I know this is an old question, and traditional wisdom suggests that it's pretty much a personal choice. but...
I am about to replace my aging rear panniers for a planned transam trip next summer. Since retirement is looming, I may well use these a lot more, so want to choose wisely.
What I have now is a pair of ~ 20 year old blackburn side load bags that I believe are specifically designed for blackburn low-riders. I used them for a Pacific coast tour 15 years ago, but they have sat since, so are in great shape.
My rear bags are a different story. They are almost as old, but have been used for commuting, an average of 2 days a week for 15 years. They are shot and need to be replaced. What they are is front/rear either or sized REI bags, I believe made by Kirtland. Also side load, one mesh pocket only. IIRC the model is Explorer.
I am thinking Axiom as they look to be above average quality, but reasonably priced, and well reviewed. But they have a huge variety. What appeals to me now, is the LaSalle and monsoon, depending on dry bag vs. traditional.
From the searching and reading I have done, I see that many of the ACA / tour leaders eventually ended up in dry bags (usually Ortlieb), but I don't see any cases where someone started with dry bags (of any type) and switched to traditional bags. That makes me think that as tourist get more and more experience, they gravitate to dry bags, and I might be better off to do that now, since I am changing.
What do you experts think here?
Then the question of brand: If I move up to dry bags, the Monsoon (or Typhoon) costs between $90 and $100 vs. $65-$75 for the LaSalle. You could argue that I'm within such a short difference to the Ortlieb bags that I might as well bite the bullet and get what many think is the ultimate bag now. While I can afford that, and I do want to buy bags will last me for a long time, unless there is a significant difference in quality to justify the increased price, axiom bags are not bad. I have one of their laptop bags (transition) now and it really is a pretty decent bag.
I should also note that there are going to be some other purchases I will likely need to do, such as replacing my tent, purchasing a handlebar bag, new cyclo-computer, etc.
All told, airfare, trip expenses, new equipment… Is likely to run me $5000 so I recognize that overall this is not a cheap trip.
So what are all of your thoughts here? Go what is probably good enough (the LaSalle bags), go with axiom dry bags, or go for the gold (Ortlieb)?