08 Mar 2024

How waterproof do you need your bikepacking gear to be?

Something we are commonly asked here at AC is what is the main difference’s between all these bikepacking bag brands. Because when you look at the price point of some of these bikepacking bags, it’s not clear what could be the difference.

Now there are quite a few differences, like the range of options, sizing, features, availability, compatibility with a broad range of bikes… But the most obvious one to mention up front is that brands like Apidura & Ortlieb make waterproof bikepacking gear. Whereas brands like Revelate Designs, Topeak & Brooks England make bikepacking gear from water resistant materials. While this is a broad stroke – there are actually waterproof bags in the Revelate line-up – it’s a general difference in the brand’s priorities.

So now the next question we get is, is it really important to have waterproof bikepacking gear? This one is totally dependent on you! Do you ride in the rain? How steady are you on your feet when carrying your bike over river crossings? How likely are you to be riding in the snow & the sleet & the mud?


A bikiepacker looks back over their shoulder at the camera as they push their bicycle across a wide but shallow river crossing to the gravel path in the distance
Seasoned bikepacker Jackie does in fact need gear for river crossings

Even if you are a fair weather cyclist, there is comfort in knowing that your bag is waterproof, because you are ready for anything. And this is just one less thing to worry about on your ride. Knowing your gear is reliable means you have less to worry about, and can focus on the experience of doing cool adventure stuff.

But now that we are discussing waterproof bikepacking gear, we have mentioned a key name and that’s Ortlieb.


What’s different about Ortlieb’s bikepacking gear?

The fundamental difference between Ortlieb bikepacking gear & all the other brands is that Ortlieb’s are waterproof.

Now we know brands like Apidura make waterproof, weld seamed bikepacking bags. And yes they are waterproof. However Apidura sometimes have holes in their gear which allow for compression of the bag, or for hydration bladder hoses or charge cables. Making frame bags which allow for hoses & cable’s to run through them necessarily compromises the waterproofness. But this isn’t necessarily a problem. For example you are unlikely to be submerging your frame bag. That would mean your entire bike has gone under water. And yes, we have heard of people dropping their bike in the drink in a river crossing. But designing bikepacking gear around total submersion is not really necessary for most people and most rides. It’s great to know your gear will survive the experience, but we’re sure your bike won’t handle it well!

However, Ortlieb have been in the waterproof bike bag game for over 40 years (have you seen their panniers?). Which means that they really aren’t going to bring out a bag that isn’t waterproof. That’s against their brand ethos! So while it might not be necessary to have a bikepacking frame bag that can float off down the river without you, they have done it.

So now we are in the business end of the definitions around the word ‘waterproof’. Because of course, there’s always more nerdy tech talk to be had in bikepacking!


How do you know something is waterproof?

Waterproofness is a measured thing. It has to be, because this doesn’t just apply to bikes and bags, it also applies to things like electronics & building materials. So just like your mobile phone will have a waterproof rating these days, bikepacking gear uses the same way of measuring waterproofness. This measurement is known as an ‘IP rating’ and refers to ‘ingress protection’. In this instance, we are talking about water or moisture ingress. Though it does also apply to dust & contaminant protection, in the case of your phone particularly.

So we can use the ingress protection rating system to determine to what degree something is waterproof. A bike bag with an IP rating of 64 (which would be written as IP64) is considered to be waterproof from splashing from different angles. So in the case of your bikepacking bag, it would be unaffected by rain or mud. Because a high IP rating means you don’t need to concern yourself about dust & dirt getting in your bag either.


a bikepacker is shown riding ahead in their wet weather gear on a rainy day
Jackie rides through the rain with the trusty Ortlieb waterproof bikepacking gear
How waterproof are Ortlieb frame-bags?

Now Ortlieb being the serious waterproof bag makers that they are, are able to produce an IP67 rated waterproof bikepacking bag. This is an incredibly high rating, meaning that you can submerge your bag, you can hit it with a hose at pressure & you can lose it in the river. And it can safely sit in that river for half an hour while you lose your mind trying to find it. This is an enviable feature for a bikepacking bag, as it’s a quite high standard to confidently warranty your bag to. Ortlieb are saying that you simply won’t encounter a scenario on your bikepacking trip that will cause your gear to become sodden.

Now this being a truly high rating for a fabric bag, means that it can only be achieved under certain circumstances. And those circumstances are with the use of Ortlieb’s big ol’ TiZip. This is a super tough nylon zipper with a ‘lock’ spot in the teeth of the opening. This lock seats the zip in the zipper, ensuring that the IP67 rating is maintained. So when looking at Ortlieb’s frame bags you will notice their big orange zip bags are the one’s with IP67 ratings. And their RC model bags are their ‘roll-closure’ bags which are IP64 rated.


The TiZip from Ortlieb ensures an IP67 waterproof rating for their bags

Now we aren’t saying you need to buy an IP67 rated bag, and we aren’t saying you will never need them either! It’s entirely up to you. But now you understand the benefits, and the purpose of their design, it can help you make a decision on what you need.


A bikepacker stands inside the frame of their bike in the rain beneath a rail bridge
Never let the rain ruin a good ride!