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Why get waterproof bags?

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Why get waterproof bags?

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Old 12-18-14, 06:57 AM
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Why get waterproof bags?

When questions are asked about which bags to get, ortlieb tends to be the standard answer. Arkel has info on its website claiming that waterproof bags aren't as suitable for long distance touring as coated cordura (which not only Arkel uses but also companies like Jandd and Lone Peak) because of condensation and because it can be difficult to get water out once it gets in (which it is likely to do if you open and close them on a rainy day out in the middle of nowhere).

Here is the language from Arkel's website:

"Ask experience users of watertight panniers and they will tell you about battling condensation build up and that they use plastic bags inside the panniers to separate wet stuff from dry and to have some organization system that top load, one compartment bags don't provide. Having stuff separated inside make searching easier as these panniers are always of the one compartment top-loading type. Compartments are a precaution against the elements when digging through for something in a rainstorm and to avoid a possible water spill - in which case the open design watertight pannier becomes a watertight swimming pool with your stuff floating around inside."

Waterproof - Facts & Myths

Arkel is a competitor of Ortlieb's so you can discount this claim for that reason but it is a serious claim and one I've wondered about in the past.

I tend to think that waterproof bags are of little use on a long tour. Plastic bags help you organize your stuff and keep it dry. So why not get a tough cordura bag that doesn't keep water in if some gets out? I have trouble imagining a tour where you don't get water into your bags given that everything tends to start out a bit wet with the morning's condensation.

So is ortlieb the best thing to hit the touring world since sliced bread (or the peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you prefer, please no marmite, ) or is it overrated?

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Old 12-18-14, 07:31 AM
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I have an opinion, but I haven't toured extensively with waterproof packs so it's not very informed. But I agree with the language about condensation because it makes sense to me based on my experience with packing things in plastic. I travel with two panniers. One holds my clothing, insulation, and maps and paperwork, which I protect carefully with a large trash compactor bag. Nothing wet ever goes in there. The other holds shelter, tools, and food (separately packed in plastic) which I let get wet. I like having that flexibility when packing up on the wet mornings. The wet stuff eventually dries out without too much fuss.

The argument sounds a little like the waterproof footwear one in the hiking world. Do you try to keep your feet dry, or just wear well-ventilated shoes, let them get wet, then they'll dry faster? There are experienced hikers firmly in both camps.
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Old 12-18-14, 07:42 AM
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I have used waterproof panniers a good bit and had absolutely zero problems with moisture in the bags. I do take some precautions though. My tent never went in the panniers so even if it was wet moisture from it would never contaminate the bags. I took care to either leave damp stuff out or segregate it in a plastic bag. I have not found it hard to keep things dry when packing or removing items with a little care and planning. Just put the things you will need next where they are easy to get to.

I think the bigger issue is not waterproof vs non waterproof, but rather number of compartments. Stuff can be kept dry easy enough either way.

As far as lots of compartments... I see more disadvantages than advantages. I much prefer to organize gear, food, and clothing in stuff sacks or ziploc bags within a larger single compartment. I find it easier to pack all my stuff in a given number of liters that way and also find it as easy or easier to find things once they are packed. Ever notice how lost things seem to be in the last compartment you open? That means the more compartments the more places to look when you forget where something is.

I have used non-waterproof panniers with pockets and they were OK, but the waterproofs definitely worked out better for me.

I started using dry bags instead of panniers in recent years with the same excellent results.

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Old 12-18-14, 08:01 AM
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Originally Posted by bikemig View Post
When questions are asked about which bags to get, ortlieb tends to be the standard answer. Arkel has info on its website claiming that waterproof bags aren't as suitable for long distance touring as coated cordura (which not only Arkel uses but also companies like Jandd and Lone Peak) because of condensation and because it can be difficult to get water out once it gets in (which it is likely to do if you open and close them on a rainy day out in the middle of nowhere).

Here is the language from Arkel's website:

"Ask experience users of watertight panniers and they will tell you about battling condensation build up and that they use plastic bags inside the panniers to separate wet stuff from dry and to have some organization system that top load, one compartment bags don't provide. Having stuff separated inside make searching easier as these panniers are always of the one compartment top-loading type. Compartments are a precaution against the elements when digging through for something in a rainstorm and to avoid a possible water spill - in which case the open design watertight pannier becomes a watertight swimming pool with your stuff floating around inside."

Waterproof - Facts & Myths

Arkel is a competitor of Ortlieb's so you can discount this claim for that reason but it is a serious claim and one I've wondered about in the past.

I tend to think that waterproof bags are of little use on a long tour. Plastic bags help you organize your stuff and keep it dry. So why not get a tough cordura bag that doesn't keep water in if some gets out? I have trouble imagining a tour where you don't get water into your bags given that everything tends to start out a bit wet with the morning's condensation.

So is ortlieb the best thing to hit the touring world since sliced bread (or the peanut butter and jelly sandwich if you prefer, please no marmite, ) or is it overrated?
Take what Arkel says with a very, very, very large grain of salt. A salt mine might not be big enough I've toured with coated bags and with Ortlieb bags. I'll take Ortlieb any day. I'll also take Ortlieb's large single compartment bags over more compartmentalized bags as well.

Yes, if you are smart, you put your stuff into individual bags inside the Ortliebs but I really have to do that for bags like the Arkel as well because I need some kind of organization. I put stuff in ziplock bags long ago after spending a night in a bed and breakfast (a true® bed and breakfast, not the fancy places here in the US) in Scotland after getting caught in a downpour.

Organization in ziplocks makes it easier to get going in the morning because you don't have to rummage through the bags or a bunch of pockets to find what you need to get going. Having a bunch of pockets also limits what can carry and where you can carry it. Small items need to be the right size to make a bunch of pockets useful.

One way to avoid condensation is to not put wet stuff in a waterproof bag like the Ortliebs. If I have wet items, I either dry them before they go in a bag...bicycle clothes can be dried in a machine and lycra even recovers stretch when subjected to heat...or hang them off my tent/sleeping bag.

I've used my Ortliebs since 2003 in a lot of different conditions and never had any kind of problem with condensation. I've also been caught in drenching downpours all over the US and, again, never had any issue with water infiltration nor with getting water in the bag that I couldn't get easily get out. I don't carry water in my Ortliebs because there are better, easier, more convenient places to carry water so that you can drink it rather then just haul it around.
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Old 12-18-14, 08:17 AM
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BTW, I didn't mention it but my waterproof panniers are Nashbar cheapies bought on sale for a pittance. I have been quite satisfied with them.
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Old 12-18-14, 08:49 AM
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A lot of theory in the OP that does not, based on my experiences, translate into reality.

I started out using Beckman Cordura bags that I am not sure are even coated. They have rain covers and are highly compartmentalized inside and out, although some of the internal dividers unzip to allow you make larger pockets. I now use Ortlieb Sport and Back Packers Plus models.

First, unless you inadvertently leave the lids open, how much water is going to get inside the bags if you need to retrieve something while it's raining? Your body alone will shield the rain while standing over them. During my last two tours I had to break out the foul weather gear during several rain events, including at least one heavy downpour. My other gear inside the bags did not get noticeably wet.

I, too, have had zero problems with moisture in the Ortliebs save for one early use when I did not properly secure the lid of the small, outside pocket of one of the Back Rollers. Some rain water got inside. There was maybe a half inch at the bottom. When I notice it at the end of the day, simply dumped it out.

I have noticed no difference in drying of damp items inside the two styles of bags. Condensation on anything that goes inside the bag is a rarity for me, not the norm. I also keep my tent out of the bags. I carry one plastic shopping bag in the event I need to put wet clothes in one of the bags. Another option if the day is dry is to lash west clothes to one of the racks. Air flow created while riding is an excellent way to dry things. Any sun helps. One handy feature of the Beckman bags are the mesh pockets on the outsides of the front bags. Great for drying damp clothes while riding.

A for having mainly big compartments (Otelieb Packers do have some small, segregated spaces inside, and the Back Packers have small, external pockets that come standard. You can also purchase additional, external pockets.), I first thought I would have a tough time adjusting to the Ortliebs. I did not. There are very few items I need access to while in transit. The overwhelming majority of the time it's rain gear and/or my wallet. I put these items where they are easily accessible. Even in camp I never find myself wondering where I stashed this or that. I organize by bag, with the stuff I will likely not need while in transit (e.g., cooking stuff, off-bike clothing) going in the right bags.

Overall, I am happy for the waterproofness of the Ortliebs. Messing with rain covers was sort of a pain at times. I still have my Beckman bags and, for various reasons, want to use them again. Unfortunately, someone stole their companion custom racks, so they sit idle in the basement. Hoping this is the winter I have the bags and my current racks modified so I can use the bags once again.
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Old 12-18-14, 08:58 AM
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I use an old fashioned cotton duck saddlebag and I've never had issues with things getting wet. The material doesn't let rain get at stuff inside. The bigger issue is a damp tent in the morning or clothes that aren't quite dry. I pack my tent fly in a compression sack so that stops it getting other stuff wet and I hang damp clothes off the saddlebag to dry while I ride. When I stop for lunch I'll unpack the tent fly to dry it out. If it is very wet or raining for days on end I'll probably end up in a motel and that allows both me and the tent to dry out completely.

My opinion on compartments is generally negative. I like a single large volume to pack stuff into. I use compression sacks and stuff sacks to keep stuff separate.

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Old 12-18-14, 09:02 AM
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I need to add that the attachment system of the Ortleibs is far more important than the waterproofness. It's the easiest and most secure system I've ever used. Just grab ahold of the straps and pull and the bags come off. Place the hooks over the rack and let go and the bags are on no matter what you ride on. There's not sliding or twisting locks to mess with.
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Old 12-18-14, 10:59 AM
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As stated by the others, I haven't had any problems with everything in my waterproof bag getting wet. In fact, I just did a tour that ended up being very wet, so I was packing damp clothes in my pannier a lot, separated in a dry-bag, and didn't end up with everything else getting wet. I keep my tent on my bike, not in a bag. When it's raining, I set up the tent and then put my panniers in it before unpacking stuff, so no issues with rain getting in there. You also don't end up getting a lot of rain going in them in the short time it takes to grab a few things out if you do open them. As mentioned by others, it just isn't an issue in practice. You can make a lot of theories sound good or bad on paper, but waterproof works. My only experience with non-waterproof panniers was riding with a friend who had them. He had covers, but his stuff still kept ending up a little damp when it rained...

Just to expand on the attachment system, Arkels do win that contest for me. I don't have any, but I have experience with them from my touring friend and they are Really easy and secure. But several newer attachment systems are pretty sweet these days. People have figured out some pretty hassle free, but solid mounting, systems.

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Old 12-18-14, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
Just grab ahold of the straps and pull and the bags come off. Place the hooks over the rack and let go and the bags are on no matter what you ride on. There's not sliding or twisting locks to mess with.
I have a different brand that works similar to that. I love it. I have a grocery pannier for store trips, ten seconds to remove/secure it to the rack is sweeeet.
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Old 12-18-14, 11:42 AM
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I had a spillage of pesto inside my Ortleib. I washed it out with detergent and water.
I use Ortleibs up front for food and Carradice Super C in the rear. All clothing and electricals go in a nylon dry bag
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Old 12-18-14, 12:11 PM
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to sew = to make thousands of holes , then to make the bag shower resistant again, you sell a rain cover.

toured with a 4 bag sewn set and made raincovers for them, on tour thePITA of the set-up was a security measure .

I parked that bike at tour's end, the Ortliebs are my Shopping Bags, now , as mentioned above wash if something spills .

pop them off and the checker outs the food in them.

they are dry inside when I put them, empty, on the checker's belt.


But there are China Made welded seam bags out too if cash strapped ..

MEC has a line Too ..

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Old 12-18-14, 12:21 PM
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I think that most people that complain about Ortliebs being air tight and not the best place to store damp stuff in the sun on a hot day where mildew becomes a problem are the people that don't stop at a motel or laundromat to dry out their stuff. They are often on really long tours and do not have access to such conveniences when they are in less-developed countries. For those people and their style of touring, I say that they should use what works best for them.

I however have a different style of touring. If it is wet out for too many days in a row, I stop at a motel and dry stuff out.

When camping, virtually every day I have some damp stuff because I do a small amount of sink laundry every day and that stuff is never dry by the morning when I am packing up. But if it is not raining, I strap that to the top of my front Ortliebs. It does not dry out there, but it does not mildew either. Sometimes I wrap it up in a towel, some trips I brought a mesh bag for the purpose.

Getting into the front rollers or back rollers is not that convenient during the day when they are on the bike, so all my stuff like food for lunch or snacks, batteries for GPS, inner tubes and tire levers, anything I buy at the grocery store, etc., is stored in a handlebar bag or saddle bag or dry bag on top of the rear rack. So, I virtually am never opening up the Ortliebs during the day.

Each trip I consider taking some non-Ortlieb front panniers since I have two pair that I can use, but I always end up using the Ortliebs.

I have toured with a friend that has a complete Arkel set and he loves them. He crossed the county with them. He has his preferences and I have mine. We still get along, after all it is not like talking politics... ... ... yet.

My Ortliebs in first photo, his Arkels in second.

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Old 12-18-14, 12:48 PM
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I have only had "Ortlieb Envy" once temporarily when crossing a swollen river. An Ortlieb equipped bike tourist floated their bike across with the help of the bags buoyancy.

Otherwise I still continue to use my 30 year old Beckman panniers with great pleasure with their simple strong and stable attachment system on and off pavement. They lack the vulnerable plastic attachment pieces that have failed for some Ortlieb users I have periodically met on tour or read about on CGOAB. I prefer simplicity and durability over complexity every time.
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Old 12-18-14, 12:56 PM
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Because they work.

I tend to agree with the other Ortlieb folks that posted above. I have toured extensively in some very wet conditions, and have never had any problems. Coated codura nylon does not breathe, If it did, it would leave moisture in about as easy as it lets moisture out of the bag. That is a myth started by Arkel; as is the myth about mold/ mildew in waterproof panniers. If you are in a situation where condensation is going to be a problem it isn't going to make any difference if it is a waterproof or a water resistant pannier.

I have inadvertently left my rack pack open on a picnic table during a downpour; and all it took was dumping out the water, and drying it with my towel. I also store my wet tent in an Ortlieb rackpack without any adverse consequences (inside a sil-nylon stuff sack and a plastic grocery bag). There is no cross contamination with the dry goods, my sleeping bag and Thermarest.

My wife and I experienced 35 days of rain on one tour, and much of our camping gear stayed damp for long periods. Not a problem.

If I ever have to replace my Ortlieb panniers, it will be with Ortliebs. Having said that, I still use a pair of Nashbar front panniers on my everyday bike. It is ridden almost daily in Oregon's wet winters, and the panniers are still waterproof after 10 years of use. They were also the front panniers I used to ride across the U.S.

Try this with loaded non-waterproof panniers. Washing the mud off after riding through the flood area near Calgary, Alberta, 2013



This was one of the 35 days of rain, much of which was ridden on unsurfaced roads and trails.



I've used this picture at at least 3 dozen times, but it does illustrate the conditions when waterproof panniers shine It was after this tour that we opted to replace our non-waterproof bar bags with Ortliebs. That orange cover on my saddle is the rain cover from my non-waterproof, wet bar bag.


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Old 12-18-14, 02:37 PM
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Originally Posted by Tourist in MSN View Post
When camping, virtually every day I have some damp stuff because I do a small amount of sink laundry every day and that stuff is never dry by the morning when I am packing up. But if it is not raining, I strap that to the top of my front Ortliebs. It does not dry out there, but it does not mildew either. Sometimes I wrap it up in a towel, some trips I brought a mesh bag for the purpose.
I used to do similarly, but these days I usually have only one set of on bike clothes with me on tour and I just wear them again the next day, damp, wet, or dry. I figure that I usually ride hard enough that I am damp with sweat quick enough any way. If I think it will be cold (like below freezing at the start) the next day I might forgo the washing for as much as a few days. I have done a few long tours including coast to coast since adopting this approach and it has worked fine for me.
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Old 12-18-14, 02:55 PM
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Originally Posted by arctos View Post
Otherwise I still continue to use my 30 year old Beckman panniers with great pleasure with their simple strong and stable attachment system on and off pavement.
One major thing I miss about currently not having use of my Beckman panniers. They basically cannot come off absent an event that's so traumatic you are likely going to be left worrying about your health rather than your panniers. Snatch and run is also not possible with mine as you need a hex wrench to remove them. And there is no rattle like with my Ortliebs.
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Old 12-18-14, 04:22 PM
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Bikemig, your framing the topic in either/or choices is unnecessary. You work with what you got. In very wet rainy conditions waterproof bags provide a first line of protection with subsequent layers afforded with plastic or waterproof sacks. In drier hot conditions it's less of an issue as the bag can dry out. You wouldn't put wet things with dry things in either bag nor would you keep wet things bundled up all day in a hot dry bag.
I'd much rather have a bag that sheds water in very wet conditions than one that collects water.
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Old 12-18-14, 04:24 PM
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Why get waterprommf bags? To keep your stuff dry. WP panniers, no compartments here. We use WP compression bags for our clothing. Any wet clothing goes in the wet compression bag. Tent goes in its own compression bag on the rack. Never had a problem with moisture in the panniers. If it's raining when we camp, panniers come off, get dried with the Packtowl, and go in the tent to be unpacked. They always go in the tent at night, but if it's raining, we unpack them in there. We (Stoker and I) use a 3 person tent. It's well worth it. Two person for a single rider.
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Old 12-18-14, 04:24 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
One major thing I miss about currently not having use of my Beckman panniers. They basically cannot come off absent an event that's so traumatic you are likely going to be left worrying about your health rather than your panniers. Snatch and run is also not possible with mine as you need a hex wrench to remove them. And there is no rattle like with my Ortliebs.
Gorilla tape reduces the rattle for me
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Old 12-18-14, 04:26 PM
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A couple points...
First Ortleib isn't the only choice for waterproof panniers.

Second the notion that long tours somehow make waterproof panniers a bad idea is nonsense. On my first tour we went coast to coast on the Trans America and between the three of us we had 10 waterproof panniers and two non waterproof ones. They all worked OK. We had absolutely no issues with either. My companions on the TA each wanted to have one pannier with pockets so they each used two rear and one front waterproof panniers with one non-waterproof pannier. I will note that when one of my TA companions subsequently went on half of the SC route with me she opted to go all waterproof when she had the choice of either available.

I have done a bunch of other 1000+ mile tours including another coast to coast trip and never regretted using waterproof baggage or had a moments problem with them.

Either type can work fine though. As I said the preference for pockets or one big compartment is probably the bigger factor in choosing. If weight is important to you (it is for me), non waterproof panniers with pockets are usually a good bit heavier even before you add a cover. For me one big pocket is much more convenient and being waterproof is a plus.
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Old 12-18-14, 09:45 PM
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If you are on a budget and/or haven't been sold on Ortleibs, I would recommend Seattle Sports products. I have only used them for two weeks of a tour on the Natchez Trace and it only rained once, but they worked well. They have a dry bag type closure on top and I like the attachment hardware. I use dry bags, zip locs and nylon stuff sacks to keep things organized. I think they are a good bit lighter than the pvc coated Ortleibs. I also use an Avenir rack trunk bag that is only water resistant, but it was much less expensive than other brands, is well constructed, and I only put things in it that can survive being damp.
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Old 12-18-14, 10:24 PM
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I have a set of Axiom Randonee waterproof panniers (60s for the rear and 20s for the front - the 60s have two external pockets in addition to the one big 'un). I was darn glad to have them when I was on a camping trip back in May. I ended up having to ride through at least a foot of water on more than one occasion due to flooding of the trail that comprised my primary route on my longest saddle day. At one point, all four panniers were half-submerged in water with zero ill effect to them or to the stuff inside of them (now, if they'd been completely submerged, then water would have gotten in through the top, as they're not watertight). I did have to change my socks when my feet got soaked, and I got rained on a little bit during that trip as well, but no biggie there.
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Old 12-18-14, 10:28 PM
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In the summer, I could care less.

In the winter, carelessly wet things can mean death.
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Old 12-19-14, 12:28 PM
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Well, you want to take anything people say on a forum about a product they own and like with a huge grain of salt also. Otlieb isn't the only maker of waterproof bags, but it is a very large player. That means in a discussion about Otliedb vs the rest of the world, you are going to get very little push back against Otlieb compared to push for it. There are dozens of makers of cordura whose owners are zoning out as this not being an attack on their product while every Otlieb owner is right in there comparatively.

A lot of successful products solve the one problem people fear, but otherwise have zero benefits. So people always buy say, variable power lenses or scopes because they don't want to be pinned down to the wrong focal length, but in virtually every other respect, weight, cost, complexity, fragility, moisture sealing, etc... These products are worse. This kind of choice is very common for consumers, and it needs a clearly defined and understood word or phrase, but I have never heard one. These are the everything-else-sucks products. Sadly not catchy. I am not saying that these are the wrong products for consumers to choose, but often it seems as though the consumers actually believe the products have no significant downsides.

In this regard Otliebs do suck, except for the waterproofness what are the benefits? Otherwise the Lada of panniers. Cyco is right about the attachment system, though it is another everything else suck option. But without getting into al the details, other than the waterproofing Otliebs would get laughed out of town if anyone else offered a similar product that didn't have the waterproofness. The mono bag, boardy hand, roll down closure, heavy, expensive, etc... bags they sell have no obvious advantage other than the waterproofness, and we do hear the odd person who has decided not to use them because they found they couldn't keep the swamp outside from forming up inside. But on waterproofness I think welded bags are better, but the issue isn't that, it is how crappy all the options are. Otliebs are just part of the problem that stops us looking for more fundamental solutions.
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