Tailfin 5L and 10L Mini Pannier Review
Designed to work with their own baggage system and racks from other brands, Tailfin’s 5L and 10L Mini Panniers are the latest addition to an ever-expanding range. Cass Gilbert tried out a sample set for a few months before their official launch. Read on for full details on how they performed and some longterm feedback on the AeroPack itself…
Two years ago I reviewed a Tailfin AeroPack – a cross between a racktop bag and a modern seatpack – and since then, it’s been one of my go-to pieces of bikepacking gear. I love its top-loading design, general capaciousness, and how quick it is to fit and detach from a bike.
In the intervening time, Tailfin has been very busy, adding a number of accessories to their range, along with making a series of incremental improvements. First, they incorporated eyelets to all of their alloy arches, ushering in the brand’s own cargo cages – as well as releasing the AP Mount, an additional storage bracket below the rear of the AeroPack. Then came a Universal Thru Axle, to simplify life for those without rack eyelets on their bikes, no matter the width and pitch thread of their framesets. And announced today are the latest additions: 5L and 10L Mini Panniers, baby brothers to their original 22L model, aimed squarely at bikepackers.
In fact, the Mini Pannier sport a slim, low-profile cut that aims to keep the panniers tucked out of the way, whether you’re riding on trails or pushing your bike up a hill, with the 10L version being noticeably wider – and thus easier to pack and access. As you’d expect from Tailfin, they’re completely waterproof and are ruggedly made from welded Hypalon and ripstop. Both also feature an internal, CNC machined, 6061-T6 aluminum subframe that gives them structure.
The design also features a neat strap system that allows for two types of closure, be it rolled down and clipped to itself, or cinched into the sides of the panniers. Cleverly, these T-Hook straps can also be positioned to provide extra compression, or even as a way of adding capacity to the bags themselves – they’re great for stashing a waterproof. It’s 25g for each set of straps – two sets are supplied per pannier.
Note that the panniers in most of the action photos don’t feature these T-Hook compression straps, as they weren’t available when I received my samples – but you can see how they work from the detail shots above.
As mentioned, there are two sizes. The 5L version weighs 310g and is better suited to minimal packers. Although it won’t gain you capacity over a cargo cage and a typical rolltop bag, it’s more secure on trails and easier to access during the day. I found them perfect for stashing extra food.
Moving up to the 10L version, which weighs 380g, offers more obvious dividends. Space is doubled but weight is only marginally greater. Preferring to keep their contents light, I used them for packing extra layers for cold nights and a warm sleeping bag. Either way, it’s surprisingly close to that of a large cargo cage, two straps, and a rolltop bag – if we’re to use Salsa’s Anything Cage and bags as an example – which comes in at around 360g combined.
Not that there aren’t lighter ways of stashing extra gear to a bike, like Tailfin’s own Cargo Cages or Kingcage’s classic ti Manything Cage. But weight alone is just one side of the story, because we all know that it’s hard to improve on panniers for their user-friendliness and ability to carry oddly-shaped items – which is why they keep circling back to them! Tailfin’s Mini Panniers are similarly straightforward to access during the day, waterproof in heavy deluges, and easy to bring into your tent at night.
But where Tailfin’s take on classic baggage differs is in the way they attach to a rack. Made from CNC machined 6061-T6 alloy components – and featuring user-serviceable bushings and pivots – its X-Clamp is an especially thoughtful piece of engineering that reminds me of Arkel’s cam lock, albeit it in a much more refined and compact form. Tailfin’s cam lever arm requires a light but satisfying amount of pressure to actuate, yet grips tenaciously when pushed into place. When combined with a lower hook that’s perfectly positioned to clasp around the arch’s legs, the panniers feel completely glued to the spot, and completely silent across the rowdiest of terrain.
Whilst the diameter of the hooks are sized specifically for the 16mm mounts on Tailfin’s arches, the panniers ship with plastic spacers for 8mm, 10mm, and 12mm racks too. Cleverly, these inserts are held in place with screws, so there’s no chance of them popping out once they’re installed.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a front or rear rack handy – though from what I can see, they shouldn’t slide fore or aft once the cam lever is locked down. Note that the stabilizing foot can only be rotated 360 degrees rather than adjusted backwards and forwards, so you’ll have to take that into account when you decide where to put them on the rack. Still, Tailfin is confident enough that their Mini Panniers will work with most models – like those from Tubus, Tortec, and Blackburn – that they promise a full refund if you have compatibility issues. I bet they’d work well with a Tumbleweed T Rack too.
6.6.2022 update: With the correct size insert, Mini Panniers work really well on both T Racks and the Old Man Mountain Divide rack. There’s no rattle or movement, once lined up with one of the rack struts, though I could see an option for longer stabilising hooks being useful in some situations.
By now, you’re probably wondering about the price, and yes, all this CNC machined loveliness doesn’t come cheap. Typical to Tailfin, the panniers are premium grade gear and cost £60 ($85) and £80 ($110) each. Bear in mind too that if you’ve already bought in one of the more minimal AeroPacks, you’ll need an additional Alloy Arch with Side Pannier Mounts to be able to fit the panniers in the first place, which will set you back a significant £109 ($159). Still, it’s good to see this latest version now inherits three eyelets on either leg for cargo or water bottle cages, in addition to an improved bumper to protect them from bag rub.
For anyone starting from scratch, the upcharge from an AeroPack with a standard Alloy Arch to one with the Pannier Mounts is a more modest £40 ($60). As for the difference in arch weights, it’s negligible enough not to be too much of a concern: the Alloy Arch with triple bosses is 330g whilst the Alloy Arch with triple bosses and Pannier Mount is 380g. There’s also a Carbon Arch with Pannier Mounts that weighs just 230g, for those who want to save every gram and are prepared to pay a premium – though note that the carbon arch loses the cargo cage eyelets.
Not that this is necessarily a real issue, because the Mini Panniers work so seamlessly within the whole Tailfin system that in my opinion, they’re an improvement on cargo cages for everything but carrying water, or perhaps specific gear that can be lashed on directly. It’s worth pointing out, too, that having the option of running Tailfin’s 22L pannier is a real bonus – be it for a family trip or commuting into work with a laptop and a change of clothes.
What else? As a future product, I’d love to see a Mini Pannier-style mount and bracket that attaches to a fork’s triple bosses, similar to Ortlieb’s Fork-Pack. In fact, Nick Broadbent of Tailfin rattled me off a set of 3D printed truss struts for my Jones fork so I could try the Mini Panniers up front too, where they proved just as effective on all the trails I rode.
Downsides? I’d note that the clasps are fairly pronounced, so take care when placing them inside a tent with a thin floor. In terms of where they sit on the bike, the Mini Panniers attach further back than they would on a traditional rack, though given their relatively small size, there wasn’t any noticeable impact on handling.
Although there is a range of materials and designs to suit different price points, Tailfin has never aimed for the budget end of the market. Ultimately, it will be sheer cost that will be the biggest barrier to trying out the Tailfin system, because once you factor in the AeroPack itself, it does add up. However, quality and attention warrant the investment if you can make it, and it’s also reassuring to know there’s a complete range of spare parts available, to keep your gear in service for years.
Longterm AeroPack Insights
Tailfin’s Mini Panniers are designed to work with both traditional racks and with the company’s own AeroPack. If you’re not familiar with it, see our full review here. In this box out, we’re covering some additional longterm feedback, plus there’s an updated Pros and Cons section for the Alloy AeroPack too.
With so many moving parts, it’s worth noting that the AeroPack eventually develops some play – both in the seat post connector strap and in the bushings. It’s possible that adding a load to both sides of the pack will accelerate wear and tear slightly. Fortunately, these are easy parts to change out and spares can be acquired directly from Tailfin – they’ll ship them anywhere in the world. Plus, there’s a five-year warranty to the AeroPack and a crash-replacement offer too. Find their support contact details here if you need any parts.
Unfortunately, the latest round of Fast Release hinges that come with the Alloy Arch with Pannier Mounts feels more awkward to unclasp than the first generation, due to a difference in tab shape and how much of the metal pin you can hold onto.
Note that the set length of the arch means the AeroPack works better for some sizes and geometries of bikes than others, depending on tyre to seat post clearance and seattube length. At the smaller end of the sizing spectrum, we’ve fitted an AeroPack (with Extended Seatpost Connector) to a size small mountain bike and a rider height of 165cm, with plenty of room to fill the bag. But if you’re intending to run a dropper post as well, you’ll need to load the AeroPack into a wedge-like shape so there’s room for your saddle to move up and down. Whilst we know Tailfin has a few shorter arches available with more limited tire clearances that should work better with smaller frames, we’d love to see a second, alternative arch that’s as wide as the current one. Until then, anyone riding an XS mtb frame may well find a rack that fits closer to the top of their tire a better option, or perhaps Aero’s Spider Rack.
Into dropper posts? Generally speaking, I have no issues running my 110m dropper and the AeroPack with the Extended Seatpost Connector. However, this will depend on a few variables, like saddle height and how you pack the bag – as mentioned above. In theory, the addition of side panniers means you can load the AeroPack with less gear, freeing up some space for your saddle to drop. Tailfin also offers the more minimal Alloy and Carbon Racks, which might be an interesting avenue to explore, too.
Tire clearances are as follows: 26″ – 4″/100mm, 27.5″ – 3.5″/90mm and 29″ – 2.9″/75mm. But bear in mind that if you fit the AeroPack to rack eyelets with the frame mount adaptor set, rather than your thru-axle or QR, you’ll probably gain some tire clearance but lose some packing space, depending on where the rack eyelets are placed. And similarly, if you forgo the Fast Releases and bolt the arch directly to your frame, you’ll drop its height by a few centimetres but lose some tire clearance.
- Top loading design is very easy to pack and access, compared to a seatpack or a rolltop bag on a rack
- Very capacious – and the AeroPack subframe allows for add-shaped cargo
- Compatible with bikes with and without rack eyelets, be with Thru Axles or quick release dropouts
- All alloy arches feature triple eyelets, for extra water or cargo
- Different arches can be specced for different accessories, including Mini Panniers
- Completely stable and silent off road
- Very quick to install and remove for transportation or unladen day rides
- Easy to move from bike to bike
- Completely waterproof
- Latest versions feature arch eyelets that offer provisions for extra water or cargo, if needed
- Dropper friendly with Extended Seatpost Connector, within reason (though travel is reduced depending on frame size)
- Good clearance for all but the biggest tyres
- 5 year warranty plus all parts are replaceable and user serviceable, with crash replacement offer
- Heavier and more expensive than a seatpack
- Heavier and more expensive than a minimal rack and rolltop bag cinched on top
- Bushings and seat post connector straps will eventually need replacing
- More hardware to potential fail or be damaged in a crash
- Only one length arch, so smaller riders will need the Extended Seatpost Connector and even then, may not be able to make the most of the bag’s massive capacity, especially if running a dropper post
Mini Pannier Pros
- Incredibly secure
- Relatively light
- Completely quiet
- Easy to fit and remove
- Compatible with many other racks too
Mini Pannier Cons
- With regards to the AeroPack with Pannier Mounts, the latest Fast Release hinges are fiddlier to open than previous designs
- The Tailfin system would really benefit from a shorter arch to work better with smaller frames
5L Mini Pannier Bag
- Weight (each)310 grams (excluding T-Hooks)
- Volume (each) 5L
- Dimensions (Height x Width x Depth)270x155x67mm
- Price £60/$85/€70
- Place of Manufacture China
- Manufacturer’s Details Tailfin
10L Mini Pannier Bag
- Weight (each) 380 grams (excluding T-Hooks)
- Volume (each) 10L
- Dimensions (Height x Width x Depth)270x190x87mm
- Price (each) £80/$110/€95
- Place of Manufacture China
- Manufacturer’s Details Tailfin
There’s no doubt that the addition of two sizes of Mini Panniers to the Tailfin range sees the system go from strength to strength. In fact, there’s now such an arsenal of accessories that it’s hard to keep tabs on all the options!
In use, they’re completely silent, waterproof, and more secure than anything else I’ve tried. Complete with variable straps, it’s hard to convey how well-engineered and thought through they are. For smaller riders especially, these Mini Panniers make all the difference in carrying capacity, without adding unduly to the overall weight of your rig. And, they’ll work with your existing, non-Tailfin racks too.
Yes, if you’ve already bought the standard AeroPack, running Mini Panniers means swapping out your old arch for a new one, which doesn’t come cheap. If you’re starting from fresh, however, I’d recommend investing in the AeroPack with Pannier Mounts from the get-go, even if you’re unconvinced by the need to carry more than a couple of cargo cages. The ability to run a range of dedicated panniers from 5 to 22L in size adds incredible value to the system as a whole, and effectively offers the best of all worlds: a minimal but practical setup that’s free of clutter, a Mini Pannier ‘middle way’ for when situations demand them, or even a full-size load hauler for commuting or family trips.
For more information, see Tailfin. Both size panniers are available immediately.
Past posts on Tailfin
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