Apidura Frame Bag Review
A reliable and robust choice - but with the price tag to match
I dipped my toe into the world of bikepacking luggage in 2018, when I used my first handlebar bag from Thule on the Camino Journey through France and Spain. The following year my requirements expanded when I cycled 600km to Germany for Christmas over 36 hours. I decided for this trip I wanted to use a frame bag alongside this handlebar bag.
Why a Frame Bag?
I chose a frame bag as I wanted to reduce the effect of drag and remain as aerodynamic as possible, this would not have been possible with traditional pannier bags. I opted for a frame bag over a large saddle bag as I felt that the size of saddle bag I would need would frustrate me as it swung side-to-side, in comparison to a frame bag which would stay secure in one place. For the Germany trip I felt the frame bag size was appropriate but this was largely just a guess, but I also remembered that if you have the space available you will fill it. So to avoid overpacking I opted for the 4.5 litre option.
I chose Apidura for two reasons. Initially a friend of mine had used them for the Transcontinental Race and after being in awe of his updates on Instagram I reached out to him on his thoughts on the bag. He was very complimentary of Apidura bags and his style of riding was similar to what I had in mind for my trip.
Secondly the reputation of Apidura of producing reliable equipment couldn't be ignored. Whenever I buy luggage for outdoor activities, be that cycling or hiking, high levels of waterproofness is key. There is nothing worse than wet kit for killing morale. Wet kit can also lead you susceptible to hypothermia. With a cycle over 24 hours in winter I needed to make sure any dry warm kit I had would remain dry. Using a combination a dry bags and the backcountry bag I was confident my kit would remain dry.
Let's see how the Apidura Backcountry Compact 4.5 litre frame bag got on when tested. It looks now that this option is not available, however the Expedition series it still being produced, and the main difference with the Expedition bag from what I can see is the material is slightly more durable and designed for longer trips.
When picking a frame bag you can choose from one that utilises the whole of the space between the frame, or one that uses just the top half of that space. I opted for the second option as it meant I could keep my water bottles in use, and I also didn't feel I needed the extra space a full frame bag would offer. I would just fill it and increase the weight!
The important measurement is the length of the bag and your top tube length. You need to me make sure it fits into this space. I was on the border of the 4.5 and 5 litre options so opted for the smaller option. This allowed a bit of future-proofing in case I had a bike in the future whose top tube length would not allow the 5 litre length bag.
Next option to look at is whether you go for a compact or tall option, the length of your head tube determines which type will fit. The bike I was using at the time, a Marin Gestalt, did not have a long head tube length, so it would not accommodate the option of the tall bag. If you had a touring bike it most likely would allow this option which then gives you the option of increasing to the 6.5 litre option.
There is even a handy little bike finder option on their website which shows which bags would fit.
Putting the bag onto the bike is simple and doesn't take long at all, and adjusting the location on the top tube is easy. One thing that is frustrating are the little elasticated loops, that keep the straps which attach the bag to the frame from flapping around, have a habit when not in use of slipping off the strap. They aren't stitched onto the strap in anyway so when you are taking the bag on or off just be mindful to keep an eye on them. I've had the bag for 2.5 years and in that time have lost one - but it doesn't effect it's performance thankfully it's just an annoyance.
The bag is split lengthwise on the inside into two compartments, with one compartment bigger than the other. Inside the larger compartment is a zip-lock component which is helpful for storing important items such as passport or credit cards. The larger section is big enough for food, tools or clothes.
The zip which goes along the length is practical, doesn't stick and doesn't feel flimsy.
A final point that is very helpful is the detail on the main component of the bag is reflective. This is a great safety point as it helps brighten you up.
Those of you who have read my other reviews know how important robustness is to me when picking a product. You need to have confidence it will last. This was one of the reasons I picked Apidura. This bag was more expensive than other brands so it was reassuring that the price was justified.
As mentioned I have had this bag for 2.5 years now and in that time I have used it fairly regularly. Other than a bit of black colouring that has rubbed onto it during my Germany cycle from my shorts, the whole thing looks and performs like new.
One upgrade this Backcountry series has had recently is the seam sealed waterproofness. This is in comparison to the stitched I had which is why I opted for dry bags to ensure no moisture got in. Even with the new upgrade I would still dry bag my belongings to help with compartmentalisation, and as an extra barrier of protection.
I have been on a number of rides with this bag where it did not stop raining. On my Germany cycle it rained for 5 hours straight at the start, my spare dry kit in the bag remained dry although this was with the use of dry bags. A few weeks ago in 2022 I got caught in a 2 hour downpour and once again the kit remained dry - without drybags.
The fabric has a tough feeling to-it that gives you confidence that if you were in a crash, or dropped the bike onto some sharp branches, it would not pierce the bag and it would remain intact.
I appreciate the price-point of this bag is higher compared to other models. What's reassuring is that it matches the expectation. I can't see me needing to update this bag for many years to come - unless I have demands for a larger bag. If you spread the cost of the bag across the years you intend to use it, and then again for the amount of rides you do each year with it, it becomes very reasonable. On those rides if someone offered you some money in return for a cheaper bag, but there would be a risk it wouldn't be robust and you may need to replace it sooner - I am sure you would ignore them and be content with the quality of the Apidura choice.
It's practical to use, protects the contents of the bag from the elements, and lights up at night making me a little more visible - a perfect combination.
If you can afford an Apidura it should be on your radar for the an option of bikepacking luggage.