Tote bags seem to be everywhere these days, and here at OTC, we see this as a good thing. This style of bag really is the perfect carry all – classic and timeless, functional, sturdy, and easy to use.
With the rise in efforts to reduce the use of disposable plastic shopping bags, many municipalities and cities are encouraging consumers to bring their own tote style bags to the store. Monocle magazine includes a stylish tote, manufactured by Rootote of Japan, as part of its annual subscription – we have one here and love its simple yet sturdy design and little side-zip pocket. If you’re into status messaging, carrying the Monocle tote can also be a handy indirect signal to fellow commuters that you are both stylishly practical and globally curious.
Some variations treat the tote a full-on piece of luggage. Frank Clegg’s leather tote bags are luxuriously elegant in their simple design and flawless execution. Heirloom tote bags, if you will.
Tote bags themselves are going through a sort of evolution, in some cases morphing into hybrid business or day bags. Long-time Monocle product collaborator Porter developed a co-branded tote bag for the magazine’s retail arm with multiple zippered pockets and closures. It’s a solid alternative bag for those whole like the convenience of a tote but the functionality of a soft-sided business case.
Perhaps the coolest and most interesting tote bag we have yet come across is the Ruc Tote from OTC friend, J. Panther Luggage Company. These are the guys who brought us the Courier Ruc, which reinterpreted the classic zip-around briefcase. This time, they took on the iconic tote bag and the results are equally awesome and American Made. Large, sturdy, functional, and distinctive, the Ruc Tote was a favorite from the minute it arrived at OTC.
J. Panther is known for its focus on modern day versatility with a nod to a sort of industrial timelessness. Their bags are clearly contemporary in overall design, but each one has a certain something that speaks to functional DNA, almost like you see where the bag comes from – its design heritage – but also see how it has been updated for today. As with the Courier Ruc, the Ruc Tote can be carried three ways: over the shoulder, by the short handles, cleverly designed to fold into the bag’s mouth, and via a simple backpack rig designed into one of the long shoulder straps.
The bag itself is large and roomy, with one main compartment and a full-width divider that creates a smaller side pocket. On the outside of the bag are two deep side-by-side pockets that are easy to access when carrying the bag. The body is constructed of remarkably dense and sturdy 21 oz. military grade canvas and trimmed with buttery soft vegetable tanned leather. This leather is also used for bag’s straps and handles. A massive solid brass zipper closes up the bag as needed. Both the canvas and leather have aged nicely through two months of abuse and look and feel even better than when new.
One of the very few critiques we have of the Ruc Tote is that it would have been nice to have a brass ring inside the bag so that we could clip the short leash in place and use it to store our keys, as we can in the Courier Ruc. Also, the short handles are only usable when the bag is unzipped, but that is a function of design and, frankly no different than with any other traditional tote bag. The other minor complaint, a suggestion really, is that since the Ruc Tote is essentially a briefcase alternative, it would be helpful to have at least one smaller zipped interior pocket to keep loose items in place and easily accessible.
Other than those few points, it is a truly unique and versatile bag. We have tested it as a briefcase, a market tote, a gym bag, a laptop bag, and a carry-on and in each role it has performed well. Like their other products, the tote is built for real-world abuse and exposure to the elements. It’s elegant and sharp but by no means delicate.
Once again, we are happy to unreservedly recommend a stellar offering from J. Panther Luggage Company: The Ruc Tote.