First Impressions: Arkel Seatpacker Bags

One reason for bikepacking-style seat bags’ popularity is their simplicity. Unlike panniers, the standalone seat packs don’t require dedicated racks. But depending on what you’re carrying, bikepacking seat bags–especially larger ones–can sway or sag. Arkel‘s new line of seat packs put an end to floppy, tail-wagging bags with the aid of minimalist, quick-release racks.

Arkel debuted their bikepacking line at Interbike in 2015. The first iteration resembled a traditional traverse-style saddlebag (read, Carradice) paired with a support inspired by the Canadian company’s Randonneur seatpost rack. After nearly a year of tweaking and enhancements, the sleeker Seatpacker 9 and 15 (so-named for their capacity) hit retailers’ shelves in summer 2016.

arkel-9-side-min

Arkel began manufacturing panniers in 1988, and the Seatpacker reflects the company’s commitment to quality and attention to detail. The body of the pack is constructed from a mix of Cordura and X-Pac fabrics and a floating inner liner–with taped and sealed seams–offers added protection from moisture. Reflective logos and light mounting tabs provide improved visibility, and the Seatpacker’s straps and fittings can be easily operated with one hand (even while wearing gloves).

Unlike the ubiquitous seatpost rack and trunk bag combo, Arkel’s Seatpacker bag is suspended from the support. The lightweight (294 g) hoop-style rack clamps directly to the saddle rails and seatpost. Attaching the Seatpacker to the rack is extremely simple–just slide the pack’s sleeve over the top of the rack and fasten one Velcro strap around the bike’s seatpost. Removing the rack entirely takes only a flick of the clamp’s quick-release lever.

I tested the 9- and 15-litre Seatpackers on several bicycles with saddles from Ergon, Gilles Berthoud, Selle Anatomica, and WTB. Dialing in the rack’s optimal position proved to be dependent more on the saddle’s fore/aft position and angle than the actual saddle itself. Traditional leather saddles such as Brooks require optional adapters due to their wider rail spacing. To accommodate differences in saddle geometry and seat tube angles, the Seatpacker rack’s position can be fine tuned for height and angle with just a 4 mm hex key.

As with other companies’ bikepacking seat packs, Arkel’s bags need adequate space between the saddle and rear tire. For the 15-litre Seatpacker, Arkel recommends a minimum distance of 8″, with 7″ required for the smaller 9-litre model. While I had plenty of room for the larger Seatpacker on my 56 cm Salsa Vaya (with 700×32 tires) and 27.5-plus IZIP e-bike (shown in the photos), the Jeff Jones 29er currently under test lacked the necessary clearance for the 15-litre bag. Changing the support rack’s angle will buy you some additional clearance, but smaller bikes/riders simply may not have enough room for the larger bag.

Model Weight Capacity Min Clearance Price
Seatpacker 9 360 g 9 litre / 550 cu in 7" $199.99 USD
Seatpacker 15 420 g 15 litre / 925 cu in 8" $219.99 USD
Min clearance is the recommended distance from the saddle rails to the top of the rear tire.

When it came time to test Arkel’s anti-sway claims, I purposely overloaded the Seatpackers–always packing the heaviest items farthest from the saddle/seatpost. The result? No discernible bag-wagging or loosening of the rack. Any concerns that I had about the Seatpacker becoming airborne on bumpy trails were quickly erased when I forgot to attach the velcro strap to the seatpost (although I wouldn’t recommend riding with the strap unfastened on a regular basis). The bags’ waterproof liners kept their contents dry in rain and snow storms, and did a surprisingly good job of doubling as rear fenders, providing as much coverage as the average clip-on mudguard.

Doesn’t having a separate, dedicated rack contradict the whole bikepacking minimalist ethos? That was my initial thought, but after more than four months’ testing, I really came to appreciate the Seatpackers’ design. In fact, I found that of the lightweight rack and the bags’ internal stiffeners actually increased the Seatpackers’ versatility. Thanks to the added support and rigidity, I could pack items for easy access instead of positioning the contents to maintain the bag’s shape/profile. And with their single Velcro straps, removing the Seatpacker bags is faster and easier than any rackless bikepacking seat pack.

Disclosure: Arkel provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.