For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a backpack person. I mean this literally. There are framed photos scattered across the many surfaces in my mom’s house that show my brother and I as toddlers (in a pile of leaves, standing at the bus stop on the first day of school). In them, we’re fully-outfitted in Patagonia fleeces and Levi’s jeans, with initial-embroidered L.L.Bean backpacks strapped to our torsos. I don’t remember many of these moments, but I do remember the bags.
I wore those L.L.Bean backpacks through grade school before transitioning to bags that I could use for skiing and hiking. When I began backpacking, a new world of technically-constructed packs immediately piqued my interest and opened up a threshold for my bag obsession. It was shortly after this time that a close friend told me that I had become “a backpack guy” — I half expected the rest of our circle to enter the room to tell me how this was impacting everyone around me.
The thing is, it’s true. I have backpacks for everything — day hikes, multi-day hikes, multi-day expeditions, backcountry skiing, commuting, running; even my travel duffel has backpack straps.
Recently, during a trip to Denver, my devotion was shaken. A friend introduced me to a new product: the everyday tote. More specifically, Flowfold and L.L.Bean’s collaboration Crossbody Tote. The tote bags of my memory were also L.L.Bean’s, but they were made of rugged canvas and more appropriate for hauling camping gear than schlepping my computer and notebook between meetings. This was something different though.
Flowfold, like L.L.Bean, is a Maine-based company. (I’m a New Englander myself, and there’s a certain amount of regional pride that comes standard with that.) The small brand started with one product — a wallet made of sailcloth, the idea being that the lightweight and durable material would stand up to time and wear better than leather. The same logic is applied to the tote, which is made of X-Pac, a laminated sandwich of nylon with a diamond-shaped weave of polyester yarn as the meat. It’s waterproof, and it’s light.
I carried the tote during the days after it was given to me and was surprised at how much I didn’t miss my backpack. The Crossbody has many of the features I look for in an everyday pack, including a laptop sleeve, a large and open main compartment, an exterior pocket for smaller items and sleeves to hold water bottles. It was exactly what I needed and nothing else.
The Crossbody also enlightened me to some of the downfalls of the backpack I had been using frequently at the time — the need to sling it off and set it on the floor to access it, the back sweat it precipitated in warmer temperatures. The tote solves these issues and offers two modes of carry — at the side with its small handles or over the shoulder with a longer strap.
“Duh,” many of you are probably thinking. Everyday totes are nothing new. But they’re new to me, and this one is a particular upgrade to the canvas versions currently sold at every trendy boutique across America. It’s lighter; it’s waterproof; it’s everything I prize in a backpack. I’d say that I’m a convert and send a postcard to the friend who pointed out my backpack addiction, letting him know I’d finally gotten clean, but the thing is, I didn’t; I’m not. I still like backpacks, but now I like totes too. I could use a bigger closet.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end as cleanly as that. A month or so after using the Crossbody, I went to reach for it in its usual location to find that it was absent. No matter, I had only forgotten where I had stashed it, so I reverted to my standby backpack for the day. A more thorough search later that day revealed no hint of what had happened to it — and then my girlfriend arrived home, mid apartment shakedown, wielding the tote over her shoulder. It was, she told me, an awesome bag. I was right in adopting it as a new go-to; I was wrong in thinking I’d ever again consider it my own.
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