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Market Totes

by , August 12, 2010

Market Totes

With the burgeoning electric car market, large investments in wind power, sustainable farming and the like, there is no shortage of opportunities to be better global citizens.  What surprises me, however, is that only until recently did we really start to take notice of a solution that is so simple, effective, and applicable to each and every one of us. Let’s talk about what you use to carry your groceries from the supermarket, your local co-op, or the Farmer’s market on Saturday mornings…

First, we need to analyze what makes a good market tote. To wit, they are not the same as a general tote (ask me my opinion about those later). Let’s go over some criteria.


They need to be large enough to hold one trip’s worth of groceries. Hopefully, you are not buying for a month at a time, but rather for a few days. This keeps things fresh and the trips, while more frequent, more manageable in size.  The bag should be able to accommodate what you need on a typical trip, or work with a few bags in unison.


I’ve been a victim of a supermarket bag that totally collapsed and dropped my entire purchase crashing on the floor. Trust me, it’s embarrassing.  The handles should be durable and able to withstand a decent amount of weight. And something people don’t think about – length. They should be long enough that I could put my arm through them and carry the load on my shoulders; especially helpful when your car (or bike) is parked far away or when navigating through crowded open-air markets.


Raw produce, milk cartons that always seem to leak a bit, and other food products quickly become a safety concern if their remnants are left to fester and rot in your bag (unless that is your plan). This is a positive side effect of disposable bags that most never considered. The bag should either be easy to wipe off with a damp soapy sponge or should be completely machine washable. If your bag is dry clean only, we both know you won’t be washing it.

After that, you need to consider whether the bag should have some shape to it or is completely collapsible. I am a fan of the fully droopy bag but they are a real hassle to load unless you are fully devoted to the task. If you are paying for the groceries and bagging at the same time, it’s not going to work. A bag with a thin piece of cardboard at the bottom or some rigid shape makes multitasking easy.

Market Totes

Bags We Dig

Before I get into some really fantastic tote options (this is Carryology, afterall), I would be remiss if I did not start a recommendation list with the obvious choice – a reusable bag sold by your local market. They are cheap, reliable, and more often than not have some charity aspect associated with them. I have multiple in my car and I’ve gotten over feeling guilty about bringing a bag into a store not sharing the same name and so should you.

The downsides to them are that they most are still plastic (usually non woven polypropylene), taking the equivalent of about 100 plastic bags to make, so need to be used that many times for a real return. And some are made in terrible factories without any social compliance reviews, so you really should chose bags from brands with reputable supply chains. Ed’s note: My favourite from these is the REI Shopping Tote. It’s $1.00, but looks great and has awesome proportions.

You can also get free bags at trade shows and various marketing events. The local Ever store packs every purchase in a reusable cotton bag!

Dandux Coal Bag

This is the classic All-American tote and while it’s not made specifically for hauling your milk and eggs, it’s rugged, affordable, and will last you a lifetime. If you do enough searching you’ll find some variations (homages) but the quinessential tote still boils down to the Dandux. [We’d link you directly to the C.R. Daniels website where you can buy one, but the page is currently broken]

Textile Buff and Wheel Co. Tote

Made in a factory in Charleston, MA, the Textile Buff and Wheel Company has been around for 80 years. Constructed of 24 oz cotton, the seams are riveted for strength. There is no branding or labels for that oft-desired stealth look. Strangely, there’s only one publicly accessible retailer, and lucky for you, they currently have the bags on clearance.

L.L. Bean Open-Top Boat and Tote Bag

Choose between three different sizes and twelve different colors. Top it off with monogramming and you have yourself an awesome bag that’s just as home on the beach, a picnic, or a pic your own blueberry farm. The bags are made of 24 oz cotton and stands up on its own for easy packing.

Filson Twill Shopper

Nothing screams rugged like Filson. The brand has evolved over the years from a hunting/outdoors focused company to one heralded in the workwear scene, while still maintaining a level of quality and authenticity. The twill shopper is shaped just like your normal market paper bag (though a bit narrower), but Filson was able to dramatically upgrade it with their distinctive styling .

Apolis Activism Field Tote

Anyone familiar with Apolis knows they are good at what they do: focused marketing centered around a few humanitarian causes and partnerships with NGO sourcing vendors. What you get is some well designed pieces at premium prices, justified (hopefully) but a portion of proceeds reaching those in need. The Field Tote is yet another striking item to come out of the Apolis design offices.

Market Totes

The Basement: Yep, it’s always fun to have a weird bit down the bottom of a post. In this basement, we thought it thought we’d link to a few other ways to carry your shopping. First is the top end tote, and for that, we drool over the Tailfeather Hawk Owl with long handles. Then there’s the silly way, with a faux paper leather tote, of which this is the most eco (but still silly) we found. And lastly is the very common sense fold away shopping bag. Timbuk2 do these really well with a messenger and a backpack option.


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