Photo by Muffy Aldrich
The Modern Guide to The Thing Before Preppy

Monday, February 19, 2024

L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bags - The Complete Guide (2024 Edition)

Photos by Salt Water New England
I have received quite a few questions about L.L. Bean Boat and Tote bags.  Here are the top ten, and my answers (and some answers from the community).  

1. What is an L.L. Bean Boat and Tote Bag?

The Boat and Tote bags are L.L. Bean's version of a traditional ice hauling bag.  In the right colors, they are attractive as well as practical and versatile.  When first bought they can be a bit stiff, but they are useful throughout their long life as they soften and inevitably age.

Boat and Totes come in a variety of styles, an L.L. Bean often offers numerous variations, that range from good - such as the leather handled versions - to curious - such as the Boston Red Sox edition - to bad - such as bags made in China.

After Decades of Extensive Research...

2. What are uses of Boat and Tote Bags?

The uses of Boat and Tote bags are nearly countless, but they depend on their condition and size.

When new, they are great for work, summer house suitcases, purses/pocketbooks (in small or medium), laundry bags (in large), school, even carry-ons for traveling (with zippered top).   Said one reader, "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." Another wrote, "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." A third reader commented, "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." 

When new, perfect for trips.  I use these for around the house storage.

Spotted this one at Ocean House.

Spotted in Town

When the bags start showing the miles, they are great for beach bags and grocery bags, including at the farmers' market.  And they are ideal boat bags, easy to throw from and, more importantly, catch in a launch.  

And as heavy tweed jacket commented, "We have one in the attic holding other totes."  We've all been there.

Boat Storage

I used them for groceries before curbside pick-up.

We use them at farm stands.

The zip-top versions are good for tossing from boat to boat.
 Nearer the end of life they are perfect for hauling feed, keeping tools, and holding kindling.  

Spotted On the Docks of Essex

Because of this versatility, Boat and Totes of course make great gifts.  One comment: "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! :-)"

Said Wasp Decor, "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 to find something, usually for me it's dog related, and one can find it quickly."


The functionality is determined by the size.  We have a variety in all sizes.  Here are the four sizes: X-Large. Large, Medium, and Small.  The Small has the now discontinued Diamond monogram style. 

3. How do you clean a Boat and Tote Bag?

Cleaning a Boat and Tote bag keeps it more useful longer.  Mostly I just spot scrub, with an slightly abrasive sponge and my kitchen soap and water, rinse it under the faucet, and put it in the sun to dry. 

Readers have also used washing machines.  

"When I wash my Boat & Totes in the washing machine, I turn them inside out. They seem to get just as clean, but it lessens the risk of the colored cotton being torn and it's easier on the corners. "

"I place my Boat N' Totes in a mesh sweater bag before I throw them in the washer. "  (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. "

"I've been washing my Boat & Tote's for years without a problem. What I do is take them to a laundry mat, stick the totes in a huge front-loader (much larger than anyone would have at home... I think it's marked 6x for six loads), and wash on a warm cycle. I then dry in a huge dryer not a normal one. I've never had color bleeding. You do get some light abrasion marks which look like they're from use and are a positive thing in my opinion. As a matter of fact, I can't stand a new Boat & Tote so I wash any new ones immediately upon receipt to get rid of the stiffness. "  (Fraser Tartan ) 

"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." (Patsy)

4. How do you soften a Boat and Tote Bag?

One reader asked, "How DO you break in a boat and tote? I got one as a gift, and it is the stiffest bag I have ever carried. Love it in theory, but practically, this bag isn't working for me."  

While this is not recommended by the vendor, I will fill one up with water, let it soak through, roll it up and let it dry. Sometimes I hang them on a picket of a fence to dry. Other times I just put them on the gravel walk and turn them over after a couple of hours so that the other side faces the sun.  This can cause discoloration in the natural canvas, which mostly can be fixed by spot cleaning.

Some colors look best faded, and I have may speed the fading process using our pool.  

This pink lightened beautifully after some time in our salt water pool. 

5. What are the best colors for the Boat and Tote Bags?

The iconic L.L. Bean Boat and Tote color combination is natural with a navy (what L.L. Bean calls Blue) trim. 

Blue Trim.  Waiting for the launch in Jamestown.

This 2022 Lawn Green is their Best Green Ever.  
After Navy (Blue):
  • The best green had been 2010's Glen Green, but in 2022  they came out with something better, the smashing Lawn Green.   

    Thankfully L.L. Bean uses Natural canvas for their zip-tops on all seasonal color bags, including this one.  However, their default monogramming thread color is a clashing Dark Green (what they used to call Hunter Green), so specify a better color such as Navy (shown).   I also like the Hunter Green, now called Dark Green. 
  • A third best color is Natural.
  • Finally, I would add to the list their Pink Berry, last seen in 2011.  

L.L. Bean Boat and Totes in Medium - Blue, Pink Berry, Natural, and Lawn Green
Glen Green

Small in Pink

A Navy - called Blue - Tote inside a Hunter Green - now called Dark Green - Tote.

6. Should I get a zip top or open top?

For boats, for longer term storage and for travel, zippers are necessary.  For everything else, I find the open-top to be easier to access and better looking.

Zip Tops add security.   I prefer the formerly offered natural tops over the now offered colored ones.   

7.  Should I get short handles or long handles?

A reader asked, "Has anyone ever gotten the long handles with the XL tote? Am I better off with the regular handle?"

If you want to put the straps over your shoulder, the short handles will be too short.  

Medium Zip-Top with Long Handles, at Royal Male in Newport

Small Zip-Top with Short Handles for a Farm Dinner

8.  Are Boat and Tote Bags still made in Maine?

Yes.  But look carefully.  L.L. Bean will intersperse Made in Maine Boat and Totes with "Imported" tote bags, often looking quite similar.

9.  Should I monogram a Boat and Tote bag?  How?

For monogramming, of what they currently offer, I prefer initials, either in Times Bold, Block, Insignia, or Classic.  (Shown throughout.)


The monogramming done at the warehouse and shipped to customers is a bit different than the monogramming done at the Freeport store.

On the left in the photo below, the Large Blue tote has the Insignia style (in their Dark Pink thread) done in their warehouse.   On the right, the Large Lawn Green tote had the same style and color but was done at their Freeport store.  

I very much prefer the store monograms, which are bigger and bolder.

Given we are already stretching the definition of monogram, some do it even further.

Wharf Rat wrote, "When you get your stuff ready to go, it is helpful to have one with the monogram 4 R DOG.  Keeps all of his stuff in one place and gives easy access to water bowl, on the road, leashes, etc." 

Before the 'Ironic Monogramming' Became a Thing, My Husband's Roommate from Brown Had These on His Boats.

And some don't have the monogram option available.  A reader added, "I bought a Boat & Tote as my 'souvenir' when visiting Freeport three Summers ago.... I get so many compliments about it back here in England. At my son's school summer fayre last weekend lo and behold I spotted a fellow Mother carrying one (hers in red, mine in navy). We exchanged a smile and a knowing look. They really are the best and I'm planning a big order to be shipped to me so I can use them for my groceries too - but LL Bean won't monogram for international orders. Disappointed to say the least. Perhaps I should travel all the way to Freeport just to stock up? "

10.  What should I avoid when buying a Boat and Tote bag, new or used?  

In the past, some of their striped bags had the color on printed on instead using dyed canvas.  Stay away from those.

The quality of the zippers can vary.  In the large bags the zippers have definitely been on the cheap side, but in the new(ish) pouches, they use high quality YKK zippers.  If you want a zip top tote, you probably will not have a choice.

Double check the recommended color choices for monogram thread.  It is at times very bad advice.  You can choose your own monogram color.  

While removing the L.L. Bean sewn on labels is quite easy and fast with a seam ripper (shown below), I have found it to be far less easy to remove their monograms.

Boat and Tote Zip Pouch, Hold the Beans

L.L. Bean Leather-Handle Katahdin Boat and Tote With Tags

L.L. Bean Leather-Handle Katahdin Boat and Tote Without Tags

In their Habitat

Spotted in Town

The not so tidy back of our old car.

Spotted in Town

On the Launch - Medium and Large

Spotted at the harbor.

My Grandmother's from the 70s or 80s when the handle straps were closer together.

Leaving the boat in Jamestown.


  1. I use 'em. I love 'em. They are virtually indestructible.

  2. Have several, although I find that Sailorbags, made of Dacron sailcloth, are virtually indestructible.

  3. Has always been a solid go to in our home! Thank you so very much!

  4. I use the LL Bean Tote Bags for weekend car trips. Older versions of the bag are used mostly for grocery.

    Lately, I've been eyeing the Tom Bihn Truck bag for work utility around the house. It has good organization and materials. Tom Bihn has a cult-like following among the "one bag travel" crowd since they use the best materials and they hand-sew everything out of their Seattle factory.

  5. In the late 80s-early 90s, I was given two as gifts --- one is small, border-stencilled with holly leaves for Christmastime and has sturdy leather handles with the LL Bean Factory Store label inside. Absolutely love it and use it constantly for all kinds of things (ignoring its seasonality!)

    The other one is large and charmingly patterned with dog pawprints in black, with black trim and handles. I love that one too. You simply cannot beat their usefulness and durability.

  6. I am still using mine that are about 25 and 30 years old!

  7. Fading & softening...will subscribe to my father's prescription while serving on a LST & AKA in the South Pacific..soaked their work shirts & dungarees in salt water. Sometimes they secured them to a line & threw them overboard.

  8. Own an embarrassing amount. Love them all. So very useful.

  9. This is an informative post, Muffy! I have collected a number of these totes over the years, but have only spot cleaned them because I thought putting them in the washing machine would remove the stiffness and they wouldn't stand upright anymore. Silly me. Slainte!

    1. I even wash and bleach my extra large totes in the washing machine about once a year! The colors only fade slightly from the bleach but the canvas looks the same but stain-free. I air dry them on my deck in the sunshine and they dry fast! I use two extra large totes for carrying firewood and before I wash them in the machine, I power wash or hose the debris from them. I believe they are indestructible and worth every penny!
      I check Ebay every so often to see what used totes are available but they are being sold at such high prices that I just purchase them new- rather, wait until I accumulate enough Bean Bucks to order one for free.

  10. A friend told me years ago about the free monogramming and shipping with the L.L. Bean card, so the totes became my go-to for baby gifts (along with an infant life jacket) and boat warming gifts.

  11. We have several but, two have been in regular service since 1980. They are well worn but, still good for the farmer's market, beach, camping, tools, and a place to recycle newspapers.

  12. My go-to ski boot, brain bucket, ski socks and gloves bag in winter... the rest of the year for everything else... don’t leave home without one...

  13. I have one from twelve years ago when they still offered custom colors as a commuting bag and now is used a reusable grocery bag.

    1. I wish Bean still offered the "build your own bag" using the custom colors. Those have been my favorites....

  14. Their 'croquet' bag, long, shallow, narrow and zippered is what I like for my clothes, wet gear, shoes, dopp kit, etc., when cruising. Don't have to dig through everything to find what I need and fits right above my bunk on its shelf.

  15. I have several, each with a different monogram (thanks Bean's bargain bin/canoe) and a specific task assigned.

  16. Found a navy/cream medium zip tote for $2.99 at the local charity shop in perfect condition.
    Unfortunately a name was embroidered and (suprise) it was not mine.
    Searching the internet was helpful. By taking a cheapie razor going over and over the back side of the stitching firmly, the front stitching pulls away easily.
    Love my tote!

  17. I love browsing the Ellsworth, Maine L.L. Bean for the returned Bean bags/mistake bags. They keep them in an old canoe. I'm such a frugal Yankee. I love a bargain even if the monogram reads: "YOLANDA", I'll buy it.

  18. I have a dozen canvas totes from Land's End that are about 8 years old and still
    in great condition. I love the outside and inside pockets on these particular bags,
    the single outer pocket being especially handy for a water bottle, thermos or travel
    mug. As I said, these are 8 or more years old so I can't vouch for the quality of the
    current Land's End products.

  19. The oft overlooked Hunters Tote in black has a "thermoplastic interior coating that's both durable and water resistant to keep your gear dry." Not for dead ducks here in NYC, but a super serviceable urban bag.

    1. Concur, I own 3 in olive. Monogramed locally on both sides.
      Bean indicated they could only monogram one side. For diucks & waders
      42 gallon, 3 mil bag.

  20. Our vintage late 1980's, special edition made from Bean barn coat material, with the bean gum boot leather trim handles remains our favourite!

  21. Has anyone ever seen the insulated insert for the largest bag? I had one years ago and made the mistake of giving it to my kid when he moved I miss it! Bean doesn't seem to have it any more--ideas?

  22. I just packed one of ours for a Downeast overnight trip to Brooklin, Maine, "The Boat Building Capital of The World". Big enough for some clothes, a warm parka, emergency blanket and pillow from home. We also have several Seabags we got as spiffs for donating sails that came in the bottom of some boxes from an estate auction. I use one of their tool bags for carrying my Dopp kit, book ('Twain and Grant', currently), iPad, camera, cell phone, cords, chargers, checkbook, glasses case, etc.

  23. A Magic Eraser does wonders to clean off spots.

  24. We have a pair of the large open top totes, both around 20 years old. Well-used, periodically cleaned with a power washer (use the wider spray nozzle setting, not the tight stream).

  25. I just love them. Keep the segments coming Muffy.

  26. You know you're parenting correctly when your (just turned) two-year-old looks in the closet and says "There's your Bean bag."

  27. They are truly wonderful things! That just keep going! Cheers!

  28. I’m a big thrifter, and am always astonished when I find one that has been discarded in good condition. Their trash, my forever treasure.


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