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ADV Products10 Reasons Why I Ride With Soft Luggage

10 Reasons Why I Ride With Soft Luggage

There are a lot more benefits to soft bags than just carrying your stuff.

Published on 02.25.2019
Still on the fence about what kind of luggage to use? Hard and soft luggage both have their advantages and disadvantages, but here are 10 good reasons to embrace the soft side of the debate:

1. Big or Small, Same Bags

Advantages of Soft Luggage

There’s a limit to how much you can stuff into any bag, of course. But soft bags expand and contract with the load. Just carrying a few things for a day trip? Roll the top down a couple extra times and they compress. Out for a couple weeks? Do the opposite and you’ve got more space. This also comes in handy when you find something on the road you just have to bring home with you, though as we note below, exercise self-restraint. Weight is not your friend.

2. The Soft Side

Advantages of Soft Luggage


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When the going gets tough and the tough starts falling over, the last thing you want is a leg pinned under a hard case. Also, think of all the times you’ve caught a foot on something in slow going, or left one planted just a little too long while paddling in deep sand, and had your leg jerked backwards into your luggage. That’s painful with soft luggage, but potentially a broken bone or twisted ankle with hard cases.

3. Exterior Pockets

Advantages of Soft Luggage

Many soft luggage systems have pockets to carry items conveniently outside the bag itself, things like wet clothing, sandals, a quart of oil, etc. That’s also great for carrying stuff you need to access quickly, like rain gear or water bottles.

4. Travel Light

Advantages of Soft Luggage

As an adventure-riding philosophy, it’s a good idea to embrace minimalism. You can ride a heavily-loaded bike off the pavement, people do it all the time, but it just isn’t as much fun as riding a lighter bike. Soft bags are lighter than hard bags to begin with and some don’t require racks, saving more weight.

5. Sweet Dreams

Advantages of Soft Luggage

If you take traveling light to the extreme and decide to jettison your pillow, a soft bag makes a nice substitute. Just fill it with some soft stuff (your clothes, for example), scrunch it up and off to dream land you go.

6. Handy Camp Mat

Advantages of Soft Luggage

Use one as a doormat to keep your tent from getting dirty. Turn your bike’s front wheel all the way to the stop, throw your soft bag down in front of it and you’ve got a reclining seat that will keep your pants dry and clean, and you can leave the camp chair at home.

7. On Foot

Advantages of Soft Luggage

Soft luggage can double as a backpack when you’re spending time off the bike. Some brands even come with arm straps for this purpose, which makes them great as carry-on airplane bags, a convenient way to move stuff from your bike to a hotel room or tent, or as way to carry your lunch and a camera on a hike. If worse comes to worse and you have to walk out of the bush with only what you can carry, would you rather have a soft bag or an aluminum case strapped to your back?

8. Lane Splitting

Advantages of Soft Luggage

If you are lucky enough to ride in a place where lane splitting and filtering are legal, or at least tolerated, the lower profile of most soft bags is your friend. Some, but not all, hard cases are wider than an adventure bike’s handlebars, a situation that would make riding between slower cars interesting to say the least. You’re also likely to cause less damage if you do accidentally brush up against a car with soft bag versus aluminum cases.

9. Easy Storage

Advantages of Soft Luggage

When not on the bike, soft luggage takes up less space in the garage or closet. Just fold it up and tuck them on a shelf or in a corner. Hard cases are the same size on and off the bike: big.

10. Cost

Advantages of Soft Luggage

Last but certainly not least, soft bags are generally less expensive than a hard case system, meaning more money in your pocket to extend that trip, buy that extra farkle, upgrade your riding gear or just save for a rainy (non-riding) day.

How else have you reaped the benefits of soft bags or gotten creative in finding different uses? Share your own tips in the comments below!

Photos by Stephen Gregory and Spencer Hill

Author: Bob Whitby

Bob has been riding motorcycles since age 19 and working as a journalist since he was 24, which was a long time ago, let’s put it that way. He quit for the better part of a decade to raise a family, then rediscovered adventure, dual sport and enduro riding in the early 2000s. He lives in Arkansas, America’s best-kept secret when it comes to riding destinations, and travels far and wide in search of dirt roads and trails.

Author: Bob Whitby
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Steve
Steve
February 25, 2019 11:47 am

Offering up a reason that if you’re lane splitting, soft bags won’t do as much damage is baloney. You just scratched up someone’s car with your irresponsible riding and probably still have someone doing 110MPH down the highway to catch you and run your ass off the road if you left the scene. Ride responsibly, be safe, the life you save might be your own.

Mario P.
Mario P.
February 25, 2019 12:03 pm
Reply to  Steve

Dude, First of all why are you equating lane splitting with riding irresponsibly? The point is soft bags are generally less wide and therefore you have more room on the sides. And really, even if you are careful accidents can happen. smh.

Gritboy
Gritboy
April 2, 2019 11:27 am
Reply to  Steve

Lane-splitting in CA and UT is legal because it’s been proven to be safer for riders and improve traffic flow. It’s not irresponsible, unless the rider is riding foolishly.

Freewheelings
Freewheelings
April 7, 2019 2:20 pm
Reply to  Steve

You should get out more

Adam B
Adam B
February 25, 2019 11:48 am

I feel like, if you brushed a car with bags, you’re going to scratch it anyway. Especially with the hardware on some of them. The car would probably want you to stop and share insurance info anyway.

wfo75080
wfo75080
February 25, 2019 1:32 pm

Nice article. Makes me feel that much better about my soft bag(s) purchase. I think they will cushion those falls better than those cabinets bolted to the back end of the bike too.

Martin Ridgeway
Martin Ridgeway
February 26, 2019 5:46 am

I’m a big fan of soft luggage. The only downside is that it isn’t as secure. Read about Ted Simon’s 2nd around the world trip where he breaks his leg in Africa and spends 6 weeks laid up do to his hard luggage landing on his leg in a mud hole.

Eric Altman
Eric Altman
February 26, 2019 1:46 pm

Just get security mesh for soft luggage to make it more secure. Anyone with a screwdriver can open a hard box anyway.

wfo75080
wfo75080
February 26, 2019 6:58 am

On a side note: Did the guy in pic # 3 (Triumph) save that or did he take a soil sample.

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
February 26, 2019 1:37 pm
Reply to  wfo75080

Let’s just say he found a few pennies ;D

Steven
Steven
February 27, 2019 6:12 am

Great article. I love the look of soft luggage and its practicality. My bike came with hard luggage so its hard to transition to soft given convienience.
I dont think hard luggage is more secure than soft. Theives will always find a way to take your stuff if they want it bad enough.
The benefits of soft lugagge in my opinion are more than hard luggage.

Chris
Chris
March 4, 2019 1:31 am

I’m in the soft bag camp also, but this more from the sport-touring side. To be honest, trying to find hard cases that don’t cost a ridiculous amount for a bmw k1200RS is nuts!!
I’ve been using Cortech/Tourmaster sport bags/tail bag for years with good results.
Expandable, very secure at speed(!!), rain covers are plenty good when properly secured. I’ve done several week rides with a addition of a Firstgear 25L torrent duffel
Strapped on top. Very versatile set up.

Stephan Boatin
Stephan Boatin
March 4, 2019 1:50 pm

How do deal with security using soft bags? Hard bags hide stuff and lock. Is there a way to do this with soft bags?

Eric Altman
Eric Altman
March 4, 2019 9:35 pm
Reply to  Stephan Boatin

@Stephan, security mesh, like PacSafe for example, works great.

Mark
Mark
November 9, 2022 7:40 am
Reply to  Stephan Boatin

Mosko Moto has cable locksnforntheir bags.

Mark
Mark
November 9, 2022 7:41 am
Reply to  Stephan Boatin

Mosko Moto has cable locks for their bags.

Kyle
Kyle
March 5, 2019 6:05 am

Soft bags have built in cushioning too, so everything inside doesn’t get jolted and vibrated to a breaking point or leaking point. And yeah, they don’t hurt as much when you fall over and the bike lands on your leg.

ADV Pulse
ADV Pulse
March 5, 2019 10:39 am
Reply to  Kyle

It’s a lot safer to carry beer in soft bags. That’s for sure. 😉

Paul Girard
Paul Girard
March 8, 2019 10:32 am

Great article. Keep these coming. I too am a big fan of soft luggage. I’ve never had people steal from me so I guess I’m lucky.

Chris Presley
Chris Presley
April 2, 2019 10:47 am

I think you missed an important benefit. If you ride with partially full hard bags, off road, whatever is inside gets smashed to bits and or leaks everywhere. I’ve lost a tube of JB Weld as well as a monster that way. Both make a helluva mess.
Soft bags, esp the kind with extra cynching straps don’t do this.

Great article.

mike thompson
mike thompson
April 2, 2019 11:14 am

Well that could have been condensed to 5 reasons. here’s why…
Exterior pockets: tank or tail bags (usually soft) fill that need.
Sweet dreams: Just what I want at night, a mud and dust encrusted pillow to lay my head on.
Handy camp mat: unpack all my tools, clothes, food and spare parts every night and leave them where? just so I can wipe my feet on my soft luggage before entering my tent?
On foot: The reason I travel by motorcycle is so I don’t have to walk and once again unpacking everything to leave in the public eye so I can convert soft luggage to a daypack to wander up a foot path?
Lane splitting: Only legal in two states, so this is a big reach here and can’t be considered a benefit. Also if you “brush up’ against a car it doesn’t matter the damage as your going to be reported and in a bind because you are a motorcyclist and lane splitting.
Soft luggage is fine but we don’t have to invent reasons or uses to justify it.

Gritboy
Gritboy
April 2, 2019 11:29 am

I much prefer soft bags for on and off-road use, though I’ll admit hard cases are easier to uses for day-to-day and security.

Gary Howard
Gary Howard
April 3, 2019 7:53 am

Good points all. Traveling internationally, however, the lockability of hard cases is essential to prevent theft. Hard cases also provide more reliable waterproofing during rainy seasons. During a hard fall, hard cases provide better protection to the contents and can even make it easier to lift the bike back up. Other than that though, soft luggage is the way to go.

Charlie McFly
Charlie McFly
June 19, 2020 9:12 am
Reply to  Gary Howard

I have hard cases and maaaaan stuff inside gets wet… Also hard cases can break the frame of the bike, soft cases absorb impacts better. And, yes, any thief can open hard cases.

Albert Petersen
Albert Petersen
April 3, 2019 8:28 am

In Alaska I was reassured that my hard case Jesse panniers would ward off any bear incursions while camping. Add the locking details when stopped for a bite or shopping etc. I will never give up my Helinox chair to sit on the ground no matter what is under my butt!

Jeff
Jeff
November 9, 2022 8:09 am

There’s a few other reasons. Laying down a bike with soft bags can save a limb or life. Ain’t fun smacking your lower leg into a Givi box when your foot bounces off the ground/pavement.
Also running a line through the woods is easier. Soft luggage is less subjective to crosswinds too.
I have Mosko Moto’s 35 Backcountry panniers. I’ve two 40ltr Backcountry duffle bags and the Nomax tank bag. My favorite though is the 30 ltr duffle. That bag is so sweet I keep it on the bike always.

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