Tote Bags: Frequently Asked Questions

Road Trip Snacks
Road trip snacks in The Truck.

Below is a list of questions (and answers) that we’re asked — or anticipate we will be asked — about our various tote bag designs. If you have a question that wasn’t answered here, feel free to emailus@tombihn.com.

  1. You offer five different tote bag designs (not counting different sizes). Can you tell me a little about each of them?
  2. Which of the tote designs is right for me?
  3. Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?
  4. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with a zipper top?
  5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with an open top?
  6. How do people typically use their tote bags?
  7. Which of the totes can be carried on the shoulder as well as in hand?
  8. Have you considered making the handles/shoulder straps adjustable in length?
  9. What are the key differences between a tote and a duffel bag?
  10. I want to add some additional organization to my tote. Which accessories fit in which totes?
  11. If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?
  12. I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my rock. So, which tote?

You offer five different tote bag designs (not counting different sizes). Can you tell me a little about each of them?

Sure thing.

The Truck
A true multipurpose carry-all bag. You can use it for groceries, tools, laundry, work stuff—whatever. It’s made out of our durable 525d or 210d ballistic nylon, which can help it withstand years of hard use. That being said, if dirty or sharp tools get tossed in the bag, it’ll eventually develop some character. We think of it as showing its history.

Pop Tote
Our very first zip-top tote bag design. It shines as a personal carry-on bag for air travel and as an every-day-carry tote.

Zip-Top Shop Bag
An updated version of our Original Shop Bag, this time with a zipper closure. It comes in two sizes and makes a great reusable grocery bag whether at home or in faraway lands: fold it up and stow it away in your Aeronaut to serve as a shopping bag at your travel destination.

The Moveable Feast
A purpose-built grocery bag for gourmet chefs and enthusiastic food lovers. It keeps wine bottles upright and tomatoes up high and unsquished. It’s got padded handles and lots of organization. Note: we’ve retired the Moveable Feast for now to give folks a chance to consider the Truck, which is very similar in design. We may or may not make a future production run of the Moveable Feast.

Original Shop Bag
The tried and true classic reusable shopping bag. With padded handles, piping to help it keep its shape, and two interior open-top pockets, it’s refined, simple, and classic.

… There’s also the Swift, but we think of it as a dedicated knitting bag as opposed to a tote bag.

Which of the tote designs is right for me?

Our answer depends mightily on what you plan to carry and in what context. Feel free to emailus@tombihn.com or post in our Forums to ask for advice specific to your situation.

Generally speaking, we’d suggest:

The Original Large Shop Bag if you’re looking for a simple, lightweight reusable grocery bag.

The Truck if you want a heavy-duty tote you can really work out of, and that’ll look even better as it develops character from years of use.

Trying the Small Zip-Top Shop Bag to use as an Every Day Carry (EDC) tote that’s the perfect size for lunch, a sweater, Kindle or small tablet, phone, wallet, and water bottle.

The Pop Tote if you want a tote that can serve both as a day bag at your travel destination and your personal carry-on bag en route.

Why do you offer so many different tote bag designs?

Several reasons. Notably:

Everyone here at TOM BIHN has at least a couple of tote bags. We use them as shopping bags, lunch bags, overflow-of-stuff bags. Tom will often bring one of his original Utility Totes to the factory full of patterns and segments of a new design. Because we use tote bags so much, we’re inspired to make new variations that could prove even more useful to us (or to you…)

Tote bags are universally useful. Nearly everyone will appreciate owning one, which makes them a great bag to give as a gift.

You guys seem to appreciate the tote bags that we make, so it only makes sense for us to make more.

A tote bag can be a very basic, utilitarian, yet thoughtful sack. Because tote bags are so well-loved and so often used, we consider a new tote bag to be a good place to refine features, aesthetics, and materials that may (or may not) be applied to other more complex bags sometime down the road.

Lastly, the development timeline for a tote is often much shorter than that of, say, a briefcase. Or a 787 Dreamliner.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with a zipper top?

The main advantage of a tote with a zipper top—such as our Pop Tote, Large Zip-Top Shop Bag, or Small Zip-Top Shop Bag—is that your stuff won’t fall out if somehow the tote is topsy-turvied. We think this is especially important if you plan to use a tote bag as a personal carry-on bag like we sometimes do.

The main disadvantage is that the zippers and the required fabric dome add a small amount of weight to the bag. With the tote zipped shut, you can’t fit tall items like a baguette or ukulele—but, of course, you could simply leave the tote unzipped in those instances.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a tote bag with an open top?

The main advantage of a tote with an open top—our Original Shop Bag or the Truck—is that you don’t need to mess around with zipping a zipper open or closed. The top of the bag is wide and open, allowing you to easily put in and remove your stuff.

Game Night Truck Tote

You can also fold the Original Shop Bag into its own interior pocket, which turns it into an elegant little parcel that can be easily stowed inside of a larger bag. This can sort-of also be accomplished with the Zip-Top Shop Bag, but it’s not nearly as easy.

The main disadvantage to an open-top tote is that, if it somehow falls or tips over, your stuff could spill out.

How do people typically use their tote bags?

All kinds of ways. Here’s how we use our tote bags and how you’ve told us you use them:

Reusable grocery bag
Picnic bag
Tool Bag
Front seat road trip stuff bag (snacks, road map, drinks)
Every Day Carry bag
Personal carry-on bag
Game night bag
Gym bag
Overflow-of-stuff bag (a catch all)
Beach bag


The Small Zip-Top Shop Bag as a personal carry-on item.

Side note: some folks use tote bags as firewood haulers or storage containers. We don’t haul firewood in our totes because we use these firewood haulers Tom made back in the early 80’s.

Tom Bihn's Original Firewood Bag

Which of the totes can be carried on the shoulder as well as in hand?

The Pop Tote, Large and Small Zip-Top Shop Bag, Original Shop Bag, and the Truck can be carried by most folks either over the shoulder or by hand. Note: the Moveable Feast is designed to be carried only by hand.

Have you considered adding shoulder strap attachment points to any of the tote bags?

We have, and we do, but we haven’t found a way to do this with any of our current tote bags designs that meets our own standards of perfection. But we’ll let you know if and when we do.

Have you considered making the handles/shoulder straps adjustable in length?

Same answer as above: we’ve explored this a bit here and there, but haven’t found a way to add such a feature in an elegant way.

What are the key differences between a tote and a duffel bag?

That’s a good question! While some of our tote bags are open-top and others are zip-top, our Yeoman Duffel (and most every other duffel out there) has a zipper closure. So a zip-top tote is sort of wandering over into the land of duffel bags, isn’t it? Guess you could say you know a duffel bag when you see it.

Our Yeoman Duffels feature a classic U-shaped opening that makes packing them more like packing a suitcase. They’re also wide rather than tall, which means they offer shallow, horizontal packing space as opposed to more vertical packing space like a tote bag. The Yeoman is available in four sizes, three of which are quite large and can fit bigger items such as camping tents.

I want to add some additional organization to my tote. Which accessories fit in which totes?

This response really isn’t intended to be cheeky: you can use basically any accessory that fits within the tote’s dimensions—and, if applicable, permits the zipper to be zipped up. That being said, certain accessories fit particularly well:

Pop Tote
The main compartment can fit a Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip or Maker’s Bag/Swift Freudian Slip. The small exterior pockets can accommodate Mini or Small Organizer Pouches, the Pen/Pencil Organizer Pouch, Knitting Tool Pouches in sizes 1-3, the Q Kit, and the Pocket Pouch.

The Truck
The Small Café Bag Freudian Slip can fit in any main pocket; the Medium Café Bag Freudian Slip fits in the center pocket (at a diagonal or by pressing out the sides a little bit), and Organizer Pouches in size Medium or smaller will fit in the front/back pockets.

Small Original Shop Bag or Small Zip-Top Shop Bag
Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip (Note that the Medium size might take away a bit of real estate from interior pockets in the Zip-Top Shop Bag), Small/Mini pouches in interior side pockets.

Large Original Shop Bag or Large Zip-Top Shop Bag
Large, Medium or Small Café Bag Freudian Slip, and up to a Medium pouch in interior pockets.


The Truck with a Small Cafe Bag Freudian Slip, a Size 4 Travel Stuff Sack, and a Double Organizer Pouch.

If I knew I was going to be stranded on a deserted island, which tote bag would you recommend that I take with me?

That’s a tough one, and it kind of depends on what you plan to take with you to that deserted island. So, what do you plan to take? Tom says he’d take the Truck because he’d figure out a way to make a sun hat out of it, plus it would likely carry more water (for a few minutes at least).

I’m planning to take Ulysses by James Joyce, a water filter, my pet rock, a hat, an antique sugar bowl, a small adze, a picnic blanket, a jumbo bag of salt water taffy, and some antibiotics in case I need them for my pet rock. So, which tote?

That helps. We’d recommend the Truck because it will help you keep that wide variety of items contained and, if need be, separate (so you don’t accidentally get rock antibiotics all over your candy).

I'll finally have time to read Ulysses!
I’ll finally have the time to read Ulysses!

mm

TB Crew

We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.

Leave a Comment




News Briefs

EveryDayCommentary, Fatih Arslan, and Living One Handed have new reviews Nik’s Minimalist Wallet. Dominique reviewed the Synapse 19. Shoba Narayan reviewed the Aeronaut 30 + Synapse.

Early reviews of the Luminary 12 / 15 from the Forum community are in. See L15 reviews by logan_g, G42, Lia, anna2222, Quiltmama, and L12 reviews by marbenais, awurrlu and L12/L15 comparison reviews by Cristina, aedifica, bartleby.

The new Luminary 12 and Luminary 15 backpacks + bags in 210d ballistic nylon will be up for pre-order on 02/26. Details here.

Subscribe: Blog Posts

You’ll receive an email every time we publish a new blog post. That’s about 3-4 times a week.

Recommended Posts