Beyond the diaper bag

By Mir
July 14, 2009

The very pretty Julie writes:

Mir, I am hoping you and your very wise readers can assist me. On a recent day trip with my 6 and 4 year olds, it occurred to me that now that we don’t use a stroller, I don’t have a place (other than my purse) to stow the various water bottles, bags of snacks, sunscreen, camera, and various other items that inevitably get handed to Mom for safekeeping. My husband suggested next time we use his backpack. That would work, but I don’t want to look like I am getting ready to scale a mountain 😉 I’ve seen some smaller backpacks on-line, but would hate to order it only to have it arrive and not be useful. Do you or your readers have any practical suggestions on what has worked?

Julie is experiencing the post-diaper-bag quandary, which is that the kids are still small enough to be toting various items and not able/willing to carry them themselves, but big enough that an entire diaper bag is silly. What to do?

This is actually a question of both function and fashion, which means it’s my favorite kind of question!

Let’s talk about function, first. Julie needs a mid-size bag that will fit a variety of items and be easy to carry. Given that there will be things like water bottles and snacks, it would also be nice if it was waterproof or easy to clean. Does this bag have to be a backpack? That’s up to Julie, of course, but I’d argue there’s a variety of totes that would fit the bill, as well.

That brings us to fashion. Unless you truly are going on a day hike, there is just no way to look like anything other than a hiker or a student with a backpack, unless you’re talking about maybe one of those cute fabric dealies which would be pretty impractical for the purpose we’re discussing. So what are your options?

1) The big purse. Oversize purses are very in style right now, and although I resisted them for a long, long time—and don’t carry one every day—when I’m going on a day trip or otherwise traveling, yeah, I grab my big purse and have room for everything. Mine happens to be leather, but there are as many fabric and price options as you could possibly want.

2) The tote bag. Whether you go for the ubiquitous canvas tote (ala LL Bean—how cute are those argyle totes??—use code 3012422 for free shipping; or Lands’ End—use code REFRESH and PIN 7805 for free shipping) or something more mod, there’s no shortage of tote bag choices.

3) Something else. What else? Well, some sort of ergonomic tote, perhaps. Maybe one of those sling packs, something like this tear drop mono sling.

As for where to shop for whatever you decide to get, I usually start with eBags if I want to do it online, but there’s lots of other places, too.

But let’s hear it, readers—what’s the best solution to this dilemma? Do you have The One Perfect Bag to share?


  1. I have a 7 year old special needs child so everywhere I go I have “things”. I find a zipper-top tote bag with a couple outside pockets works best for me. I carry medicine with me too and keep the bottles as well as the measuring cup/spoon together in a ziploc storage bag so I don’t need to fish around the tote to find everything when needed. I also often find myself just throwing my wallet in there so I don’t need to carry my purse into stores, etc.

  2. I use a rather large purse for every day, and when going out of town, or something, use a HUGE tote type bag, but it’s in a camo pattern, so I also take it fishing, lol. I’m so not girly, but need to have STUFF with me. the huge tote when traveling, even day trips works fantastic.

  3. I use a beach bag. No pockets for separating things, but it does the job and many are much prettier than a backpack.

  4. I teach at a school that takes LOTS of field trips and I coach after school, so I need something that’s big enough to carry a clip board in, plus my water, lotion, phone, emergency meds for the kids, etc. So I have a giant Vera Bradly tote I carry. It’s got room for everything, plus lots of little pockets inside to keep my stuff organized.

  5. I have a 2 year old and a new baby. I bought a small backpack for the 2 year old and put her stuff (we only carry what we need for the day!) in there. She loves wearing a backpack like a “big girl” and it has a tether, so I can hang on to her when I need to. I think we bought it at BabysRUs or something. It has an animal face on it. I also carry a tote, but a small one – I only carry a few diapers and products (desitin etc) in sample sizes. We also stocked our mini van with a gallon size ziploc for each kid – 1 outfit, diapers, wipes. I usually carry a few lollypops and some food in my bag. I used topack for a trip to the mall like I was going to another continent and now with 2 realize that that is not necessary!

  6. Our twins turn two this week (!) and I still use our backpack-style diaper bag in the car. I keep it stocked with diapers, wipes, sunscreen, a spare outfit and some books and small toys. But in the last couple weeks I’ve realized I never take it out of the car!

    Instead, I’ve been using a mid-size canvas totebag — my stepdad gave each girl a monogrammed one as an xmas gift last year. It has inside pockets that are just right for holding sippy cups upright, and I can throw some coloring books, a couple of diapers and a pack of wipes, plus snacks and my wallet and phone, and it’s easy to carry while wrangling them. Works for us!

    We’re going on a plane trip in a couple of weeks (first ever, since the girls arrived) so that will force me to identify a travel bag that carries all our stuff on the plane conveniently! Look forward to seeing other responses here!

  7. I only need large capacity towing space a few times a year…for the homeschool convention, fairs, amusement parks, etc. What I use is an actual diaper bag (cringe!) that has hung in there for all these years since I used it with my 7yo.

    We used two different diaper bags with him, both from Lands End. The bigger one (Do It All bag, I think?) is great for an all-day outing. I can stuff hats, sweaters, pool things, snacks, books, all kinds of stuff in there. The changing pad comes out, so I don’t take it along…although there have been times I thought it might have been handy to use as a waterproof surface for dealing with various travel-related problems.

    The bottle pockets on the ends hold water bottles just as well as they hold milk bottles, and the shoulder strap is very comfy for long hauling. My parents borrow this bag from me every year when they fly cross-country…they use it as carry-on luggage and like having all the pouches for their water and snacks and medicines.

    The other LE diaper bag I kept is the Little Tripper and I use that one for places like the homeschool convention. There’s enough room for my snack, my water bottle, and other necessities, as well as plenty of extra space for kid stuff.

    These bags are both medium blue and fairly innocuous looking. Of course they won’t make any great fashion statement. 🙂 And I know that other parents probably recognize them for what they really are!

  8. One suggestion I have about tote bags: don’t even think about one that doesn’t zip closed. An entirely open-top tote is an invitation to losing everything and a single snap isn’t much more useful.

    Not that I know anything about that… 🙂

  9. I LOVE my Land’s End tote bag (medium size). I’m now on my second one. I wish it were waterproof, but I just wash it every so often (even though I don’t think I’m supposed to). No zip top for me . . . no mishaps yet. It goes everywhere with me.

  10. Now I’m just bummed and my whole day is ruined. First, I find out that I’m way out of fashion because I carry a back pack and apparently,look like I’m ready to camping. Second, I do love those argyle totes; if only they had a longer straps. I’m just going back to bed!

  11. Carrying an oversize tote or purse on one arm is a sure way to mess up your back. You can find a backpack that is cute enough to carry for everyday, if you look hard enough.

  12. Thank you for all the great suggestions! I wasn’t seeing past the backpack option. I love the tote bag or larger purse options, guess I have some shopping to do 😉

  13. I have a deep attachment to the LL Bean touring bag. The small works as a nice-sized regular purse, with a holder for a water bottle on the side. The large has room for anything and everything. Nice colors, light weight — practically perfect in every way.

  14. Check out a cargo sling from Vera Bradley. It’s discounted frequently, has lots of pockets and doesn’t scream diaper bag. The side pockets are perfect for water bottles.

  15. Now one has mentioned the messenger bag. Are they also not cool?

  16. oops! I meant no one.

  17. i have a black skip hop duo, that will hopefully transition well. it does the messenger style which i like, isn’t too big, and fits lots of stuff.

  18. Eddie Bauer has packable backpacks on sale RIGHT NOW – $10 off (in-store) of $34.50. (I would imagine they also deduct the 10-spot online) I just bought one today – it’s phenomenal! I can keep it in my larger tote, but whip it out when necessary – and it’s not too flashy, and it’s just the right size.

  19. Now that I’ve got this newborn, I’m switching back to a traditional diaper bag for awhile, but for the past year or so I’d been using a Fossil shoulder bag. It has side pockets which can accommodate SOME narrow sippy cups and water bottles altho unfortunately not most, a front pocket that I use to segregate my lipsticks, hand lotion and other small stuff from the kid stuff, an inside zipper pocket for even smaller such things, and then — this is important for me — a zipper pocket the size of the whole back that I use to stash paperwork when necessary.
    This bag would have been perfect if it had a cardboard insert to keep the back more stiff (for those papers) and if the side pockets were big enough for cups. But still, I’d look at Fossil bags, many are cute and quite functional.

  20. With my 2 and 3 year old in tow, my messenger bag comes everywhere with us. Cool or not cool, it’s all I need! Another great option to consider also! (good call Monique!)

  21. Please keep in mind that wrangling all the stuff is not solely your job. Your husband should do his fair share of toting, too. So make sure that you buy something that he’ll feel comfortable (look manly enough) carrying. We use a small messenger-bag type of thing. (It actually happens to be a Duluth Pack ammo bag — you can’t get much more manly than that!)

  22. Vera Bradley is not very manly, but they have come a long way from looking like a grandma bag in the last few years. I love them because they are WASHABLE! So if something spills inside, you can just toss the whole thing in the wash. Several of my friends swear by the large backpack in lieu of a diaper bag, and for the next two days, certain patterns are only $40 in both the large backpack and messenger bag (also a good option) which is a screamin’ deal for Vera. I carry the “Vera” tote bag which has a bunch of interior pockets for sippy cups and snacks, and is really deep so I can throw in extra undies and a pack of wipes when we’re haded out for the day. But I covet the backpack, so I may have to order it too! Hope that helps!

  23. Check to find the coolest handmade bags…I have a small purse and a beautiful “overflow” bag that catches everything from library books to half-eaten sandwiches to ??? This site has an enormous selection of totes, messengers, zippered, snapped, recycled…anything you could ever want. Or leave a comment on my blog and I’ll make what you want!

  24. I generally go with a larger purse for long outings. Some of the Vera Bradley bags have straps that can adjust for over the shoulder or messenger style. As for having something your husband can carry-I’d rather he have his arms free to hold a tired child than a bag, but maybe that’s just me.

  25. I think the most frustrating thing is that I never have a bag I ALWAYS use…I have to strategize based on where we’re going and what we’re doing and what we’ll need…and I don’t have any in diapers anymore!

  26. i just got Rainshop Medium Canvas Tote at Lands’ End to replace our diaper bag.

    cute, $10 and free shipping? hello, lover.


  27. I use a zipper topped tote bag now as my purse and extra-pants-snacks-water-sunscreen bag. In the winter I used a messenger bag. I admit I like the cross-body style because I have twin toddlers and I need to have both hands free to hold two kids. Amazing how my satchel purses have completely gone to the back of the closet!

  28. Whatever you end up with, make sure it’s something daddy will carry on those long trips, too. No reason for you to have to haul everything.

    For most trips (to the park, store or festival) I just have a few things in my purse – an extra diaper, a few wipes, a snack & an empty sippy cup) and we keep the main bag (a black, across the shoulders small, messenger-style diaper bag) in the car. For longer trips (say a day at the zoo) we still take the diaper bag.

  29. I love these big bags at

    They are made at a shop in the U.S. by a very responsive seller/artisan. She get’s great reviews on and a favorite of many of the indy blogs I follow. I’ve been coveting a couple of the bags but haven’t bought one yet because I can’t decide on one.

    They are not cheap but they are hardly expensive by handbag/diaper bag standards and I love supporting independent, small businesses.

  30. Check out Sherani bags They have backpacks that aren’t too dorky and messenger bags that are big enough to carry everything. And they’re not so girly that your husband won’t carry them once in a while. 🙂 I’ve seen them on sale at and sometimes.

  31. Liv is my hero – I just picked up two of those Raindrop totes from Lands End. One for me, and one as a gift for a friend. YAY!

  32. we use an over the shoulder bag from the army navy store. it is cheap and both my husband and I can carry it.

  33. AMERIBAG! (The Healthy Back Bag) I didn’t find out about these until the gift shop I worked in decided to sell them. Honestly, I was turned off at the price – they range from $48 to over $150. My boss gave me one as a gift. My youngest had just turned two, and I was sooo ready to move away from the “diaper bag Mom” stage. As a mother of 4 (all under the age of 7) I knew I needed something that could handle all the stuff. I switched to the Ameribag just before our 6 day trip to Florida – I couldn’t have been happier. It is so flexible – it will hold so much stuff, can be over the shoulder or across the body. Zippers and pockets to organize everything inside. You don’t know what you are missing until you use one of these for a day. I no longer work in the gift shop, and have no connection to Ameribag – but recommend it to everyone with kids.

  34. I usually use a large purse for general outings. If we are going to the mall or zoo or somewhere we will gone all day to, I use a backpack. It is one of those one strap ones that go across the chest. I can’t stand the two strap ones. It has a buckle on the front to help getting it on and off. That way I don’t look like a weirdo trying to figure out how to get it on and off and on and off. I have a special needs son who needs everything. A backpack seemed like the easiest way to get it all in and still be able to carry it. I have learned the hard way from carrying a big tote around. With as many appointments and day trips we take, I had killed my back with the tote. I found my backpack two years ago at JC Penney on clearance. It was shortly after school had started and the backpacks were on clearance. It is denim with a few little buterflies on it. I bought quite a few since I knew I would be using them alot. I am surprisingly still on my first one although I do think it is time to switch to a second one.
    For my van I bought one of those back seat organizers. It hangs on the very back bench seat and has a lot of pouches and pockets. I keep it stocked with extra clothes for my son and the other things he might need. This way, I don’t have to carry them, but I can easily go get them and not have to go home. I don’t know how many times I have had to run home to get something I didn’t have.

  35. Oh did I agonize over this one when I went from one to two. Really, I spent a ridiculous amount of time on it. I was never happy with the backpack style diaper bag I had. I wanted something that:
    – would allow me to carry gear,
    – didn’t scream “diaper bag”
    – my husband would also want to carry
    – that would last
    – I could use for years & years

    And this is what I arrived at is a bag by Dad Gear. I bought my bag 2.5 years ago and it still looks new. I use it almost daily. It is great.

    And woah – they have expanded their product line. The bag I have is the sport bag style, a mid-size bag. I kept watching Amazon and DadGear ( for sales, I didn’t pay full price. It was totally worth the money, though. (My bag is the Sport Bag – Lady Stripe – Blue Belle, $44.99.)

    Hope this helps!

  36. I carry a really great fabric bag I found at an art fair – washable and indestructible! – but I also subscribe to the “let them carry it” theory, and have my 4 year old wear a backpack for big trips.

    My handiest item, though, is a wristlet. It’s a zippered bag with a wrist strap just big enough to carry my wallet, lip gloss, and cell phone, and I can grab it and move it from small bag to big bag to diaper bag, as the day requires. It’s been my lifesaver since having kid #2.

    And I find tons of cute bags at Etsy! Highly recommended if you’re looking for something soft and washable that still fits your style.

  37. I haven’t read the other comments so I’m sorry if any of this is repeat info. I have no recs on a specific type, but do look into a backpack. Distribute the load evenly. After 24 years of carrying a bag for babies and/or kids I am sorry to say that I had to learn the hard way. A rotator cuff injury from carrying a shoulder bag with stuff for several kids…3 in diapers at once…was enough to make me ditch the heavy bag carried on one shoulder. That was the most painful thing I have ever endured. I also like waist or ‘fanny’ packs.

  38. I also, in no way, can cart around some giant bag off of one shoulder. I’d die in about two minutes. Plus it helps to have both arms free when you’re dealing with little ones!

    So I go the backpack route. However, mine looks more like a purse. It’s brown pseudo-leather with a zip-top and two small velcro side pockets, and another larger zip-pocket on the front. Sorry, it was a second-hand Rosetti and I’m not sure they make it anymore, but you can see some similar-type stuff here:,/style,/111/dept.html

  39. Big purse for me (I have twins and have needed a bug purse since day 1, even with a diaper bag). I tried moving to a mid-size purse when they got out of diapers but it was still too small for water, crayons, paper, etc that we need everywhere.

    Backpack of any variety when we go walking. I can stash a drink for everyone, pick up a few groceries and still hold hands with them on the street.

    Fashion be damned!

  40. I wonder if this would be a good mom bag? Water-proof, zip top, many outside pockets, reasonable size and VERY groovy patterns! I just was introduced to this site so haven’t ordered anything myself, but it looks intriguing.

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