Monday, April 1, 2013

The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bag

The L.L. Bean Boat and Tote

L.L. Bean sells a popular version of the iconic bag.

As many people know, they were originally designed for hauling ice, and some still call them ice bags.   Some call them "sail bags", and others prefer the traditional "Ratsey bags".

These are tough bags, made of 24oz cotton canvas, with nylon double-stitched seams, and in Brunswick, Maine by Mainers.

The zip-top versions are good for tossing from boat to boat.

Good For Travel

 Size Small, shown above and below works well for a pocketbook.

Size Small

Uses for L.L. Bean Boat and Totes

There are so many uses for these bags. Some uses include:
  • As Luggage for Car Travel
  • As a Pocketbook
  • As Home Storage
  • For the Grocery Store/ Markets
  • For Hauling Firewood
  • For Boat Re-Supply
  • As a Baby Bag
  • For Permanent Car Storage
  • For Garden Tools
  • For Gifts
A Bag for Storing Bags 

A thirty year old bag now used for wood.

Storage (Extra Large, Extra Large, and Large)

How to clean the L.L. Bean Boat and Totes?

Most of the time one only has to spot-clean them with kitchen soap and a moderately abrasive scrubbing tool. Then rinse it under the faucet and put it in the sun to dry.

If they are very dirty you can sometimes put them in the washing machine, but the risk is that the corners might wear prematurely, like the one below. Some have experienced some bleeding with the colored cotton trim fabric.

The natural colored canvas gets a bit discolored when wet, but dries clear most of the time, although not always.  Eventually, when they get too dirty to appear in public one can relegate them to a new position such as wood hauling.

Many use size Medium as well for a pocketbook or handbag.
Depending on the use, these bags may need to be broken in.  The first thing to do when using one as a pocketbook is to soften it by soaking it.  Next roll it up in a towel once or twice and then let it air dry.

This could more easily be done in the bathtub, but there wouldn't be as many ducks.

Buying Options

Many buy them in all four of the sizes that they offer, some with open tops and some with zip tops. They offer bags with long handles as well (necessary if you want to wear them over your shoulder), but most have the regular handles.

Twice a year L.L. Bean comes out with a handful of seasonal colors in addition to their "staple" colors, which include Blue (Navy), Dark Green, and Red.

Bags in size Small - some with open tops and some with zip-tops, all with regular handles.

A good, durable bag

Stretching the definition of "monogram" even further.


Direct alternatives to L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bags <> include the following:
Alternative types of bags include:


Anonymous said...

There are indeed so many uses for these durable bags. My mother used to keep one in our station wagon for holding toys when I was a child. Now that I have a child of my own, I do the same thing for her.
-Erica in Cazenovia, NY

Heather said...

I also love LLBean's Boat and Tote bags. We use them as beach bags, too. I also have some from Land's End. I prefer the LE ones when using them as purses, except they are imported. :-(

Margaret Mangan Murtagh said...

Thanks so much Muffy...I check your blog almost every day and have been trying to decide on a new 'work' bag for my laptop and books I bring back and forth...I was back and forth about the LLBean bag and now you have convinced me! They have also served our family well through the diaper bags, school bags and overnight bags!

Tammy B said...

I also love the LL Bean Boat and Tote bags. I use them for travel, as a purse when I travel, to carry my lunch, kindle and magazines to work, etc. So many uses.

When they get dirty, I put them in a sweater bag and toss them in the washer and wash them on the gentle cycle. I let them air dry.

Marie said...

Besides the uses mentioned, I would add school book bag and laundry bag. A few years ago I found mini bags that we use for pencils and pens. You can never have too many of these bags.

Anonymous said...

What is your opinion on curly, script monograms and on which items should one monogram? (ie sweater, car, laptop,-- trends in the south)

Love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Small size perfect for carrying
4 boxes/100 shotshells for a round of sporting clays at Quail Creek Plantation.
Son & I each carried such over Xmas holidays.

Bitsy said...

We keep dozens of these around the house for various purposes. Like Tammy B, I have had success washing them in the washer on the gentle cycle (minus the sweater bag). This does a good job of cleaning the bags without undue wear. I, too, let them air dry. They also make good gifts for new parents, filled with baby goodies (and some for mum and dad). The baby's monogram is a nice touch, if given after the child is named. Nothing like starting out life with a good boat bag!

Rachel said...

As soon as I saw you using the small tote as a purse I ordered one in navy. I too was disappointed I couldn't get the diamond monogram. I already had two Land's End totes in navy but ordered the large and medium LL Bean totes also in navy. I'll have to start adding totes in red and green next.

mary anne said...

We, too, have dozens in all sizes. Wonderful bags. We have a small one for our dog for car trips. Right size for her water, treats, etc. nice to know they are still being well made.

Dawn said...

I love my extra large pink (berry?) Boat and Tote and still remember my 11 year old hiding inside of it at age two. One day it will be retired from its purpose as "pool bag," and your lovely post gave me many ideas of alternate uses (and at ten years old, you can bet I'll be using the cleaning tips, too). Definitely an iconic American product that holds a special place in my heart.

LG said...

I can never decide if the pictures of your organized, clean house make me feel inspired or you have a junk closet? A junk drawer? Anything?!? It would make this Pig-Pen feel much better : ) Seriously, one of my New Year's resolutions is to keep a neater handbag and the picture of yours will stay in the back of my mind.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I received a fancy LL Bean tote bag with a plaid lining, leather handles and "Subaru" embroidered on the side. Subaru sent it to me since I had bought an LL Bean Subaru Forester! I use it when we're going on a car trip. We usually take our Toyota Rav4, though.

Susan R said...

That first picture could read:
The LL Bean Boat Tote becomes the boat.
You know me, I love a gentle stockpile and you definitely have it going on with your assortment. It's a beautiful sight.
You're a trend starter, I now use my totes while shopping at Costco. I did so after I saw your post about shopping for environmentally safe products.
Good on ya Muffy.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to buy a coupla these for Christmas presents but was told they are not cool; ours we toss library books in; its our out-bin for returns.

Susan R said...

Just thought I would add...they are good feed bags for horses.
I accidentally forget the horses feed bucket while collecting their grain one day and found a tote in the barn, so I used it to haul feed.
I've also used it as an ice chest. Fillit with ice and cold drinks, it works, it does not stay dry though.

mondaypartlycloudy said...

I went online to check out the new season’s Boat & Tote colors and was disappointed with the selection. The one color that appealed to me was the Wild Berry but that was only available in a custom configuration. So I bit the bullet and decided to spend the additional money to get something I would really love. I went online and tried to order a Medium zip-top in Natural with Wild Berry handles and bottom, but encountered an error message which I emailed to Bean. Less than 10 minutes later a very nice customer service woman called to try and help me with the order. It turned out that the Wild Berry color is not available. I expressed my dismay and suggested they remove that option so other people won’t be disappointed. It’s frustrating that Bean’s color choices are so often wrong. If they were smart they wouldn’t make a move without consulting Muffy first!

Casey said...

I have two small that I use for purses, and a bunch of mediums that I use for laundry supplies, groceries, and regular toting. I used LE totes for work as they have the interior pockets but now I splurged on the leather field tote and use that.

Michael said...

Still have 40+ yearold boat bags that belonged to my Dad :-)

Michael said...

Muffy - Love your Daily Prep! Very helpful when my wife and I bought Barber jackets.
Separately, not sure if you have commented on this, but is there such a thing as preppy or preferred scents, i.e. deodorants/colognes for men, perfumes for women?
I realize it may be a very individual thing, but just curious...I've been Old Spice Original most of my life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Muffy,

Great post! I'd never thought of using them for groceries! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I love those LL Bean totes, a variety of size, color, and style, what more could one ask for? I do have a question for you, Muffy. In one picture, I noticed you use Seventh Generation dish soap. Do you happen to use the dishwasher gel? If so, I'd love to know your thoughts - specifically about the scent and if it imparts to plasticware, etc. My Cascade now only comes in a gel with a wretched scent which is wreaking havoc on our Rubbermaid and Tupperware. It's becoming permanently scented. --Holly in PA

Anonymous said...

I have found that if I turn the totes inside out before tossing into the washer, it's easier on the corners. I use my oldest tote as a January door decoration. I fill it with cut branches from various evergreens and add a few faux branches with red berries. I suspend it with a bright red ribbon. Really pretty after it has snowed and there is a dusting. It's also monogrammed which I have facing front. I always get compliments for being 'clever'.

Patsy said...

Try washing them in the dishwasher. It's my go to for things that don't fare well in the washing machine - baseball caps, cotton sun hats, etc.

You could also probably have them done when you get your sails washed.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a lovely post. I find the photos inspirational. I should probably get a few more of the boat and tote bags to help me organize things around the house.

If I may comment on the question about deodorants and scents, I'd suggest Tom's of Maine deodorants as preppy deodorants. I usually buy their unscented deodorant. I don't wear any cologne or eau de toilette at all. They seem like things that have gone out of fashion in the past three decades or so. I do still own some Hermes Equipage eau de toilette. It is very subtle and is the scent I'd recommend for a man who wants some scent to use sparingly on rare occasions. They also make a deodorant that is very nice IMHO.


Greenfield said...

Seconding JR above about Tom's of Maine for "D.O. Juice." However, my favorite scent, (unpurchased!) is Essence du Manege. Which is at least a step up from the Eau de Bait-Barrel that frequently stuck to my Topsiders back in the Eighties! ;) Authenticity, folks!

Love the boat bags, I've got a couple of the "special" ones from a few years back that are cute--one in light green with dragonflies, one brown with foxes. Both are zip-top which is good for the City.

Whomsoever said these are "not cool," needs to seriously update their "cool." (Yeesh!)

Wasp Decor said...

Great post.
I don't think I've ever owned a more useful bag. From luggage to hauling wood, it delivers. I love them for dog toys, kids toys, shopping, tool bags, laundry, and on and on. I love them the best for traveling because if you stop at a rest stop and you have to rifle through them real quick to find something, usually for me it's dog related, and one can find it quickly.
I love that color of your wagon, by the way.

Pigtown*Design said...

I have one of the "unfortunate" colours by LLBean. When I moved back to the States, I needed a b+t bag, so went to the LLBean store close to me. Their selection was pathetic, so I grabbed the one that was least offensive - it's persimmon. Kind of an odd orangy red colour. At least I know it's mine - no one else would want it.

Love your Volvo. I am shopping right now for an XC one. I've had a S80 for a few years now, and want a sportier/taller model. Been driving Volvos since I would drive... even in the UK!

Wm. Keith said...

I broke one in for a friend on our trip to Duck, NC last year, that I had given to her as gift. Salt water and sun does the trick for sure. P.S. Bean's new circle monogram looks super on a bag. Wish I could attach photos here! I'll tweet it to you!

JSprouse said...

Nice post. I've been thinking about getting a few totes for grocery shopping and carrying things in and out of our pet sitting client's homes. I plan on replacing my 20+ yr old Bean field jacket (actually keeping it for the rough stuff) with a Barbour soon.
Your opinion please: Do you think that a Hinckley (gold) cove stripe in place of pin stripeing on an XC70 is over the about a license plate with my initials and year of birth?

Anonymous said...

I have two B&T Bag stories:
- my daughters and I regularly sift through ALL the bags at the North Conway and Freeport Outlet Stores and always find hilarious monogrammed items. Whether it's a typo, an unfortunate set of initials, or mysterious wording, we never leave empty handed.
- I was once standing at the Customer Service/Reception Desk at the Freeport Store pouring myself a cup of coffee (it was about 1:30 AM) when a couple of twentysomethings strolled up with a bag that looked like it had been tied to the back bumper of their car and dragged from Dartmouth. The young woman asked to make an exchange and was instructed to bring her new choice back to the counter despite not being able to produce a sales receipt for the bag.

Regardless of the origin of many of their products, and their evolving neglect of their traditional goods, that was a pretty good example of "satisfaction guaranteed."

Anonymous said...

Hi Muffy,

I know New Englanders use the term pocketbook, but might handbag, or just tote, be more befitting a utilitarian article like a boat tote? I would think pocketbook would refer to a true shoulder bag, satchel or clutch? Thank you for enlightening me on the use of this term.

A Reader from Chicago

Rachel said...

I never get script monograms because I know these totes will out live me and will be passed down to my sons. I think we Southerners like our script monograms because they look like a "Royal Cipher" I swear I don't know how we won the Revolutionary War since so many of us LOVE royalty LOL!!

scotmiss said...

I have at least ten LLBean B&T bags - all monogrammed and a couple with a golden retriever embroidered on the outside from maybe 15 years ago. I give them as gifts and use them for just about everything. I've been meaning to check to see if I can still do a special colour combination. Love them - wish old LLB would return to their legendary quality of the past. I need a couple of the Hudson Bay Blankets and am afraid they won't meet the standard of the ones I inherited from my grandparents and parents.

Anonymous said...

This is in reference to the anonymous post at 3:54.

Since many of the same goods are available at so many stores and online now, good customer service is the only reason to shop at one place over another. However, I find the example you cited irritating for a couple of reasons.

If a store takes back every and anything it sells - with no stipulations - other customers end up paying for abuse of that policy. As far as I'm concerned, if I buy something from LLBean, use and wear it for a year and then decide to return it, I'm basically stealing from the company. That cost has to be made up in the form of higher prices to the rest of us.
It makes the customers who don't do this look like fools to a certain extent, don't you think?

It's just like "free shipping"; it doesn't truly exist. If a company offers it, but the prices have been jacked up on everything 10,20, or 30% to cover it, then it's not truly "free".


Greenfield said...

I recently was forced to acquire a new pair of Bean Blucher Mocs as my old ones were worn literally to shreds. The stitching had popped in such a way that asking anyone to fix them would have been a waste of time to the point I'd have felt I was insulting the "fixer." I suppose Bean would have taken them back had I asked, but I DO feel that would have been "abusing the privilege." Those shoes gave about 7 years of hard service and owe me nothing--and neither does Bean. BTW the new ones look and feel great!

windycitywilderness said...

Hi Muffy,

I recently found your blog and am very much enjoying reading it. A question: do you find that the softening process for your totes requires saltwater? I grew up in coastal Masschusetts, but, since my move to Chicago ten years ago for college, (real) saltwater has been in short supply. I'm wondering if course salt and a bathtub might get the job done.

windycitywilderness said...

Oh God! "Coarse" salt in my previous post! Feel free to edit this shameful autocorrect.

Mortified English Teacher

windycitywilderness said...

Nope. He's a native midwesterner (Omaha), but I grew up in Duxbury. Thanks for the tip on softening up my purse-tote!

Anonymous said...

@ Sarah. The "satisfaction" guarantee has been turned into a "lifetime" guarantee in the minds of many customers. I work at an LL Bean in Upstate NY. Here are some of the reasons given by our customers for their returns; gained weight, lost weight, child grew, no longer like pattern on back pack, stood too close to heat source and coat melted, dog died, dog chewed shoes. My personal favorite I hear time and again is that it is just time for a new one. That's right folks. Buy once and get replacements or upgrades forever! I agree with Sarah. It is theft and all our customers are paying for it.

scotmiss said...

I wish I were shocked at the lengths people will abuse a retailer's guarantee. I've never returned anything to LLB except when I bought the wrong size. Returning items for anything but a quality issue is a reflection of our unfortunate 'new' society.

Muffy, I read your blog everyday and am slowly reading the archives. You draw an exceptionally nice group. Cheers!

Mona said...

Dear Muffy, your link to the daily beast article resonated with me. I will not embarrass Brooks Brothers by posting a picture of a man flannel shirt in a Black Watch pattern next to one similar from Uniqlo. The Uniqlo shirt is indeed mass market and not a prep brand. Today, the shirt from Brooks Brothers is made in China and of inferior quality. It looks awful, piled and loss of shape. The brand commanded 3x the price tag of the mass market uniqlo shirt and looked much worse after same amount of careful wash and wear. I am prepared to pay a premium for quality and US or old world made quality but I am giving up of brands that sell low quality and dilute their brand and the trust of their customers. I love your blog as I look for signals and tips for brands that do mean quality and respect of us the customers.

Bob Henkel said...

Thanks for this blog and the good and useful information.

Thanks also to the well behaved readers and their thoughtful comments.

Andrea M. said...

So far I have only had one; the large zip-top in Cayenne (hey, I like it!) I got from Grandma my senior year of college. An unfortunate bleach accident has relegated it to use for storage only and I'm expecting another one in the mail soon. It's the best airplane carry-on ever.

Maria said...

I am thinking about buying my first B&T, an extra large for my kids swim lessons. I currently use a large DEANO SCOUT bag but obviously that disnt hold up so need a durable xl tote. Has anyone ever gotten the long handles with the XL tote? Am I better off with the regular handle. I tend to be a shoulder bag person so wondering if I can really fit the regular handle over my shoulder. the scout bag has a medium handle (I guess ) casue I can hold with my hand and it can go over my shoulder - kind of a perfect length.

Anonymous said...

I need your help! My good friend is retiring and plans to sail the chesapeake(sooooo jealous) I am buying the the monogrammed boat bag..others are filling it. Do I want the zipped top or open, large or extra large?? Thanks!!

Eleni said...

Question--Do you know what times of year LL Bean comes out with the seasonal colors? I'd like to know ahead of time for gifting purposes.

Thank you!

PS: When my Grandmother was a child, she would go with her Grandfather to purchase farming supplies from "Mr. Bean" himself!

AcadianYankee said...

I have recently found a "vintage," never used, L.L. Bean tote in a nautical stripe. It has China blue and yellow horizontal stripes with navy bottom and straps. I like it but it may be a little flashy for some. I use it as my casual summer pocketbook.

Anonymous said...

Does it matter if I soak my LL Bean tote in fresh or salt water to soften it? Thanks for your wonderful advice.

Susan said...

Is it possible to dye the totes? I really only want to change the trim color (I found a x-large at our local charity shop and can't stand the color - a purple-ish hue). I've contemplated simPly "coloring" it in with a sharpie which seems comical. Anyone have any ideas?

Anonymous said...

Susan, consider Rit ( that make dye) color remover. It can be purchased at wal mart or some grocery stores. A sharpie pen probably won't hold it color. You could also try fabric paint from a craft store.


Anonymous said...

I wish Beans would bring back the lab jumping off of a dock tote. I have one for the dogs, and need another!

Anonymous said...

Here's a new use for these bags: If you buy size extra large with the longer straps it perfectly fits a desktop imac, which can be heavy to cart around., and the straps allow us to help hold the weight with our shoulders. I can bring my desktop computer to school, work and friend's houses with ease and the heavy canvas protects well.

BlueTrain said...

If other red things I have are anything to go by, I'd guess that red would be the most likely color to run and stain other things.

My wife uses canvas totes to bring work home from school, where she teaches 5th grade. I think she needs the bushel size since that's how much work she seems to have.

Randi Martin said...

I have been using the dog paw print one for about 13 years now and it looks as good as new (save a few dog treat stains!). Evidently that is quite rare and many people don't believe that I actually got it from LL Bean. I wish they would bring back that print.

Anonymous said...

I have a couple small Boat & Tote bags I use to corral some of my toddler's smaller toys. So I like to keep them rigid. Unfortunately I threw one in the washer and it came out more pliable and with a lot of creases--despite using the "handwash" cycle. Do you know of any way to get the wrinkles out? I tried re-soaking and steaming it on high heat, but it didn't help. I know from this post that you prefer your bags to be washed and less rigid, however I figured you might have some insight for me anyways... Please help. Thanks!

charliedog99 said...

Thanks for this post. I recently moved to New England from the west coast and was not familiar with these bags. I have since purchased three of them as Christmas gifts. One for my mother with a card and Southwest Airlines gift card inside. Another for my five year old with his monogram in the athletic block. It will be perfect for him to take his snow gear back and forth to school (the medium size with long handles fits perfectly into his school cubbie). The third is for my best friend to use for camping gear storage and transportation. I was pleased to see that I could purchase a few models in the store and have it monogrammed on site with a much greater selection of thread color options.

Anonymous said...

Interested in the opinion of others in regards to single monograms for women. Which is preferred on these bags, the first or last initial? Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Would the boat and tote be a no go for the city?

MOLLIE'S MOM said...

I have been using these totes for many years and it's probably the only item at LL Bean that I can still depend on for consistent quality. We have many uses for them but mostly as shopping/market totes. I purchased several more totes during the sale at LL Bean in December for gifts and I've been using the XL size to haul firewood. As a firewood tote, it is exceptional! After hauling 3 cords of wood , it is still sturdy and free of any blemishes. I have a small one that I use as a lunch bag that is probably 20+ years old and still looks new. I can wash them in the washing machine and let them air dry as necessary.

Anonymous said...

Hello Muffy,

Wondering what you think of Bean's Clear Emerald color trim this Spring? I know you thought last year's Jadeiite passable, despite the name. Looking to buy some luggage for long road trips with 3 kids this summer, and also to use for the beach or pool. Suggestions appreciated!

Kind regards,


Anonymous said...

Hello, I have a question about care. I have a dozen bags I've used for many years. They all look great EXCEPT for the white parts on the handles. They always look dirty. Giving them a good washing just lightens the colored fabric.
Does anyone else have this problem? Any solutions?

Julia Montgomery said...

"This could have more easily been done in a bathtub, but there wouldn't have been as many ducks." lol after reading this caption, I am officially a loyal reader of The Daily Prep

Anonymous said...

What are you thoughts about the Lands End boat and totes? Is the quality as good?

Heather said...

Anon above me- llbean quality is far superior. My first b&t is going on 20 years of hard service (beach tote, years of baby/toddler/preschool use and most recently as a firewood tote) and I like the stiffness and wouldn't dream of softening one.

I use three xl with regular handles as our transport bags for our weekly cottage trips. I bring home dirty linens in one and clean gets packed in the same for next weekend.. Another is used for dry foods. The third for newspapers, mail, books, laptops, etc. my SIL does the same for their boat but has the zip tops.

Anonymous said...

I will let you know about the quality of Lands Ends totes as soon as the three I ordered arrive.

Michelle said...

on the 5th picture you have colorful bags along with the ll bean bags. who are they made by and what is the name of those bags? are they also canvas?

jo baldwin said...

My 20-something Tote bag is kept in the car and taken into the market for shopping. When the bag is full I know I've bought enough and head to the register. You'd be surprised how much it holds and how much we actually don't need to buy. All one really needs are the essentials. Works for me.

Kathi said...

Great post - love these! I own two of the large and use them all summer for towels, sunscreen, etc. and during the year for trips in the car. These are also my 'go-to' wedding gift - I buy a large and put in rolled up beach towels that match the color stripe, plus beach cups, coozies, etc. Who couldn't use a big bag, and what new bride doesn't love something with her new name monogrammed on it! :-)

Anonymous said...

Our bean bag became a doggie carrier when our aging maltese pup was too tired to walk any further. Now when he sees it out he jumps into it and waits for a ride! Luckily he has a lot to choose from our supply!