Tough Tuesdays: Tote Bags
Trying to keep all your belongings safe, dry, and available is difficult when you’re camping in a tent, and very hard when actually living in a tent.
Now, I said tote bags. But my definition of a ‘tote bag’ may be quite different from yours.
This is what my newest tote bag looks like:
My brother-in-law (yes, the one who organizes tools instead of camping equipment) gave it to me as a holiday present.
Soft sides, but with a reinforced bottom, allows it to be versatile yet strong. The carry handles (mine also came with a strap) allow for it to be clipped onto other items, but are also reinforced so they are unlikely to tear, in case of any jostling.
This is the 13-inch bag, which is the smaller of the Craftsman bags. However, with my difficulties lifting anything, it provides a good size that doesn’t allow me to over-weight it to then hurt myself later.
Across several brands, styles and sizes, I have bags like this that I use for medicine and disinfecting supplies, bungees and ropes, tent stakes and hammers, family games and toys, bathroom supplies, and flintknapping tools.
However, there are a few things that should not go into bags such as these (even the slightly larger ones):
- tents – the bags aren’t big enough, and you don’t want to catch the fabric in the zipper
- tarps – if a tarp is folded into a shape that is too small, it will start to crack at the folds, ruining the tarp
- solar lights – wrong shape, wrong size, wrong support, just wrong everything
- vinegar – see this post
- propane – the bottles sweat, so you want to keep them in an open space on a garbage bag
- bug screening – same as the tents
- chocolate – it melts and it’s sticky and just… just don’t ask 🙁
For the bag shown above in particular, the mesh pockets allow for smaller items that won’t easily fall out to be kept separate and readily available. For example, I keep a few emergency bungees along the outside of one of my bags, and a fire-starting set along another.
Items can also be clipped to the handles. As with the handles being strong enough to support the bag being connected to something else, they are also able to have several items connected to them. Extra cords, trail markers, hair ties, small bungees, bits of rope, water bottles… the list is pretty well endless – just think of small items you may need to transport while camping.
Regarding this style of bag specifically: be careful when closing it. As you fill the bag, you want to bring the sides together occasionally to be sure you will still be able to zip it shut when you’re done getting everything into it.
No bag is Mary Poppins’ Carpetbag!!
They have limitations, and if you try to stretch them beyond those, you’ll have a mess and a bag with a row of popped stitches or broken zipper.
If something doesn’t fit, it’s not the bag’s fault.
You also don’t want to put too much weight into the bag. Fill it with stakes, sure. Don’t stick a car part in there, too, and expect the bottom to not rip out.
Mar, why are you being so rude and mean and making it sound like I don’t know how a bag works?
Well, darlings, it’s because less than a year ago I watched a dad yell at his son because his son did exactly what the dad told him to do (I’m assuming it was his father, it was some sort of relation, anyway). The adult told the maybe-5 year old to put everything on the table into one small bag. So the son did what he was told. Of course there was too much on the table, and the bottom of the bag ripped out when the adult tried to swing it into the trunk of his car. Not the kid’s fault, and not the bag’s fault. Luckily, other parent (?) came back and interrupted before anything further happened.
But, Mar, that doesn’t mean we would do that?!?
I know, I know. But I see people tear through bags every year, then swear and yell that the bag was crap, even though most of the time they were just using it poorly. I’ve seen it happen across genders and ages, and bags. Don’t know why, it’s just a scene that seems to repeat itself – though I’m pretty sure novice campers are generally the cause.
So, you’ve told us how to use them. Even though we’re ADULTS, but why can’t we just use whatever bags we’ve got?
You can use anything, of course. I’m just showing you my newest acquisition, and telling you how I normally use it.
I prefer bags with zippers, and reinforce bottoms and handles. My favorite bags are actually leather, with waterproofing, but those are harder to get ahold of, and more expensive in general.
My all-time favorite bag didn’t have any of the perks I like bags to have. I used it for over a dozen years, and it was just a small secondhand gym bag. Eventually the zipper broke, and I kept using it. One handle ripped out, and I kept using it. The tear from the handle kept spreading down the side, curving across the bottom, and I had to “retire” it. But it’s in a box somewhere because I got it when I was 6 and it holds a lot of memories (but luckily not all the smells).
I’m not trying to tell you what specific bag to use, or how exactly to use it. (I’ll save that for the topics that really drive me nuts to see done dangerously.) I just want you to get an idea of what a bag can do for you, if you let it.
If you don’t force it, if you don’t make it do things it’s not meant to do, it will do everything you need it to do.
It may even become YOUR favorite bag.
So, do you have a favorite bag already? Do you know where to acquire a carpetbag like Mary Poppins, and are you willing to share? Have you had any strange adventures with using a bag?
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