Make Bicycle Panniers Out of Swiss Army Surplus Bags




Introduction: Make Bicycle Panniers Out of Swiss Army Surplus Bags

When you use your bicycle to commute you need someplace to carry stuff.  Bike bags (known as panniers) are expensive

Lets make a set of our own panniers!

You have lots of choices of materials when making bags.  Plastic kitty litter boxes are popular but just do not look good to me.  Some people make panniers out of corrugated plastic signs. Others reuse cloth bags either military or backpacks.  One of the biggest problems with home made cloth bags is they do not have an internal structure and are limp when not loaded with stuff.  These bags could get caught in the spokes causing an abrupt stop.

The Swiss army surplus ammo bags are made from canvas and leather.  These bags are sturdy and have enough structure to hold their shape when empty.  Canvas is not a waterproof material, but it dries out pretty fast and does not hold water in like other bags might when water eventually gets in the bag.

The tools you will need:
  • A drill to make holes for the mounting hardware
  • Screws to attach the mounting hardware
  • Rubber gloves if you plan to dye the bags a different color

Step 1: Secure the Materials

Materials needed:
  • 2 Swiss Army ammo bags 
  • 2 sets of pannier mounts
  • 8 stainless steel screws
  • 8 stainless steel nylon lock nuts
  • Leather dye (optional)

If you do not have an army surplus store near you there are some on line that sell these bags for a reasonable price.  I was able to get a  pair of Swiss army ammo bags for $48 but your mileage may vary.  Check with Omaha Surplus, or Swiss Link or eBay for "swiss army ammo bags".

You can make mounting hardware but I have not found any home made solutions that will not chip the paint on the racks or work very well.  Mounting parts can be found at Trek for a reasonable price.  Go to: and search for "pannier parts" which should bring you to the "Bontrager Interchange System Parts" page.  This page has multiple options to choose from different pannier parts.  The ones used in this instructable are "Interchange Transit w/Sway Hardware" and are ~$14 each.  Asking the local bike shop (Trek dealer) to order the parts can save on the shipping costs.

The pannier mounting hardware will be attached with screws through the thickest part of the bag.  Go to the hardware store and find some stainless steel machine M5 screws (8 screws needed per bag) long enough to pass through the mounting hardware and the bag.  Also buy stainless steel nylon lock nuts so the hardware does not come loose.

Step 2: Dye the Leather

While the classic olive drab green and brown leather look nice, my panniers were going to be black for my black bike (everyone knows black matches everything and looks cool).  I dyed my leather motorcycle jacket in the past, so I knew about how well the the dye works on leather products.  

Fiebing's leather dye can be found at a local fleet and farm store in the horse saddle section.  This liquid dye product has a cotton swab in the top of the lid to apply the liquid to the product. One 4 oz bottle of the dye was just enough for both bags.  

There is another Fiebing's product in the picture, a deglazer.  This product is said to remove the shine from the leather, but I found that was not necessary so you do not need to buy the deglazer.  Even the shiny old leather pieces took the leather dye very well, and there were no problems with absorption.

The leather dye also works on on canvas fabric so I dyed the entire bag black.  Always wear rubber gloves when handling the dye, because the dye will stain skin and clothing!  I also used a sheet of vinyl under the project so any spilled dye would not stain the floor.  

The leather dye dries pretty quickly and I was able to handle the bags almost directly after the dye was applied.  There will be some black dye that comes off when being handled so wipe the dried product with a rag first.

Step 3: Attach the Hardware

Make note of the length of the bicycle rack you plan to mount the bags to. You want the pannier hooks to be as wide as possible while still fitting on the rack.  The bags have a leather strip on the inside of the bag near the top to reinforce the shape of the bag.  This is where you want to put the top two screws of the pannier hooks. If the rack on the bike is not level and you want the bags level, make the necessary adjustments to the mounting hardware in this step.

Measure and mark the three holes for each pannier hook.  Drill the holes through the leather reinforced section at the top.  You could also use a leather punch to make the holes. Use the machine screws to mount the pannier hardware.

Measure and mark the holes for the bottom pannier hardware.  Mount the sway bar on the leather part near the bottom of the bag as pictured.  Drill two holes for the sway bar mount.  Mount the pannier sway hardware with two machine screws.

Step 4: Fit and Finish

With the screws through the mounting hardware put the bolts on the inside the bag.  Using stainless steel hardware will prevent rust.  Also using the nylon lock nuts will prevent the nuts from coming off due to vibration.  

Mark and cut the excess threads off of the screws to get a custom fit.

After the hardware is mounted test fit the panniers on your bike rack.  Make sure the racks fit on the top bar.  The sway bar mounting clip can be re-positioned to clip on the vertical bar of the bicycle rack.  You will want to make sure the bags fit very well with no shifting before riding your bike.

Because these bags are on the small side I use these bags on the front rack of my bicycle.

Mount your panniers and ride your bike!

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    5 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Cool, looks even better on the bike, the black on black is pretty stealthy !


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    I did not have a picture of the panniers on the bike! I went out and did that today. Since the bags are a little small I use them on the front rack. Hope you like them.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    And they look cool and retro besides holding all your things. Very nice!