Editors' Picks

Why Do I Keep Seeing This Tote Bag Everywhere?

The many, many merits of this universal carryall, according to its fans.

January 31, 2020
Photo by L.L.Bean

I am an avid people-watcher. I can spend my full 40-minute subway commute just absorbing the surrounding humans—the outfits they put together, how they interact with their companions, who they stare back at. Creepy? Perhaps. But this is how I came to notice an oddly specific trend in the tote-carrying habits of countless New Yorkers: an unassuming, army green, camouflage tote bag. She (being the tote bag) kept cropping up—in train stations, on the street, at the airport—to the point where I felt compelled to document the phenomenon.

Who is she, you ask? She’s a water-resistant, polyester, nylon-reinforced tote bag from none other than outdoor retailer, L.L.Bean.

I know. This discovery was both shocking and exciting to me, as well. Finally, a status bag that didn’t cost my unborn first child! It was such a revelation that I started hoofing it after people carrying them and discreetly (if you’d call heavy breathing with my phone held up in front of my face discreet) snapping photos to post to my Instagram story. Soon, despite my status as a “nano influencer,” lots of people followed suit and sent me photos they snagged, too. At its height, I had amassed photos of 64 bags “in the wild,” and even started a separate, now-defunct, Instagram account dedicated to their documentation. Turns out, running a personal account as well as dog and trend-spotting accounts at the same time was biting off too much, but I digress.

Photo by Matilda Fazio
Photo by Maddie Mitrano

Says Mary Rose MacKinnon, who’s been running L.L.Bean’s PR for over 20 years, “the enduring appeal of the L.L.Bean Hunter Tote is that it’s the real thing, the original.” She believes it “crosses over beautifully into the fashion world,” which holds up, given how many stylish people I’ve seen toting it.

Speaking of stylish people, according to fashion writer and editor Laura Lajiness, the bag's popularity is likely a "subconscious choice for customers who regularly shop the brand since it stands out from other carryalls." "Besides," she adds,"does camo ever really go out of style?"

The bag comes in three sizes, from daily commute (medium) to haul-it-all (extra large), and three colors other than camo. But after having all this evidence in support of the camo version, why opt for solid black? You can also choose if you’d like one with a zippered top, ideal for shoving into luggage compartments or cargo holds. And like the better-known and similarly-constructed Boat and Tote, they’re fully monogrammable.

Now, in terms of use, the description on L.L. Bean’s site reads: “Use it for waterfowling, dog training or shooting – this great all-purpose bag will stand up to years of rugged use.” Well…I’ve yet to see anyone using this bag for waterfowling or shooting, but it is fantastic for tons of other things. I asked some “Bean Bag” owners what they use it for, and why they love theirs so very much. Here’s what they said:

Photo by Tova Kline
Photo by Caroline Mullen

“My version has contrasting red trim, and people have mistaken it for something way more expensive. It’s also fun when I spot someone else with it—I give them a nod or smile like we’re both in a secret society.” —Ben Setiawan, Writer

“It fits perfectly on top of my favorite carry-on suitcase and literally holds everything. Being a member of the ‘bean bag’ cult, I can basically answer inquiries ranging from durability to warranties.” —Cameron Leach, Publicist

“This is my any-day, any-way bag—if there’s something it’s not good for, I haven’t met it yet. I’ve had mine for eight years now (does that make me a trendsetter?) and it’s taken this long, and some pretty rugged use, to see any wear on it. ” —Arati Menon, Food52

Photo by Jaimie Caiazzo
Photo by Caroline Mullen

If that weren’t enough, the reviews on the site are just as glowing. Here are some standouts:

“This bag is amazing! The size large is great for multi uses. It’s a great beach bag because it's waterproof. I love it to haul in groceries & use it for an overnight bag as well.” —LLBeanAddict

“We have given several of these to family and friends as gifts, and everyone loves (we received one as a gift a couple years ago and loved it)! They come super fast even with monogramming.” —Kimmy

“Just what I need to haul things for any outdoor activity. I used it to pack all the winter items for my family to bring to the cabin (4 pairs of snow pants, multiple gloves for each person, hats, gators, etc) PLENTY of room.” —Nicki695

Truly, it seems as though there’s nothing this bag can’t do. I imagine it’s also fantastic for, say, bringing a wine haul to a friend’s, holding a small dog on the train, transporting a collection of loose coins to the bank, or even as (gasp!) storage for all your other totes.

And in case you were wondering: I have one, too, and I love it.

Have you seen this bag anywhere? Tell us about it in the comments!

What's in your tote?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Valerie Tyson
    Valerie Tyson
  • Christine
  • carswell
When I'm not writing & editing for Home52, I'm likely to be found DIY-ing a new piece of furniture (or restoring an old one), hanging things on the wall in my apartment, or watching hours of vintage RHONY.


Valerie T. February 27, 2020
Love, love, love mine. I purchased the largest size and monogrammed it with my two initials in the bright orange. It's great and I use it every day!
Christine February 3, 2020
I love mine!! I would love to know how Ben got one with red contrast!
carswell February 1, 2020
It’s ugly.