When a verb transforms into the name of a product category, you know that that thing is doing its job really well. Such is the case with tote — carry, wield, or convey; late 17th century — which at some point in the early 1900s came to also refer to large, carry-all bags.
In the United States, it was the heritage outdoor gear maker L.L.Bean that popularized the tote bag with its Ice Carrier, a rough canvas bag made of builders’ canvas that was used to heave ice and wood. In the years since, tote bags have grown bigger and smaller, and they can be found in every material imaginable. Now, the printed tote is almost as ubiquitous as the printed tee, and some, like the coveted New Yorker tote, are even worth a small gold brick of cultural capital in some circles.
The rise of the tote started with utility though, and the best are still used for hauling and dragging. Totes are practical; they’re the bag at its most basic: a deep bucket with two handles and that’s it. The best totes do that exactly — they’re deep, easy to carry, and can fit any combination of gear, whether you’re going to the beach for the day or out on the lake for a weekend.
L.L.Bean Boat and Tote
Sometimes, the original just can’t be beaten. The Boat and Tote is the present-day version of the bag that started it all: the Ice Carrier. The Boat and Tote is still made of heavy-duty 24-ounce cotton canvas, has a double-layer base for fighting off wear and tear, and employs handle that is tested to hold up to 500 pounds. It comes in a variety of colors with an open or zippered top and is easily the best value for a tote bag that we’ve come across.
Yeti Camino Carryall 35
Leave it to Yeti to overbuild the most basic of bags. The Camino Carryall is built with the same materials that the Texas-based cooler company uses for its rugged soft coolers and duffel bags. It’s both puncture- and abrasion-resistant and has an EVA-molded base to help it stand upright even when it isn’t fully-loaded (our favorite feature). It also has MOLLE webbing on both sides for attaching carabiners and other equipment. If you pack it with dirty gear, it’s very easy to clean — just use a hose.
Peak Design Everyday Tote
The most expensive tote on this list is also the most feature-filled. In a way, it goes against the free-form construction that makes the tote so practical, but the way in which it adds extras is intelligent (and is sure to please organization obsessives who can’t stand the idea of a bag without smaller pockets).
The Everyday Tote has designated spaces for a laptop, tablet, pens, your phone, small tech accessories and more. It even has flexible dividers that can create a customized layout within the bag, and its side zips open for access while it’s on your shoulder. Its top closes too but not with a zipper like other totes — this one uses a magnet (and can be further secured with a built-in strap).
Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Tote
Patagonia created its Black Hole collection with TPU-coated nylon for the sole purposes of being very simple, and rugged as hell. In early 2017 it thinned out the Black Hole material into a lightweight version and built a small line of bags, including this tote. It may not be as sturdy as some of the others on this list, but it’s just as durable and gets extra points for being extremely packable — it folds down into its own zippered stuff sack.
Filson Large Grab ‘n’ Go Tote
Think of Filson’s largest tote as the more-refined version of L.L.Bean’s classic. Like that bag, it’s made of cotton canvas (called Tin Cloth) that has been finished with oil to provide extra weather-resistance. The nylon-lined interior provides more immunity against grime over the long term, and it has a zippered top that can either be utilized or folded out of the way. The best thing we discovered about Filson’s Grab ‘n’ Go was its twin sleeves on either end, which are handy for storing water bottles and smaller, frequently used items (like phone chargers).