This is the bicycle bag at the center of it all. The frame bag is the most essential of bikepacking bags maximizing the carrying capacity of your bicycle with minimal impact on riding characteristics and aerodynamics.
Frame bags offer the optimal centered and low position for storing your heaviest items. By being at the center of things and low down, they offer a perfect location for storing your heaviest items. Depending upon the bicycle frame fitted too, frame bags offer a fair amount of volume, anywhere from 5 to 10 liters.
Finding the right frame bag for your bicycle can be challenging, especially for small bicycle frames and full suspension mountain bikes. Perhaps you are lucky enough to own a bicycle with a standard frame bag made for it. But if not, this guide can help you navigate through matching your bicycle frame up with the best available frame bag or determining if you should go custom.
Frame Bag Uses: Bikepacking, Touring, Commuting & Day Rides
Frame bags offer a great solution for carrying your extra gear for almost any style of cycling.
Frame bags, like other bikepacking bags, are designed to hold up to the rigors of mountain biking while laden with gear. While traditional bicycle touring bag setups are designed around bicycle racks, bikepacking bag setups aspire to not rely on racks. Frame bags exemplify bikepacking bag design principles by keeping loads low, centered and out-of-the-way all while securely and quietly carrying gear in rough terrain.
Frame bags are generally the starting point when putting together a bikepacking bag setup designed for a rough conditions expedition. Often times the size of frame bag that works with your bicycle frame will then determine the size and number of additional bags required.
For desert bikepacking, frame bags can be a great space to store most of your water. 2 or 3 2-liter water bladders will fit nicely within most frame bags. Leaving the water bladders a little under filled allows them to be stuffed into the crevices of the frame bag, maximizing the available space. We recommend water bladders like those made by Sawyer as they have small lids.
Road Touring (Asphalt & Gravel)
Frame bags have become a common addition to many traditional road touring setups. While road touring bikes with racks make it easy to transport large volume bicycle panniers and carry a lot more stuff, many road touring cyclist appreciate the benefits of a more minimalist bikepacking setup. Just because you can carry a bunch of stuff with a full set of panniers, doesn’t mean you necessarily want to lug that extra weight around.
Alternatively, other road tourists, like to have as much room as possible and a frame bag is a great way to expand that load capacity. Or when some additional room is needed, a frame bag can be a preferred additional bag rather than a handlebar bag or rack-top bag.
For road touring primarily on paved road, racks and panniers are the traditional choice of bag setup. But bicycle tours can venture into gravel and trail and depending on the volume of roughness, opting towards a more bikepacking oriented setup can offer many advantages. Frame bags are generally at the center of these hybrid road touring/bikepacking bag setups.
Commuting & Day Rides
Beyond multi-day travel, frame bags are great for day rides offering a voluminous trunk to stash your everyday essentials from tools to food to extra clothing. Whether it is for bicycle commuting, your errand/coffee/bar bike, mountain bike adventuring or long road rides, frame bags offer enough room for things like a lock, extra clothing, food, water, tools, first aid kit and emergency bivvy.
Many times cyclists will first buy a frame bag for a multi-day trip and then end up leaving it on their bicycle for everyday riding, meanwhile storing their other bags until the next big trip.
Frame Bag Design Elements
Full v. Half v. Front-of-the-Triangle
A key differentiator is whether the bag fills all or just some of the frame area. Amongst partial-frame frame bags, the most common style are bags that run along the top tube. Other partial-frame frame bag styles include bags that wedge into the front of the triangle and bags that wedge up where the seat tube meets the top tube.
Full frame bags are great for full maximizing the space that a bicycle frame offers. Partial frame bags are much easier to fit to more bicycles. Partial frame bags also allow room for water bottle cages to still be used and can be preferable if the large volume of the full frame bag is not required.
Compartments & Pockets
Pockets and compartments are mainly found on full frame bags. Most full frame bags have a small pocket for smaller items. Some full frame bags are divided into and upper and lower compartments.
The side pocket on a full frame bag is definitely nice for storing smaller items that would otherwise get lost in the large cavern of a frame bags. Frame bags divided up into an upper and lower compartment are helpful for organization and especially for making the most of the lower area of the bag. On the other hand, having a nice big, cavernous opening can come in handy for shoving larger items into your frame bags.
Closures: Zipper or Roll-up
Most frame bags generally use a heavy-duty zipper to get in and out of their various compartments and pockets. There are some that use a roll-closure for accessing the goods. For those using roll closures, they generally only have one large compartment.
Zippered closures are generally more user friendly. But for long term wear and tear, roll tops last indefinitely.
Some frame bags are made with lighter-duty water proof zippers. However the durability advantages of a heavier duty zipper, even though it is not fully waterproof outweigh the advantages of a weaker water proof zippers.
The other style of frame bag closure system is a rollup closure. Roll up closures are ideal for long term durability of the bag in rough, dirty conditions.
Attachment: Straps v. Bolt-On v. Cords
Frame bags are attached with straps, bolts or cords or some combination of these methods. While straps are the most common way to go, bolt on setup are becoming increasingly common for a cleaner fit. Cord closures on the top tube are a great looking solution as well.
Sizing Frame Bags to Your Bicycle
Full frame bags can be difficult to size to a bicycle frame because all three sides of the triangle need to align with the bicycle frame. Meanwhile Half and wedge frame bags are significantly easier to fit to a frame because only one or two of its sides need to line-up to the bicycle frame.
With half frame bags, generally the top tube measurement is all that is required to align with the length of the bag.
With front-of-the-triangle wedge frame bags, these are even more adaptable because there are no critical lengths. However, if the angle of the front of the bag is dramatically different than that of the front of this style frame bag, this can lead to a less then ideal fit. One other caveat to mention is bicycle frames with tall head tubes. Most bags are designed for frames with not much gap between where the top tube and the down tube interface with the head tube. For bicycles with this tall head tube, standard frame bags of all types whether full, half of front-of-the-triangle will not line up quite perfectly.
Full Frame Bag Options: Frame-Specific v. Cross-Compatible or go Custom
Frame-specific frame bags are designed to fit specific bicycle frames. These bags are marketed as bags for either a specific bike or a specific range of bikes as is the case with Surly Mountain Frame Bags which are specified to fit a range of Surly bicycles. This is not to say these bags will not fit on other frames and we often do fit them on other frames.
Meanwhile cross-compatible frame bags fit a much wider variety of bicycles. A great example of a cross-compatible frame bag is the Revelate Designs Ranger which is designed to fit common mountain bike geometries. Another example is the Revelate Designs Ripio which is designed for common road (& many gravel) frame geometries.
For some bicycle frames, especially most full-suspension frames, there is not a readily available option that will fit well and a custom frame bag is generally the best way to go. Getting a custom frame bag for ones bike not only is a way to get a perfect fit, it also can be a great way to get a bag with a variety of other custom features built in to your needs.
Matching Up a Frame Bag to Your Bicycle
Choosing the best available size frame bag for your bicycle frame can be a bit of a guessing game when there is not compatibility information for your specific bicycle available.
Three approaches to figuring out the best available bag for your frame:
- Measuring the inside of your frame and comparing those specs to the available specs of frame bags.
- Creating cardboard templates of frame bags to visually see how they fit in your frame bag.
- Going to a shop with a wide range of frame bags and trying them all out.
While all three of these methods will work, obviously bringing your bicycle to a bike shop with a large selection of frame bags available is the easiest process. But bike shops with a large frame bag selection are not easy to find, so the other two options may be your only option.
Measuring the inside of your frame is a good place to start whether or not you will be taking the additional step of creating cardboard templates to test. At the least, it will help you narrow down your options. And if it feels necessary or you are concerned about picking the right size, creating a few of the closest sized templates (narrowed down to by the measuring process) are a great way to get a sense of what the best size bag will be for your bike.
Have a look at this silly, old video we did back in BikeShopHub.com days about sizing up the right size frame bags and using cardboard templates to do it.
Frame Bag Challenges
Maintenance & Care
Frame bags can take plenty of abuse when used on long trips. The most common failure point seems to be on the zipper, which is why some bags have opted toward a roll top zipper.
Other than the zipper, frame bags enjoy long lives, being well protected within the confines of the bicycle’s frame. Given their cavernous nature, when used for transporting food or small items, things can get lost in the bottoms of them, requiring an occasional cleaning out.
When cleaning your frame bags, think gentle washing and no machines. Deep cleaning is not the way to go, rather the minimum amount of washing will lengthen the life of your bag. Begin with brushing of the dirt and if that is enough end there. If more cleaning is needed to freshen things up, warm water, a soft brush and non-degerent soap. And again stay away from the washer and dryer.
Protecting Your Frame
Frame bags can rub against the frame over time, wearing out the finish or in the case of carbon fiber, even wearing into the frame. When frame rub is a concern, protecting the frame with something like Revelate’s Frame Saver tape will help combat this problem.
For a very in depth guide to protecting your bicycle frame with a variety of styles of tape, see this video by Bikepacking.com’s Neil Beltchenko.
The problem of knee rub can occur for some cyclists. There is a decent amount of variability in gap between knees from one cyclist to the next. For those with narrow knee gaps, knees rubbing on the bag can be a problem. Frame bags do have different widths. And how they are packed can substantially increase of decrease their width.
For cyclists with narrow knee gaps, being mindful of how a frame bag is packed is a great starting point. In some cases, selecting a frame bag for narrow width or even having a custom bag built may be necessary.
Frame bags are typically not waterproof, however they are naturally water resistant. There are some waterproof frame bags such as Ortlieb’s frame bags. However Ortlieb’s frame bags only come in a limited selection of sizes.
In general though, frame bags are decently protected from the rain by the rider above them and the bicycle frame around them. However for things that require complete protection from water, many frame bag designs cannot be fully relied on. Whether it is the sewn fabric, the zipper or aspects of the attachment point, frame bags other than Ortlieb are susceptible to a small amount of moisture making its way in.
Frame Bags Resources
References & Guides
Here are some great sources for learning more about bicycle frame bags.
- Cycling About’s Complete List of Bikepacking Bags
This is a very complete list of bikepacking bag manufacturers organized by country, most of whom also do frame bags.
- Surly’s Frame Bag Sizing Guide
A great reference for Surly owners looking to get the right frame bag to fit their frame.
- Bikepacking.com’s Guide to Half Frame Bags and Wedges
A run through of many of the available half and wedge frame bags.
- Bikepacking.com’s Guide to Full-Supension Frame Bags
A discussion of some of the challenges and limitations of frame bags designed for full-suspension mountain bikes along with resources on where to source them.
- Bikepacking.com’s Guide to Custom Frame Bags
This is a great overall reference on frame bags, but coming from the perspective of custom frame bags. For the full treatment, watch Neil Beltchenko’s Video on Custom Frame Bags + A Rogue Panda Review
Frame Bags at Campfire
Here at Campfire Cycling we pride ourselves on a very robust selection of frame bags.
Fame-Specific Frame Bags by Surly, Salsa and Revelate Designs.
Cross-Compatible Frames Bags by Revelate Designs, Ortlieb and Oveja Negra
Half & Wedge Frame Bags by Salsa, Revelate Designs, Ortlieb and Oveja Negra
Below is our frame bag display. Our full selection of frame bags allow us to find a close fit to the majority of bicycle frames that come in the door. It also allows us to be able to offer expert knowledge for helping you match up a frame bag to your bicycle for purchase on our website.