Best Tote Bags

Updated July 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

16 Models Considered
1 Experts Interviewed
142 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best tote bags

Last Updated July 2020

If you’re shopping for a tote bag, you undoubtedly want a sturdy bag with a roomy interior to carry your items. On today’s market, you’ll find utilitarian tote bags, upscale tote bags, and everything in between. The type of material with which a tote bag is made often dictates its style. You likely wouldn’t carry a bag made of clear vinyl to a high-class restaurant, nor would you carry a leather bag with fancy embellishments to a picnic on the beach.

Material isn’t the only consideration when shopping for a tote bag. Do you have a preference when it comes to strap length or closure type? Many people do. Do you hope to carry your laptop in your tote bag? If so, you’ll want to make sure the bag has the appropriate built-in protection. 

In this review, we aim to lighten your load by spelling out the options and presenting the finest choices in tote bags. Read on for all the necessary information.

Short on space? Look for tote bags that are collapsible. These bags fold down flat for easy storage under a bed or in a cupboard.

Key considerations

Purpose

You might use a tote bag for any of the following purposes.  

  • Carrying items to and from the gym

  • Carrying items to and from the beach

  • Carrying groceries

  • Storing school supplies, including heavy textbooks

  • Visiting the laundromat

  • Traveling overnight

  • Carrying personal supplies, including purse contents or baby diapers 
     

Your purpose should dictate the kind of tote bag you select. For traveling to and from the gym, you probably want something waterproof and machine washable. For hauling groceries, you probably want something with a substantial weight limit. For toting baby supplies, you probably want something with numerous compartments. 

Material

Some tote bag materials are more durable than others. The following is a partial list of common tote bag materials. 

Vegan leather: This material looks a lot like real leather. It may also be called faux leather. Vegan leather can be made from a range of materials, including synthetic PVC and natural cork. If you want something eco-friendly, scrutinize the label. Some, but not all, vegan leather is made of biodegradable substances like paper or fruit peels.

Leather: Real leather is stronger and more breathable than other materials, but it requires a lot of TLC. You must condition the leather in order to maintain it over time. If you’re shopping for a leather tote bag, note that you’re far more likely to find purse-like bags than utility bags made of this material.

Nylon: Nylon is a sturdy thermoplastic material. Some forms of tote bag nylon have been coated with polyurethane to enhance water resistance. Ripstop nylon is a particularly durable form of the material woven with extra fibers to deter rips and tears.

Cotton: You may see multipacks of cotton tote bags offered for a low price. These bags suit some purposes better than others. Cotton is vulnerable to shrinkage and the ravages of water, including mildew growth. On the positive side, cotton breathes well; if you’re looking for a reusable bag for fruits and vegetables, it may be the perfect choice. 

Polyester: Synthetic polyester is less prone to fading, tearing, and wrinkling than a material like cotton, but it doesn’t breathe. If you want a long-lasting tote bag for nonfood items, polyester may be a good choice. If you’ll be carrying wet or damp clothing from the gym, however, be sure to remove your items soon after you get home. 

Canvas: Canvas is a tightly woven material that often contains a mixture of cotton and polyester fibers. Like cotton, you’ll find low-cost multipacks of canvas tote bags for sale. You’ll also see a few high-end canvas tote bags made of heavier canvas material.

Size

Two figures to note when shopping are bag width and height. Tote bags on the small side tend to be about 13 inches wide, whereas tote bags on the large side can be over 23 inches wide. Smaller bags may stand as little as 8 inches tall, whereas bigger bags may stand over 16 inches tall.

Some manufacturers also provide a figure for bag depth. For example, a tote bag may have a bottom “floor” that is about 6 inches wide. This gives you an idea of how much the bag can hold. In our research, we found depths as little as 3 inches and as great as 12 inches.

Shoulder strap

Handle drop: This is the distance from your shoulder to the mouth of the bag when slung over a shoulder. Most people feel comfortable with a tote bag handle drop between 9 and 12 inches. If you want the bag to feel extra snug on your shoulder, you might prefer a shorter handle drop of, say, 8 inches. 

As a frame of reference, think about your purse, if you carry one. A purse designed to be carried in the hand rather than over the shoulder has a handle drop of around 6 inches. A purse with a handle drop of 20 inches or more is meant to be worn across the body.

Adjustability: The length of some tote bag shoulder straps is adjustable, but this is not common. In our research, we also found a few tote bags with detachable straps. If you require either of these features, you may need to refine your search, as most tote bag straps are permanently affixed and not adjustable

Width: For some, a tote bag with wide straps feels more secure on the shoulder. Most sellers supply strap width in terms of inches or centimeters. Again, as a frame of reference, the classic purse strap is about 1 inch wide. We’ve seen tote bags with straps as wide as 6 inches, but this may be a bit excessive.

EXPERT TIP

If durability is a key concern, pay attention to the material with which the bag is made. A material like ripstop nylon is more durable than cotton. The quality of the stitching also matters; a bag with double stitching at the seams and handles is likely to last longer than a bag without it.


Staff  | BestReviews

Features

Closures

Some tote bags don’t close at all: the mouth remains open at all times. While this might be fine at the grocery store, you may prefer the added security of a closure for other purposes. 

Magnetic closures are exactly what they sound like. Each side of the bag has at least one magnet embedded in the rim. The magnets adhere and hold the bag shut. The advantage for the wearer is ease of use and minimal hardware. However, a bag with a magnetic closure may still have some gaps at the top. 

Snap closures are similar to magnetic closures in that there may still be some gaps, and the snaps could come undone. 

Zipper closures provide a bit more security. A zipper across the top of the bag eliminates the possibility of gaps unless the zipper breaks, that is.

Laptop friendly

Are you looking for a bag to hold your laptop? If you want something roomier than the traditional messenger bag, you’re in luck. Some tote bags have a special padded pocket for a laptop or tablet. Others have hook-and-loop closures that hold your device securely in place. We don’t advise you to loosely store your electronics in a tote bag without one of these protective features.

If you’re looking for a way to safely carry your laptop and school gear to class, we also suggest you look into laptop backpacks. These backpacks are designed to protect your laptop as well as your other gear. 

Colors, prints, and patterns

Tote bags are sold in a variety of colors, prints, and patterns. This includes clear tote bags that, as the name suggests, are made of a transparent material like PVC. You might wonder why anyone would want a clear tote bag. Some institutions mandate the use of clear baggage in the name of public safety.

If you have your heart set on a particular color, print, or pattern, you can probably find it. That said, a lot of the highly rated tote bags we found were solid colors. Some tote bags are reversible, so you can choose between one of two exteriors depending on the occasion.

DID YOU KNOW?

Utility tote bags made of leather are hard to come by. If you want the look of leather in a tote bag, consider something made of faux leather.

Tote bag prices

Inexpensive: If you buy cotton or canvas tote bags in bulk, you might pay as little as $1 or $2 per bag. These bags are usually white or off-white. The non-waterproof bags tend to be on the small side, but they’re breathable and sometimes biodegradable.

Mid-range: For a quality tote bag that’s more substantial than $1 cotton or canvas bags, expect to pay between $10 and $30. Those closer to $30 may hail from a revered manufacturer and/or come in a color or pattern of your choosing. You’ll find bags made of an assortment of materials, from faux leather to polyester, in this price range.

Expensive: You might spend between $30 and $70 for a name-brand tote bag from a respected manufacturer. These tote bags tend to be made of hardy polyester or high-quality leather.

EXPERT TIP

Going to a baby shower? Consider buying a diaper tote and stuffing it with smaller gifts, such as disposable diapers, rash ointment, and baby powder.


Staff  | BestReviews

Tips

  • Pay attention to the terminology sellers use. Some tote bags are actually purses. A “tote handbag” is more likely meant to be used as a purse than a utility bag.

  • Don’t confuse a tote bag with a lunch tote. Some reusable lunch boxes are called lunch totes. These products are much smaller than traditional tote bags.

  • Note the weight limit. This holds particularly true if you’re searching for a tote bag to hold your groceries. Some reusable grocery totes can hold 50 pounds or more.

  • Consider the quality of the bag opening. Some tote bags are designed for laundry. A rigid opening (often supported by wire) is more convenient when you’re tossing laundry around. 

  • Pay attention to canvas weight. Canvas material is rated by weight. If you’re buying a canvas tote bag and want something durable, pay attention to this. Canvas weights range from 4 ounces to 24 ounces. A 12-ounce canvas tote bag is more durable than a 6-ounce canvas tote bag. 

If you want to minimize your use of single-use plastic grocery bags, stock up on tote bags. Keep them in your car for handy access when you go shopping.

FAQ

Q. Can a tote bag be laundered in the washing machine?
A. It depends on bag material and the quality of the stitching. A bag made of vinyl or faux leather may be able to withstand a cold, delicate cycle, but you might want to turn it inside out first, and you definitely shouldn’t put it in the dryer. A bag made of nylon or polyester may withstand a warm or cold cycle, but it could build up static in the dryer and become permanently wrinkled. Bags made of cotton are generally machine washable, but they’re prone to shrinkage. Bags made of silk, rayon, and linen may be dry clean only.

Of course, these are just general guidelines. Check the label first, as a tote bag’s hardware or inner lining might change the protocol.
 

Q. I notice that some tote bags have inner linings and others don’t. Which is better?
A. This depends on your needs. If you want a tote bag for grocery shopping, baby gear, or the gym, look for something with a water-resistant lining to protect the bag from liquids. If you’re just carrying dry goods, a lining may not be necessary.
 

Q. I’m looking for a nice leather bag, and I’m seeing both “shoulder bags” and “tote bags” for sale. What’s the difference?
A. A shoulder bag traditionally has just one strap, whereas a tote bag has two. If you’re looking for a bag that opens wide for easy loading, a tote may be the better choice. If you’re looking for something more refined and purse-like, however, a shoulder bag might be more your speed.

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The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.
The team that worked on this review
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    Digital Content Producer
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    Jennifer
    Writer
  • Katie
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    Editorial Director
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    Melissa
    Senior Editor
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    Web Producer

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