Decade in Review: The Best Saddles for Bikepacking?
In our new Decade in Review series, we take a deep dive into the site’s 10-year archive and look back at all the gear we’ve tried along the way, choosing our all-time top picks in a broad range of categories. First up, we share 10 of our favorite time-tested saddles for bikepacking. Find them all here…
To commemorate the site’s 10-year history this year, we’re launching a new series in which we’ll be asking our editors and a rotating cast of friends to look back and share their all-time favorite gear from the hundreds of options they’ve tried and tested over countless miles on dirt roads and dusty trails. Kicking things off, we figured we’d start with what’s likely one of the most personal bike accessories out there: saddles.
So, what are the best saddles for bikepacking? Hard to say, as saddles are so personal that we’re being especially mindful about presenting these as our favorites, not necessarily recommendations for you, because everyone’s anatomy is different. Still, we were curious to do a broad survey among longtime riders to see if any trends emerged. And, rather than a single favorite standing out, the biggest surprise was how many seasoned cyclists don’t have strong feelings about any particular saddle. Several reported still being on the hunt for something that suited them better, even after years of touring, while others claimed to have given up on the search entirely.
Among the group of folks surveyed, 10 of us had a top-of-mind favorite at the ready. We’ve rounded them up in the list below, along with some thoughts on what makes them work, pricing, and links to find more details where available.
Cass Gilbert (@whileoutriding)
If someone asks you what the best saddle is, it’s generally a trick question. Everyone is different. What works best for Bob or Barbara may well not work out for Bill or Belinda.
And yet… and yet… WTB’s Pure is one of the few saddles I know of that appears to create so little cause for complaint. In fact before the Pure, there was the Pure V, and it was the same story there, so it’s probably no surprise that that was my favourite saddle too. Maybe I liked it even more, even?
If you think I’m obsessed, I may well be. I own a number of Pures and Pure Vs, and this particular one has been on and off a whole host of bikes over the years – which is the reason for which it’s looking a little worse for wear. Overall, it’s certainly proved durable enough, and most importantly, it’s no less comfortable than the day I first hopped my derrière onto it. In terms of shape, it’s fairly wide and flat, which does a good job at supporting my sit bones, and it has a dropped nose. The channel feels just right. The foam is on the firm side, which I like (I just wear normal underwear rather than a cycling chamois), and I find it suited to both long days of off road touring and techy mountain biking as well.
By saddleworld terms, the spec sheet is impressive too. For a start, even the bog-standard steel version of the Pure is only 340g (the Ti model is a scant 239 grams). At 148mm wide, it’s considered a medium-width saddle, I believe, and according to WTB, it’s suited to a sit bone range of 102-130mm. And then there’s the fact that the steel rail option costs less than $50 (granted, the Chromoly rail upgrade costs a more significant $96). This makes the Pure well worth trying out. I expect you’ll like it!
Brooks Cambium C17
Lucas Winzenburg (@bunyanvelo)
First introduced back in 2013, the Brooks C17 is everything I always hoped my classic leather B17 would be. Namely, waterproof and comfortable from the very first ride. These days, I have some version of the C17 on almost all of my bikes, and I can ride them for days on end, completely pain-free, without any kind of padded shorts.
The vulcanized rubber strikes a balance between flexy and firm that works well for me, and its 164mm width makes for a comfortable perch for a semi-upright riding position. I keep mine tilted slightly upward to reduce pressure on my wrists. The C17 has nicely integrated backplate loops to accommodate a traditional saddlebag, too.
At 464 grams, one downside is that the C17 isn’t a particularly lightweight saddle, but then again, my bikes don’t tend to be the lightest of the bunch, either. They’ll also fade and show more wear than your standard-issue black nylon saddle, but all of mine have held up well to years of riding, with the exception of my C17 All-Weather, which has been kept outside in rainy Berlin for about two years and is starting to peel around the nose. All in all, however, the C17 has earned a lifetime place in my stable.
Specialized Power Expert with Mimic
The Specialized Power Expert with MIMIC is, hands down, my favorite saddle of all time. For years, I struggled to find a saddle that fit. I bought multiple women’s-specific options over the years, only to find that they were either too padded or too wide, despite referring to my sit bones measurements for sizing. I also tried more traditional leather saddles that didn’t provide enough cushioning. The Power Expert was such a game-changer for me.
The Power Expert has been perfectly comfortable from day one, whether riding singletrack or touring. The saddle is designed to provide cushion and support where they’re most needed, and the medium density foam on the nose and the depressed center relieves pressure on sensitive tissue, while the denser foam on the rear of the saddle provides more support, so power transfer isn’t compromised. Aside from being the most comfortable saddle I’ve ever used, the Power Expert is also holding up well. The hollow titanium rails have withstood my abuse, which is more than I can say for lots of saddles I’ve used in the past. All-in-all, I really can’t say enough good things about this saddle.
Chromag Trailmaster DT
Miles Arbour (@milesarbour)
While I’ve had some time-tested favourites over the years, it wasn’t until recently that I had the opportunity to spend some solid time riding the Chromag Trailmaster DT saddle. It’s the more durable version of their standard Trailmaster saddle, made with a synthetic top for riders who see a lot of wet weather or want better durability than the leather version.
I’ve tried everything from classic leather saddles to the latest and greatest from Ergon, both of which have their place, but for daily shredding and singletrack-heavy bikepacking the Trailmaster DT takes the cake. It’s plush and well-padded throughout, which has proven to be forgiving on my backside even if I’m a little off-centre between trail features. At 140mm wide and 280mm long, it can be labeled as a medium-sized saddle but with a little extra length to comparably wide saddles, which I found results in better control on technical terrain. It’s not particularly light weight at 305 grams, but with Chromoly Steel rails and a durable exterior, it’s not bad either.
Brooks Cambium C15 Carved
Joe Cruz (@joecruzpedaling)
In over 35 years of riding, I’ve stuck with just a few saddles. In the 90s, I rode Selle Italia Flites, then in the aughts, I branched out to my current collection of Selle Italia SLRs, Brooks Leather B17s, and, most recently, the Brooks Cambium C15 carved. I can emphatically echo what Lucas says about the Cambium series: the C15 is comfortable from the start, and the several that I own have proven durable, weatherproof from desert to downpour to snow, and consistent in how they feel year after year.
These are on my drop-bar bicycles. My sit bones play nicely with the narrow profile of the C15 and I appreciate the fact that it is designed for a leaned-forward position (45 degrees, according to Brooks). I’ve ridden both the carved and uncarved versions of the C15 and ended up preferring the carved version since it seems to flex more. I run the C15 level and typically ride with very minimally padded shorts, but I could easily do without the padding.
The Cambium series has been a revelation, and I’ve been happy on every nylon-topped model I’ve tried, including on some test bikes. I have a C13 carved, which is similar to the C15 but with carbon rails and no bag loops. It’s splendidly light but I’ve found that the height of the carbon rails makes it so that the saddle doesn’t interface with all seat posts. On the other hand, the carbon rails haven’t shown any wear from the loaded Revelate seat bags that I’ve mounted for long trips. The C17 is great for me for an ATB format. On another note, I’ve already indicated that I have leather saddles (and shoes, belts, and bags) so I offer no strident righteousness here: But it’s meaningful to me that the Cambiums aren’t made from animals.
Brooks B17 Carved
Franzi Wernsing (@talesontyres)
When I bought my Brooks B17 Carved in 2014, I wasn’t sure if it was going to hold up to its hype among long-distance bikepackers, but I liked the style, so I went for it. Eight years later, I don’t regret a single kilometer I’ve cycled with this saddle. Although it took a few rides to break in, it became comfortable quite quickly, even without padded bike shorts.
Although the saddle is made of full leather and many people think it requires a lot of care, my B17 has seen lots of rain and blasting sun. Despite never receiving the proper care it probably deserved, it’s surprisingly forgiving and still in pretty good shape after all those years.
I especially like the cut-out middle, which always feels comfortable to ride even for hours on end. I never bothered using the piece of string it comes with to tighten the saddle. I never felt the need, and I assume that it would rub through quite easily after a while, anyway. I can’t think of a better saddle, and I would buy it again if I needed one, but mine still has a long life ahead of it!
Ergon SMC Core
Logan Watts (@logans.ride)
I’d like to claim that I found my glass slipper saddle after 10 years of touring and bikepacking, but the truth is, my “best saddle” is always changing. Back in 2013, after 6,000 kilometers of touring in Mexico and Central America, I thought the Selle Anatomica Titanico was the end-all-be-all and no other saddle could compare. I used that saddle for a while after that trip but realized it simply didn’t work for me anymore. Later, I went through several phases where I really liked the Terry Fly Century, the Chromag Trailmaster, some women’s Specialized saddle that I can’t remember the name of, the Brooks C17, the WTB Koda, an older Ergon SM Comp, and a Fizik Argo.
All this waffling is due to discomfort on long rides, except in the case of the Selle Anatomica. I revisited that one on a trip in 2018 and ultimately fell out of love with the way it moves and its feel/performance while riding more technical terrain. I still have the C17 and the Fizik Argo in rotation on gravel bikes, both of which I really like. And I use the WTB Koda and an Ergon SM Comp on mountain bikes. However, I don’t consider them to be perfect.
All that said, I think I found a saddle that might be “the one” for touring and bikepacking, although I’ve said that before. I recently put 1,500 miles or so on the Ergon SMC Core in Mexico. That trip was a two-parter that involved big days bikepacking on the Baja Divide, more bikepacking in Oaxaca, and daily rides from town that took the form of long dirt road loops or circuits to string together rowdy singletrack in the Sierra Norte’s foothills.
The SMC Core was perfectly comfortable on all those rides. I won’t go into great detail as Miles already did in his review here, but it seems like the special sauce is its Core and TwinShell design. Most saddles have a single shell and foam interior. The SMC Core uses a thick layer of closed-cell foam between two nylon composite shells. This allows the saddle to shift and follow natural pelvic movements. It’s the only saddle I’ve used in a while that didn’t cause numbness or pain on really long days.
It’s not bad on short singletrack rides either, although it’s a little bulkier than the SM Comp I’d used prior. I still never found that it got in the way too much. For the record, I opted the S/M size, and the M/L is significantly larger. I guess that leads to my only complaints about it. While I’m not a weight weenie, at 345 grams, it’s about 110 grams heavier than the SM Pro. And while it’s also more expensive, I’d argue that it’s worth it.
Bombtrack / Seido Origin
Gaelle Bojko (@biketotheblocks)
Made in Taiwan / €35.99 at Seido-Components
The Bombtrack Origin saddle is the stock saddle that came with the 2019 Arise Tour I pedaled around Europe on. Since then, I must have cycled 35,000 kilometres with it, and even though it’s not a perfect fit, I always seem to return to it after testing other saddles—leather and rubber, cheap and high-end.
Finding the perfect saddle can be a risky, painful, and expensive venture. And, as a student, I haven’t had the opportunity (or motivation) to test as many saddles as I would like, especially since the only bike shop I know of in France that rents saddles is too far away. Until then, I’ll keep using the Bombtrack Origin, which has proven itself more than comfortable enough, even without padded shorts.
Ergon SM Pro Men
Neil Beltchenko (@neil_beltchenko)
Although every trip is different, bikepacking is truly the ultimate test of any saddle. Over the years, I’ve used dozens of saddles, and I’m still not 100% satisfied with any, but the one that I have found to work the best for me is the Ergon SM Pro Men. It strikes the perfect balance of cushion, something I find especially helpful as too much cushion creates more surface area to chafe but too little beats up my bum on demanding singletrack (this is why I also use a chamois with minimal padding).
The Ergon SM Pro Men is also pretty stiff, which helps produce a consistent pedal stroke. It features a deep relief channel down the middle to prevent unwanted chafing and reduce numbness, an area I had massive issues with before I started using this saddle. Overall, the shape fits my rear end very nicely, and the outer material keeps my bum well planted. I have a 110mm seat bone width, so I fall in the small/medium category, and it fits me perfectly—note that checking your seat bone width is essential to ensure the best possible fit of the SM or any Ergon saddle.
Specialized Body Geometry Comfort Gel
Belén Castelló (@belletoscan)
Saddles seem to be like kryptonite for many women, including me. I started riding bikes seriously in 2017, and I must have tried out a dozen saddles since then—including ones many swear by and are also on this list! I’m not sure if it’s purely my anatomy, but the saddle I’ve found to fit me best also happens to be the cheapest one I’ve ever owned: Specialized’s Body Geometry Comfort Gel.
Its name implies you’ll be resting on a pillow, which is precisely why I keep on using it and taping up the holes as they appear. Body Geometry Comfort Gel’s softness does the job for me and my sit bones, even if its wider and plusher surface means more chances of saddle sores because of constant rubbing and reduced breathability. My way around this has been to use airy shorts that aren’t excessively padded, and it’s worked well. At least for now, I’ll keep taping it as the kilometers add up.
What saddle has worked best for you? Let us know in the conversation below!
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