Topo Designs Bike Bags: The Hip Pack & Triangular Trio
In this review, Tom embarks on an in-depth exploration of Topo Designs Bike Bags. Over the past months, he has rigorously tested both the Topo Hip Pack and three uniquely triangular bags across the varied terrain of his local trails.
We live in an age where there are more cycling disciplines than there are stars in the sky. If there’s one thing we all share in common other than the two wheels beneath us, it’s the desire to carry stuff with us while we ride. For some, having never given it much thought, this looks like hauling their belongings around in a big cumbersome backpack, or hanging grocery bags from the ends of their handlebars. For those of you here browsing this website, you’ve probably come to realize there are much more ergonomic and practical ways to bring your things along for the ride. Maybe you’re in the market for your very first bike bag, or perhaps you’ve already accumulated a heap of different bags on a years-long quest to perfect your setup. The possibilities are seemingly endless; a quick look around the vast expanse of the internet will present you with enough bike bag options to make your head spin more than your legs on a 17% climb.
Amongst the boundless sea of bag makers out there today is one Colorado-based company, Topo Designs. From humble beginnings in a basement 15 years ago, they’ve grown to become a recognized name in the outdoor gear industry. Slated for review today, we’ve got four colourful bags out of their extensive lineup of equipment and apparel. We’ll dig into their Mountain Hip Pack, and a trio of triangular Bike Bags from their Mountain Collection. While I can’t promise to completely quell your bike bag analysis paralysis, I’ll help you decide if any of these bags might be that needle in a haystack you’ve been looking for.
Mountain Hip Pack
Let’s kick things off with the only human-mounted pack of the lot, the Mountain Hip Pack. Fanny pack, bum bag, hip pack, however you wanna call it, these versatile bags are great for adventures that aren’t entirely by bike. Riding to the trailhead for a short hike and don’t want to carry a whole backpack? A hip pack is the perfect compromise. When gearing up for a longer all-bike tour, the hip pack is an effective way to squeeze a few more litres into your setup on an otherwise fully loaded bike.
The Topo Designs Hip Pack has two compartments which combine for a 2.4L total capacity. That’s just enough space to bring along your valuables and essentials when stopping at a shop to top up on snacks, while not being too bulky and awkward. The slim back pocket is accessed from a waterproof zipper on top, making a secure place to store smaller items like a wallet, phone, or sunglasses separate from the main compartment. No rummaging required. The larger main pocket has a double zipper, and two is always better than one, right? Independent access to either side lets you dig your gloves out with less risk of spilling your precious Skittles. Another organizational nicety in the main compartment is the key clip, which makes it super convenient to pull your keys out from amongst any other cargo in there.
Taking a look at the outside of the bag we find a unique bungee system, some D-rings, and compression straps. To me, the most useful of these three is the bungee system, offering a place to dry your wet socks after a river crossing, or even store an extra water bottle. I didn’t personally find any use for the D-rings, but maybe they’d be a good place to attach a bear bell or small light. The compression straps on the bottom can be cinched tight to help minimize bulk when stuffed with something soft like a jacket. On top, there is a large handle which seems a bit overkill for a small bag like this. I never had any reason or desire to carry the bag with it, and think aesthetics could improve slightly without it.
The back of the pack is made up of nicely padded ridges, which I quite like, especially when riding rougher terrain with a heavy camera in the pack. Super comfy. Wearing a pack against your body almost always means you’re gonna get a bit sweaty, but I found the Hip Pack to be sufficiently breathable. The wide nylon belt strap was no bother for all-day rides, though I wish there was a nice way to secure the tail to keep it from getting too rowdy. Sadly, when carrying a heavier load like a camera or lenses, the belt tended to slowly work its way loose.
Aside from those few minor quirks I found, the Hip Pack is well-designed, with enough features to please anyone. If you’re running short on space to carry things on the bike, or your adventures involve more than just two-wheeled exploration, the Hip Pack is worth a look. Well, it would have been if they didn’t discontinue it. Maybe we’ll see an updated version for 2024?
The most voluminous bag of the four is the “Bike Bag”. It’s not big enough to store a bike inside as the name might suggest, but it does offer a generous 3L capacity to stow the biggest burrito you can find. The stand-out difference here when compared with similar bags on the market is the unique Toblerone-esque shape. This looks awesome on the bike, but it’s no more practical than a typical cylinder or box-shaped bag, and sacrifices a bit of volume inside. This bag is relatively featureless when compared to the Hip Pack, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The single large compartment is sealed with a waterproof zipper, and there are two strips of daisy-chain webbing along the front face. If the forecast is looking mixed for your ride, these daisy chains are great for strapping on a rain jacket while still having room inside for treats and tools. For grand bikepacking expeditions, I think there are better options for handlebar-mounted bags, with significantly more carrying capacity. On the other hand, the Bike Bag’s size and features are pretty perfectly suited for bringing some essentials and sustenance along on all-day rides, or a change of clothes when commuting.
Get it here for $49 USD / $65 CAD
Bike Bag Mini
Little sibling to the Bike Bag, the Bike Bag Mini is essentially the same design, but shrunk down by a factor of three. It’s the smallest and lightest of the bunch, with a capacity of 1L in the same triangular form, with a waterproof zip again. While you won’t easily fit an extra layer in this one, you can stash all you need for a quick rip around town. A small toolkit, spare tube, wallet, phone and a snack bar, and you’re off. Topo Designs suggests using this as a handlebar bag as well, but I liked using it as a saddle bag in combo with the larger Bike Bag up front. This does require a saddle with loops for a saddle bag, the spacing of which does vary, and may or may not line up quite right with the straps on the Bike Bag Mini. It worked well on a friend's Brooks Cambium C17, but I had to use some narrower straps to secure it to my Gilles Berthoud Aspin. Like the big Bike Bag, there is also a daisy chain strip across the face, but just one this time. Great for attaching a small red blinky to keep you seen on those late-night rides. The Bike Bag Mini is an elegant, simple pack for bringing along the bare necessities when that’s all that you require.
Get it here for $39 USD / $50 CAD
Bike Frame Bag
To round out the set, we have the “Bike Frame Bag”. This one is designed to attach to your frame's seat tube, underneath the top tube, which is a nice position for easy access while rolling. At first glance, it may seem more capacious than the Bike Bag Mini, but its volume is actually slightly less at around 0.7L. On its own, the Bike Frame Bag is about equally as useful as the Bike Bag Mini, with just enough room for a few small items. However, given its shape and zipper placement, it is a bit more awkward to get things in and out of. One advantage over the Mini is aerodynamics. In a climate-controlled wind tunnel, the Frame Bag was 21.7% more aero than the Mini. Okay so that’s made up, but in theory, it should be a bit more aero. Just like the Hip Pack, the Frame Bag has a little clip inside to help keep keys from getting lost in the abyss.
Like the other two bike bags, this one also has some daisy chain webbing along the sides. While there are practical uses for it on the Bike Bag and Bike Bag Mini, I can’t really see how that would be useful on a frame bag like this. Pretty much anything you might strap on there is going to start rubbing your inner thigh and knees, which is super annoying especially when they’re already burning towards the top of a long climb. If you’re one to carry two bottles in your frame's triangle, you’ll find that in many cases the height of the Frame Bag interferes with your seat tube mounted bottle, particularly on small to medium-sized frames.
I don’t really see much practical use for this bag alone, and also wouldn’t consider it for part of a bikepacking kit, where I will always favour a full frame bag. However, it does pair nicely with the other two Bike Bags. If you think those two will satisfy your riding style and desires but could use a bit more space for an extra pastry or two, this Frame Bag might fit the bill just right.
Get it here for $49 USD / $70 CAD
One of Topo Designs beliefs is in “sustainability through durability”. This is evident with all four of these bags. Build quality is simply stellar; there’s no sign of a loose stitch or manufacturing defect anywhere. Clean seams and top-notch needlework throughout. Many other makers are focused on working with various “ultralight” fabrics on the market today, but Topo Designs ignores these in favour of super durable 1000 and 200-denier recycled nylon. They also have a “repair don't replace” philosophy, which is apparent with their repairs program “MAP Guarantee”, helping keep more gear in use instead of a landfill.
Another thing that the three bike-mounted bags share in common is velcro as an attachment. The velcro provided is double-sided, with the hooks on one side and the fuzzy loops on the other. This means you either have to have the scratchy hooks facing in against the paint on your frame or bars, or they face out where they can abrade your clothes (particularly with the frame bag). It’s definitely a nitpick, but I prefer two separate pieces of single-sided Velcro for this reason, so you can have the smooth backing against the bike and facing out. Much better yet would be some 6” Voilé straps, but providing these would certainly drive up the cost a bit.
Speaking of cost, the prices direct from Topo Designs are $39 USD ($50 CAD) for the Bike Bag Mini, $49 USD ($65 CAD) for the Bike Bag, and $49 USD ($70 CAD - yes higher CAD price than the Bike Bag even though they are the same in USD) for the Bike Frame Bag. The Hip Pack is unfortunately discontinued, so sorry if this review had you wanting one.
All four bags are available in a half-dozen different groovy colourways, like the ones in this review. If vibrant colours aren’t your jam, they’re all also available in oh-so-sleek all-black.
All-in, the Topo Designs bags have a unique aesthetic and superb build quality. I can’t see any reason they won’t last you forever, and that’s saying a lot considering the fair prices. While I don’t think they are suitable for every bike adventure, they certainly cover a lot of bases and are well worth your consideration while optimizing and perfecting your gear-hauling setup.
|Durability: Built to last forever.
|Build Quality: Excellent craftsmanship.
|Eco-Friendly: Utilizes recycled materials.
|Unique Design: Triangle design not found elsewhere.
|Size: Perfect for all-day rides.
|Water Resistance: Equipped with waterproof zippers.
|Value: Reasonably priced.
|Capacity: Small size not ideal for fully-loaded expeditions.
|Extra Features: Some features of the hip pack and frame bag may be unnecessary.
|Attachment: Velcro loops could be improved.
|Hip Pack Belt: Tends to slip with heavy loads.