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Breathable vs. non- breathable panniers?

Old 09-05-19, 05:30 PM
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dualresponse
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Breathable vs. non- breathable panniers?

Hello all!

I've been getting the touring bug again after 30 years or so, and was interested in the breathability of panniers.

I've got two sets... really 1.5 since one 1990's set is falling (edit- fell) apart. Both are traditional breathable (weather resistant) material. Now, I see all these true watertight bags which look like they are watertight to 1000 leagues under the sea. Having used the traditional panniers, and seeing how much water they accumulate, and seeing the discussions on this issue (as if there is a problem to non- breathability) I ask this...

What are the drawbacks to the watertight bags? Are they TOO watertight? I'm almost thinking one watertight set/ and another breathable set? Suggestions?
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Old 09-05-19, 05:56 PM
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Water proof is a feature with panniers. My opinion is that having a bunch of pockets is another feature that the waterproof ones tend to lack. It really comes down to how much you value being organized, versus the waterproof feature. Most bike tourist I have met, tend to avoid rain riding, so I say; whats the point??? I have had water in my panniers before and it was not the end of the world. It's only water, not acid, right? They dried out. The thing about pockets, if you organize them, you can find/ get just about anything in under 10 seconds, no digging through your panniers to search for stuff !
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Old 09-05-19, 06:02 PM
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Yeah, I'm with you on that front. I like the compartments myself! I've also gotten stuck in a lot of sudden torrential downpours which filled the bags with puddles of water. I guess if I had important stuff stuck in bags within bags, it would have been okay. It just seems like there is some concern about the diving bag type panniers, as if they breed mold or something really bad. Perhaps not.
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Old 09-05-19, 06:15 PM
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Iím with Brian25, waterproof is a definite feature. A number of waterproof panniers are just big bags though, if you want pockets for organization that can narrow your choices.

One compromise that works pretty well for me is the Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus as itís got a good sized front pocket and an a zipped mesh pocket inside. Of course itís a big pannier and may be larger than you are looking for, but itís well made, light for its size and completely waterproof.
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Old 09-05-19, 06:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Brian25 View Post
The thing about pockets, if you organize them, you can find/ get just about anything in under 10 seconds, no digging through your panniers to search for stuff !
I have regular Ortliebs and I can find/get anything in under ten seconds. Organization isn't that difficult.

Originally Posted by dualresponse View Post
It just seems like there is some concern about the diving bag type panniers, as if they breed mold or something really bad. Perhaps not.
I've only used Ortlieb and Vaude fully waterproof panniers (for years and thousands of miles) and I've never had this happen.

For me, the value of complete waterproofing is greater than the value of any benefit I might get from non-waterproof panniers. That's not to say that there aren't benefits to non-waterproof panniers, but to know that my gear is going to be fine and I don't need to stop and put on rain covers when the rain starts falling is nice. But if the organization you can achieve with pockets matters to you, then you can go noon-waterproof and use rain covers when it gets a bit wet. Both systems work well.
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Old 09-05-19, 06:35 PM
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IMO waterproof panniers are the best option. I have some old non-waterproof REI panniers with a rain cover. In a downpour they still get wet inside. And then you have to remove the cover to access the pannier, which just adds another step. They have pockets, which is nice, but you can use small stuff sacks inside panniers to organize stuff if you want.

One option is to go with non-waterproof panniers and line them with trash bags, like backpackers do inside their backpacks. You can keep the stuff outside the bags and then quickly stuff your junk into the bags if the weather turns. That could be the cheapest and lightest option with the most flexibility. The drawback is your panniers will wick water and get heavier and then they may take a while to dry.

I still prefer Ortliebs for their durability and full waterproofing. Look for them used or on sale if the price is too high.
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Old 09-05-19, 06:38 PM
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Thereís some merit to carrying waterproof AND highly breathable luggage. The breathable bits should allow enough airflow for wet clothes to dry (assuming dry enough weather). The waterproof bits should be truly watertight. Iíve used a few components that offered this mix and were convenient to use.
Ortlieb rolltop panniers are really waterproof. I installed their optional mesh bag on one pannier, and itís been really handy.
I have some many-pocketed Jandd panniers that arenít waterproof. One pocket is made of mesh, which is pretty handy for drying clothes while rolling. When using these panniers, I make sure almost everything is packed in dry bags, which has the added benefit of keeping things organized.
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Old 09-05-19, 06:38 PM
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Originally Posted by winston63 View Post
Iím with Brian25, waterproof is a definite feature. A number of waterproof panniers are just big bags though, if you want pockets for organization that can narrow your choices.

One compromise that works pretty well for me is the Ortlieb Bike Packer Plus as itís got a good sized front pocket and an a zipped mesh pocket inside. Of course itís a big pannier and may be larger than you are looking for, but itís well made, light for its size and completely waterproof.
I use heavy duty green garbage bags to keep the contents on my panniers dry. When I tour logging/mining roads I often have to cross washouts or streams that are deep enough to soak any pannier. I find my non-waterproof ones dry out quickly once the sun is out. I much prefer panniers with a side pocket or two. Plus I want a rear vertical pocket on my rear panniers as that where I store my fuel bottles.

Cheers
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Old 09-05-19, 06:45 PM
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I have cheap Tioga water resistant panniers, that have various compartments, and I actually like that feature a lot. They also have a water bottle holder, so four extra bottles of water, that gives me six holders, for the average trip. They do have waterproof covers, but I also use drybags, for various items. They were breathable when I first got them 3 years ago, but I spray them with waterproofing every major tour. Nothing gets damp though inside regardless, and they were cheap, but not nasty, have done some 20000 hard km with them, and if I could buy them again I would.
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Old 09-05-19, 09:01 PM
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I prefer waterproof. Since switching to Ortlieb panniers and bags 12 years ago, I wouldn't consider using anything but waterproof panniers. My wife and I were on a 3-month tour and we had rain on 35 days of that trip. As far as I know there are no "breathable panniers". There are water resistant panniers, but not breathable. When things inside any pannier gets wet it stays wet unless it is taken out and dried. We have used Ortlieb bags for almost 21,000 miles, and almost every time we rode in the rain, one of us would say "thank goodness for Ortliebs", sometime during the day. We live in Oregon where it also rains a lot

Sometimes you just have to ride in the rain



"Thank goodness for Ortliebs"


Ditto


Try this with non-waterproof panniers. This pannier is not empty.

Last edited by Doug64; 09-05-19 at 09:28 PM.
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Old 09-05-19, 09:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Doug64 View Post
...

Try this with non-waterproof panniers. This pannier is not empty.
Yup. Oregon resident here. Haven't toured in decades but have arrivbe home many times with filthy Ortleibs. I just hose the bike off with the full Ortleibs on so my bags go into the kitchen wet but clean to unload the food I bought. (And I love how easy they are to clean. A little hot water, some dish detergent and wash 'em like a pot. Hang from the bottom hook to dry

Ben
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Old 09-06-19, 04:16 AM
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Having used both, I say too waterproof is not an issue. Things don't dry inside "breathable" bags any quicker.
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Old 09-06-19, 06:12 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Having used both, I say too waterproof is not an issue. Things don't dry inside "breathable" bags any quicker.
My experience as well. Your still damp bike shorts from the nights wash the day earlier still needs to be out in the sun and wind strapped on your rack to properly dry.
Not worrying about your stuff getting wet is just plain nice and useful.
To top it off, given that I use my waterproof panniers for commuting, and have for over 25 years, it's a total bonus that papers, books, electronic stuff just won't get wet when commuting.
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Old 09-06-19, 06:57 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
Having used both, I say too waterproof is not an issue. Things don't dry inside "breathable" bags any quicker.
I agree. I have had zero problems with waterproof panniers. Wet stuff either stays out or is sealed in ziploc or other waterproof bags to isolate them from dry stuff. No matter the type of pannier things that are packed away don't dry out.

The bigger difference is whether you prefer to organize things in one big compartment or in multiple pockets. Personally I find one big compartment more efficient. I organize things that need organizing with colored UL stuff sacks. That allows for some compression and I find it easy enough to find things.
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Old 09-06-19, 07:29 AM
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Water-resistant panniers have served me nicely for the kinds of touring I do: mostly day trips, an occasional weekend outing, and an infrequent one to two week tour.

I find water resistant panniers with waterproof covers are fine when it's drizzling. During heavy downpours, I seek shelter and wait for the weather to improve. I have been drenched on rare occasions, and the stuff inside my panniers got damp -- but not soaked. I hung everything on a line overnight, and by morning everything was dry enough.

I would consider waterproof panniers if I were to embark on regular, long tours. But for the shorter jaunts I currently do, water resistance works for me.
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Old 09-06-19, 07:54 AM
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I switched from breathable panniers with pockets to waterproof Ortliebs. It was all upsides from my perspective. I still have some non-waterproof storage on my bike, and the challenge is always to find the gear that I don't mind getting wet to fill it. And even then it's not "I want this in a breathable compartment," but rather, "this can get wet without me being very inconvenienced." The only time "breathable" seems like it might be a feature is when you have damp stuff you want to dry out, but in my experience: you pack wet clothes in a pannier, you pull wet clothes out of a pannier. You want something to dry, you find a way to put outside of the bag.
When it comes to pockets, they are great when you have something perfectly-shaped for the space. Otherwise every pocket is an opportunity for wasted space. I'd rather sort gear in stuff sacks, and, if necessary, pack my bike like it's a game of Tetris. To do that, I need open spaces.

To me there's no downside to going waterproof except that sometimes the material is a little heavier. Well worth it for the extra protection and convenience.
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Old 09-06-19, 08:20 AM
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Thanks all! After re-reading my post, I probably should have called the "breathable" panniers "Water Resistant"- That's more of what I meant.

I smiled at Doug64's downpour pics. Seems like every time I ride with my panniers, those types of downpours happen. It's not so much rain riding, as motorboating. I always enjoy them, getting 100% soaked and being fully committed in the elements, sometimes the best miles roll by in nice cool storms like that, however, my Jandd packs always seem to have significant water in them afterwards. I would always try to cover them from up top, but they almost seem to get soaked from the constant splash from the bottom rear wheels (boat wake?), even with fenders on.

Based on the feedback, I'd probably get ortleibs next for the front, but I've got so much invested in the Jandd rears, I'm a litle reluctant to let them go. After restoring my bike, it will also be a little bit of a discretionary spending issue too. I do like the space, the pockets, and they are strong, but as another poster mentioned, I'd be packing things in terms of "what CAN get wet- it'll go here"
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Old 09-06-19, 08:31 AM
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And there is nothing to stop you using really good inner plastic bags to keep things dry, it's not perfect, I did this for decades canoe camping and with my various cordura panniers. And there are tons more waterproof stuff sacks around now, or those big oversized zip lock bags.
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Old 09-06-19, 04:35 PM
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Originally Posted by dualresponse View Post
Based on the feedback, I'd probably get ortleibs next for the front, but I've got so much invested in the Jandd rears, I'm a litle reluctant to let them go.
Jandd makes good quality gear, I'm sure they'll serve you well. And if you end up with Ortlieb fronts you'll be able to compare the two systems to see which makes more sense for the kind of touring you do most often. At the end of the day if you're out on your bike having fun then whatever gear or packing method you choose to achieve that is fine. What's most important is if it works for you.
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Old 09-07-19, 04:25 AM
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My earlier posts addressed waterproof panniers and the choice of one big compartment. That is my preferred choice.

What I didn't address is what if that isn't your preferred choice. What if you like a lot of pockets and water resistant panniers? Putting stuff in ziplocs or what ever has already been mentioned, but pannier covers work pretty well in my experience. I found that stuff stayed dry in my water resistant panniers with those big covers (the ones kind of like giant shower caps). I'd still put electronics or stuff like that in a heavy duty ziploc or something, but I had good luck with those covers when I used them. So water resistant with covers are a decent option.

I have mostly abandoned panniers in my move to a lighter and lighter packing style, but when/if I still use them I could live with either style. My preference would still run toward waterproof with one big pocket and a roll down top though.
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Old 09-07-19, 05:34 AM
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I certainly do recall when I used cordura panniers with smallish exterior pockets, that obviously the stuff put in the pockets would get wet without plastic bags, but then even with plastic bags, when stuffing stuff back into the pocket, you had to be careful not to rip a small hole in the bag, or later in a big rain, your repair tools or whatever would invariably get wet either from a small hole or how you wrapped the bag up around the stuff.
I'm fairly certain I drilled a few holes in the bottom of my cordura bags to avoid the puddle accumulation at the bottom that always happened after riding in rain for a while.

like someone said, its all doable, and the most important thing is to get out and have fun doing some bike touring.
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Old 09-07-19, 05:48 AM
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Trash compactor bags are great to keep things dry. They’re several times thicker than kitchen trash bags and maybe 2’x3’ when flat just out of the package. We use them for backpacking but they work well inside panniers. We bought Ortliebs a few years ago and should have done it many years earlier. Pockets are not an issue for me.
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Old 09-07-19, 12:30 PM
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I have always used waterproof rear panniers and only used non-waterproof panniers on the front for two trips.

If I have damp clothes, I often put them in a mesh bag and put that on top of a pannier or on top of a rear rack top bag. I do not store damp clothes inside a waterproof pannier for a day, even if it will be a cool day. The exception of course is that if it is raining, I then put the damp stuff in a pannier so it does not get wetter than it already is. The few times when I had an all day rain and had damp stuff in a pannier, it was fortunately a cool day and the damp stuff did not go anaerobic.

My last trip I used some non-waterproof panniers up front. They were coated nylon, thus should have been waterproof but coated nylon never really is water proof. But I had stuff up front like a damp tent, sandals and cooking gear that if it got wet, no problem. Anything I want to keep dry goes in a waterproof pannier.
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Old 09-07-19, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by veloz View Post
Trash compactor bags are great to keep things dry. They’re several times thicker than kitchen trash bags and maybe 2’x3’ when flat just out of the package. We use them for backpacking but they work well inside panniers. We bought Ortliebs a few years ago and should have done it many years earlier. Pockets are not an issue for me.
This is a good idea. I like the concept of a heavier thickness bag than regular trash bags. When I use regular bags, I have a talent for puncturing them. I've all but given up on ziplock type bags for smaller stuff. They always seem to fail at the corners. Thanks!
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Old 09-07-19, 03:30 PM
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Don't worry, it's not you, regular garbage bags alleys always get holes in them. The ziplock I'm referring to are blue colour, extra thick and extra tough. Come in big honking sizes too.

As a kid canoe camping, my dad would source extra thick bags for putting backpacks etc in for airlines, waaaasy thicker than any garbage bags and did reasonably well in our canvas canoe bags.
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