Swift Hinterland Jr. Ranger Panniers: None more black
Having trouble cramming everything into your soft bag setup? Sometimes a small set of panniers can help take up the slack. Out on Bolivia’s backroads, we try a set of Swift’s ninja-black Hinterland Jr. Ranger Panniers for size…
As much as we all aspire to condense our belongings into a sleek, streamlined bikepacking setup, there are times when we just need a bit more room. Perhaps it’s for a big, multi-month trip, where a few ‘luxuries’ are needed. Or an expedition route that requires an extensive amount of food or winter gear. Or when help is needed hauling gear for a friend or partner, or even on a family ride, as in this case.
In these situations, strapping extra stuff onto your rig only goes so far; a lightweight rack and a couple of small panniers can be the difference between your bike resembling a Middle Eastern bazaar, or sporting a neat, easy to access setup. What’s more, if your route is more dirt in nature than techy singletrack, low profile and lightly packed panniers aren’t going to make a world of difference to how your bike handles.
Which is the context in which we tried out Swift Industries’ Hinterland Jr. Ranger Panniers – on both a solo ride through Bolivia’s rugged Yungas region – see accompanying story – and during several weeks of family bikepacking. Over the course of three months, terrain ranged from corrugation to crusty salt flats to 20km tooth-rattling, off road descents.
Construction comes courtesy of X-Pac, the bikepacker’s favourite. As a material, it’s perhaps not as hardwearing as classic Cordura (the Cordura Jr. Ranger’s are also available in non Hinterland rust and navy) though after all the trips combined, there’s just a small nick in one of the side pockets to report. Aside from the various biking duties these bags have enjoyed, hardships have included being lobbed inside Bolivian buses, tied to rooves of taxis, dropped on the ground, and sat on…
As for features, the Junior Rangers include zippered outside pocket – handy for stowing the likes of warm gloves and a hat – along with a reflective strip. A second pocket at the back is elasticated and fits a water bottle, but given that there’s no way cinch cord at the top, I didn’t trust it on anything more than well packed dirt roads. The chances of a bottle ejecting over rough and tumble descents seemed relatively high, so I jammed in a couple of spare 29+ inner tubes instead.
The roll top system, cinched down with side buckles, allows the panniers to be compressed when half-packed packed, or folded over just once when overstuffed – you can also clip them together at the top if you’re in a hurry. I particularly like how the roll’s material has been left generously long, proving especially handy for filling the panniers with bread and fresh produce. As I’ve come to realize, a family of three devours a lot of sandwiches…
Despite X-pac being coated and waterproof as a material, the bags themselves aren’t completely impervious to rain given that the seams aren’t taped – for that, you’ll need an additional dry bags, like the Sea-to-Summit Ultra Sil Dry Sacs Swift recommend. This said, seeing as the construction is double lined, I expect it would take a fairly strong downpour for water to work its way in.
Nothing is more annoying than bags that clatter around, worse if they jettison off your bike mid descent. Unlike the more complex, adjustable mounting systems from the likes of Ortlieb and Arkel, Swift have opted for an incredibly simple, traditional hook and bungee cord mounting system. The idea here is simple: adjust to tension in the bungee cord to ensure a secure fit.
Given the rough dirt roads I was riding, adjustment was certainly needed to dissuade the panniers from unhooking, especially over Bolivia’s protracted, babyhead strew descents. But once the cord had been shortened, it worked very well. The panniers still flap around a bit and create a small amount of noise, but they never popped off. Nor did they shift backwards and forwards on the rails. Note that the hooks are non adjustable, and are stoutly made from stainless steel. In the unlikely event that they break, replacements could be easily fabricated on the road. The bottom hook is equally robust, though it did slip off a couple of times when the panniers were being transported in the bowels of a local bus – in such situations, it’s probably best to remove them to be on the safe side.
Also worth noting is that the rack I used – a Nitto/Rivendell Big Back Rack – is nickel plated, which probably helped protect the rails from being scored. For powder coated models, I’d wrap them in protective tape first. The Nitto happens to play particularly well in terms of hook placement – but as mentioned before, once adjusted, the panniers won’t shift backwards or forwards, even if the vertical struts don’t tie in with your rack’s spacing.
Swift quote the Junior Rangers as having a total capacity of 20l. I’d say this is on the conservative side, given the outside pockets and the length of the roll in the closure. They feel amply big. Although heavier than the new breed of super minimal panniers from the likes of Porcelain Rocket (800g) and Revelate (465g), I’d consider the Junior Rangers to be relatively light given their build quality and stoutness – at 1.5kg (3.3lbs), they’re in the same league as Ortlieb’s Sport Roller Plus. Priced at $266, they’re definitely on the spendier side, costing $86 more – but you get the warm and fuzzy feeling that they’re lovingly made by a small team in Seattle.
Of course, add in the weight of a rack (800g+) and the whole system will tip the scales at substantially more than a modern seat pack (454g for Porcelain Rocket’s Mr Fusion). But that’s what you pay for space and convenience.
- Basic but simple, durable and repairable mounting system.
- Very nicely made, which goes some ways to justifying their US-born price tag.
- Generous roll top allows plenty of space for extra food.
- Good looks, especially after a patina of Bolivian dust!
- Inherently, we’re fans of small, low profile panniers on dirt road tours – but less so on singletrack.
- Without stabilising arms the panniers flap around a bit over rough terrain – though they’ve never come off.
- Not a hundred percent waterproof – you’ll need drybags too if expecting monsoon downpours.
- Back elasticated pocket could do with a draw string closure if riding off road.
- Weight 1.5kg (3.3lb) per set
- Dimensions 25.5 × 33 × 10cm (10 × 13 × 4in)
- Capacity 20L for the pair
- Price $266
- Place of Manufacture USA
- Contact Swift Industries
Gear that both lasts the distance is especially important for longer journeys. Swift’s Jr. Ranger Panniers have certainly stood up well to the various rigours of the road – both on and off the bike. In terms of pricing, they’re certainly not cheap – but over the months, I’ve found myself increasingly won over by their practicality, build quality and handmade good looks.
Although there’s a definite appeal to a fully waterproof setup, there’s also advantages to be had in materials that can be easily repaired, wherever you find yourself in the world. By a similar token, the simple hook and cord system comes bereft of the need to carry spare parts, and proved to have a kung fu-like grip on the rails in all conditions. Given the backcountry terrain I favour, I’d like to have seen a rear pocket with a more secure closure. But apart from that, I’ve been extremely happy with how the Juniors have fared.
November 2016 update
Swift now allow customers to select Arkel hardware as an upgrade to the standard Swift hooks and bungee cord. The upcharge is $55, with an additional 425g added to a pair of panniers. Arkel hardware doesn’t rely on compression to hold the panniers in place. From our experience, it’s robust, resists any temptation to slide, and sticks like superglue over rough terrain. But as you can see, this comes at a weight penalty.
Also check out
There’s a number of small, lightweight, bikepacking-friendly panniers on the market. These include Arkel’s Dry-Lites, Carsick Design’s Small Pannier Set and Carradice’s Super C Universal Front Pannier, as well as those from Porcelain Rocket, Revelate and Ortlieb, as linked in the post.