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Motorcycle Backpack vs. Tail Bag - Which One Suits Your Rides?

Motorcycle Backpack vs. Tail Bag - Which One Suits Your Rides?

Motorcycle luggage has become an essential part of motorcycling since more riders are using motorcycles as their primary modes of transportation and recreational vehicles. Much like the two-wheelers, motorcycle luggage has also evolved over the years. Today, a large variety of motorcycle luggage is available on the market, including soft saddlebags, hard saddlebags, trunk bags, handlebar bags, tail bags, motorcycle backpacks, and more. Each type of motorcycle luggage is designed to enhance a motorcycle’s storage space. However, different bags are best suited for different riding styles and occasions. When traveling for a week-long trip, a single tank bag might not be enough to carry all your essentials. On the other hand, the same bag would be well-suited if you just have to pick a few things from the store, carry motorcycle tools with you, and carry your gym gear, or rain gear. Similarly, motorcycle backpacks and motorcycle tail bags are designed to serve different riding purposes. In this article, Viking Bags, a leading motorcycle luggage brand, brings you a comprehensive comparison of a motorcycle backpack and a tail bag so you can determine which bag is more suited for a particular ride.

1. What is a Motorcycle Backpack?

Motorcycle backpacks are essentially regular backpacks that are specialized to carry luggage on a motorcycle. Since riders use their bikes for commutes, short travels, long trips, camping trips, and adventure riding, motorcycle backpacks are crafted with heavy-duty materials, such as 1000D Cordura or ballistic nylon, that can handle prolonged rough use. Moreover, motorcycle backpacks are weather-resistant, water-proof, and abrasion-resistant thanks to their PU coating.

In addition to tough materials, motorcycle backpacks feature reinforced stitching. To make these backpacks camping and touring-friendly, modern motorcycle backpacks feature chest straps that help take the pressure off the shoulders and increase comfort. Shoulder straps feature foam padding for a soft and comfortable feel. In addition, modern backpacks feature padded laptop sleeves for riders who use this luggage for commutes. Other features, such as inner hidden pockets, outer pockets, a hydration pack and a power bank, are also included with a motorcycle backpack to make it more travel-oriented.

2. What is a Motorcycle Tail Bag?

Motorcycle tail bag or tail pack is another type of motorcycle luggage designed to make packing and carrying essentials convenient for riders. To cater to the preferences of different riders, hard and soft tail bags are available on the market. The hard tail bags are crafted from ABS plastic, a material that is light-weight, offers rigid construction, has inherent impact-resistance, and is weather-resistant. Aluminum and fiberglass may also be used to make hard tail bags. On the other hand, soft motorcycle tail bags are constructed from PU leather or other synthetic materials, such as commercial-grade nylon, polyester, or Cordura. For water-proofing and abrasion-resistance, soft tail bags are often treated with different chemicals or feature PU, PVC, or vinyl coating. To add strength to soft tail bags and ensure shape retention, soft tail bags may also feature reinforced foam or plastic panels and reinforced stitching.

3. Motorcycle Backpack vs Motorcycle Tail Bag - When to Use Which?

When it comes to choosing between a motorcycle backpack and a motorcycle tail bag, a rider must consider his riding routine because the number of miles you cover in a day and the nature of your rides throughout the year will help you determine the better option for you.

3.1 Long Distance Rides

Are you into motorcycle camping? How often do you ride long-distances for adventure and recreation? Motorcycle backpacks and tail bags are both created so riders can carry their luggage around on a motorcycle, but they can also enhance comfort or slow you down.


Premium motorcycle backpacks boast a streamlined design that helps reduce air drag and improve the aerodynamics of a motorcycle. As a result, these bags help you ride faster and cover long distances in less time. With no drag slowing you down, motorcycle backpacks help make your ride more enjoyable. On the other hand, motorcycle tail bags are wide, so they provide a larger surface area for air to make contact. As more air hits the tail bag, more drag is produced at the rear, slowing you down. Therefore, motorcycle tail bags can negatively affect a motorcycle’s aerodynamic efficiency. However, during short leisurely rides or urban rides, aerodynamics are not affected because air drag comes into play at highway speeds.

For aerodynamics, motorcycle backpacks may be a better choice than motorcycle tail bags.

Effect on Handling & Ride Quality

Motorcycle backpacks have little to no effect on your bike’s handling, especially if you wear them. However, large and heavily loaded motorcycle tail bags can affect handling. When luggage is attached to the rear, it shifts the center of gravity backward. This may cause front wheel slip, under-steering, and loss of traction at the corners. Moreover, the tail bag comes over the rear suspension and may change ride quality, especially on bumpy roads and gravel paths. Therefore, it is recommended to take the bike's weight limit into consideration and always pack light.

Weight & Fatigue

On long hauls, your heavy backpack can cause fatigue to set in quickly. The longer you wear your motorcycle backpack, the more stress your neck and shoulders will experience. On the other hand, motorcycle tail bags are secured to the luggage rack. Therefore, they may be a more comfortable option if backache and fatigue is your major concern.

Can Installing a Sissy Bar Be the Answer?

Riders who prefer motorcycle backpacks because of their aerodynamic design and also want to avoid fatigue should install motorcycle sissy bars. Backpacks feature mounting systems that allow you to secure them to the sissy bar instead of wearing them throughout your ride.

Backpacks with Chest Straps

If you are not inclined towards buying a sissy bar, then it is best to buy a backpack with chest/sternum straps. Sternum straps help hold the weight of your luggage closer to the body and also remove pressure from your neck and shoulder region. If you own a backpack that lacks chest straps, you can buy these separately instead of replacing your old backpack.

3.2 Motorcycle Camping Excursions

If you are a motocamping enthusiast, you will already know the importance of a motorcycle luggage system. Only a backpack or a tail bag is not enough to plan a pack for a comfortable adventure. However, if you already have side saddlebags and have to choose between a backpack and a tail bag for extra storage, consider the following:

  • Campgrounds are located in national parks and forests that have multiple hiking trails for you to explore. Oftentimes, one walks too far from the camping site and ends up spending the night at a scenic spot away from the tent. If you have a backpack, you can easily carry a flashlight, your power bank, a small hammock, a water bottle, and snacks with you. But if you only have a tail bag, you cannot carry it around especially if it is a hard tail bag. Therefore, either choose a lightweight leather tail bag or a backpack if you are a motocamper.
  • Even if you are to stay at your campsite, you can easily carry your backpack inside the tent. The same is also possible for tail bags, but carrying them from the parking lot to the tent may not be as convenient.

3.3 Short Trips

Motorcycle backpack and tail bag, both are practical and convenient for short distance trips, commutes, and leisurely urban rides. However, when traveling through narrow streets or navigating heavy traffic, a backpack will be more suitable because it neither widens the rear section of the bike, nor does it affect handling and maneuverability.

3.4 Ease of Installation and Removal

Whether you wear your backpack or secure it to the sissy bars, it is extremely easy to mount and carry around. Motorcycle tail bags have mounting systems or straps that secure them to a luggage rack. Compared to backpacks, they are less easy to install and remove. Carrying a backpack inside your hotel room is also much easier than the tail bags. It is worth-mentioning that during your trip, you may have to leave your bike unattended to take a break. A tail bag in this situation is more prone to theft. Despite having key-lockable mechanisms, they are not entirely theft-proof. The ease of carrying a backpack rules out all chances of theft.

3.5 Need for a Luggage Rack or Passenger Seat

To mount a motorcycle tail bag, one needs to install a luggage rack or a passenger seat. On the other hand, motorcycle backpacks can be worn by the rider. Some riders install luggage racks and sissy bars to secure backpacks, it is not a mandatory requirement.

3.6 Carrying a Laptop

Motorcycle backpacks feature padded sleeves so you can carry your laptop to work. This small feature allows digital nomads to work as they explore the world on their two-wheelers. Motorcycle tail bags are impact-resistant and carry a laptop, but they are still not preferred for the job. Therefore, if you carry your laptop with you, then choose a backpack.

3.7 If You Are a Student

Students tend to use regular backpacks to carry their laptops, notebooks, stationery, important documents, snacks, and water bottles. So if you are a student and use your bike only to commute to the university, then a tail bag might not be the right luggage for you.

3.8 Storage Capacity

Both motorcycle backpacks and tail bags increase storage capacity. However, a tail bag is a better option if you want more cargo space, especially when traveling with a passenger. Instead of carrying two backpacks, you can easily pack all the clothes, tools, camping gear, and other equipment in a tail bag and saddlebags.

3.9 Accessibility

Tail bags and motorcycle backpacks both make it easy to access your luggage. However, if you are standing at a traffic signal then accessing your phone, GPS, charger, map, water bottle, and other personal belongings will not be easy no matter your choice of luggage. You would have to park your bike in a safe place to access what you need or use a handlebar bag for these essentials.

3.10 Comfort

Compared to backpacks, motorcycle tail bags offer a more comfortable luggage solution. They come with a proper mounting system that attaches the bag securely to the luggage rack or passenger seat. Riders do not have to bear the burden of luggage, nor do they have to worry about loose straps or bungee cords getting caught in the rear wheel. On the other hand, if you wear your backpack for a long time, it will cause back strain. If you secure a backpack to the luggage rack or passenger seat, the straps may become loose, potentially causing the backpack to fall or get caught in the chain or wheel.

3.11 Aesthetic Appeal

Motorcycle backpacks and tail bags both add a unique dimension to the bike’s styling. If you want to give your motorcycle a custom-bagger look, then opt for the tail bag as most luxury touring bikes feature a rear trunk. On the other hand, if you want to look cool or prefer a sissy bar over a luggage rack, then a backpack would be the better option. A tail bag may give a wider look to the bike, while a backpack can impart a sleek and streamlined look. Moreover, you can also custom paint a hardtail bag to add a pop of color to the bike. Similarly, a wide selection of bright-colored backpacks are available on the market. Choosing an all-black backpack or a tail bag can complement your bike’s black finishes or black-treated parts.

3.12 Affordability

Both backpacks and tail bags are budget-friendly motorcycle luggage options. A high-quality tail bag from a well-reputed brand may cost you around $150-$350, depending on the size of the bag. Discounted prices may reduce the cost to $120-$230. On the other hand, a small motorcycle backpack may cost you around $75-$100, while a large backpack may cost you up to $220.

4. Last Words

Both motorcycle backpacks and tail bags are useful luggage options. When choosing between the two, focus more on your riding style and comfort preferences. Not all riders want to wear a heavy backpack when traveling long distances. On the other hand, many riders avoid tail bags because they slow them down or make it difficult to navigate traffic-congested roads. As for storage capacity, tail bags generally offer more storage space than a backpack. On the other hand, the pockets and compartments available in a backpack help with cargo organization. The price points of both luggage bags are relatively close, so make sure you take your riding needs into consideration before investing in a tail bag or a backpack.

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