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Alpkit bikepacking bags review: Fuel Pod, Bilbie and Koala put to the test

How do the fresh additions to Alpkit’s UK-made bikepacking range measure up?

Alpkit bikepacking bag review
(Image: © Guy Kesteven)

Our Verdict

There’s a couple of missed details but if you’re looking for durable, well-designed, easy-to-fit yet secure, UK-made bikepacking bags with great backup at an excellent price, then you really can’t go wrong with these compact bags from Alpkit

For

  • Easy, fast fit with good stability
  • Practical, versatile sizing
  • Durable, premium material construction
  • Separate straps can be replaced when worn
  • Bargain price for UK handmade bags
  • Excellent backup and repair service

Against

  • Long straps can dangle
  • Not totally waterproof
  • No top tube bolt compatibility
  • No web net on saddle pack

Alpkit has been hand-making outdoor gear in the UK since 2004 and it was one of the first brands to create a complete bikepacking bag range. 

More recently, it has updated some of the key pieces in its range, including the Fuel Pod (a top tube bag), Bilbie (a small triangular frame bag) and Koala (a saddle bag), all of which we've been putting to the test, to see if they're among the best bikepacking bags around.

In the past, we've found Alpkit's bikepacking bag well-made, tough and well-detailed, while coming with a bargain price. With these updated pieces, is that still the case, or have they missed the mark? Read on to find out.

Fuel Pod and Cradle

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Alpkit bikepacking bag review

Fuel pod offers a liter of easy access storage (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Alpkit bikepacking bag review

All Alpkit bags are made in the UK (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Alpkit bikepacking bag review

For easy removal Alpkit has developed a cradle system (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Alpkit bikepacking bag review

The cradle is constructed from stiffened Cordura to provide support (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Alpkit’s latest Fuel Pod comes in 1L (tested) or 1.5L sizes and uses a typical whaleback shape with a YKK Aquaguard weatherproof zip down the spine. This closes into a raised ‘garage’ and gets a long gripper tabbed puller and 'UK made' anchor tab to make opening easy on the fly. The sides are lightly padded, so it holds its shape and doesn’t flop into your knees; Alpkit’s VX21 fabric has always proved extremely durable on bags we’ve used before, and there’s a separate seamless liner inside. The seams are reinforced but not sealed, and there are two cable ports at the top front for light- or charging cables, so we’d still bag vulnerable gear in bad weather as some dampness can creep in eventually. That’s true of pretty much every top tube bag we’ve used though. 

If you’re likely to leave the Pod in place, then you can use the two underside strap anchors with the supplied Velcro straps, and then loop the fixed front strap around your stem. If you want a quick release option though, you can add the Cradle. This stiffened Cordura taco straps onto the top tube and then the flanges slide up inside rubberized wings on the side of the Fuel Pod. That means you only need to do the stem strap up to keep it fully anchored, even on seriously rough descents, and to remove the Pod you just undo that one strap as well. Neither Pod nor Cradle have drillings for bolted top tube mounts though, and while it would be relatively simple to punch a hole and add a backing washer, it's annoying Alpkit hasn’t done it since they’re becoming increasingly common.

Bilbie 

Alpkit bikepacking bag review

A main compartment and a slimline accessory pocket store your ride essentials (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

This compact frame bag tucks 1.5L of twin compartment storage neatly into the front triangle of most bikes while still leaving room for bottles. The VX21 and Cordura spine construction are the same as the Fuel Pod and the red divider sheet also extends across the base for double protection. YKK Aquaguard weatherproof zips run down both sides from sealing garages with rubber reinforced pull tabs for easy operation even with gloves. The divider lets you put flatter things in the smaller side pocket and then fill the main compartment with spare layers, tubes, pumps, kebabs, etc. There’s a hidden gap in the leading edge for pushing light- or recharging cables through, and all the seams are reinforced. They’re not sealed, though, so again bag up anything you’re worried about getting damp in a deluge.

Its size and shape make it easy to fit, even on most small frames and full-suspension bikes. Continual ‘daisy chain’ loops around the bag mean you can thread the supplied Velcro straps through at whatever point works best. The result is a really stable but unobtrusive bag that’s instantly become a favorite for replacing back pockets or waist packs.

Alpkit bikepacking bag review

Daisy chain loops mean the velcro and buckle straps can be optimally positioned for a secure fit (Image credit: Guy Kesteven)

Koala 

Alpkit has now introduced two holster and stuff sack-style saddlebags (the 1.5 or 2.25L Enduro and the 17L Big Papa) but the Koala is still the mainstay of its saddle-slung cargo range. We’ve had one for years that’s proved both durable and simply well-designed, and this updated version is even tougher. Fabric and construction details are mostly the same as the Pod and Bilbie, but the spine and scuff panels on the sides are now bombproof 1100D Cordura rather than VX21. This bag also uses a roll-top closure that is cinched down by two fast-buckle-adjustable side straps which compress the whole bag. Another adjustable fast buckle strap loops over the top to add more squeeze and stability, and works as a mount for belt hook-style LEDs. The long strap end can dangle though, so be sure to tuck it in tidily, especially on small frames where it could go into the spokes.

Two triangular wings sewn onto the tough Cordura underside seams clip into an adjustable saddle rail strap that can also be moved down the daisy chain loop to suit different rail designs or saddle setbacks. The two broader, rubberized anti-slip seat post straps can be mounted at different heights too, and are long enough to work with a deep aero post if you’re a distance racer. All the mount straps can be replaced if they start to wear too.

Once you’ve worked out the ideal strap placement and tightened it all up, the internal wraparound top-to-bottom stiffener helps to keep the bag secure and relatively swing-free, despite being quick to get on and off. You can add the cunning seat clamp-sandwiched ‘Exo Rail’ frame ($27.49 / £21.99) for maximum stability or dropper post use too. The one thing it does lack however is a quick access bungee web, which is something we use a lot on other bags. That does remove the danger of losing a jacket or whatever else you’ve twanged on without realizing it, though.

Verdict 

We’d like bolt-on mounts for the Pod or Cradle and a web mesh on the Koala whose straps also need tucking in neatly. Otherwise, Alpkit has delivered an excellent set of fast but accurate to fit bikepacking bags using an even tougher selection of premium materials to make them more durable than the predecessors we’ve had no issues with over years of use. Details like the replaceable straps boost longevity too. 

Pricing is excellent, considering the bags are all handmade in the UK and come with a 25-year ‘Alpine Bond’ guarantee against defects and reduced-price repair if you accidentally trash them.  

View the Alpkit's bikepacking bag range at Alpkit.com.

Tech Specs: Alpkit bikepacking bags

Fuel Pod 

  • Capacity: 1.5L
  • Weight: 60g
  • Colors: Black, Lego Blue, Chilli Red
  • Price: $34.99/ £34.99 (both sizes)

Cradle  

  • Capacity: n/a
  • Weight: 70g
  • Colors: Black, Lego Blue, Chilli Red
  • Price: $14.99 / £14.99

Bilbie 

  • Capacity: 1.5L
  • Weight: 100g
  • Colors: Black, Lego Blue, Chilli Red
  • Price: $44.99 / £44.99

Koala 

  • Capacity: 7L
  • Weight: 270g
  • Colors: Black, Lego Blue, Chilli Red
  • Price: $84.99 / £84.99
Guy Kesteven

Guy Kesteven is Bike Perfect and Cyclingnews’ contributing tech editor. Hatched in Yorkshire he's been hardened by riding round it in all weathers since he was a kid. He got an archaeology degree out of Exeter University, spent a few years digging about in medieval cattle markets, working in bike shops and warehouses before starting writing and testing for bike mags in 1996. Since then he’s written several million words about several thousand test bikes and a ridiculous amount of riding gear. To make sure he rarely sleeps and to fund his custom tandem habit he’s also coughed out a handful of bike-related books and talks to a GoPro for YouTube, too. We trust Guy's opinion and think you should, too.


Rides: Pace RC295, Cotic FlareMax, Specialized Chisel Ltd MTBs, Vielo V+1 gravel bike, Cannondale Supersix Evo Dura-Ace Di2 Disc road bike, Nicolai FS Enduro, Landescape custom gravel tandem

Height: 180cm

Weight: 69kg