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As we prepared for our multi-year cycle tour, selecting durable panniers that could accommodate our belongings was a top priority. Upon learning of Arkel from none other than the Metal Cowboy, a small Canadian company with just six office employees, we considered their line and ultimately elected from their wide variety of bags to carry our possessions around the world.
Given our large load with our dog in tow, it mean that I would carry more of our camping gear, leaving the lighter items to Dave, so we needed bags that could fit a lot of gear. Plus, we tried to go as locally-made as possible for any new gear, so the Arkel GT-54 Touring Panniers (which are made in Canada) fit just the bill. And to top it all with some social good, Arkel works with a program called CRDITED, a social service program for folks with Intellectual Disabilities and Pervasive Development Disorders, whose team puts the finishing touches on each bag after they’re returned from the seamstress.
With a capacity of 54 liters (3300 cubic inches), a removable tent tube, and pockets galore, these panniers fit our camping gear and much more, and all in a remarkably organized manner. There’s never any digging deep into the depths of my bag to locate what I need.
Watch our YouTube video for a full visual tour and explanation of the panniers.
To give an idea of the number of items I can fit into these asymmetrically-designed bags, here’s a list of what I carry between the two:
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Two sleep sacks
- Two travel towels
- Rain pants and rain coat
- All of my clothes
- 10-18mm camera lens
- Travel brush and comb
- Rain booties
- Camp pillow
- Sun sleeves
- Thick gloves
- Contact solution
- All of our bike tools
- First aid kit
- Platypus water filter system
- 3-Person tent, poles, and foot print (our entire three-person tent setup does not fully fit into the tent tube)
- A compressible travel backpack
With minimalism and versatility in mind, the GT-54s can go from long-term bike tour to commuter bag simply by removing unnecessary Velcro pockets. Cleverly-designed, this bag features hidden pockets for tent poles and maps or gloves, removable pockets for easy access to every day use items like toiletries or for when you’re taking a few days off the bike and need carrying pouch for your city explorations. The inner waterproof liner also separates dirty laundry and the durable zippers have never skipped or failed, even in high altitude where nearly every other zippered item we have has.
The rubber handles are incredibly comfortable, even when carrying the bags over a long distance, they don’t make my hands raw from the pressure. Further, the bags feature hooks to which one can attach a strap – perfect for air travel when you lack the space to stuff your panniers in your bike box and need a need a carry-on.
With Arkel’s Cam-Lock attachment system, these bags are going nowhere and will stay attached. We’ve traveled over every type of surface imaginable and I’ve even fallen a few times, but these bags stayed on securely. The thermoplastic insert prevent rattling, much to Dave’s delight and the mounts can be adjusted to fit a specific position on your rack.
The bags claim to be 100% waterproof, however we have found that’s not exactly the case given the outside pockets, so we purchased the rain covers as a preventative measure, which double as high visibility, given their bright yellow color. A bit fragile, the bags tear easily over long-term use or when brushed up against an abrasive surface.
The hefty price of $399.95 for the pair is certainly jaw dropping, however I’m convinced I’ll never have to purchase another set of touring panniers in my life. After more than a year of every day use, our Arkel GT-54s still function as they did upon arrival. The Cordura fabric is practically impenetrable and all purchases come with a lifetime guarantee. Whether headed out on a world tour like we are, or a shorter weekend trip close to home, we highly recommend the Arkel GT-54s.
Arkel generously offered to provide a giveaway of their super lightweight Dry-Lite bags to accompany this review. These fully waterproof rear rack bags are perfect for shorter tours, given their carrying capacity and design for lightness. Dave used these for well over a year and they eventually began to show wear on the inner liner, but by no means are they no longer usable or any less waterproof.
To enter the contest, enter any one of three ways through the Rafflecopter link below. Be sure to tell us where you’ll take your new panniers in the comments below! We’ll pick a winner on 8 August 2016 (WiFi permitting!). Please note that the contest is open to US and Canadian residents only.