Tote-ally awesome bags to cart around this season
Once the domain of freshers’ fairs, the humble tote bag is having a moment, and it looks like that moment is set to endure. The best tote bags are stylish, yes, but they’re also sustainable, acting as a comparatively eco-friendly alternative to a single-use plastic bag.
Totes are also excellent for travelling. Whether it’s an easy-access carry-on for the plane or a folded up canvas bag in the suitcase, ready to be rammed with fresh produce from a Provençal market (or whatever your poison), their portability is a key asset.
There’s something for every budget, too. Entry-level totes are available on Amazon for the price of a coffee, but spend a bit more and you could get a higher-spec tote bag (an oxymoron if ever there was one). Meanwhile, top-of-the-range offerings from premium brands such as Longchamp provide a luxe look-and-feel while maintaining that functional portability.
So whether it’s a high-culture New Yorker bag or beach-ready receptacle, there’s a tote out there for everyone. If you’re looking to upgrade the tote bag you got handed on induction day at work or university, look no further than our roundup of the best options out there.
READ NEXT: The best laptop bags you can buy
How to choose the best tote bag for you
What size do I need?
Tote bags are known for their roomy size, making them excellent choices for grocery shopping and day trips. But they’re also known for their portability, in particular their ability to be folded down to a compact square and transported around in larger luggage, like a suitcase. If you’re in the market for a tote bag, odds are you want something sizeable enough to lug your essentials (and then some) around, but flexible enough to be folded up and stored tidily away.
Larger tote bags measure up in the 50 x 50cm region (or a close variation), like our versatile pick from Arket (48 x 48cm) and the sustainable Kind Bag (39 x 64cm). If you don’t need oodles of space, or if you’re only packing for one, a 35 x 35cm tote should suit you fine. Any smaller and you may be a bit pressed for space – for tote bag purposes anyway – but this compact offering from Longchamp is 26 x 28cm and should fit a paperback and a 500ml water bottle into it.
What material should I buy?
When selecting a tote bag, fabric is a matter of preference. It depends on what you’re looking for. If sustainability is at the top of your agenda, there are plenty of bags made partly or wholly from recycled materials; Kind’s bags are particularly good for this, as each one is 100% produced from six plastic bottles. Reusing and recycling, now there’s a lot to applaud.
Canvas offers a classic look and feel that lends itself to everyday use, and though it’s not as heavy on the eco-credentials as recycled materials, it’s still leagues above the single-use plastic bags of yore. Some bags are made from recycled canvas, like Longchamp’s Pliage collection, constructed from recycled polyamide canvas (although note the Russian leather cowhide trimming).
What features do I want?
When it comes to bags, totes are pretty uncomplicated. If they’re roomy, foldable and reusable, they’ve pretty much satisfied their raison d’être. However, a couple of interior pockets to hold your phone, keys and wallet can come in handy, to save you rooting around in the bottom of your bag.
Another thing to consider is how heavy a load you’ll be bearing. If you’ll just be carrying bare essentials, you needn’t worry about strap width, but if you intend to use your tote for a laptop and/or books, a wider strap will prevent the bag digging into your shoulders and causing discomfort.
A final nod should be made to design. Tote bags are, if you’ll forgive the pun, something of a blank canvas. Whether you’re a slick city-dweller, a country bumpkin or just have a penchant for pattern, tote bags are a fantastic way of expressing your personal sense of style and identity. Read on for our pick of the best.
The best tote bags to buy in 2022
1. Kind Bag: Best sustainable tote bag
Price: £11.50 | Buy now from Selfridges
This tote-style shopper from sustainable brand Kind is made entirely from six plastic bottles. It comes in a range of funky colours and prints, including whimsical gingham, funky geometric and millennial palm print, and is completely machine washable, so it’s ideal for repeated use. Selfridges is selling the bags as part of its Project Earth campaign to change the way consumers shop, with a range including products created using at least 50% environmentally certified materials and ingredients. Kind’s ethos speaks volumes, too: the company practises ethical manufacturing and its suppliers (and its suppliers’ suppliers) work with ethical trade organisations to ensure an environment- and people-friendly production process.
Key features – Size: 64 x 39cm (H x W)
2. Arket Packable Tote: Best tote bag for men
Price: £25 | Buy now from Arket
Available in olive, navy or black, this sizeable tote bag will hold all manner of summer goods, from picnic-ready “picky bits” to an entire football. Though not wholly waterproof, it is water repellent, so can withstand a bit of summer drizzle. It’s lightweight enough to pack down into a suitcase, but durable enough to hold heavier items. Plus, it’s versatile enough to tote around in autumn, winter and spring too (not an inch of embroidered raffia in sight).
3. CGBE Canvas Tote Bag: Best budget tote bag
Price: £13 | Buy now from Amazon
While you can buy tote bags online for around £2-£4, their lightweight fabric and spindly handles can make them susceptible to tearing and snapping, particularly if you intend to use them every day. This cute, vintage-style shopper has thick handles, which are great for load-bearing, and it can hold up to 23kg. It can be easily machine-washed, and the quirky but understated design means your kids won’t be scowling if sent on a corner shop run with it. At £13, it’s not the cheapest tote bag on the market, but it’s so durable that cost-per-use will end up negligible.
Key features – Size: 34 x 33cm (H x W)
4. Longchamp Le Pliage Shoulder Bag: Best luxury tote bag
Price: £72 | Buy now from John Lewis
Le Pliage from classic French brand Longchamp is the queen of tote bags. It’s lightweight and flexible enough to be folded down into a compact square (another great option for whacking in the suitcase on holiday), but durable enough to hold all the everyday items you need, from lipsticks to laptops. It has two interior patch pockets, so you can segregate your valuables from the main body of the bag, and comes in a range of opulent colours, including Red, Camel, Turtledove and Saffron. Contemporary clean lines combined with sturdiness and roominess make this investment piece a modern classic.
Key features – Size: 30 x 31cm (H x W)
5. Seafolly Beach Basics Sail Bag: Best tote bag for the beach
Price: £30 | Buy now from John LewisSpeaking of raffia bags, while they’re nice in theory for the beach, they can be tough to clean, and can accumulate the smell of days-old seawater. This roomy, practical tote from Seafolly is made from cotton and can be machine washed, which makes life a lot easier. It’s got oodles of space inside (55 x 37cm), so is perfect for ramming your beach towel, sun lotion and paperback into. Its nautical navy-and-white hues and rope handles make it on-brand for the beach, yet versatile, so you won’t look out of place whether you’re in Bognor Regis or Bodrum. At just £30, you’ll have money left over for ice creams, too.
Key features – Size: 55 x 37cm (H x W)