Our Favorite Tote Bags

tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch. The word tote is probably African in origin and came into English via Gullah. Totes are often used as reusable shopping bags.The archetypal tote bag is made of sturdy cloth, perhaps with thick leather at its handles or bottom; leather versions often have a pebbled surface. Common fabrics include heavy canvas, possibly dyed, or treated to resist moisture and mold. Jute is another traditional material, though less popular. In recent decades, heavy nylon and other easy-care synthetics have become common, although these may degrade with prolonged sun-exposure. Many of today’s inexpensive or free totes are often made from recycled matter, from minimally-processed natural fibers, or from byproducts of processes that refine organic materials.
From the canvas grocery bags you may have gotten as thank-you gifts from the charity of your choice to IKEA’s big blue bags, totes come in all shapes and sizes, and you can find one to fit almost any type of load. Backpacks, shoulder bags, and briefcases all have their ideal uses, but the tote’s unique combination of simplicity, elegance, and versatility suits it for any occasion.

Tote Bag with Zipper Closure Crossbody Messenger Shoulder Bag 

Bagail Clear bags meets NFL and PGA Tournament guidelines. Approved to be used where regulations require clear bags such as NFL football games, casinos, events, parks, and college stadiums. Our design with a top zipper and canvas style flap looks great across your body while you carry your belongings. Just because your bag needs to be transparent doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be seen. It is made of from 0.4mm thick vinyl. It is thick enough to feel strong and durable, but not so thick that it feels stiff and rigid. The nylon handles are reinforced and each one is double stitched so you can comfortably carry a heavy load. It measures 12 inches wide by 12 inches high by 6 inches deep—big enough to hold a digital camera, suntan lotion, a water bottle, program, wallet, keys, cell phone, hat, sunglasses, and more, all at once. 30-60 inch adjustable strap allows for comfortable over the shoulder carrying.

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Our favorite all-purpose canvas tote

This is a durable, comfortable shoulder bag that’s good-looking to boot. Baggu’s Duck Bag is designed with two handles and an adjustable 40 inch strap to be an everyday essential. Carry the Duck Bag in your hand, over your shoulder, or across your body! An inner snap-closure pocket is perfect for your phone, keys, and other odds and ends. Built 16 inches high, 10 inches wide, and 5.5 inches deep – ready to tote whatever you can throw at it. Our Duck Bag is constructed from 100% recycled cotton.

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Who it’s for: If you’re looking for a good-looking, all-purpose canvas bag, I recommend the Baggu Duck Bag. It has a deeper body than the average tote, which means it will accommodate long or awkwardly shaped objects. It’s durable and stain-resistant, and its hardy canvas wears over time to become soft and pliable without looking shabby. Baggu bags also come in a number of tasteful prints and colors.

Why it’s great: This bag can stand up to lots of abuse. Lesley Stockton, our food stylist and kitchen writer, has owned a Duck Bag for nearly six years and has used it for everything from lugging knife rolls and heavy clogs to hauling a giant food processor across New York City. But besides the expected amount of wear and tear, as well as some fading, the bag has remained intact without developing any major rips or thin spots. It’s still capable of hauling many pounds of root vegetables across Manhattan, for instance.

Lunch Bag Lunch Box with Adjustable Strap

Large. Built to last quality construction with durable materials, including sturdy thick vinyl. Our large clear lunch bag measures 11″W x 10″H x 7″D with front zipper pouch & adjustable shoulder strap. This is also a very practical clear lunch box for correctional officers or sporting events. Where other brands choose to cut corners, we select quality materials that are durable & sturdy. Our product comes with a 60-day warranty against manufacturer defects, including zipper breakage! This is a BPA free lunch bag! Our clear tote bags are made of sturdy materials and are also lead-free. They are perfectly clear lunch bags for correctional officers or for anyone looking for clear lunch bags for work.

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One of my main gripes with canvas totes is that they usually have fixed, thin straps that cut into my shoulder when carrying a heavy load. The Duck Bag sidesteps this problem with a long adjustable single strap that’s thick enough to keep your shoulders happy, even when hauling a lot of stuff. At its longest, the Duck Bag’s strap stretches out to near-messenger bag length, meaning you can carry it on your back when biking or carrying another bag. In addition to a longer carrying strap, it has two short handles that make it easy to pick up off the ground or carry like a briefcase.

 

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Pockets and organization: Like most basic totes, the Duck Bag doesn’t have much in the way of organization. Besides its large main compartment, it does have a handy interior zipped pouch sewn into its side to accommodate keys, sunglasses, and other miscellany.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Since the Duck Bag doesn’t have much organization or padding, it’s not an ideal bag for work, school, or carrying fragile gear. Besides color and pattern choice, there are no customization options and it doesn’t have a zip closure or any external pockets. The lack of padding on the Duck Bag also means that items with corners can jab you through the fabric, especially if you’re carrying it slung over your back.

A person walks with the Baggu Duck Bag and uses the additional long, adjustable shoulder strap.

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The Duck Bag’s additional long, adjustable shoulder strap makes it more comfortable to wear over a shoulder than totes with fixed-length handles. Photo: Michael Hession

While an unconstructed side seam and bucket bottom allow the Duck Bag to carry more, it also tends to make the bag look a little floppy when empty. This makes loading the bag a little trickier, as it can’t stand on its own unless it’s filled with stuff.


Baggu has a one-year limited warranty, which isn’t as long as the lifetime coverage you’ll get with the L.L.Bean Boat and Tote. That said, Baggu will completely replace any damaged bag within the warranty period, even if the damage is through no fault of the manufacturer.

L.L.Bean Boat and Tote bag on a blanket on the beach.

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A customizable alternative canvas tote bag

This is a solid, classic bag that will last you a lifetime. Plus, it’s customizable. As a ridiculously sturdy alternative to the Duck Bag, our best beach bag is a worthy choice, even off of the sand. The L.L.Bean Boat and Tote Bag is a classic bag that’ll hold up in tough conditions. It’s made of heavyweight canvas that is water- and wear-resistant, and its reinforced bottom makes loading the bag a snap, even when empty. Its seams are protected by double stitching, which prevents the fraying and holes that you find in more lightweight bags. The bag is also subject to L.L.Bean’s famed lifetime warranty, which means you’ll get a free replacement if you do somehow manage to damage it.

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The Boat and Tote is also highly customizable. The options include four sizes (small, medium, large, and extra-large) and two handle lengths. The standard 8-inch handles allow for better control and weight distribution, while the 11-inch handles are long enough to accommodate carrying larger objects. For $10 more, a zip-top closure can be added, which is ideal if you use the bag to haul more valuable cargo. Unlike with the Duck Bag, in this case you have the option of adding an easily accessible external pocket, and it costs just $5 more.

Person holds the Cuyana black leather bag over their shoulder while standing outside.

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The Cuyana is elegant and relatively affordable, costing less than $200 for a bag that’s made in America out of Italian leather. Photo: Erica Ogg

The best leather tote bag for women

Beautiful, soft but durable Italian leather makes for a high-quality tote for less than $200. It fits everything from a small laptop or a tablet, plus personal items, and a light jacket without bulging or overflowing.

Who it’s for: Cuyana’s leather tote is a quality bag with clean lines that’s a perfect carryall whether you’re running weekend errands, to the office, or to a night out. If you’re a traditionalist, it comes in black and brown. If you’re a little more adventurous, there are seven other colors to pick from.

Why it’s great: The Cuyana Classic Leather Tote is a beautiful leather bag that retails for less than $200 and looks great with a wide variety of looks. The soft, pebbled textured of the imported Italian leather gives it a refined look, but it’s not so fancy that you’d hesitate to use it every day.

Person holds a Cuyana’s leather bag by it's 9-inch strap drop.

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My favorite tiny but valuable detail is the 9-inch strap drop, which allowed me to transition from holding the bag’s two straps to pulling it over my shoulder easily with just one hand, despite my longer than average arms. This comes in handy if your hands are full, if you’re on the phone, or if you’re shopping. When I tried this same move with the Transport, which has an 8.25-inch drop, my elbow kept catching on the lip of the bag. If you have shorter arms, this will be less of an issue.

We tested the basic black model, but the Cuyana Classic is the most customizable of leather totes I looked at, coming in nine colors with the option of adding monogrammed initials or a heart, star, or clover stamp for $10 extra. Fossil’s Emma Tote, which also comes in a variety of colors, offers monogramming for free and you can pick from font size options, but the bag costs a bit more to begin with.

Inside shop of a black leather Cuyana bag shows that it has one small pocket with a smartphone inside of it.
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Pockets and organization: The appeal of a big tote is the ability to throw a lot of stuff in it and carry it with you everywhere—it’s not a bag for someone who wants to be hyper-organized. The Cuyana does have one small pocket sewn into the interior with a zippered section and an exterior slip, which I found a perfect fit for my iPhone 6 and my public transit card. If your phone won’t fit, the pocket is also a handy place for keys and lip balm.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Cuyana has only three stores, so it’s not as convenient for most people to check out this bag in person as the more widely distributed Madewell or Fossil bags I tested. But the company’s website does offer free shipping and returns (on non-monogrammed items) after 30 days for credit. There’s no warranty policy listed on its website, however.

Person carries a tan leather Madewell transport tote.
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Slightly cheaper and more widely available tote bag

This is a great, simple leather bag from an established brand. It’s slightly smaller, and comes in only two colors. If you’d rather walk into a store and buy the bag in person, or just feel better ordering from a more well-known and established brand (the Madewell label is owned by J.Crew), then go ahead and get the Transport Tote. Other than the slight reduction in capacity and a slightly shorter drop height, it’s hard to tell it apart from the Cuyana. It’s also ever-so-slightly cheaper than the Cuyana. However, it’s available in only two colors, brown and black with brown straps, which makes for a more casual look.

One thing we’re concerned about is the recent spate of poor reviews from customers who suspect Madewell has swapped out previously great (and well-reviewed) leather for subpar material in bags sold in the past year. The model we tested seemed fine, but we used it for just a few weeks. Madewell didn’t respond to our request for information about where the leather is sourced from.

Person holds a black canvas and leather Filson tote bag.
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Simple with tough materials

The versatility of a canvas tote with high-quality canvas, leather handles, and Filson’s excellent warranty.

Who it’s for: The Filson Tote Without Zipper is a higher-end alternative to the more casual canvas totes in this guide. It’s a great option if you’ve been searching for a lightweight, well-constructed tote that can fit in equally well at the office or a weekend brunch. I have the black version, which has unfortunately been phased out, but you can still choose from navy, otter green, and tan to suit your personal style.

Why it’s great: Inexpensive canvas totes are great to have kicking around for a quick grocery trip or yoga class. I have four or five tucked away in my closet, and they’ve taken a lot of abuse in stride. But the Filson is the bag I turn to when I want the catch-all qualities of a canvas tote, but need to look a little more put together. It’s able to suit any occasion, whether I’m going out to dinner or a work session at a local cafe.

Close-up of the leather strap on the canvas Filson tote bag.
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As you would expect from a Filson product, it’s exceptionally well-constructed. The canvas is stiff enough that the bag can stand up on its own, and it looks basically brand new after a few months of semi-regular use. There’s no lining, but the inner seams are bound to protect them from fraying. The straps are made from bridle leather, which is elegant and durable (thought it does need to be broken in before it’s entirely comfortable). It’s also supported by Filson’s excellent lifetime warranty that covers any defects or issues from normal wear and tear with a free repair or replacement. Plus, as we mentioned in our briefcase guide, many people have reported fantastic experiences with Filson’s customer service.

View inside the Filson canvas and leather tote bag shows a laptop, a water bottle and a leather notebook.
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Pockets and organization: There’s a main compartment with four side pockets; two are about the same width as the bag and the other two are about the size of a S’well water bottle. The larger side pockets fit my 13-inch MacBook Pro, but since they don’t close, it felt more secure in the main section. There’s also a key clip attached to the seam on one of the larger pockets. It was easy to clip my keys in place and remove them when I needed them, and because the clip is attached by a strap I could easily slip them out of the pocket to get into my apartment building.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: The handles on the Filson Tote were uncomfortably stiff in the beginning, enough that I avoided using it with heavy loads. But they softened eventually, just be prepared for some discomfort as you break it in. I also had trouble keeping the straps hiked up on my shoulder, and found one strap sliding off fairly regularly. It required just a quick adjustment, but it can be annoying. I don’t have the broadest shoulders either, so your mileage may vary. —Andrew Kalinchuk, associate managing editor

A tote that goes both ways

This works great as a tote but makes no compromises in backpack performance. It has all the padding and straps you’d expect on a normal daypack.

Who it’s for: Totes are great for lighter loads, but heavier ones place a lot of strain onto a single shoulder. If you’re the type who leaves the house intending to do work at a cafe, but returns with a bag full of groceries, your shoulders will thank you for getting a tote that converts into a backpack.

Why it’s great: A lot of bags that convert from totes to backpacks make sacrifices in backpack performance in order to get things working right as a tote. The Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote does not. It is a fully featured daypack complete with ventilated shoulder straps and stowable waist and chest straps for heavier loads. It also has a full array of pockets you’d expect on a backpack, yet fits into a permanently attached zippered stuff pouch the size of a 99¢ chip bag.

The Patagonia Travel Tote's water bottle pockets are handy in either configuration.
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Pockets and organization: The Patagonia Lightweight Travel Tote’s 22L capacity refers exclusively to its cavernous main compartment. It’s big enough to fit a laptop, rain jacket, extra layer, and just about anything else you’d need for a day on the town or a hike through the wilderness. The only internal pocket is the pouch it stuffs into, which dangles from the top of the bag. It’s a good size and location for things like earbuds, lip balm, or a USB battery pack.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: While Patagonia has all the pockets you’d expect from a backpack, it doesn’t have all the organizational features you’d want. There’s no laptop sleeve in the main compartment and no organizer in the front pocket.


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