A common refrain of the last year on my Discord has been, “Ben, when you are going to try the Filson Zip Tote finally, it’s such a great bag!” That refrain was on repeat. And then I bought a Filson Rugged Twill Tote Bag with Zipper in Otter Green from a friend. An hour (for real) after it arrived, my wife used it for her personal item on the trip we were about to leave to go on.
And then, things got expensive for me. I have not heard her utter words about a bag she is borrowing: “So, this is mine, right, because I love it and am keeping it.” So it seemed I wasn’t going to test the bag at all, that is, until Filson released a limited color run that she liked better: I bought her one of those and swiped my green one back.
And I get it now. I get why people love these bags, why they make perfect travel/flying bags, and everything in between. The main downside: it’s a particular style, a certain flair, to carry a tote like that — and it’s not really me.
That said, I do not think a better personal item than this bag for flying exists.
Size & Materials
There are a few variants of this bag and many colors over the years. Filson makes (and has made) Tin Cloth runs of this bag and Mackinaw wool variants. The classic, though, is the Rugged Twill, which I have. This is accompanied by bridle leather straps, long enough to wear over your shoulder and manageable enough to carry holding in your hand (at least for me, but I am tall).
The bag itself is a cube measuring out at 15”L x 7”W x 14”H, for something around 24L in capacity. It weighs 2lbs or so, not light, not overly heavy. This bag holds a ton of gear, and I am surprised it measures out to 24L and not 26L. That said, it looks like something in the 18-20L capacity when you are handling it.
This is ideal for travel sizing. It swallows up gear while looking like not much as you walk onto your plane.
Hearing my wife rave about the bag was a weird feeling, as I had never used it, and I couldn’t understand why. You look at the images of it, and it’s like, “OK, what’s special here?” The thing is, when you use this bag, it’s surprisingly good. And it’s taken me a while to realize why it’s so good, but it comes down to three factors:
- It’s stupidly simple. There’s no fussiness to it, and it just is what it is.
- The two smaller side pockets at either end will hold water bottles exceptionally well.
- It slides under the seat in front of you while standing upright and takes up less room than smaller backpacks would.
When you add those three things up, you’d have a hit Kickstarter on your hands (do they still do those?).
Being a Filson bag, it feels durable and robust in hand. The Bridle Leather is like none you have handled before, as it is supple and pliable while being stout and reassuring. The Rugged Twill is just that: rugged. It feels overbuilt, but in doing that, it means what’s inside your bag is not printing through the bag. And it means the bag stands up reasonably well, even if empty.
I was worried the straps wouldn’t work for me, but they were fantastic. I could slip both over one shoulder and carry the bag under my arm as I walked through the terminal. I could hang my arm down, hold the handles, and move about. Or I could set the bag on top of a roller bag and hold the handles with the roller bag handles. Easy, no fuss, simple.
It is worth noting that there’s no trolly strap, and this bag seems to be begging for one.
Oh, and there’s the classic Filson brass YKK zippers. They are tremendously good and tremendously scratchy if your skin makes contact with them in the wrong way. Would it be nicer if they weren’t brass? Probably, but it would also feel like a lesser bag.
To explain the size: I almost packed this bag for my trip to Italy, with my Medium Field Bag packed inside this bag and room to spare. It’s that big. And yet, it works perfectly as a personal item.
The winning feature of this bag is that it never seems quite full. You put your gear in it and have room at the top. If you are like me, you head to the convenience store at the airport to get drinks. I grab two bottles of water and some Swedish Fish (as you do), and both ends swallow up the bottles, and there’s still room inside to add my fish, some Doritos, and, you know, whatever else I think the “kids” might want. When you need something from the bag on the plane, you slide the bag between your feet, zip it open, and grab what you need—one of the best experiences using a bag on a plane I’ve ever had.
That’s the thing with this bag. It’s just excellent. It’s also very much not my style. Not the way I like to carry a bag or my bags to look. Then again, I keep using this bag. I don’t use it for travel now, but it finds its way to my office or on errands whenever I need something to hold something, and I can’t be bothered to worry about which bag.
I strongly suggest that everyone own one of these.