When a verb transforms into the name of a product category, you know 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 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 bucket with two handles and that’s it. The best totes are 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. The following eight are our favorites.
Best Overall Tote
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.
Refreshed for 2021, the Camino 35 Carryall now features deployable dividers, as well as interior zippered pockets. The tote comes in four colorways: Highlands Olive, Harvest Red, Navy and Storm Grey.
Best Upgrade Tote
No stranger to quality and innovation, Snow Peak brings both traits to the sleek, understated X-Pac Nylon Totebag. Named for its crosshatch design, X-Pac fabric was originally developed for specialized racing sails. This tote boasts UV resistance and waterproofing up to 200 PSI, plus a rain cloth for extra protection from moisture. Interior pockets for storage, dual exterior straps and reinforced bottom round out its capabilities. At 32L of capacity, this bag ensures you'll never have to leave home without your essentials.
Best Budget Tote
Topo Designs has a knack for making outdoor gear look good, and their Cinch Tote is no exception. Color blocking gives it an instant “classic” vibe, while a durable 1000D nylon body, fully lined with nylon pack cloth, keeps your belongings safe. Four internal pockets prevent the loss of small items to the black hole at the bottom of every tote, and a removable strap allows for multiple carry options.
Best Classic Tote
Sometimes, the original just can’t be beaten. L.L. Bean's 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 a 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. We particularly like the zippered option for a little extra security.
Best Travel Tote
Patagonia created its Black Hole collection with TPU-coated nylon for the sole purpose 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 burly 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.
Best Tote for Bikers
Part of Chrome's Heritage line, this limited-edition, tough-as-nails tote employs a floating liner, separate wet/dry compartments, zippered main opening and a quick access phone pocket. The tote boasts rugged handles, as well as a stowable stabilization strap for a variety of carry options including, yes, a messenger-style mode. (It's Chrome, after all.)
Best Camp Tote
This overbuilt option is more price-conscious than some of its competitors, with many of the same technical specs. Featuring waterproof, puncture-resistant material with an added water-resistant pocket, this tote is perfect for days spent fishing, hanging at the lake or hauling camping supplies. The interlocking handle makes carrying a breeze, and the easy-clean fabric means when it gets messy, you can just hose it and set it out to dry. The RTIC Tote Bag is also available in a size small, for just the essentials.
Best Work Tote
Out of all the contenders on this list, this tote is arguably the most feature-filled. Yes, 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).