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As a former style editor who’s spent a lot of time analyzing clothes, it’s safe to say I have a list of preferable fabrics. I like linens, buttery soft synthetics and silky smooth lyocell and modal. Anything with a hint of sheen to it, I’m bound to love on my body.
But when it comes to commuter bags, I look for the opposite. I need something padded to protect my laptop in case I accidentally drop my bag (something that happens far too often, for the record) and rough enough to handle a snag at the airport when I’m traveling. It also needs to be stylish and versatile –– like me –– and it doesn’t hurt if it’s relatively affordable. So when I saw Incase’s City Market Tote with Cordura, I knew I had to try the bag out to see if it met my hardy qualifiers. I asked Incase if I could try a sample, and after five months of using it, I’m happy to say that it hasn’t let me down once.
Prior to grabbing the City Market Tote, my old reliable was the Topo Designs Rover Pack, which I own in red and navy. As eye-catching as that colorful bag is, it’s just not versatile when it comes to styling with my outfits. Incase’s City Market Tote solves that goes-with-everything issue with a minimalist, simple all-black design. Its black-on-black Incase logo is barely visible, while the small pop of orange from the Cordura branded tab blends in well with the black nylon fabric.
Adding to that simplicity is its two top handles that look similar to skinny seatbelts and its two zippered pockets — one for the main top compartment and one on the exterior, the latter of which has a fold that you can use to tuck in its zip and keep it hidden. Its color also creates a deceptively slimming effect that hides just how much it’s capable of carrying, which is a lot more than you’d expect.
This bag can hold up to 23 liters — on an average weekday as I’m headed to the coffee shop to write, it’s typical to find my bag stuffed with a 15-inch MacBook and extended laptop charger, a phone charger, my wallet and cell phone, three notebooks, two pens, one novel, random snacks, a deodorant stick and a 32-ounce Nalgene water bottle. When taking this bag on vacation on a particularly snowy day in Salt Lake City, I was able to pack all of the above in addition to a beanie and Arc'teryx jacket.
Like any good commuter bag, the Incase tote has pockets, but only a few (which I prefer). Incase’s City Market Tote with Cordura only has three zippered pockets –– the aforementioned main compartment and exterior as well as a smaller hanging pouch located inside the bag that’s long enough for a pencil and deep enough for mostof my iPhone 12. The main compartment’s space gives me ample opportunity to freestyle, if you will. While it’s equipped with a laptop sleeve that the brand says is big enough to carry a 16-inch MacBook Pro, the volume in this tote provides a ton of room to stand up items and freely organize. I like stacking my books upright in this bag, and the bottom’s tough 500D Cordura fabric — a branded technical nylon built with thick fibers to better withstand daily wear — ensures I can place it on the floor without having to worry about scuffs or tears. For the most part, my bag still looks as new as it did when I got it back in December.
Incase’s City Market Tote with Cordura is a versatile bag that’s roomy and durable — and for $80, it feels like a bargain. Its black, minimalist design makes it great to use on weekdays and weekends alike, and its tough 500D Cordura nylon has been able to withstand many commutes and cross-country trips so far. After wearing mine for nearly half a year, it’s one of the smartest investments I’ve made as a coffee shop commuter.
Other tote bags to consider
If you’re looking for a tote that can convert into a backpack or one that’s a little leaner in size, consider one of these highly rated tote bags.
With bungee compression, a stand-up design, a padded laptop pocket, a water bottle sleeve and backpack straps, the Borealis Tote by the North Face is another good option for commuting. It can hold up to 22 liters, the brand says, and has a water-repellent finish. Over 110 reviewers give this bag a 4.6-star average rating on the North Face's website.
This tote from Carhartt is built with tough polyester and is coated with a water-repellent material, according to the brand, plus it's equipped with a laptop sleeve and smaller compartments. The bag has handles that snap shut with a closure and it has an average rating of 4.8 stars on Amazon from over 550 reviews.