Guide to Custom Frame Bags: Everything You Need to Know
Thinking about having a custom frame bag made or wondering why you should consider getting one for your bike? In this guide, we walk through everything you need to know about custom-made frame bags, including recommended features, types of designs, and a thorough list of makers from around the world. Plus, find our latest video on the subject…
Generally speaking, the frame bag—aka frame pack—was conceived to allow storage within a bike’s main triangle, the space formed by the top tube, seat tube, and downtube. And contrary to what some folks might think, the frame bag is nothing new. In fact, you can find photos of frame bags on bikes dating back to the 1880s, the decade that the diamond-framed safety bicycle first came onto the scene. For reference, the photo on the left below is from 1891 and portrays bicycle explorer William Sachtleben enjoying the scenery on the road between Nallihan and Beypazari, in Turkey. The one on the right shows the 25th Infantry Bicycle Corps and their trailblazing 1897 journey from Montana to Missouri. The frame bag even came before panniers. “You don’t reliably see panniers on bicycles for another 40 years,” said bicycle history buff, Joe Cruz. There are a lot of good reasons why it was one of the first bike bags to gain popularity…
To many of us, it’s the most important bag in a bikepacking kit. The nucleus of a good setup. That’s based on where it’s located. The frame triangle is easily accessible. Unlike a seat pack, there’s no need to dismount in order to find your gear. And the frame bag is the lightest bag option. Weighing in at around 200 grams, the standard X-Pac frame bag is about a pound less than many seat packs or handlebar systems. The frame bag is also the most well-integrated of the bikepacking bags. Unlike the handlebar or seat pack, it doesn’t alter a bike’s balance. On the contrary, packing weighty items in a frame bag lowers the bike’s center of gravity and has almost zero effect on its stability. And if it allows you to eliminate a hydration backpack altogether, that makes it all the more logical for trail riding, too, bringing the weight that would otherwise be on your back down below the saddle.
Modern frame bags are usually lashed onto the bike frame with velcro straps or made to bolt onto the bike’s bottle cage mounts. Frame packs are available for full-suspension, hardtail, and rigid bikes. And while there are several universally sized bags commercially available that will fit most bikes, every bike is a little different, and there’s nothing as good as a custom frame bag. This allows the bag to be made for the bike’s unique frame and to fit snugly within it, making use of the space as best as possible and maximizing storage. Note that although they’re not that common, there are a few companies like Salsa and Niner who offer bags for specific bikes.
Types of Custom Frame Bags
Having a custom frame bag made doesn’t mean you have to have a full-frame bag. Half-frame bags, wedges, or even custom shapes built to fit around bottles can be created, too.
The most obvious type of frame bag is one that takes up the entire triangle, often referred to as a full-frame bag. This, of course, utilizes all of the space available and offers the most storage space. It also makes the most versatile option and allows a variety of packing setups if water can be carried on the fork or elsewhere on the bike. There are also a couple of different types of closures available, which we’ll cover below.
Half Frame Bag
If you want to keep the option of mounting two water bottle cages in the triangle, the half-frame bag is the one you want. And although there are a lot of ready-made, universal fit options available, having one custom made to your bike will maximize the space and fit. Additionally, you can have one made with “teeth” that mold around the two water bottles, which further maximizes the space available.
Another great option, and one of my personal favorites, is the wedge. A classic wedge design typically takes up the front of the bike’s triangle and leaves enough room in the back to carry your favorite water bottle, or even a large water bottle, such as the 32oz Klean Kanteen. Not only does this provide a convenient storage spot for water, but it also centers the weight of a water bottle. In addition, having a little exposed top tube leaves a place to grab for those occasional hike-a-bike portages.
Custom Frame Bag Benefits
In this video from our YouTube channel, Neil talks about the benefits of having a custom frame bag tailored specifically to your bike frame and what to consider when getting one made. Plus, he reviews one of his favorite new designs from Rogue Panda, which is made with 100% recycled polyester.
There are a lot of other options, add-ons, and features to consider when planning your custom frame bag. These vary from maker to maker, but here are a few of our favorites.
Non-driveside “Map Pocket”
One of my favorite options for a custom frame bag is a separate flat map pocket on the non-drive side of the bike. Typically, makers integrate a couple of sleeves into it, which is handy for a wallet, keys, and/or sunglasses, thus taking the place of an accessory bag.
While waterproof zippers sound good in theory, the weatherproof seal is negated by the impervious stitching in the bag itself, and they aren’t nearly as tough as bigger zips. For that reason, I find one of the most important features to look for on a custom frame bag to be a big-toothed, burly zipper. For example, many of the Rockgeist bags shown here have the #10 molded tooth zipper, which is pretty bomber.
Another handy feature is having velcro loops sewn into the roof of the bag. This is nice to be able to strap a pump to so it stays out of the way and doesn’t bounce around when the bag isn’t stuffed to the gills.
A lot of makers offer a bolt-on design option. This is a little more expensive, but worth it in my opinion. It’s cleaner looking and has fewer straps, which minimizes strap contact that may otherwise scuff up the frame. Also, be sure to check out Salsa’s Direct Mount screws.
Lace-up top designs are also one of my favorite options. It’s a little less prone to abrade the frame like a velcro strap does, and it seems a little more sturdy. Plus, it’s quite aesthetically appealing.
Other features to consider
Here are a few more features and options to think about that may vary in importance depending on your intended use.
Several bag makers are sourcing recycled and environmentally friendly fabrics. Examples include Rockgeist’s Smartrepel and Rogue Panda’s new recycled X-Pac mentioned in the video above.
While big, burly zippers are pretty reliable these days, zippers do break. If you’re off on a big multi-month tour abroad, you might consider a roll-top design to eliminate this point of failure. Not all bag makers offer this design, but a few do.
Several companies, such as Arizona’s Rogue Panda, offer custom printing services, as well as some very unique designs. Learn more about that here.
If you are getting a full-frame bag made, consider having an internal velcro divider sewn in. This keeps the bag from bulging out too much, which is especially important on 68mm road bottom brackets and cranks with a narrower Q-factor. It not only prevents leg rub, but it’s also handy to organize items within the pack.
Make Your Own
I have found that a frame bag is one of the least complicated articles of gear that a do-it-yourselfer can construct. Thus far, I’ve made four of them. The gray one shown in the two photos above took me about two hours to sew. It’s certainly not the nicest, but I must say that it wasn’t too difficult and has held up quite well over many trips. To make one, you can follow the general concept of this tutorial. Keep in mind that access to a sewing machine and basic sewing skills are required.
Have One Made
Even though it’s possible to make your own frame bag, having one made by an experienced bag maker will likely result in a far superior product. Personally speaking, the end result is much more polished, better fitting, and ultimately more reliable than my DIY bags. The process of getting a custom frame bag made is pretty straightforward. Until a few years ago, most bag makers would have you trace your bike’s triangle shape on a piece of cardboard and mail it to them. Note that if you do this, make sure to reference things such as where the bottle mounts sit under the downtube so straps don’t interfere, and where other bag straps might overlap. You then pick your colors, sit back, and wait. Some companies still prefer to use this template method for accuracy, and any have hundreds of templates in their library to pull from. Other makers have modernized the process and build bags from strategically taken photographs. With this method, you usually email a photo with a measuring tape held in place and the company uses software to create a template for a perfectly sized and fitted bag.
Of course, it’s important to take into account any other bags you may be carrying as well as your bike’s specific frame features. Velcro ‘One-Wrap’ straps and daisy chain webbing allow for repositionable anchoring points along the bike’s top and down tubes. This flexibility means you don’t have to worry about your frame bag clashing with a top tube bag or water bottle mounts. Also, consider having a bag made that bolts onto frame triangle bottle mounts when they are available. This keeps straps from interfering with other mounts and generally cleans up the design.
Who Makes Custom Frame Bags?
There are many companies worldwide that make custom frame bags to order. Here’s a list of bag makers who produce them. Each listing includes information on a starting price, lead time, and where they’re made. We’ve also highlighted in yellow the ones we’ve tested and can recommend.
If you have additional thoughts about custom frame bags, or would like to suggest a custom frame bag maker who’s not listed here (preferably those who you have experience with and can highly recommend), please leave a comment below. Please note that due to the overwhelming requests we’ve received, we are only adding bag makers who have a website presence at this point.
Make sure to dig into these related articles for more info...
Please keep the conversation civil, constructive, and inclusive, or your comment will be removed.