Formed by the top tube, seat tube, and down tube, the triangular space on a bike frame is arguably the most efficient place to carry gear. It places the extra weight in a low, centered position where it has less of an effect on the bike’s handling than it would elsewhere. The frame pack was conceived to maximize the use of this space and has been around for quite some time. In fact, photos of leather frame packs can be found on the military-issue bikes used by the Buffalo Soldiers on their historic 1887 expedition. Today, frame packs are typically made from synthetic Cordura or nylon X-Pac, and they’re usually lashed onto the frame with velcro straps or cord lacing. Frame packs are available for full-suspension, hardtail, and rigid bikes and are often custom made to fit snugly within a bike’s unique frame shape, although there are plenty of near-universal bags available to fit most bikes.
Frame packs provide anywhere from three to nine liters of storage, with the lower figure being based on an extra-small half-frame bag and the larger based on an extra-large full-frame pack. At any size, a frame bag can usually store more than you’d think, and it’s an excellent place to pack heavier items as it maintains the bike’s low center of gravity. Heavy items might include food, tools and spare parts, stove fuel/cooking equipment, batteries/heavy electronics, and water.
Full Frame Bag
A full frame bag takes up the entirety of the frame triangle and is the best way to maximize the packing volume of that space. Going custom is the best way to approach a full-frame bag, as all bike frames are different. Most bag makers offer full frame bags for regular diamond frames as well as oddly shaped full-suspension bikes and more bespoke bicycles with curved tubes. Here are a baker’s dozen custom frame bag makers we like:
There are also a few great readymade, universal-fit full frame bags that work very well. All three of these companies have done a great job in engineering the fit to work with a multitude of bikes:
Half Frame Bag
There are smaller frame packs purposefully designed to only use a portion of the frame triangle. This allows it to be paired with one or two water bottles or a cargo cage with other gear. The most popular is the half-frame bag, which runs the length of the top tube and is 4-8” (10-20cm) tall. On a conventional diamond bike frame, half frame packs allow the use of the water bottle cage mount on the down tube and even the second cage mount on the seat tube on larger frames. This format is especially suited to gravel bikes where the large frame triangle has room for two water bottles in addition to the pack. Half frame packs can be custom made to precisely match the fit of your bike, and there are also several commercially available models that come in multiple sizes for a universal fit. They’re quite versatile and can easily be swapped between bikes. Here are three of our favorite readymade models:
We love a good “wedge” frame bag. A classic wedge design typically takes up the front of the bike’s triangle and leaves enough room in the back to utilize the seat tube-mounted water bottle cage for a standard bottle or an oversized Nalgene or 32-ounce Klean Kanteen. Not only does this provide a convenient storage spot for water, but it also positions the water bottle in a low, central point on the frame to minimize the effect of the weight on the bike’s handling. In addition, having a little exposed top tube leaves a good grab handle for those occasional hike-a-bike portages. A wedge is good for bikepacking, and it’s also great for everyday rides. Here are a few of our favorites:
Features to Consider
- Bolt-on or Strap-on: We appreciate having the option to bolt bags onto the frame’s water bottle bosses. This not only eliminates straps, which often wear paint and finishes, but it offers a clean look. Salsa also produces some nice rubberized frame bag screws that make bolt-on bags easier to install and uninstall.
- Big Zips or No Zips: As with all gear, zips are the weakest part of a frame pack. Try to resist the temptation to cram as much as you can into your bag, as it will inevitably stress the zipper and cause it to split (which can be prevented). Although not as quick to access, there are several zipperless frame bags on the market, including those from Rockgeist and Rogue Panda. These are especially well suited to longer journeys where reliability is more important than practicality. If you opt for a zipper, make sure it’s a large molded-teeth zip, like #10 YKK zippers. Revelate Tangle and Ranger bags use a stretch strip of fabric around the zips to allow some flexibility, which is a nice feature.
- Single Pocket or Multiple Pockets: Many frame packs have a main compartment on one side—typically the drive side—and a zippered flat pocket on the other. This is handy for keys, a wallet, or other odds and ends. Most custom bag makers also use these nowadays, and bags like the Revelate Ranger have a flat pocket with several convenient storage areas. For the organizers among us, frame packs with multiple compartments or dividers are available too.