Review: Caribou Cases 36L Pelican Panniers

NOTE: See updated review for a more recent view on these cases

Update 7 December 2014: It is very important to consider that this review very old. Roger (the owner of Caribou Luggage) has notified me that the mounting system is significantly improved. I have removed from consideration my concerns about the original mounting system and left the rest of the review untouched. I believe these are great cases for the right use and it is my sincere hope that the new mounting system solves the original problems I encountered (referenced elsewhere in my blog but not in this review). Other improvements may have been made as well so please check with Caribou Luggage to discuss any concerns after reading this review.

Caribou Cases has converted Pelican cases to motorcycle luggage with the official blessing of the Pelican company (meaning you still get the famous Pelican warranty). Care has been taken to consider the needs of the motorcycle traveler including these features:

  • Quick release latch system with key lock
  • Lock added to each case with a key that matches the quick release system
  • Wire connects the lid to the case to limit how far the lid opens when mounted on the bike
  • Heat shield between the muffler and the case

Usefulness
 ★★★★★ 


The convenience of these cases is unparalleled. The lock on a hard case means I feel more comfortable leaving the bike unattended while I wander around strange cities and tourist attractions. The quick release system means I can easily remove the cases to work on the bike or to bring all my luggage indoors.


Functionality
 ★★★★☆ 


Packing these cases is easy with the proper preparation. Packing cubes and carefully chosen stuff sacks help enormously. However, the side-load design means it is difficult to squeeze in soft items (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.). The mounting hardware on the back of the case also means that when off the bike, the case cannot be set flat on the ground. These are minor nuisances at worst and quickly fade away into the background.


Durability

The pelican cases themselves are undeniably durable beyond any abuse I can dish out. However, the modifications are less than perfect.

The key lock system on the case comes loose over time (because of the KLR vibration) and must be tightened or the case can be opened even when locked.

The mounting hardware was relatively thin metal (NOTE: This has changed in 2014!) and designed such that it can be easily bent and the key lock is designed to pop off in the event of a hard crash. This is designed to protect the luggage, rack, and bike, however field repairs could be difficult. I would prefer a more solid mounting over this pop-off design.

The straps that limit how far the lid opens are easily snapped if too much weight is placed on the lid or if the bike tips over while holding the lid. The solution to this is to use electrical wire which is far stronger than the plastic wire provided with the case, and will slip off at the nut if pulled hard.

I recently talked to the owner of Caribou Cases and he is a fantastic person to work with. He has been improving these cases over the years based on customer feedback. He also provided me with replacement hardware that had been tweaked or is broken, some of it in a better design than the older version I bought a few years ago.


Features
 ★★★☆☆ 


I have examined many other luggage systems in use by other travelers and I’ve found several features I rather like in other systems. Soft bags are lightweight and better suited to off-road conditions. Top-loading boxes can have a removable lid that doubles as a small table. Other box designs provide better lashing locations for extra gear when necessary. Some racks have integrated tool cases (might not be possible on a KLR). A case sitting on a shelf is a lot more sturdy than the system in use on Caribou Cases, but weights considerably more.


Price
 ★★★★★ 


At $800, this luggage system is a fantastic deal. The drawbacks are minor and more than compensated by the inexpensive price tag.


Overall Rating:
 ★★★★¼ 

As of 2014, this is no longer accurate!

I cannot quite say I would choose these cases again simply because I really like some of the other luggage systems I have seen on the road. However, the price durability and ease of use make these a very attractive option I would give serious consideration to in the future.

I will revisit this review later in the trip. At 20k+ miles of use I have a good idea of what I do and do not like about the luggage, but the next few years will be far harder on them than anything I have done so far.

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