February 09, 2024

10 Must-Have Features in a Reflective Motorcycle Backpack

10 Must-Have Features in a Reflective Motorcycle Backpack

10 Must-Have Features in a Reflective Motorcycle Backpack

Whether you’re a daily commuter riding to work or a weekend warrior getting your twisty fix on your off days, a motorcycle backpack is one of the most useful pieces of gear you can add to your quiver. Street-savvy riders know that a good riding bag should double as a versatile piece of safety equipment, which is why reflective motorcycle backpacks have become popular over the last several years.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take much for a motorcycle backpack to “qualify” as reflective nowadays, and we’ve found that even bags from the most celebrated manufacturers often come up short on safety. To that end, we’ve put together what we believe to be the ten commandments every proper commuter bag should follow.

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1: Retroreflective Materials

Starting with the obvious, every reflective motorcycle backpack needs retroreflective materials. Notice that we didn’t say “reflective materials” here: there’s an important difference between the two.

Retroreflective materials have special properties that allow them to reflect light directly back at its source regardless of angle. Reflective materials, on teh other hand, simply bounce light off in a single direction like a mirror. Choosing a pack with retroreflective materials increases your visibility from all angles rather than just a single direction, greatly enhancing your overall safety.

2: High Visibility Colors

While retroreflective materials reign supreme after dark, daytime visibility requires a different remedy. That’s where high visibility (often abbreviated “high-vis”) colors come into play.

High visibility colors work by reflecting a larger spectrum of light than traditional non-fluorescent colors (UV light, specifically), making them much more striking to the human eye. We’re talking about a 100%-200% overall increase in visibility here, so this feature shouldn’t be taken lightly.

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3: Surface Area

While many motorcycle backpacks incorporate a handful of reflective “details” into their construction, a few small strips or squares of the stuff isn’t going to do you much good. Consider the vests you see construction crews wear for road work: almost every square inch of these garments is either bright orange or highly reflective.

The same should apply to backpacks. The ideal commuter bag should have as much surface area as possible occupied by either high-vis or retroreflective materials. Anything less is more fashion than function, and shouldn’t make the cut if safety is what you’re after.

4: Weather Protection

Nobody likes riding in the rain, but if you ride anywhere outside of sunny southern California, you’re going to get wet eventually. To that end, we believe any motorcycle backpack worth owning should keep your gear dry and protected, especially if you ride with expensive electronics like laptops and tablets.

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Weather protection comes in one of two forms: Permanent, integrated weatherproofing and removable external pack covers. Both forms get the job done, but personally, we prefer a good external pack cover as they’re made from 100% waterproof materials and are almost always easier on the wallet as well.

5: Rider Protection

While highly visible materials help prevent collisions from occurring, we all know that motorcycling is inherently dangerous and accidents do happen.  Distracted drivers, road debris, and high-speed blow-outs are just a few of the things we riders have no control over, which is why we recommend looking for a backpack that provides both utility and protection for your body.

The best example of this we’ve found is riding backpacks with integrated back protectors. The efficacy of CE-certified back protectors has been well documented at this point, and adding one to your commuter bag adds a degree of protection regardless of what kind of clothes you choose to ride in.

6: Electronics Storage

Like it or not, most of us carry some form of electronics with us everywhere we go nowadays. Laptops, tablets, and smartphones have come a long way over the years, but despite the latest marketing claims, their screens seem to be just as breakable as ever.

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That’s why we highly recommend choosing a motorcycle backpack with protective, padded storage for your laptops and other devices. You shouldn’t have to worry about destroying a $1000+ computer every time you set your bag down or stash it away, so a secure, padded interior pocket is a must.

7: Helmet Storage

Out of all the things you carry on your bike, the single bulkiest piece of gear you own isn’t something you put in your pack, it’s what you wear on your head. Helmet storage is an often overlooked feature in many motorcycle backpacks, but once you’ve parked and it’s time to explore on foot, you’ll need somewhere to stash your lid.

Helmets are among the most commonly stolen items on a parked motorcycle (trust us, we’ve had our fair share stolen on the street). Rather than simply hanging your helmet on your handlebars or “locking it” under your seat (helmet locks are easily cut with even the smallest hand tools), a good motorcycle backpack will include an exterior helmet sling, allowing you to lash your helmet to your pack without occupying any of your bag’s interior space.

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8: Secure Straps

Riding a motorcycle means constantly battling headwinds, and the faster you go, the stronger those forces become. Basic shoulder straps simply can’t provide the stability you need to keep your bag from shifting or bouncing on the move, which is why either a harness-style system or an adjustable sternum strap is a must.

By linking the shoulder straps together across your chest, you add stability to your pack by spreading out the load. In the case of the sternum strap, you’re also adding additional adjustability to fine-tune the width of the straps to accommodate your shoulder and torso width, so this design is our preference given the option. 

9: Ventilation

Riding a motorcycle can be sweaty business. Whether it's heat from the sun, hot exhaust pipes, or a combination of both cooking you in stop-and-go traffic, it seems we’re always fighting that river of sweat running down our back as we move from A to B.

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That’s where a well-ventilated motorcycle backpack becomes crucial. Look for bags with thick 3D mesh incorporated into the padding at both the back and shoulders, as well as large, open channels down the spine of the backpack which help to evaporate moisture even when your bag is fully loaded down.

10: Adjustable Volume

Last but not least, any backpack worth having should incorporate some degree of volume adjustability. This typically comes in the form of adjustable straps at the sides and/or top of a motorcycle backpack, which are crucial for a comfortable and stable ride.

Adjustable volume straps remove the need for us to choose between a smaller, more “efficient” bag for days we’re carrying less stuff and a larger, more capable bag for rides requiring more gear like extra layers for insulation and rain protection. They also help to keep whatever gear we ride with from flopping around inside the bag as we move around on the bike, which can be a godsend for more spirited riders.

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