Ever heard of Occam’s Razor? It’s the idea that the simplest solution to a problem is almost always the best one, and it certainly holds true in the case of the tote bag.
This humble receptacle is luggage in its purest, simplest form. A basic bag with two loop handles that’s easy to use, comfortable to carry and, for the most part, relatively inexpensive to buy. If you’re looking for a minimalist answer to the question of how to transport gym gear, lunch, office essentials, beach bits and beyond, this is undoubtedly it.
Still, simple as it is, there are a few things worth knowing when it comes to arming yourself with a good, solid tote bag of your own. Price can vary wildly according to things like materials and brand, and with so many different options out there, not all will be suitable for your specific requirements.
Here we address all of these topics and more, while providing you with a handy list of labels that, in our humble opinion, make the best tote bags in the game.
What Is A Tote Bag?
Good question. Before we get into the details, it’s first important to know what exactly counts as a tote bag. Some brands use the term pretty loosely, referring to everything from holdalls to soft briefcases as ‘tote bags’. This can make things a little confusing, but as far as we’re concerned, a tote bag can be defined as a medium-sized bag with parallel handles, a single compartment that usually opens at the top and most commonly made from canvas. It should be noted, though, that as the price point increases, premium materials, such as leather, are also common.
Why Buy A Tote Bag?
Tote bags are great because they’re so simple and easy to use. Just throw your stuff in, sling it over a shoulder or just grab it by the handles and you’re good to go. This makes them a great option for everything from day-to-day work duties to transporting your essentials to and from the beach. Quick, fuss-free and convenient.
Before you get your wallet out there are a few questions you’ll need to ask yourself. From choosing the best material for your personal requirements to the overall style of the bag, here’s what you need to weigh up.
Other than which brand’s name is stitched into it (or brazenly plastered all over it), the fabric that makes up a tote bag is probably the biggest deciding factor in terms of price.
At the lower end, cotton canvas is your best option, providing a cost-effective and durable route into the world of totes. However, as you move up the pricing ladder, materials like leather, heavy-duty nylon and even Gore-Tex begin to creep in.
Have a think about how you’re going to be using your bag and how much you want to spend in order to guide your decision.
Decoration & Branding
Are you looking to make a statement, bring a splash of colour to your everyday outfits, or simply keep things subtle and understated? There are some great options to cater for each, but it all boils down to how you’re planning to use your bag.
For example, if you just want something low-key to take your lunch to the office in, a bright orange, all-over print tote bag probably isn’t the way to go. Conversely, if you’re looking for a beach bag to take on vacation, you may want to go for something loud and colourful.
Outside of a main compartment and two handles, there are plenty of optional extras you can look for in a tote bag. For example, internal zip pockets can be great for storing valuables. Or a removable shoulder strap might be a good idea if you’re going to be carrying your bag for extended periods of time.
Other details to look out for include things like a press-stud or zip fastening to the main compartment, external pockets and reinforcements in high-wear areas, such as the outer base of the bag.
Best Tote Bag Brands
There aren’t many labels whose tote bags can claim iconic status, but A.P.C. is one of them. The Parisian brand’s upscale totes are known for their bold, lettered branding and are often cut from textured materials like denim and corduroy, sometimes with leather trims and reinforcements.
The aesthetic is clean, minimalist and premium, with the latter often reflected in the price tag.
Mismo marries effortless Danish style with quality construction techniques for a collection that combines timeless luggage with innovative practicality. Manufactured from the finest Italian fabrics with every detail carefully considered, the brand’s pieces drip with contemporary luxury.
Its totes are the epitome of this, coming in high-end materials like linen, leather and coated canvas and incorporating all-important practical elements such as elongated handles, water-repellent treatments and multiple internal pockets to keep you organised.
Heritage outdoor brand Filson is no stranger to a bag. The Seattle-based company’s heavy-duty canvas holdalls and messengers have a longstanding reputation as some of the best in the game and tote bags are no different. Expect traditional styling, super-durable fabric and plenty of leather trims to boot.
Canadian bag brand Herschel is probably best known for making the humble backpack cool again. It doesn’t end there though, and the label’s eclectic range of tote bags is testament to that.
There are options available to cater for every taste and budget, all boasting Herschel’s characteristic retro styling and attention to detail. Expect simple canvas options starting at around £25, with premium options, featuring high-quality materials and extra compartments, fetching anywhere up to £100.
Scandinavian brand Rains is built around embracing inclement weather and its tote bags stay true to that ethos. Most of the label’s totes are fully waterproof and designed to stand up to the elements.
They’re also heavy on the minimalist styling, so if you’re looking for something simple, stylish and practical to transport your essentials, this would be a good place to start.
Outdoor brands tend to know their way around a bag, and what is Patagonia if not one of the greatest outdoor brands of all time? Unsurprising, then, that the Californian label makes some excellent totes, ranging from simple canvas options right through to ultra-light, technical bags using performance fabrics and geared towards outdoor applications.
Ultra-hip Californian label Battenwear draws inspiration from the great outdoors and founder Shinya Hasegawa’s love of surfing and beach culture. Being a beachy brand, tote bags are a key part of Battenwear’s output, featuring tasteful branding, block colours and either canvas or ripstop fabrication.
The UK’s premier resortwear label, Orelebar Brown makes beach and poolside gear for the discerning gent. Tailored swim shorts are the brand’s bread and butter, but if it belongs on a beach, chances are these guys are making a premium version of it. Tote bags, of course, are no exception.