Alpkit Toploader bar bag

Alpkit Toploader

Whether you call them burrito bags, handlebar bags or just bar bags, the trend is to shift your kit from the back of the bike to the front. Or, is it more than that?

With plenty of room for sandwiches and a flask, Alpkit’s Toploader is a great way to keep all your essentials on your bike and ready to go or extend your range without cramming your jersey pockets to bursting.

Available in one size (4 litres), three colour options and made from a water-resistant, rip-proof material complete with waterproof zip and a bright liner. The Toploader offers flexibility at an agreeable price point.

If your Instagram is like mine, then you won’t have missed the boom in the popularity of this style of bag. Whether a slick aero ride or a knobbly trail basher, those drop bars will be adorned with a ‘burrito bag’.  I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about.

Burrito Bags – an overview

Occupying the space between minimalist saddle packs and maximalist bike packing bags – being neither one thing nor the other, burrito bags are a compromised version of the best of both worlds. That might be exactly what you want, at least some of the time.

They are, however, easy to switch between bikes, offer a reasonable amount of volume without inviting overpacking, and can be quickly removed if you need to leave your bike locked somewhere.

Importantly, they allow you to carry sharp (keys and multi-tools), valuable (wallet) or delicate (phone) things in one safe location.  The ‘pros’ might carry things in their rear pockets, but I’d rather not take a tumble with sharp or expensive items against my back.

It’s not just the shape that gives these bar bags their name

Just like the food wrap, these bags are simple to make and easy to customise to suit the owner’s tastes.  There are loads of boutique brands offering customisable options.

It’s worth taking your time and deciding what your needs actually are, as some burrito bags might be more suited to one application than another. Smaller bags might appeal more to road riders, with bigger bags possibly appealing to those riding off-road or staying out longer.

If you happen to buck that trend thats fine, there aren’t any rules on gravel.

Alpkit Toploader bar bag on a desk

Fresh from the box and still showroom fresh

The Alpkit Toploader

The Toploader arrived directly from Alpkit in minimal packaging. Everything that was used to post it, was compostable and it is really comforting to see a brand like Alpkit are so focussed on sustainability.

The bag itself is semi-rigid, with the form being provided by the materials used in construction.  There’s a simple ‘T-rail’ to attach the bag to your bars using the Velcro loops provided, with the lower loop providing stability for bumpy trails. I found this wasn’t really necessary when road riding, but I replaced the lower Velcro loop with a piece of bungee cord for stability off-road.

The main compartment is accessible by a full-length waterproof zip and at each end, there is a small mesh pocket. At first, these seemed like a great idea, but I haven’t used them as much as I thought I would. I wouldn’t consider them a make-or-break feature in future.

Inside, a bright red contrast-liner makes finding things that little bit easier. I just wish there was a security pocket or clip for keys for that extra peace of mind.

Toploader out in the wild

Plenty of room for a thermos for hot food or drink to help you stay out longer.

Turn the volume up

4 litres is a good amount of space and I’ve been able to ride with all my repair kit, spare tubes, a thermos and buff and still have room to put my iPhone in there too.  Depending on your priorities, you could put a waterproof in there, or more food, a bigger camera etc.

Talking of cameras, the bag is reasonably padded, but you still might want to be cautious if you’re carrying an expensive camera. However, most things you’re likely to carry on a ride should be well protected.

Overall, the construction is sound and the materials used are of high quality. This is a well-made bag that should, with reasonable care, last well.

Pacman

With a full zip, red liner and T-Bar for attaching it to the bars, the Toploader is ready to rock.

Unforeseen benefits

I had thought the easy access would be the biggest advantage, but I actually prefer to stop and access stuff – it’s just safer, especially off-road.

For me, the main advantage is that it’s positioned out of the worst of the mud and road crud.  You will get a bit of splatter, but it won’t end up plastered like a bag positioned under your saddle. Anyone who has had to re-pack a wet and filthy saddle pack will appreciate this.

A bikepackers kit grid

Plenty of space for all you might need out for a long day.

Weatherproofness

My Alpkit Toploader has been out in all weathers and I’ve not yet had any water ingress. I suspect the material will eventually leak, but it’s taken some big downpours without failure, which is promising.

Area for improvement

These are lightweight bags without any kind of frame, so unless you pack them full, they can…well…sag. This is a common complaint with burrito bags and is not, therefore, unique to the Toploader.

This problem is even worse if you only have a few small, but heavy items in the bag. If you don’t have a lot of clearance between bars and tyre to begin with, this could quickly become a more abrasive problem.

A simple stick

To counter the sag, I would love to see either an envelope in the liner that you could slide a piece of light plastic in to give more rigidity or a couple of sleeves on the outside that would take a piece of wooden dowel. The wooden dowel approach is one that Carradice has used to good effect.

Off on a bike ride

Sustainability

This is where Alpkit really stands out. The Toploader is a good bar bag, that is well made and Alpkit back that up with a 25 year ‘Alpine Bond’ against material and workmanship defects. Yes, 25 years – I can’t think of anything else that comes with a 25-year warranty!

Alpkit produces an annual sustainability report, they’re B-Corp certified, members of the Living Wage Foundation and have their own charitable foundation. No single-use plastic was used to send me the bag and they intended the product to be repairable – one of the only things left to improve on this product would be to use recycled or reclaimed materials in its construction. I’m sure that’s something they’re looking at given their recently released Kanyo – recycled, insulated jacket.

In my view, this is a great bag and at £34.99, at a price that should make it accessible to many. Made with high-quality materials it will, with a little care, help you ride that little bit further for many a year to come.

Alec is a serial biker, having dabbled in road, TT, mountain biking and gravel. If he's not riding, or dreaming of riding, he can be found in the shed tinkering…

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