A staple among cyclo-tourists and commuters, Ortlieb’s products are famous for their durability and functionality. While the storied German brand might not be the first marque that comes to mind for bikepacking or gravel touring, the Ortlieb Gravel-Pack panniers ($180 MSRP) deliver added storage for the times when frame packs and handlebar rolls come up short on capacity.
Like Ortlieb’s other bags, the waterproof Gravel-Pack panniers are constructed using high-frequency welding (as opposed to traditional sewn construction). But instead of the Cordura or tarpaulin-style fabric found on the company’s other bags, Ortlieb Gravel-Pack panniers utilize PU-laminated ripstop nylon. In addition to being lighter (580 grams/ea), the rip stop material is easier to roll and close compared the heavier, stiffer fabrics. The Gravel-Pack panniers feature Ortlieb’s QL2.1 mounting system, but with a second lower hook for added stability and security.
|Height||30 cm / 11.8 in|
|Width||25 cm / 9.8 in|
|Depth||14 cm / 5.5 in|
|Volume||25 L / 1526 cu in (pair)|
|Weight||1160 g / 40.9 oz (pair)|
|Max Capacity||18 kg / 40 lb (pair)|
With their symmetrical profile, the Gravel-Packs can be used as front or rear panniers. I prefer front-loaded cargo, so my testing was performed with the bags mounted on Surly and Tubus front carriers. Ortlieb’s QL2.1 mounts accommodate racks up to 16 mm in diameter, and the included reduction spacers are compatible with 8, 10 and 12 mm racks. Thanks to the QL2.1’s tool-free design, positioning the Gravel-Packs is quick and easy. While the dual lower hooks worked well with the Surly rack, I found that running only one (lower) hook enabled easier removal on the Tubus Tara lowrider rack.
Peek inside the Gravel-Packs and you may be surprised by the panniers’ lack of dividers or small pockets. That’s OK, though, because the single-compartment design easily swallows large, bulky objects. Nearly all of my testing occurred during Colorado’s unpredictable winter weather, so I routinely carried multiple layers and cold-weather necessities. The packs’ roll-top closures ensured that cargo remained protected from the elements, and for the times when additional capacity was needed, the secondary d-ring closures kept the bags’ bulging contents secured on even the roughest trails.
Having owned several pairs of Ortlieb panniers which show virtually no wear after years of service, I was a bit skeptical that the Gravel-Packs’ lighter fabric would offer the same level of durability. Much of my testing took place during early morning and evening darkness, and as such, the packs regularly made unexpected contact with sharp-edged gates and fences (as well as rough brick and concrete walls). After four months’ use (and abuse), any concerns about the ripstop nylon’s robustness have been erased. And while some riders may bemoan the bags’ lack of external pockets, the Gravel-Packs’ sleek profile proved far less likely to snag on brush or branches.
Are Ortlieb’s Gravel-Pack panniers worth the $180 price tag? If the 25-litre capacity is sufficient, the answer is definitely yes. The bags’ waterproof construction and materials keep your cargo safe from moisture, and the Gravel-Packs’ versatile design and proven mounting system are well suited to the needs of utility cyclists and adventure riders. Like the company’s other products, Gravel-Pack panniers are covered by Ortlieb’s 5-year warranty. And should you need replacement parts (that aren’t covered by the aforementioned warranty), Ortlieb offers an extensive selection of spares.
Disclosure: Ortlieb provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.