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Ancoats Bag Company Tote


Ancoats Bag Company The Tote Review

by , August 12, 2020
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When we think about soft goods production, we often imagine a spacious factory somewhere (mainly for reduced cost of labor) with all the consequent benefits of the economies of scale, larger production capacity, and faster output. From an economic standpoint, it makes a lot of sense when fighting for your profit margins and trying to keep up with your competitors. This outsourcing paradigm pushes even the brands that were famous for manufacturing locally (for example GORUCK's recent move offshore) to explore the options overseas.

But what is often missing is the magic of a small workshop where one passionate craftsman can create something special out of rolls of fabrics all by himself. This is what makes Japanese soft goods brands so popular – they are primarily made by small teams, often with a master in charge who has know-how and expertise passed down through generations.

Such small-scale production is less common nowadays but products that do come out from those workshops are really unique and more importantly, personal.

One such manufacturer is Ancoats Bag Company, based in Manchester, UK.

John, the founder of Ancoats Bag Company, is a one-man army – he is designing, manufacturing, and selling the custom totes himself while juggling with social media and managing his growing community of happy customers. There are no middlemen or AI bots that stand between you and the creator and this makes the interaction with the brand very easy, almost intimate.

There is something very special and personal when you can comment on a post on Instagram and have the creator reply to you directly. My review of the tote would not be complete without highlighting that all my interactions with John were positive, casual, and yet very informative and helpful. It’s not often that the excellent experience with the brand starts before you even get the product in your hand – Ancouts Bag Company is exactly that rare case.

There is an ongoing inside joke in the carry community that 2020 is a year of the tote (2019 was a year of the sling) and it’s hard to argue with the versatility of this form factor. Less formal than a briefcase, more appropriate than a backpack in a workplace, and a very unisex and versatile carry solution that has been appearing in the product lines of many established brands and manufacturers.

I had the pleasure of testing The Tote from the Ancoats Bag Company for over a month as my urban EDC. Let’s see how Ancoats’ take on totes fares.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote


  • Name: The Tote
  • Brand: Ancoats Bag Company
  • Format: Multi-carry (tote, backpack, over the shoulder)
  • Measurement: 35 x 45 x 9cm (my large version) and 33 x 40 x 7cm (standard version)
  • Capacity: 17L (standard) and 21L (large)
  • Weight: 835g
  • Zippers:
  • Material: Dimension Polyant X-Pac VX21
  • PriceFrom 150 GBP (small, no add-ons) to 225 GBP (with Fidlocks, back panel padding, and interior rear divider panel)


Who It Suits

An urban dweller with a high-pace lifestyle and taste for durable, high-performance bags in classic form factors. The tote would easily pass in an office space and feel right in a business meeting.

If you like a lot of organization, generous size, and need to carry a laptop with you, the Ancoats tote is a perfect fit. The shape of the bag is tailored to flat items – books, magazines, vinyl records, a laptop, etc. so do not expect to carry beefy objects as it would impact the carrying comfort.

The choice of size and fabrics allows the tote to work well for those who look for a technical aesthetic (X-Pac does look more technical and flashy) or a classic one (with timeless Cordura fabric).

Who It Doesn’t

The tote is geared toward urban use and would not work for someone who wants to take it hiking or on an outdoor adventure in general.

The bag is not for someone who needs an external water bottle pocket. Also, the profile is on the slim side and if you plan to carry bulky items you might be better off with a different bag.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote



Let’s cut to the chase – the Ancoats Tote looks great. It strikes the right balance between a modern and timeless look and can easily be a heritage piece thanks to the excellent choice of materials.

Depending on the materials you pick (Cordura 500D, X-Pac X10, X-Pac VX21), you can have a more classic or technical look. Further customization allows you to personalize the bag and make it an extension of your character.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote


The build is immaculate, not a single loose thread or uneven stitch. The quality of craftsmanship feels top-notch in every single detail.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

Materials and Hardware

My custom large tote is made from VX21 fabric. Essentially it is a multi-layer fabric known for its use as sailcloth thanks to its light weight, exceptional durability, and water resistance. These properties quickly felt right at home with the gear community.

A signature diamond pattern is made thanks to the middle X-ply layer that helps elevate fabric tear resistance.

The fabric is silky smooth to the touch, very easy to clean (dirt does not seep into the fabric and can barely hold on at best, easily wiped clean with a wet cloth or a splash of water), and has a somewhat technical look. Unlike VX10, the VX21 also has a slight sheen to it.

Without going all technical I can just say that VX21 is one of the best fabrics on the market. It offers an excellent weight-to-strength ratio and is very durable, water resistant, and easy to take care of. Also, the bag color will not be impacted by UV light so the bag will retain its pristine look for much longer compared to regular Cordura or canvas.

One of the subjective downsides of VX21 is that the fabric has a crinkly sound. But it is a minor gripe and the benefits far outweigh this questionable property.

The hardware is a combination of tried-and-true YKK AquaGuard zippers and aluminum crash locks (or optional Fidlock magnetic “V” buckles that come at an extra cost).

Ancoats Bag Company Tote


Before you can add the tote to your cart and go through the routine checkout process you first need to build it.

A unique selling proposition of Ancoats bags is the ability to customize your tote. The website conveniently funnels you through the essential information, detailing the basics such as Size, Fabrics, Front Tote Handle, Compartments, etc. before letting you pick and mix the options that speak to you the most. You can select from a yellow on black logo or black on white. Both look excellent and do not ruin the bag’s look in any way. I appreciated the low-key, minimal yet tasteful branding.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

Each step is intuitive and offers just enough information and visual reference to help you make an informed decision without overwhelming you with specs and flashy options.

My custom bag features the following options:

– Size: Large

– Fabric: X-Pac VX21

– Bag Color: Black

– Front Tote Strap Color: Black

– Back Strap Hardware: Fidlock Slider Clip (extra 20 GBP)

– Back Panel Padding 3mm (extra 12.50 GBP)

– Interior Rear Divider Panel (extra 17.50 GBP)

Total: 225 GBP

The tote features a 4-way carry system using top grab handles to carry in your hands or on your shoulder, across the body using the stock shoulder strap, or as a backpack.


Space and Access

At 21 liters in capacity, the bag is quite spacious to carry all your daily essentials and then some. 

The top opening is wide enough to let you easily get things in and out. As with all top-loaders, your access to the bottom of the bag can be somewhat compromised, so practicing some packing discipline is advised.

A more important consideration is not the volume but the shape of the bag – it has a slimmer profile that is perfect for your laptop, documents, vinyl records, and other flat items. It is still possible to carry bulky items too, but be prepared for them to noticeably change the look of the bag and they might get uncomfortable when pushing against your body.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

Pockets and Organizing

The bag is deceptively simple but when digging into it I found plenty of thoughtful organization. 

There are two exterior pockets on the front of the bag. Low-key, almost concealed, excellent for quick grabs. The pockets are also very deep, going all the way to the bottom of the bag (almost up to my elbow). Note that both pockets do not have any zippers or snaps for secure closure. It does make it easy to reach for your things. For both you and strangers, be mindful of that. I am still going back and forth if I would trade the quickness of access for more security. I would also prefer to have a key clip in one of these pockets for secure storage and quick access to my keys.

The main tote compartment is split into two main areas:

1) A laptop pocket which is quite generous and has a false bottom, saving your precious tech from sudden slams against the ground. Note that despite this compartment being suspended there is no bottom padding. Having an extra layer of protection would certainly help keep your laptop safe.

2) A main compartment with:

– two slots for your pens/pencils

– two zippered pockets (with the same YKK AquaGuard 5CN zipper found on the outside of the bag)

– two open pockets that could fit your charger, wallet, or other small things

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

I could not imagine wanting more organization in a tote and Ancoats find a perfect balance between too many pockets (that make you forget where you put what) and no pockets that make your bag feel like a giant black hole.

An interior rear divider is a custom option that costs an extra 17.50 GBP but to me, it was worth it and I highly recommend that add-on.

Speaking of a black hole – the interior of the bag is pitch black. I found myself searching for my things inside longer than I would have liked. Considering there are many customization options offered when building the custom tote, having the option of a high-visibility liner would be a welcome addition to the bag builder.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote


The backpack straps, removable shoulder strap, as well as the top grab handles are made from a seatbelt material that is silky smooth and very durable. Thanks to the smoothness of the material, adjusting the straps and handles is a breeze.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

My custom large version came with two large Fidlock V-Buckles. They are mostly overkill but I love the look and using those magnetic buckles is pure joy.

The inner liner is black impregnated polyester twill, it has a pleasant slightly rough texture. Throughout my use, I have found zero issues with the fabric, its abrasion resistance, and tear resistance. According to ABC, the lining features a water and dirt-repellent impregnation. 

The zippers are YKK AquaGuard 5 CN, with nice minimal zipper pulls. I have to commend Ancoats for adding a double zip on the main opening, allowing you to open and close the bag from both sides.  

Overall the quality is top-notch, the bag is exceptionally well made and every detail shows how much love and dedication is poured into making one.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

So the bag looks gorgeous, what about the carrying comfort?

There are four ways to carry this tote and the comfort level of each is not the same.

1-2. Top grab handles. You can either grab it by the handles (1) or throw the bag on your shoulder (2). Depending on how much weight you have inside the tote your mileage may vary. With moderate/light loads I had no issues with this mode. As soon as I added more weight and extended the duration of my use, the lack of any padding started to feel noticeable. Also, when carrying on your shoulder be prepared to readjust the straps quite frequently – they do tend to slide off my shoulder, perhaps you will be lucky. For me, these handles were used often to grab the bag but I rarely carried the bag for more than 10 minutes in my hand or on my shoulder. Comfort level: average.

Ancoats Bag Company

3. Over the shoulder/across the body with a removable shoulder strap. By far my favorite way to carry the bag, specifically across the body. It allows me to stay hands-free (I am a father of an 8-month-old son so being able to go hands-free to deal with stuff other than carrying the bag is priceless) and also distributes the weight nicely. There is also no need to readjust the bag in this mode and it is certainly a big win for mobility and overall usability. Comfort level: excellent.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

4. Backpack mode. Two adjustable straps allow for carrying the tote as a backpack. In theory, very useful and cool. In practice, with my frame size, the straps fully expanded fit snugly on me and I was not in love with the look of the tote on my back but having an alternative way to carry the bag was a welcome feature nonetheless. A neat trick was used for backpack mode – the length of the backpack straps can be adjusted by using the length of the shoulder strap. Note that you will need to readjust the length of the grab handle if you used some of it to make the backpack straps longer. Comfort level: average.

Ancoats Bag Company


The tote is extremely weather resistant thanks to the winning combination of the VX21 fabric and AquaGuard zippers. The materials themselves are waterproof, the bag is not. The main point of entry for the elements is the seams of the bag but it will take an extended amount of time in a downpour to endanger the contents inside. Simply put, you can take the tote outside in the worst weather conditions, just be mindful about:

  • - Closing the AquaGuard zippers properly
  • - Any contents of the two exterior pockets as they are open and do not have any zippers.

Alternatives to Consider

  • Remote Equipment BRAVO 18: An all-rounder bag that can confidently tackle a day at the beach, a grocery run, be a diaper bag, or serve as a companion on your travels. With a whopping five carry modes, you can adapt it to any scenario.
  • Sand Pack Co. Utility Tote: Made in small batches in a wide range of different colors and fabrics. Sand’s Utility Tote is great if you want something funky and don’t mind waiting for the next drop.
  • ORBITGear SP002-X10 “THE FALCON DUKE”: Launched this spring the Falcon Duke is ORBITGear’s take on the timeless tote design with a sprinkle of modularity. Made in small batches in Jakarta, Indonesia, it is an excellent choice if you are looking for a more technical-looking tote and patient enough to wait for the next drop.
  • QWSTION Day Tote: A solid option if you are looking for a smaller tote with a heritage look.
  • Peak Design Everyday Tote: Plan to carry any type of camera gear or simply need a more padded bag to secure your precious tech? The Peak Design Everyday Tote is one of the best options on the market with an excellent ecosystem of signature FlexFold dividers, camera attachments, Cord Hook external carry straps, etc.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

The Good

– High-quality materials across the board

– Excellent durability and stitching

– Thoughtful organization (more so with add-ons)

– Plenty of customization options (including overkill but lovely-to-use Fidlock buckles)

– Multiple carry modes

– Stylish as hell

– Protected from the elements. The main compartment is sealed with YKK AquaGuard zippers, a very nice touch that only reinforces confidence in the bag

Not So Good

– The inside of the bag is a black hole, requiring extra time to look for your things in poor lighting conditions. A high-visibility liner option would be a welcome addition to the list of customizations

– Not all carry modes are equally comfortable

– The seatbelt straps tend to slide off when carried on the shoulder

– The bag has a slim profile, be mindful if you plan to carry bulky items

– Not suitable for active/outdoor scenarios


There is a Japanese term “Kodawari” which means “an uncompromising and relentless devotion to a pursuit, an art, a craft, an activity. It happens when a very high standard is set; when special consideration and attention is given to something; when a breach of the standard is unthinkable; when compromise is intolerable.”

While using the Ancoats tote I kept coming back to it. Everything about the bag was made with a ton of care, attention to detail, and usability in mind. Moreover, the choice of materials inspires a lot of confidence. I was happy that the bag did not ask me to be gentle with it.

Knowing that someone put it together for me specifically, following my specs and requirements, only elevated the joy of owning this custom piece. John did not compromise on quality and it shows.

To sum up, the ABC Tote is an excellent all-rounder that offers thoughtful organization, robust materials, and excellent usability for any urban tasks. It is very easy to recommend.

Ancoats Bag Company Tote

This article was written by new contributor, and self-proclaimed bag whisperer, Alexander Dotsenko. You can check out his work here and here.

The Breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Geek (Performance)

Space & Access

Style (Design)

Look & Feel
Build, Materials & Hardware

Stoke (Experience)

Warranty & Support
Brand experience
X Factor

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