Last updated: February 17, 2023
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Trail riding is a great way to get out and explore the outdoors, but it’s not without its challenges. One of those difficulties is carrying basic supplies like sunscreen, a cell phone, or water on long-distance horse rides. That’s when saddlebags- either pommel or cantle bags come in handy.
Saddlebags, pommel bags, and cantle bags are designed to attach securely to your horse’s saddle. They are commonly made of nylon, polyurethane, and leather. Some even offer thermal insulation to keep your food and drinks at the perfect temperature.
For your next trail-riding adventure, consider bringing a saddlebag. There are a few different styles to choose from: traditional saddlebags, pommel bags, and small cantel bags. Which one is better? It’s hard to say because each has its strengths and meets specific needs.
What is a Pommel Bag?
A saddlebag is a common addition for many horse riders that enjoy long trail rides. These bags are traditionally attached to the rear of a saddle and have two pouches, but what makes pommel bags different?
Pommel bags hang off what’s called the “pommel” (the raised front of the saddle) and typically consist of two deep pockets connected by a single strip of fabric. Many are made of waterproof materials like canvas or leather and can vary in size.
Modern pommel bags consist of straps with rings or buckles that snap into the D-rings in front of the saddle. The purpose is to store items for quick access while riding, such as snacks, water bottles, and other things.
They’re often used in endurance riding competitions because they allow riders to access their bag without reaching behind their saddle.
You can have pommel bags that fit over English, endurance, or Australian saddles. More recently, there has been a trend to make pommel saddlebags using rigid nylon material to withstand wear and tear while trail riding.
Benefits of pommel bags over saddlebags:
Modern pommel bags are made with nylon material having 1680 Denier thickness. This makes them easy to wash, provides ripstop property, and is generally more durable than leather or cloth saddlebags.
Pommel bags come with plenty of storage. Nowadays, manufacturers provide multiple pockets on pommel bags for riders to keep food, water bottles, and smaller items like keys conveniently within reach.
The central compartment of the bag is larger and has multiple surrounding pockets on the sides. You also get several straps or slots inside the bag to secure keys, along with contoured storage areas to keep water bottles.
Easy to secure
Earlier saddlebags came with fewer straps, and attaching them to the saddle was tricky. Modern pommel bags come with several ties and Velcro straps, so riders can easily secure them to the pommel’s D-rings or the girth billets for extra stability.
What is a Cantle Bag?
A cantle bag (also called cantle saddlebag) is a bag that can be attached to the rear of the saddle (known as the cantle). This is the main difference between pommel and cantle bags – the pommel bag sits in the front while the cantle bag is secured on the rear of the saddle.
Benefits of Cantle Bags
Cantle bags won’t bounce on your legs when riding.
Many riders do not like pommel bags because they tend to bounce and slap their legs while riding. Cantle bags sit behind the saddle, which is less aggravating to some riders.
Cantle bags work with any western saddles.
Cantle bags are suitable for western saddles with rear D-rings, cinches, or conchos with rings or strings. They are ideal for round or square-skirted western saddles.
You get plenty of storage with modern cantle bags. Some bags are deep enough to hold a large jacket as well. Some cantle saddlebags are insulated and can even hold ice or beverages. Sure, the ice will melt on longer rides, but you won’t have to deal with any leaks.
Let’s now look at the best bags in each category.
Best Western Pommel Bag:
The Saddle Sack
The Saddle Sack is a perfect solution for those who don’t want to carry around their phone, keys, and other items while they ride. The bag clips onto the pommel of your saddle so you can keep both hands free.
There’s also an interior compartment in the back where small things like licenses will stay hidden from view – no more digging through pockets while you’re sitting in the saddle. They come in various patterns and solid colors.
This is one of our barrel racers’ favorite accessories. She has the Taylor Fallon saddle sack in pink. Check out her YouTube review below.
TrailMax Original Pommel Pocket Saddle Bag for Western or Endurance Saddle
Pack all your necessities in this best-selling pommel bag from TrailMax – sunscreen, water bottle, keys, sunglasses, and more! You can use this pommel bag with western or endurance saddles.
It comes with several great features that help you attach/remove it with ease and access all your items quickly when riding.
Features and attributes
- 600 denier nylon construction
- Sturdy zippers
- Double stitching at stress points to prevent wear and tear
- Available in several bright colors
- Value for money
- Comfortable for rider
- Adequate storage yet small and compact
- Few riders found the TrailMax pommel bag too small.
Best English Pommel Bag:
TrailMax Compact English Pommel Pocket Horse Saddlebag
TrailMax saddlebags are undoubtedly the top-sellers for a reason: you get quality, value for money, and reliability with them. This pommel bag is versatile and can be used with various saddles: English, endurance, western, and even Australian saddles.
Here are its features
Features and attributes
- 350 cc of usable storage space
- High-quality, durable 1680 D nylon material
- 4 zippered pockets
- Contoured pocket for water bottle – this comes with a drawstring to close.
- Double-stitched and reinforced seams
- 2-sturdy Velcro straps to easily attach to the dees of the English saddle
- High-quality materials that can resist wear and tear
- Easy to clean/wash
- Comes with several straps for security and stability
- Plenty of storage
- Prevent slipping and slapping
The bags are priced differently for different colors. The black-colored pommel bags are double-coated PVC over 1680D. On the other hand, the pewter/gray color bag consists of double-coated PVC over 420 D jacquard polyester. Please note this difference before buying.
Best Leather Pommel Bag for Western Saddle:
Olde Time Soft & Supple Leather Pommel Bag
Olde Time pommel bag is hand-crafted out of soft, supple, oiled leather by the Amish community. It comes with sturdy straps that let you affix it to the pommel of any western or endurance saddle.
Features and attributes
- Classic, timeless style
- Handcrafted from thick and soft cowhide leather
- Stainless steel hardware
- Cordura lining
- Available in 3 great colors
- Made in the USA
- Truly bounceless
- Sits in the right spot for quick access to cameras, maps, cell phone, etc.
- High-quality materials
Slightly tricky to attach it. It comes with multiple straps, which can be confusing.
Best Cantle Bags:
Cashel Deluxe Cantle Bag
Cashel Deluxe cantle bags are tough, water-resistant, and functional. The best part is that you won’t deal with bouncing or slapping, which riders often face with saddlebags.
Features and attributes
- Dimensions: 15 x 6 x 4 inches (W x H x D)
- Made with tough water-resistant nylon
- Feature several grommeted holes
- Big enough to hold a heavy jacket
- Has multiple pockets
- No bounce
- Easy to attach
A small percentage of users reported misplaced grommets, which made attaching it difficult.
How to Select Saddlebags?
Saddlebags help you carry the essentials you could need while riding, such as water bottles, sunscreen, extra jackets, cell phones, maps, IDs, etc. Here are the factors to consider when selecting them:
#1. Choose the style
Saddlebags are available in different styles – primarily horn bags, Persian saddlebags, pommel bags, and cantle bags.
When to choose a pommel bag?
Use a pommel bag when you need to get to items while riding – cell phone, medicines, water bottles, etc. These bags are attached to the front of the saddle. Some riders do not like pommel bags as they tend to brush or slap against their legs when riding.
When to choose a cantle bag?
Cantle bags are attached to the rear of the saddle. You can choose a cantle bag to place items you will need after the ride and not necessarily during the ride for easy access.
#2. Select the material
Traditional saddlebag materials include cloth, leather, and waxed oilskin. Modern cantle bags and pommel bags are available in sturdier materials like nylon coated with PVC. This provides water-resistance to the bags.
The nylon material is available in various strengths (denoted by its thread count or Denier count). A good denier count is 1680 D which prevents wear and tear on long rides.
Leather pommel bags are also popular, but leather is trickier to maintain. You also need special cleaners and polishes to maintain its suppleness. Leather bags are also more expensive. Waxed oil bags are a cheaper alternative to leather.
Pommel bags and cantle bags are must-have riding accessories to take on your trail rides. They let you quickly access essential items you might need during riding like maps, water, sunscreen, keys, etc.
We recommend the TrailMax brand, which makes all kinds of saddlebags to use with western, English, or endurance saddles. You can also opt for leather saddlebags from brands like Olde Time™. These are durable, soft, and supple – albeit on the pricier side. Do check out our other recommendations as well.
Below is a YouTube video we made about the Saddle Sack by Fallon Taylor, which is Kimberlys’ favorite pommel bag. There are some great options available on Amazon.
How do you put a saddlebag on a horse?
Saddlebags come in all shapes, sizes, and configurations. Pommel bags can be snapped in place or simply hung over the saddle pommel. Cantle bags come with rings to attach to the cantle of the saddle.
What do you keep in a horse saddlebag?
Place all your essentials like cell phone, water bottle, chapstick, compass/cell phones/GPS, snacks, first aid kit, fly/bug spray, small folded jacket, rain gear, knife, etc., in the saddlebags.
What are horn bags?
Horn bags are types of saddlebags that go over and attach to the saddle horn.
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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