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Sorry if this has been hashed out before, my searches turned up a lot of non-relevant results.

I'd like to get my feet wet with bikepacking and it looks like the trend out back is to use a saddle bag instead of a rear rack with panniers and/or bag. The saddle bags are a hip-looking solution but I'm wondering about having the weight carried high - and mostly whether it'd sway.

Is the weight of a rack the chief criticism? Is having panniers being caught by tight brush a valid concern? If so, what about having a single bag (with more capacity than a saddle bag) lashed to the top of the rack? The center of gravity would only be marginally lower than a saddle bag, but there would be zero sway.
And if it's relevant, this would be for use on a hardtail plus bike.
 

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saddlemeat
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Racks and panniers will make it hard to negotiate narrow singletrack and bushwack. A seat pack is preferable because it is tucked up high behind you. A single bag lashed to a rack would be better than panniers. If you are riding roads no problem with traditional touring gear.
 

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If so, what about having a single bag (with more capacity than a saddle bag) lashed to the top of the rack? The center of gravity would only be marginally lower than a saddle bag, but there would be zero sway.
And if it's relevant, this would be for use on a hardtail plus bike.


Your idea will work great and has been used by lots of people including myself. This bike is Skyler's I just grabbed his photos to illustrate how well this works with a dropper.

https://bikepacking.com/bikes/daambuilt-custom-bikepacking-rig/



If you want to use a dropper I think this approach is superior to a bag attached to the saddle. If you are using a rigid post I think seatbag vs. rack with dry bag on top is pretty much a wash as there are pros and cons for both options that even things out.

FWIW - my comments reflect use with a hardtail for bikepacking.
 

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Bear Bait
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Many shorter riders don't have a choice, since there isn't much room between the seat and tire. The two main complaints are:
1) weight
2) the general rattley-ness of panniers
However, there are a number of smallish soft mounted panniers that are SUPER durable, not too wide, and a really great way to haul stuff on your bike. Take a look at the Revelate Micro Panniers for example.

I'm not short (I ride a medium) but with a mid-travel full suspension bike and a dropper, I have only about 2-3 inches of clearance between my seat rails and the tire, at full compression. I'm setting my bike up with a Thule strap on rack for hauling gear on my next big international trip. I'm going to try to keep the weight minimal, but I can't fit it all into a backpack...
 

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"Is the weight of a rack the chief criticism?"

Weight as well as does the frame have eyelet mounting points. You can cobble together clamps for racks, but somewhat frame dependent as a rear disc make that problematic. An HT designed for rack installation (Soma steel mt. bikes as example) have rack and fender eyelets and use disc brakes.

"Is having panniers being caught by tight brush a valid concern?"

Sometimes, and trail design dependent. Riding lots of ST in the east ?, than more bushes to deal with. Riding gravel roads in Arizona ?, not so much.

"If so, what about having a single bag (with more capacity than a saddle bag) lashed to the top of the rack? The center of gravity would only be marginally lower than a saddle bag, but there would be zero sway."

If going with a single rear bag on top of a metal rack, might as well get an underseat bag, it'll be near same size unless you are using a huge duffel. A huge duffel packed full on a rear rack is likely as top heavy as a bag mounted slightly higher.

The trend in pannier design for touring bikes has been higher mounting to allow the bags to clear the rear derailer as well as reduce heal strikes. Panniers are typically larger capacity so you can carry a ton of crap, but one of the concepts of bike packing with h-bar, underseat and triangle bags is to also use gear that is lighter and less bulky than what a self supported road touring bike carries.
 

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Rack with a bag, and maybe some small/mini panniers works for me. Allows use of a suspension seat post or dropper post without problems.
The Wall???? If so, my wife and I should be there in about 8 days with our mountain tandem.

As to the OP question.
IMHO...More places to store stuff means that you will take more stuff. Stuff = weight which makes for much slower travel.
We've used a rack on our tandem and it worked well enough for a weekend road trip on the road.
For bikepacking though, I like as minimal as possible. My primary bikepacking rig shown below uses a Rogue Panda Picketpost seat bag. It sits in a more vertical manner but can carry a lot of gear without any wobble. Sadly, I think that Nick and crew stopped making them. Before settling on the PP, I had looked at the Porcelain Rocket as mentioned somewhere above. With the post clamp, wobble is minimized. Much of my riding is not single track and the wobble that a good cadence can cause with a looser seat bag is not something that I like.

Bicycle tire Tire Wheel Bicycle frame Bicycle wheel
 

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I have done the dry bag on a rack setup. The big advantage of it was that I already owned a rack and didn't want to shell out the money for a saddlebag.

Now that I have shelled out the money for a saddlebag, I see no reason to put the rack back on unless I'm going to use panniers.

If you are starting from the beginning, choosing between a rack vs. saddlebag would be a choice worth researching. It'll come down to what sort of riding you most want to do—also, most racks are cheaper than saddlebags, and are more versatile (although of course then good panniers cost a bunch more money).
 

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saddlemeat
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I have done the dry bag on a rack setup. The big advantage of it was that I already owned a rack and didn't want to shell out the money for a saddlebag.

Now that I have shelled out the money for a saddlebag, I see no reason to put the rack back on unless I'm going to use panniers.

If you are starting from the beginning, choosing between a rack vs. saddlebag would be a choice worth researching. It'll come down to what sort of riding you most want to do-also, most racks are cheaper than saddlebags, and are more versatile (although of course then good panniers cost a bunch more money).
This pretty much sums it up. I like my RP Picket Post, plenty of room, very secure, no hint of wobble. Bike is cleaner too...
 

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One not-oft mentioned benefit to the rack with bag on top is that -- depending on bag chosen -- it can be much easier to get at stuff during the day compared to a saddle bag.

I like saddle bags and use them more than any other setup. But I also make a point of only packing stuff into them that I'm going to need once I arrive at camp.

If I'm using a rack top bag, I choose a bag that has a zipper access so that I can get in and out of it as often as needed without hassle. Like this:

Tire Bicycle tire Wheel Bicycle wheel rim Bicycle wheel
 
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