If you need to carry lots of stuff under your saddle for bikepacking or commuting, the Altura Vortex Seatpack is light, waterproof and very good value for money. You need to be careful how you set it up to get the best out of it though.
The Vortex is made from waterproof seam-welded polyurethane/nylon fabric. A broad Velcro closure holds it snugly against your seat post and webbing straps attach it to your saddle rails. It tapers to fit against your seat tube and a roll-up closure seals out the elements.
Altura claims a capacity of approximately 12 litres and there are lash points on the top if you want to attach more stuff to the outside; they'd be a good spot for something you want to get at quickly, like a jacket. There are also slots on the underside so you can strap stuff there too, and there's a loop for a rear light since you're unlikely to have any space left on the seat tube for one.
It's impressively waterproof. After several minutes' direct assault with the hose the contents were still bone dry. To give it a serious test (and measure the capacity while I was at it) I filled it with water. There was a trickle from one seam. In theory rain could get in there, but in practice the pressure from inside a bag full of water will be far more than exerted by rain from the outside. I'd still be tempted to use a drybag for anything I really needed to stay dry. Belt, braces.
Altura claims a capacity of approximately twelve litres, but I was only able to persuade it to take about seven litres of water. It's harder to fill a bag like this with water than with, say, clothes so you'd likely get another litre or two of stuff in there, but twelve litres is optimistic.
Still, eight or nine litres is a fairly big saddlebag. There's room for a change of lightweight clothes and a pair of Cons, so it fits the bill as a commuting bag if your workplace is fairly informal. Hedge fund managers and members of the Queen's Guards will have to look elsewhere.
I do like a big saddle bag. A few years ago I was riding the Hot Chillee London to Paris with an Altura Night Vision seat pack on my bike. I didn't need it for a fully-supported ride, but I used it for carrying a jacket and first aid kit on club rides and hadn't thought to take it off for the London to Paris. As I climbed one of the many short hills on the last leg of the ride I realised another rider had caught me up. A soft Irish accent asked me: 'Is that saddle bag big enough?'
I looked round to discover I was being gently dissed by 1987 Giro, Tour de France, and world championship winner Stephen Roche. It was a proper 'I am not worthy' moment. I bet Roche never rides with a big geeky saddlebag.
I've used that same seatpack for commuting, and for lightweight weekend touring before mass-market bikepacking luggage was a thing, but it's not perfect. For a start it's heavy, and while I'm not exactly svelte myself, I don't see any need to be lugging around unnecessary on-bike weight. And as David Else noted when he reviewed the Night Vision pack, it does tend to swing around when you get out of the saddle.
The Vortex doesn't sway, as long as you pack it properly. In fact I didn't notice it was there on my test rides. It simply sat under the saddle, stuffed with an old and not-at-all-lightweight Gore-Tex jacket, a gilet, armwarmers, spare tubes, a tool roll and snacks. I was ready for anything short of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un lobbing nukes at each other.
However, it's a bit awkward to load because it's quite narrow at the front where it butts against your seatpost. If you don't fill this area well, the Vortex is quite floppy. You want to get something very 'crammable' in first to fill out that section, and that something has to be an item you're not going to need on the road.
It also ends up a bit floppy if you just run the straps over your saddle rails. I gave them all an extra turn round the rails and that stabilised the bag well.
None of this is immediately obvious. I went looking for ways to stabilise the Vortex after initially putting it on my bike and thinking 'this is going to be a bit floppy'. User comments on various websites suggest adding an extra bungee cord to keep it steady.
Once it's in place it's easy enough to pop the buckles and get at the contents, though if you take too much out, you're in Floppy County again. That floppiness is noticeable if you waggle the bag when you're not riding, but when you're actually on the bike you can't really tell.
This is all a somewhat unavoidable result of the design. The Vortex is commendably light, but the weight has been kept down by a combination of thin fabric and very little internal stiffening. That's why it's floppy, but the fabric is soft enough that it's not noisy when it waggles. I can live with a bit of silent wobbling. Your milage may vary.
Large waterproof seatpack for bikepacking, commuting and winter riding, slightly let down by design quirks
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Altura Vortex Seatpack
Size tested: Dimensions: 44 x 20 x 20cm, Volume: Approx 12 Litres
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Engineered to fit around the seatpost whilst providing adjustability for different seat configurations this lightweight, and fully waterproof Altura Vortex Seatpack is the ideal way to carry gear on the frame when bike packing or commuting.
Er, Altura also says "This is the smaller seatpack in the range, but has plenty of features." But that appears to have been copied and pasted from the description of the Vortex Compact which is indeed, er, smaller. Of the two Vortex packs (Vortices?) this is the big one.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Altura Shield™ technology delivers water and wind protection
* Welded seam construction
* Roll top closure
* Hook & loop wrap mounting system
* Hyperlon reinforced areas
* Top lash points
* Kross side release buckles
* Reflective detail
Volume: Approx 12 Litres
Fabric: 210D Nylon RS TPU
Dimensions: 44 x 20 x 20cm
Seams and strap attachments are all tidily done.
It does what it's supposed to, but it's a bit of a let-down that you have to faff around wrapping the straps round the saddle rails to steady it, and that you have to cram stuff into the nose to keep it stable.
This is one of the less expensive large bikepacking seatpacks, so it's decent value for money if you can live with its quirks.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
It holds stuff under your seatpost and you can cram in plenty of gear.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Its low weght, looks and generally tidy design.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Needing to stuff somwthing into the pointy end to keep it stable.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes (I mean, insofar as anyone *enjoys* using a seatpack)
Would you consider buying the product? I'd likely go for something less idiosyncratic
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, but with caveats about its quirks
Use this box to explain your score
Upside: The Vortex is light, waterproof and carries a decent amount of stuff, making it suitable as a winter seatpack for carrying a jacket and the like, for commuting or as part of a bikepacking luggage ensemble.
Downside: The skinny nose means you have to pack it carefully and overall it's a bit floppy.
A roomier nose and a bit more stiffening would earn it another star, but it still rates 'above average' for being light and waterproof.
About the tester
I usually ride: Scapin Style My best bike is:
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, touring, club rides, general fitness riding, mtb,
Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.
Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.
Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.
The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.