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Drive By :: Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Drive By :: Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

by , August 8, 2014
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“So wacha think about your new bag?” I ask.

She glances at me as she’s putting on makeup in the mirror.  “I’m really excited about it!  It’s got a really neat style.  And today is going to be busy for me so it’ll be the perfect time to see how well it does!”

“Oh yeah?  Wacha up to?”

“Well, I’m gonna do some shopping then I’ve got work at the usual time…  By the way, we’re still on for drinks after work, right?”

“Of course!”

Out of the corner of my eye I see the dog sniffing the leather and canvas. When she isn’t paying attention, he takes a big lick of the bag. He’s definitely curious about it and, although I’m not ready to lick the thing myself, I’m curious too.

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

When my editor announced Joshu+Vela offered up some of their goods for review I went on their website to check them out. I usually look for things to review that appeal to me, but as I perused their lineup, instead my girlfriend, Emily, was the first person who came to mind. These guys make refreshingly classic bags with really high-quality components. Most of their gear is marketed as unisex, but there’s a feminine quality to many of their offerings, which is where Emily comes in. As a woman who appreciates classic and timeless styling, she seemed well-suited to review one of their bags – I would be there simply to take notes.

I showed her the website and she gravitated toward the Medium Boat Tote.

Rush hour rolls around and I head out to the bar for drinks with Emily. While waiting at the train stop I start thinking to myself how she’s probably one of the better people to critique this bag. She’s got a particularly demanding commute.  Each day she walks nearly two miles – much of it on one of the steepest hills in San Francisco. At the base of the hill she catches a train into downtown then fights her way through the pedestrian chaos of the Financial District on the way to the office. Because of this her shoes and bags take a healthy beating.

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote


Sitting at the bar, I look over my shoulder just as she walks through the door.

“Hey you!  How was your day?”  She asks.

“Good!  Good!… Is it too soon to ask about the bag?”  I ask like an impatient toddler.

“Haha!  You’re totally obsessed!” she says with a playful grin. “It was really good!  I totally like the look of the bag and so do my coworkers. The cognac leather complements the canvas beautifully. The copper hardware is a really nice touch too. It complements gold and silver jewelry and accessories without clashing. And the style is both versatile and timeless. I can have on a sundress and look girly or I can have on motorcycle boots and a military jacket – the bag works really well either way.”

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

I can definitely see what she’s talking about. There are a lot of neat little classic design cues all over the Boat Tote. There’s definitely a nautical hint to the bag (not surprising given the bag’s name), which might be the source of the timelessness, but it’s not overt or intense.  Joshu+Vela did a nice job piecing together a bag that will likely be en vogue for a long time coming.

“Another thing I like about the Boat Tote is that the canvas is really sturdy – more than other canvas bags I’ve owned. It doesn’t become an awkward shape when I fill it. I had all different kinds of stuff shoved in the Boat Tote throughout the day.  I started with just my wallet, iPhone, and Kindle. Then I lugged around a huge document for a work assignment. I was even able to fit an impromptu grocery trip before heading to the bar. No matter what I had in it, the bag kept its shape and never felt like it was going to break on me.”

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

After hearing that I’ve gotta say I’m impressed. I’m not surprised that the Boat Tote could handle that much stuff without breaking – it’s canvas and leather for cryin’ out loud! But whether the bag could manage that much stuff is a different story, and it sounds like it did good. As she points to different things on the bag I can see how the proportions and the substantial build quality work together to manage all kinds of cargo. Neat stuff!


As she finishes up her thoughts about the bag’s shape, she furrows her brow. I ask if there’s something she didn’t like about the bag.

“Well, the lack of a zipper is an issue here in SF. I was having to hold the bag in front of me while waiting to cross the street because I was worried about some pickpocket helping themselves to my things. The simple metal clasp does a good job to help keep the bag’s shape, but it leaves plenty of room for an uninvited hand to reach in. If I was back in LA or driving everywhere this wouldn’t bother me, but since I do so much walking here and I work in the Financial District, I really need a bag that zips closed.”

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Admittedly, this doesn’t really matter for most of us, but it’s a pretty serious concern for anyone in a major city. I’ve caught guys trying to open up my backpack or dig into my pockets more than once on the trains here. You learn pretty quickly to keep stuff zippered or close to your chest.  

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote


“But the biggest problem isn’t the lack of a zipper, it’s the leather. First off, it’s WAY too stiff. Like, it’s beyond the stiffness level where you can rationalize to yourself ‘it’ll break in the more I use it’. Maybe if I were working as a ranch hand then I could see myself breaking in the leather in a reasonable amount of time. But for the rest of human civilization, the leather is so stiff that it seems like it would take years to break in with normal use. Especially at $265, the bag should have come pre-softened.”

“The other issue with the leather is there are sharp edges where the straps face the skin. I know this is just what happens when leather is cut from a hide, but because the leather is so stiff the sharp edge ends up cutting into me, rubbing my skin raw.”

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Who It Suits:

“Aside from urban/suburban/leather stuff, it’s a minimal organization woman’s bag, so although they say it’s unisex I think guys would get funny looks using this thing.  There are only a couple of tiny pockets on the inside and the bag is pretty shallow with no partition, so if a woman prefers a simple bag then this might work for her.  This is the first time I’ve used a minimal organization bag for everyday stuff and I really liked it.  It’s also one of the bigger bags I’ve owned.  Not a ‘Mary Poppins’ big, but a nice size for everyday stuff.”  

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Who It Doesn’t Suit:

“I wouldn’t recommend this bag to anyone who needs to bring electronics stuff with them.  It’s not for someone who needs to bring their laptop or iPad.  There’s no compartment or padding for electronics and my iPad Air pretty much stuck out through the top of the bag.  The laptop stuck out of the top so high it was comical.  I also wouldn’t take it to the moon…does that answer your question?”

What a smart ass she is!


“The one thing that irked me is that the leather shoulder strap wouldn’t hang under the bag.  Because there’s a buckle on one end of the strap and a metal clasp on the other, only the clasp end would lay to the side nicely.  The buckle side would make the shoulder strap stick up awkwardly.  When you looked at the whole strap from the side of the bag it made this weird ‘S’ shape.  And it kept getting in the way when I would try to grab onto the handles.”

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Joshu+Vela Medium Boat Tote

Other bags to consider:

Property Of…immediately spring to mind, they do a great coated canvas tote with nods to heritage, and there’s a hearty zip closure along the main compartment to hamper potential pickpockets. And if a zippered closure isn’t your thing, and you’re partial to leather, have a look at the Erin Tote from Fossil.


“I hate to say it but I would not recommend this bag – at least not as is. The hard leather straps on the Boat Tote are a straight-up deal breaker. If they softened the leather straps I would be much more inclined to recommend this bag – especially if you’re from the suburbs, a smaller town, or drive to work. If you live in a city there are savvier bag choices.”

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