Review: MLD Ultra X Double-Ended Handlebar Bag

At a Glance

  • MLD’s Ultra X series of bikepacking handlebar bags comes in three sizes, each as light as you can get for the capacity.
  • I’ve been using the small size for about 700 miles of ultralight bikepacking.
  • I love the super-functional daisy chain loops and double-ended openings.
  • I especially like the small size’s slim profile for maximizing capacity with a suspension fork and tight tire clearance, though admittedly the narrow shape is hard to stuff.

Mountain Laurel Designs has been a respected maker of ultralight backpacking gear for many years, so when they entered the bikepacking space in 2022 my interest was piqued.

Around that time I was transitioning from fully rigid setups to bikepacking with my hardtail. The small version of the Ultra X caught my eye thanks to its wide and skinny profile (I’m only 5’5″ tall and have front tire clearance issues when running a suspension fork on my 29er). My original use case was bikepack racing, where I try to pack as light as possible, so the small overall capacity was a plus too.

I bought my size small Ultra X Double-Ended Handlebar Bag in spring of 2023 and have so far used it for three trips totaling about 700 miles. In this review I’ll share what I like about this well-executed bag from a small ultralight gear company, who should consider it, and how it stacks up against its competitors.

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Review Summary

Product: Ultra X Double-Ended Handlebar Bag by MLD

Review summary: The Ultra X is an ultralight bikepacking handlebar bag available in three sizes, including a uniquely slim small profile. I’ve been using the small for about 700 miles to maximize tire clearance on my suspension fork, and I love its practical daisy chain loops and double-ended openings. It’s not cheap, but it’s a highly functional piece of gear if you’re looking to optimize your lightweight handlebar setup.

Sizes:
small (6 – 11 L)
medium (10 – 15 L)
large (14 – 20 L)

Dimensions: (ends rolled 4 times):
5.2″ x 21″
6.5″ x 21″
7.75″ x 22″

Weights: 2.6, 3.1, 3.5 oz

Prices: $75, $80, $85

My rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars

Shop Ultra X at:

What I love:

  • Very lightweight yet still durable.
  • Double-ended closures are convenient and easy to use.
  • Daisy chain is nice for routing straps and keeping things secure even when bag isn’t packed perfectly.
  • Choice of sizes covers wide range of use cases.
  • Small size has a skinny diameter which is hard to find, perfect for short riders with front tire clearance issues.
  • Grey color looks spiffy, doesn’t show dirt and doesn’t get super hot in the sun like black.
  • Waterproof fabric with sealed seams
  • Fabric is made by sustainability-focused Challenge Outdoors
  • Handmade in Virginia by a small company

Potential drawbacks:

  • Small narrow size is hard to stuff (only an issue with the size small)
  • Not cheap
  • Not quite as durable as much heavier options
  • Only available through MLD’s website

How I Tested the Ultra X Handlebar Bag

I’ve ridden about 700 miles with my small Ultra X handlebar bag so far, and will definitely be reaching for it again on future trips. Here’s how I’ve used it:

  • On my hardtail while racing Bones to Blue, a singletrack-heavy route where I needed to keep my bars light and avoid tire rub (unfortunately DNF’ed after 150 miles due to a sprained ankle).
  • On my fully rigid mountain bike for Smoke ‘n Fire 400, a mix of gravel and singletrack riding, to keep overall weight as low as possible.
  • Double-stacked with a dry bag on my hardtail for a chill tour in Anza Borrego Desert.

All these trips were with flat handlebars and my Revelate Designs Handlebar Harness. That burly harness is definitely overkill for this lightweight bag, which would be better paired with a lightweight system like MLD’s own Border Harness System or Rogue Panda’s Canelo (maybe I’ll spring for one this year).

On the first two trips the Ultra X held my ultralight sleeping quilt, Borah Gear ultralight bivy, and torso-length Therm-a-Rest NeoAir UberLite sleeping pad. This setup is very minimalist; I use it only for summer races.

On the third trip, a relaxed tour, it held my solo tent and some warm layers while my sleep system went in a larger dry bag.

Front view of bikepacking handlebar harness and Ultra X bag
The MLD Ultra X (size small) with Revelate Egress pouch on Bones to Blue.

Size and Shape

The Ultra X comes in small, medium, and large sizes. All are fairly long at 21″ or 22″, making them best suited for flat or alt handlebars rather than drops. You can certainly still use them on drop bars by rolling the ends down further and the thin fabric makes this easy, but you’ll lose out on a lot of capacity.

The small size, the one I’m using, is a svelte 5.2″ diameter with 6 – 10 liters of capacity. It’s one of the smaller handlebar bags on the market, with the smallest diameter-to-length ratio of any I’ve seen (it’s 21″ long).

For comparison, the small Ultra X is skinnier than the smallest Rogue Panda Gila (6.5″). The Revelate Designs Pronghorn has a comparable diameter but is 4-5 inches shorter. The Ultra X’s long skinny profile is great for maximizing capacity on setups with really tight clearance or double-stacking two bags in a handlebar harness.

The downside: the narrower the bag, the harder it is to stuff. My small Ultra X definitely requires a couple extra units of patience when I’m packing up, but it is doable with the right technique.

Top view of bikepacking handlebar setup with grey Ultra X double ended bag.
The size small Ultra X is uniquely long and skinny, great for maximizing capacity for smaller riders with suspension forks.

The medium is ideal for general-purpose bikepacking with its capacity of 10-15 liters and 6/5″ diameter. If I hadn’t been looking specifically for a racing bag, I would have chosen the medium for my regular bikepacking trips. It’s roughly the same size as bags like the Salsa EXP Anything Handlebar Bag and Revelate Designs Saltyroll.

The large is a beefy 7.75″ x 22″. MLD says on their website: “The Large is LARGE! For winter bike-packing, expeditions, world touring, 3+ season full synthetic mummy bag or if you are the group gear gorilla. Generally, you will want a very strong handlebar harness for a full LG size.”

All three sizes have a fairly wide capacity range thanks to the daisy chain loops. Routing your harness straps through the loops keeps the bag in place even when it’s rolled down small or packed loosely. Thus a medium bag can still be used with a smaller load on occasion.

Stuffability

Just to highlight what I mentioned above, the downside to the small size’s skinny diameter is a trickier stuffing process. It takes a bit of patience and finesse to get my puffy sleeping quilt into the Ultra X, but with a bit of practice it’s not bad. This will be true of any small diameter bag, and is worth it if you get value from the smaller size.

If super-ultralight packing isn’t a priority for you, I’d recommend the medium. It’ll be easier to stuff and also more versatile in terms of capacity.

Weight

Like everything Mountain Laurel Designs makes, the Ultra X bags are light. The medium (3.1oz) is less than half the weight of the comparably sized and feature-rich Revelate Designs Saltyroll (6.4 oz).

The small (2.6 oz) is just over half as light as the small version of the Rogue Panda Gila, though to be fair that bag has a larger capacity (but no daisy chain). The Revelate Designs Pronghorn bag matches the Ultra X at 2.6oz for the small size, but its capacity is a bit less than the Ultra X’s.

In other words, you’re not going to find a handlebar bag meaningfully lighter than the Ultra X at any given size.

Daisy Chain

The Ultra X has a generous line of daisy chain loops along its length. I’ve used handlebar bags with and without this feature and I definitely prefer with.

Routing handlebar harness straps through the daisy chain makes everything more secure. With a double-ended bag, I’m frequently opening the ends (where I store warm layers and gloves) during the day. If I remove my jacket from one end, the daisy chain means I don’t have to worry about the bag drooping, tilting, or slipping out of the harness straps.

The daisy chain also makes for a more versatile bag with a wider capacity range. Without loops the bag needs to be wide enough for the pressure from the straps to keep it securely in place. With loops it’s ok to underfill the bag or roll it down shorter without risk of the ends slipping free from the straps.

Close up of harness strap through daisy chain loop on MLD Ultra X handlebar bag
The daisy chain loops are super helpful for keeping the bag in place when you need to remove something from one end or pack it down a bit too narrow for the harness.

Double-Ended Closures

Quick-access space for odds and ends is hard to come by in most bikepacking setups, which is why I love double-ended bags on flat handlebars. I usually stuff a warm layer or jacket into each end, and perhaps warm gloves or rain pants, so they’re ready at a moment’s notice.

Thanks to the Ultra X’s daisy chain loops, through which I route my harness straps for a secure fit, I don’t need to worry about rebalancing the bag when removing something from one end.

The Ultra X’s ends are easy to roll thanks to the thin fabric. The buckles are strong, easy to use, and double as an emergency whistle (always nice to have). A small snap adds an extra layer of security or helps keep things in place during the loading process.

Looking into the open end of the Mountain Laurel Designs Ultra X double-end handlebar bag.
I usually keep my sleeping quilt in the middle and use the ends for warm layers I may need during the day.

Fabric and Looks

MLD’s Ultra X bags are made from Challenge Outdoor’s ULTRA X 100 Fabric, a relative newcomer to the outdoor textile world that’s rapidly gaining popularity.

The Ultra X 100 fabric is waterproof, light, surprisingly abrasion resistant for its weight, and made in facilities that prioritize sustainable manufacturing practices.

I know this is subjective, but I personally like the look and feel of this bag quite a bit. The grey color is a nice change from black. It looks good with my ti bike’s silver vibes while coordinating well with all the black parts and bags.

The fabric is textured rather than smooth, with a noticeable weave. The light bounces off it in nice ways. It’s thin and almost crinkly-feeling in the way I’ve come to associate with high-end ultralight gear.

The textured fabric doesn’t immediately scream “waterproof” with its look, though MLD says it is (and the seams are taped). Mine has done great in light rain. For a more rigorous test I threw it in the shower for five minutes with my puffy jacket inside, and only the tiniest bit of moisture got through. I’d be comfortable considering this bag waterproof in almost all conditions, though if I planned to carry my down sleeping quilt through an all-day deluge I might line it with a plastic trash bag.

Close up of one end of the Ultra X handlebar bag showing the roll closure with buckle
I like the look and texture of the woven grey fabric, the Ultra X 100 from Challenge Outdoor. This picture shows the handy emergency whistle built into the buckle.

Durability

I only have about 700 miles on this bag so far, but it’s still in excellent condition. There are no signs of wear other than the fabric becoming a bit crinkled and more flexible (arguably a good thing).

Like all ultralight gear, I would try to avoid bashing this bag against rocks. I wouldn’t use it as a sit pad like I sometimes do with my thicker and burlier bags. But I don’t find it particularly delicate, especially for its weight, and I expect it to last a long time.

Price

The double ended Ultra X bags range from $75 for the small to $85 for the large. This is definitely on the expensive end for a handlebar bag, but keep in mind that it’s made in the US by a small company using materials that prioritize sustainability, so price is not going to be its most competitive factor.

Ultralight gear is almost always more expensive, so whether the Ultra X is worthwhile for you depends on how much you’re trying to cut weight from your setup. If you’re going to load your bike down with the kitchen sink for a luxury tour, definitely spend your money elsewhere. But if you’re counting ounces and making an effort to lighten your load, the Ultra X is a reasonable investment.

Less expensive competitors include the Revelate Designs Saltyroll for $45 (heavier), the Rogue Panda Gila for $60 (a bit heavier and no daisy chain), and the Revelate Designs Pronghorn ever so slightly less at $70 – $80 (ultralight but no daisy chain).

I don’t know of a competitor that matches the MLD Ultra X on its unique combination of light weight, capacity options, and features (double openings and daisy chain), at any price point. If you do, let me know in the comments please.

Given all that I’d say the Ultra X is a worthwhile buy despite being on the higher end of the price range, but only if you’re into ultralight gear (and also ultralight packing).

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About the Author

Hi there, I’m Alissa, founder of Exploring Wild. I’ve traveled over 20,000 miles by bike and still can’t stop planning my next ride (and helping you plan yours). Pavement and panniers or singletrack and seat bag, I love it all. On my bike I feel free. Learn more about me here.

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    2 thoughts on “Review: MLD Ultra X Double-Ended Handlebar Bag”

    1. Bikepackers Foundry makes the Flexi-Roll. I’m considering replacing an aging leaky Blackburn Design bar roll with the Flexi-Roll. It doesn’t have webbing straps, but neither does my old roll. Interestingly the Flexi-Roll is claimed to be only water-resistant despite waterproof fabric and seam tape. It’s priced at CDN$85 = US$62.
      The MLD Ultra X rolls are claimed to be waterproof, but more expensive. Shipping from MLD to Canada is US$30 unfortunately.
      https://bikepackersfoundry.com/product/flexi-roll/

      Reply
      • Nice, thanks for the tip. I’m personally very partial to webbing straps now that I’m used to them, but otherwise that does look like a nice bag. I guess it makes sense to be conservative about waterproof claims for an item many people use to carry their sleeping bag.

        Reply

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