Stem bags might seem simple at first glance, but these little handlebar-mounted holders can be a marvel of engineering. Who knew carrying snacks and sunglasses required such precision?
Whether you need to stash an extra water bottle on your road bike, carry a coffee on your commuter, or haul jumbo-size bags of gummy bears on your bikepacking rig, stem bags are amazing at containing all the odds and ends you need close at hand while riding.
Personally, I mostly use stem bags for bikepacking. I run two at a time and use them for everything from water bottles and snacks to my sunglasses, phone, power bank, gloves, or the occasional cup of coffee (not all at the same time, usually). When riding unloaded I still keep at least one stem bag mounted. They’re just so handy that I don’t know what I’d do without them.
For such a small piece of gear, stem bags can be surprisingly expensive! I started with two $10 climbing chalk bags, which actually worked well for thousands of miles. Since then I’ve upgraded here and there while outfitting a new bike, and over time I’ve found myself trying newer and nicer models. Today I run everything from an original $10 chalk bag to my fancy Revelate feed bags, sometimes at the same time.
So are the expensive ones worth it? In this collection of stem bag mini-reviews I’ll explain what you get for the money and why you might care.
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Stem Bag Summary
Here are the stem bag models covered below:
- Drawstring “Highend” Rock Climbing Chalk Bag – $12 (best budget option)
- kemimoto Bike Cup Holder – $17
- Moosetreks Stem Bag – $28
- REI Co-op Junction Stem Bag – $30 – (best mid-range option)
- Blackburn Carryall – $34
- Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag – $55 (great spendy option)
Keep reading below for a detailed mini-review of each.
What to Look For in a Stem Bag
Before diving into the individual bags, let’s spend a moment thinking about what features are most important in a bike stem bag. Of course this will depend on your setup and how you plan to use the bag, but here’s my take on it.
- Strong attachment straps (weak straps are generally the first part of a cheap stem bag to fail).
- Movable or left/right straps for either side of handlebars
- External pockets for holding small items
- Cinchable drawstring to keep small items from bouncing out (or small animals from getting in and absconding with your trail mix)
- Multipoint attachment system that prevents bouncing, ideally including a bottom strap that goes around the fork. This point is especially important for mountain bikers riding rough trails.
Nice to have:
- Movable straps with several positions to accommodate other bags or unique cockpit setups
- Drain hole in bottom for dealing with spills, drips, and rain
- Bright colored inner liner so it’s easier to see what’s in there
- Insulation, maybe, if you carry a water bottle in the bag (otherwise it just adds unnecessary bulk)
Above and beyond:
- One-handed open / close feature that sort of works (I have yet to find a perfect one)
- A liner that unsnaps from the bottom, so you can dump out the crumbs without unmounting the bag
- Rain flap
With that in mind, let’s see how each of my stem bags stacks up.
Drawstring “Highend” Rock Climbing Chalk Bag
Buy it: Amazon
Summary: If the non-standard design fits your cockpit, this durable and roomy bag is an excellent cheap stem bag for non-technical riding.
Notable features: huge external pockets
I used these chalk bags as bikepacking stem bags for years, even buying a second pair when the first started to wear out (drawstring stretched and snaps became unreliable). They fit surprisingly well on my road touring bike with one strap snapped over the handlebar and the other around the stem. Once I transitioned to rougher riding the lack of a bottom strap became a problem, but I still recommend them to folks wanting a durable and super-affordable stem bag.
- Large opening makes for easy on-the-go access
- Large size and plenty of external pockets
- Shorter and wider shape is ideal for holding snacks
- Liner pulls out easily for cleaning
- Shorter and wider shape not good for holding tall water bottles
- No stabilization strap on bottom
- Snap attachment system may not work reliably for all cockpits
- Large diameter may hit knees if clearance is tight
- No drain hole
Kemimoto Bike Cup Holder
Buy it: Amazon (but don’t)
Summary: Also known as “random cheap stem bag from Amazon,” this bag is smaller than average, has only the bare minimum features, and is not durable enough for long-term use.
Notable features: Drain hole, large mesh pockets
Recently I wanted to add a stem bag to a bike I don’t ride often enough to spend much on, and I was curious about the proliferation of cheap Amazon options. I decided to give this one a try. This poor little stem bag lasted only a couple rides before the handlebar strap ripped off the bag. Sometimes affordable gear works out great, but this is definitely a get-what-you-pay-for situation.
- Mesh pockets are deep and large
- If you’re looking for something sleek, this bag is smaller than others in this list
- Fell apart very quickly
- Smallest and shortest bag in this list
- Straps on both sides, but not adjustable or movable
Moosetreks Stem Bag
Buy it: Amazon
Summary: Though it may not last forever, this well-designed affordable stem bag checks all the other boxes and seems especially well-suited to carrying a water bottle. In fact, its design is suspiciously similar to the Revelate Feedbag discussed below.
- Large exterior mesh pockets
- One handed drawstring open / close
- Bright orange inner lining for visibility
- Drain hole
- Fork strap at bottom for easily adjustable stability on a variety of frames
- Adjustable 3-point attachment system with loops that can be used on left or right
This is the only stem bag in the list that I haven’t seen in action, but I own two other bags from Moosetreks (frame bag and top tube bag) and think it’s a really solid brand for affordable bikepacking gear. I’ve put together this overview based on the Amazon listing and reviews.
- Tall profile is great for holding a tall bottle
- Mesh pockets are roomy and secure
- Fork strap ensures stability on any bike frame
- Includes thoughtful features, like one-handed closure and bright colored interior, usually found on more expensive models
- Attachment straps too short for some bikes
- Not the most durable, develops snags and tears over time
REI Co-op Junction Stem Bag
Buy it: REI
Summary: This affordable stem bag has the durability and thoughtful features typically found in more expensive bags. It’s a solid option for any bikepacker, new or experienced.
- Drawstring closure with rain cover
- One handed drawstring open / close
- Drain hole
- Light-ish interior liner for improved visibility
- 3-point attachment that can easily switch to right or left side
I’ve been impressed by REI’s bikepacking gear lately, so when my beloved chalk bags started wearing out I couldn’t resist trying the REI Junction stem bag. I’ve used it during a couple bikepacking races and my husband recently put it to the test during a month of rugged bikepacking in Central Asia. It still looks like new!
- Medium-tall shape is good for holding water bottle, and also good for snacks and small items
- Velcro loops are long enough to fit a wider variety of handlebar setups
- Thoughtful features like one-handed closure and rain flap
- Durable and sturdy
- Great quality for the price
- Mesh pocket is an awkward shape, short and wide with no individual compartments
- Undersides of strap scratchy against handlebar (I fixed this with a wrap of electrical tape underneath)
- Bottom loop is small and less adjustable than a fork strap
- Grey and tan color scheme is, dare I say, ugly (personal preference obviously)
Blackburn Outpost Carryall
Buy it: Amazon
Summary: A decent affordable stem bag with all the key features and a unique look, though slightly more expensive than the competitive and possibly more durable REI Co-op Junction.
- 3-point attachment includes fork strap at bottom
- Drain hole
- Adjustable straps can be moved to left or right side
I’m a fan of Blackburn’s Outpost cargo cage and their tool wrap, so I had high expectations for their Carryall stem bag. I recently had a chance to see it in action on my riding partner’s rig during a month of bikepacking in the American west.
- 3-point adjustment system is flexible and stable
- Moderately tall shape is good for either a water bottle or small items
- Topo map pattern is neat
- External mesh pockets are fairly small
- Under unusually high forces (like a crash, or when mounted with too much tension) the handlebar straps are vulnerable to tearing away from the body of the bag
Revelate Designs Mountain Feedbag
Buy it: REI
Summary: This is the gold standard of bikepacking stem bags for good reason. It’s thoughtfully designed with excellent practical features and great durability. The jump in price (nearly twice the cost of some solid alternatives) is hard to justify if money is tight, but otherwise you’ll probably enjoy this bag.
- One–handed open / close
- Super-bright interior lining for visibility
- Lining unsnaps from bottom so you can empty out trail mix remnants without unmounting! Brilliant.
- Drain hole
- Movable and adjustable 3-point attachment system
For years I resisted shelling out the cash for these bags. How could they possibly be worth over 5x the cost of those super-affordable chalk bags at the top of this list? But recently, my new bike and I have been drifting into the territory of higher-end gear. These were available in purple, which sealed the deal.
Are they worth it? I’m enjoying them a lot and definitely consider them the nicest of the bunch in terms of form, function, and durability. They’re the stem bags I’ll keep choosing for my biggest rides while the others stay on the bike I use less often.
I wouldn’t be surprised if these outlast all my cheaper options. If you’re looking for an excuse to buy them, consider that the higher price is reasonable when compared to buying cheaper bags twice, if they last half as long.
All that said, you can absolutely get along fine with a more affordable option if you’d like to. These are bags you’ll enjoy and get lots of use out of, especially if you plan to put a ton of miles on them, but not bags you need. Still on the fence? I have a detailed Revelate Feedbag review here.
- Nice roomy capacity
- Tall size easily holds large water bottle
- External pockets are roomy and conveniently shaped
- Adjustable attachment system works with many setups
- Thoughtful features like removable and very brightly colored lining
- Bright accent color choices
- Revelate Designs has been building bikepacking bags longer than pretty much everyone, and all these other bags are borrowing from them.
- Pricier than other options in this list (but in line with other high-end options from small companies)
- Pull cords are a little long when closed, and the ends hit my knees when pedaling unless tucked into the bag.
- Velcro loops could be longer; I had to add extra to fit around my wide stem.
There are, of course, many other stem bags out there. I haven’t tried them all, but I’ve tried enough to know a good stem bag when I see one. It’s not always true that more money buys a better stem bag, though it doesn’t hurt. Whatever your budget, I hope this deep dive into my stem bag collection helps you make a good choice.
More Bike Resources
If you found this article helpful, you might also like these:
- 12 Budget-Friendly Bikepacking Seat Bags
- The Legendary Great Divide Mountain Bike Route: Essential Q&A
- Best Rigid Forks for Mountain Bikes
- Tubeless Tire Installation Tips: Learn From My Mistakes
Or, visit the bikepacking resources center for lots more!
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10 thoughts on “Stem Bag Roundup: From cheap to fancy, which are worth the price?”
Thanks, very helpful article. I have been considering a stem bag to hold my Nalgene, freeing up space on the frame or fork. However, a filled Nalgene weighs at least 1 kg (or more – I have the big 1.5L version), and the straps on any option look like they will eventually fail against that weight. I wish I had an idea of how many km a bag will hold out.
Hmm, I’m not sure. The sturdier ones might hold up, but it’s hard to say. I have a 1.5 liter bottle that’s 4 inches (10 cm) diameter which is actually too big around for most stem bags. Maybe yours is taller and skinnier?
If you only want to hold a water bottle there, maybe you can find a gadget that clamps a bottle cage to the handlebars. The Topeak Cage mount comes to mind, though I’ve never tried it.
I got one of the chalk bags for my first bikepacking trip in June after reading one of your previous articles. It worked great! I had two 750ml bottles, one in the bag and another in a bottle cage zip-tied to my seat/chain stay, and would swap them when the one in the bag was empty. I had the draw-string tightened just enough that it held the bottle well enough to not bounce out even over some bumpy single-track (was on an old CX bike, so no suspension and tire clearance maxed out at 35c) but could still be removed/replaced without having to loosen it.
It was my first time riding with a full-frame bag so didn’t have a spot for bottle cages in the normal spots, but found I really liked how convenient it was to have the bottle right next to my hands at all times! The extra pockets were really useful for carrying some extra nutrition and my multi-tool as well. The only issue was my knee hit it when pedaling out of the saddle. However, my weird body proportions make it so that I need a fairly short reach but I have long-ish legs that will nearly brush the handlebars when standing even on gradients as low as 6-7%, so really any bag on that side of the handlebars would get in the way, but the chalk bag is even bigger and sags a bit more than others I’ve seen so was probably worse in the aspect. Still worth it for the price 🙂
Glad to hear they worked for you, especially as bottle holders since I haven’t used mine much for that. I agree about the knee clearance – I had some minor issues with that on my touring bike too. But yes, for the price they’re hard to beat!
For our great divide ride we opted for higher priced Cedaero feed bags mainly because they are larger than any other bag I know of, but also because of the magnetic closing lid and great colors. They worked perfectly. Several times in town I, after eating in our room I would go out for milkshakes. I could carry both of them back to our room in the huge Cedaero bags. Ideal.
Nice, yeah, colors are fun and a magnetic closure sounds really smart. Glad they worked out!
I’ve taken the Moosetreks stem bags on 4 trips this summer and they’ve been perfect. I can’t imagine anything is better. I actually like the fishnet pockets so I can see what’s in them, there are a lot of pockets all the way around. I suppose they could get ratty at some point from velcro, but generally once they’re on the bike I just leave them there. I also have their mini panniers which I like a lot. All of my trips have been rough routes and the panniers hold up just fine. I only wish they were waterproof, though I don’t really ride in the rain and the only time water got in them was when I sprayed them down to wash the bike. The material itself is definitely waterproof, but the seams aren’t. Maybe some seam sealer if the need arises.
Awesome, thanks for the report from the field. I’ve liked my other Moosetreks bags and am glad to hear these don’t disappoint.
One quick negative I found to the Revelate Designs feedbag was that you need to be somewhat careful with the hard plastic pull at the end of the elastic draw cord (or any feed bag with that). Somehow it slipped out of my hand when closing the feedbag and the plastic part cracked the screen on my garmin mid-trip (garmin was mounted to a stem cap mount so right next to the feedbag). Garmin still worked fine but it was a big bummer and I never even considered something like that could happen. Maybe just a random fluke…
Oh no! That is a big bummer, and definitely not something I would have seen coming either.