which is used to attach the fast-release dropout. The final is directly fixed to the frame using traditional rack mounts.
On the topic of mounting points, the axle mount also appears to be the stronger option when compared the to mini struts that are utilized when mounting the fast-release dropout to your frame’s rack mounts. I only used the rack mount points briefly and had no problems, but the angle of the force applied onto the struts certainly gives me less confidence than the axle mount. If you can, go for the axle.
The one instance you’d be forced to use the frame’s mounting points with the fast-release version is if your bike’s axle has a very deep inset, which could make it so that the axle ends don’t stick out far enough to fit the AeroPack’s clasps. If you’re unsure about your bike, the best bet is to shoot Tailfin a message with the model of the bike and a photo of the rear dropouts.
Mounting the Aeropack’s arch legs fixed directly to the frame could be an option if you’re extremely paranoid about having an issue with the fast-release clasps but I found it much more convenient to pack the bag off the bike, so I would consider the fast-release option a must.
The beauty of the fast-release setup is that it can be transferred from one bike to another with ease and does not require any specific frame eyelets for the vast majority of frames. If you’ve got the appropriate Tailfin axles or rack mount hardware installed on each bike, you can swap the whole thing from your touring mountain bike to your road bike or commuter in a matter of seconds. While I didn’t have one to test out, it’s possible to use the system with a dropper post, though it will affect your storage capacity. Thanks to the 3-pivot points Tailfin also advertises the Aeropack as being compatible with a full-suspension bike.
Operating the fast-release latches takes a few tries to perfect and can be extra tricky if the latch is clogged up with a bunch of mud or it is particularly cold out. Still, I found the ease of removing the whole setup to bring into the tent at night or to my hotel room to be a great feature in practice. Removing it in seconds while in front of Mongolian locals even drew a few “Oohs and aahs” from amused onlookers.
Construction, Materials, and Durability
Like all of the Tailfin products I’ve tried, a lot of intention has been placed on the construction materials used. As I can attest through numerous Colombian downpours, the Hypalon nylon ripstop fabric used here is fully waterproof, including the access zipper on the side and the slim outer pocket.
The struts that I’ve been testing are made from alloy, but a carbon version is also available, which would shave about 125g off of the total weight and an extra $100 from your bank account (more on price later). Tailfin claims that the alloy and carbon versions are equally strong, so the only real difference here is weight, aesthetics, and price. The alloy version also comes with 3-bolt mounts, which the carbon does not.
Overall, I’ve been very impressed by the durability of the setup, and my concerns about it holding up to the rigors of touring have been largely washed away after seeing the quality of the materials firsthand. In the same breath, I’ll add that there is no question that the addition of more proprietary hardware contributes to the possibility of having a more complicated malfunction while on a long tour or simply out in the backcountry on a local weekend trip.
In particular, the pivoting seat post clasp and the lower fast-release mounts seemed like the obvious points of failure on paper. I’d even been pushing this review back for months, awaiting some type of issue that I could point at to say that I found the breaking point, but the reality is that I have yet to have any significant issues on that front. In nearly 1.5 years of heavy use, I never had one of the fast-release points come unhooked accidentally and this system has survived more than a few hard impacts, taking the brunt of around 40kg worth of weight, without fail.
I have been told that some small play can develop in the bushings on the front clasp after prolonged use on rough terrain, but I haven’t had that happen yet, and those are easily replaceable with small spare parts that can be stowed in your repair kit on long trips.
That said, I do try to be careful not to pack overly sharped-edged items along the outside of the pack, which might rub while riding on rugged terrain. I also take extra care in trying to not slam the rear of the bike into things (though I fail at this sometimes), and I am meticulous about making sure the little rubber grommets that hug the fast-release mounting points are intact every time I remove and install the bag. I would recommend you always keep the clasps shut when the bag is off the bike and keep a spare set of grommets in your repair kit just in case.
Beyond that, Tailfin’s reputation of excellent customer service and their five-year warranty help to ease my mind while taking their gear on long expeditions.
While I’ve already discussed how the AeroPack can be switched from bike to bike with ease, the thing that really drew me toward the system was the versatility of mounting options provided by the arch legs and the ever-growing lineup of Tailfin panniers and cargo bags.
The addition of 3-bolt mounts (only on the alloy version) and optional pannier mounts (available on both carbon and alloy) allow me to perfectly cater my setup to the particular trip I’m doing. From 5L, 10L, and 22L panniers to 1.7L, 3L, and 5L cargo cage bags, or simply lashing some extra water for those particularly dry sections, there are a lot of possibilities here.
10L Mini Panniers
It was the moment I saw the announcement of these panniers pop up on my feed that got me excited about the Tailfin system. After my first big tour through South America with traditional panniers rattling around on dirt roads, I was dead set on moving away from plastic-y hardware-mounted panniers.
The closest thing I’d come across in regards to a perfect pannier to that point had been the harness-and-drybag system of the Porcelain Rocket Microwave Panniers, which removed nearly all of the rattle and movement inherent in most pannier setups. Those are still my go-to for front panniers when I need that extra storage capacity but Tailfin really perfected the rear storage with the Mini Panniers.
While the panniers are also available in 5L and massive 22L sizes, I found the 10L size that I tested to be the perfect balance of storage capacity without becoming too bulky. Most importantly, when mounted to the AeroPack’s pannier mounts, it is entirely rattle-free. Those things don’t budge a single millimeter on the most gnarly roads and trails I’ve found due to the way the clamp tightens onto the mount. Between that and the AeroPack’s rattle-free stability, it creates a system that feels so refined that it helps to rationalize the sticker shock that you might have when you look at the price tag of the setup.
Another bonus of these panniers was the extra compression straps that can be used optionally to lash things to the outside of the bag. Super helpful for items like sandals or shoes that can be too bulky or wet to squeeze into a bag.
It’s worth noting that while I found the durability of these panniers to be generally very good, I did find one instance of delamination at a weld near the top of the bag where it folds, enough that I could get my pinky finger through to the inside. I was told by Tailfin that this was an issue from the very first batch of the panniers that has since been resolved.
Price, Alternatives, and Conclusions
There is no question that this system is a significant investment. With my go-to setup of the fast-release Alloy AeroPack with two 10L Mini Panniers and the QR axle, the price hits $595 USD all-in or $395 for the alloy AeroPack and axle with fast-release by itself. If you spring for the carbon version, that will hit $695 including the panniers, or $495 with the AeroPack and axle with fast-release alone. That’s obviously into the very upper end of the bike bag market.
For a surface-level comparison of another higher-end setup, the excellent Tumbleweed Mini-Pannier rack ($140), Rockgeist/PR Microwave Panniers ($245), and their 13L dry bag with some Voile straps to lash to the top (~$90) will set you back about around $475 in total and would achieve about 39L of storage and weigh around 1.62kg vs. the Tailfin’s 40L (including 2x 10L mini-panniers at $100 each) of storage at 1.66kg for a total of $595.
That said, I would never tell someone that they have to have such high-end setups like these to go for multi-day trips in their backyard or even to cross continents. I’ve seen folks crossing the length of the Andes mountains with milk crates fixed to a rack they found in the scrap heap, and they are having just as much fun on their bike as the next person.
But if you’ve made it this far into my Ted Talk about the Tailfin AeroPack, perhaps you’re in that range of enthusiasts that loves to use a piece of gear that is very highly functional and well thought out, with excellent construction and weatherproof-ness. And perhaps you have the $$$ to fork over for such a setup.
After my initial skepticism, and a small dose of confusion in sifting through the seemingly endless configurations on Tailfin’s site, I can say that the combination of rock solid stability, versatility across a variety of setups, practicality, and quality offered here have made the AeroPack and Mini Panniers my new go-to setup for multi-day rides and long-distance tours.
- Waterproof and a generally durable construction.
- Totally rattle free design (including the best pannier mount I’ve ever used).
- No tail ‘wag’.
- Ease of taking on and off the bike with the Fast Release option.
- Versatility to use across a wide range of bikes.
- No need for rack-mount eyelets. Make any bike a touring bike.
- Flexibility offered with the range of panniers and mounts on the arch.
- Excellent storage 20L capacity on the AeroPack and easy to fit awkwardly shaped items.
- 10L Mini-Pannier hits the sweet spot of compact side bags.
- Generous 5-year warranty.
- Steep price once it’s fully spec’d out.
- Proprietary hardware could make it difficult to repair while on the road.
- Would be more prone to damage in the event of crash when compared to bags without hardware.
- Heavier than a traditional seat pack, may not be worth it if you’re not utilizing the arch legs for additional gear.
- The long-ish arch legs could make it tricky to use on very small frames. More lengths would be great.
- Compression straps could be a bit longer on the AeroPack
- The myriad of options on Tailfin’s site can make it difficult to choose what is right for you.
You can find a full breakdown of all of the different prices, weights, and specs of the various configurations available at Tailfin’s website.