Review: Ortlieb Frame Pack – A truly waterproof option?

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One of the great things about the increasing popularity of bikepacking is that it is no longer confined to small volume producers with long lead times. That is not to say that the original bikepacking innovators aren’t still leading the charge in terms of product development but some of the traditional touring manufacturers such as Ortlieb and Arkel are now applying their many years of experience and expertise in making high quality, well regarded kit and bringing that to the bikepacking arena. When Ortlieb announced that they were launching dedicated bikepacking luggage, I sat up and took notice.

View from above. I wonder if Pooh thinks there is honey inside?

Built to last

I’ve used several pieces of their kit over the years and have come to appreciate their almost obsessive approach to keeping my kit dry in even the worst of deluges and that their products don’t change every five minutes in line with the latest fashion. For me, good design is that which stands the test of time and results in products that aren’t considered disposable but which give many years of service. As a company, Ortlieb maintain spare part supplies for ten years. Wear it out or break it and you have the peace of mind that old faithful could soon be back up and running again. Being a fiscally prudent Scot, I like that a lot.

Wow! A product that is actually made in Europe!

Simple design, executed brilliantly

Ortlieb’s interpretation of the classic frame bag is a deceptively simple one. The bag itself is constructed entirely from waterproof material. There is only one access zip which is on the beefy side of chunky and as befits a waterproof bag, is a heavy duty waterproof one. The zip features a T toggle puller. At first sight, it looks a little overkill but unlike the allegedly waterproof zips that the outdoor industry pushed hard on their high end jackets, the Ortlieb one is genuinely waterproof. The teeth look like they would give Ben Stiller palpitations “There’s Something About Mary” style and require a bit more effort than a regular zip to pull. To stop the toggle puller from rattling against the bag in a manner that would drive you to drink after only a few minutes of riding off road, there is a neat housing to locate it in. The bag attaches to a diamond frame using supplied Velcro straps. There are multiple mounting points on the three main edges meaning that it isn’t hard to get a good fit that results in zero movement.

Neat zip housing to stop flapping.

Inside, the bag is very, errrr, bag like. Opening the zip, there is a single compartment while there are Velcro tabs on the inside surfaces which can be connected to stop the bag puffing out like a bargain hunter at an all you can eat buffet. The sides are stiffened which helps the bag to maintain its shape. Colour wise, just like Henry Ford, you can have any colour you want as long as it is grey. Soooo not like Henry Ford at all as his colour was black but you get the point.

Internal velcro strap.

Out on the trail

Fitting the large six litre bag (there is also a 4 litre bag available for £10 less for those of you who ride smaller frames) to my large Cannondale Fat Caad test bike was a fairly simple affair. In order to stop frame rub, I applied some clear Gorilla Tape to the contact points before attaching the bag with the Velcro straps. This worked well throughout the duration of the test and is a simple solution to the problem of frame rub that afflicts all frame bags when ridden loaded up over rough trails.

Strong stitch design.

Loading up the bag, I placed the heavier items in first in order to keep the weight down low while lighter items such as my synthetic jacket which I would take out and wear during mid ride stops were kept up top. Given the heavy duty nature of the zip, I opted to put my jacket in a dry bag before packing it. This wasn’t due to any concerns about the bags waterproof abilities but I didn’t fancy catching its lightweight fabric on the zip and tearing it.

So what did I manage to fit in? A full toolkit with fat bike tube, two insulated jackets, a hat, waterproof gloves, a survival bag, first aid kit, large pump, a pair of waterproof shorts and some energy bars (Do Caramel Logs count as Scottish energy bars?- Ed). That’s pretty good in my book.

All of this fitted in and more.

Thar she blows, Cap’n!

As with all frame bags, riding with the Ortlieb in a cross wind can have some, err, interesting effects. I am lucky that within a short riding distance from my home, I can be out in proper hills. On one such ride, the snow and subsequent freezing rain was blowing in so hard that when I popped my somewhat sturdy fat bike off a lip for not particularly PHAT air, I found myself blown a couple of feet sideways. I wound my neck in somewhat after that having learned my lesson! However, the ride was a stiff test for the waterproofness of the bag. After several hours of riding in what some might consider miserable conditions, I got home and was delighted to find that no water had managed to get through the bag.

See? I told you it all fitted in!

Result! Everything inside was bone dry. Sure you can use dry bags but there is something nice about riding in the knowledge that when you open your frame bag, you aren’t going to be met with a soggy mess of damp kit and sodden sandwiches which have fused into some Cronenbergian nightmare. Trust me, experience has taught me that water, tuna mayonnaise pieces (that’s piece in the Glasgow sandwich sense – Ed) and down sleeping bags do not make good bedfellows!

Quick, Smithers! The hose!

In the interests of science, I zipped up the bag and then set about attacking it with my garden hose for a good fifteen minutes as I endeavoured to dislodge the frozen mud, dog poo and general clart off my bike. Would it keep the water out, you ask? Hell yeah! I know waterproof bags aren’t sexy or exciting but damn, I was smiling. No more wet kit! Hurrah!

Perfect fit..

I happily used the bag for several months until I managed to break the zipper when trying to close the bag. Now I should have stopped pulling when the zip felt stiff but not being one for putting common sense before brute strength and ignorance, I tugged at the zip toggle and managed to break it. On reflection, had I taken the time to check the jacket which in retrospect must have snagged on the inside of the zipper, this would never have happened.  I really am an ejit sometimes. Thankfully, the good people at Lyon Equipment (Ortlieb’s UK Distributor) were very understanding and supplied me with a new bag for the remainder of the test. They also offer a repair service for when you do something stupid like put your bag too near a lit candle. Not that I’ve ever done that with kit. No sir, not me! Since then, I’ve experienced no issues whatsoever. Other than the odd smear of silicon based spray on the zip to keep things running smoothly, I’ve had no issues whatsoever.

Rain, hail, sleet, snow and hose proof too!.

Conclusion

In summary, the Ortlieb frame bag does exactly what it says on the tin. You could almost accuse it of being dull in its efficiency. Kit stays dry, it’s light at only 229 grams including the Velcro straps, it fits securely to the frame and it cleans up really easily. Put simply, it works. The only downside is that having experienced the joy of a properly waterproof frame bag, my own water resistant number no longer gets a look in.

Simple but brilliant, as they used to say in the Tefal adverts.

Looking for something a little smaller? We have a selection of small frame packs, bum bags and riding packs in our grouptest in Issue 118 of Singletrack Magazine.

Review Info

Brand:Ortlieb
Product:Frame Pack
From:www.lyon.co.uk
Price:Large £99.99 (tested), small £89.99
Tested:by Sanny for 10 months

Comments (7)

  1. That ain’t no Cannondale in the pictures, it’s a Surly Ice Cream Trucker.

  2. Correctomundo!

    I have both and it fitted on both. The Surly was to hand when I took the pics.

    Or maybe it is the Cannondale but in your mind the only fat bikes worth having are Surlys and those are all you see? Kinda like the kid in The Sixth Sense but with bikes instead of dead people….so not like The Sixth Sense at all then! Who knows!

    Cheers

    Sanny

  3. Agree fully with the review. I have had the large one since it came out last year, and have been perfectly happy. As well as with Ortlieb in general – I have 2 pairs of pannier bags, 3 sets of handlebar bags, two backpacks and a pile of dry bags from them. Nothing has broken so far – the panniers are more than 7 years old and see daily use. One backpack ripped from the bottom, and Ortlieb replaced it with a new one even though I had no receipt and it was at least 5 years old. Can recommend and will buy in the future.

  4. What is the mud guard on the rear of the surly? Thanks

  5. Rear guard looks like a mudhugger?

  6. You could carry a heck of a lot of jelly babies in there Sanstah!

  7. All there is in there IS jelly babies!

    The mudguard is a Mudhugger 29er which I applied a bit of heat to widen it. It works brilliantly!

    Cheers

    Sanny

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