TOTE VS SHOULDER BAGS: What’s the Difference How to Choose Between Them

Published On March 23, 2022

Bags are a great way for someone to carry their belongings, but they are also an incredible opportunity to bolster brand awareness. By creating something that your staff or your clients can collect and reuse, you get a recurring ad space that you only have to pay for once. It’s one of the more cost-effective marketing campaigns you may have noticed more and more brands adopting.

Two of the more popular options are shoulder bags and tote bags. Similar in function, but as businesses learn are forced to decide between the two, the conversation surrounding tote vs should bags can get quite confusing. For this article, the team at Albury Enviro Bags discuss what is a tote bag, a shoulder travel bag, their differences, as well as a few considerations when choosing between the two.


Tote bags are usually meant for carrying lots of items easily and efficiently. You will find a wide selection of tote bags available, with variations found in the type of material used and their size. Tote bags are a popular choice for people who need a bag that can hold a lot of items. They can also be easily carried by hand. There are a few select characteristics within these variations, however, that will define a tote bag:


If you want to know what a tote bag is, you should know that one of its most distinctive features is its size. Think of what you’ll usually take with you to the beach to pack your towel, sunscreen, phone, and other essentials.

You should be able to hold everything you need for at least a full 24 hours, but this isn’t a hard and fast rule because smaller tote bags also exist.


Tote bags can be made out of a variety of materials, including cloth, canvas, and even some forms of leather.


One of the main reasons people love tote bags is you can carry basically whatever you need. They have one large, flexible compartment, giving you the freedom to organise your items in the most efficient manner possible.

With some designs, you’ll even find “mini-compartments” on the side where you can store miscellaneous items like pens, phones, keys and other small items.


Two handles attached to a large body: that’s your basic everyday tote bag. It may come in a wide variety of styles, but the structure is a good tell-tale sign it’s a tote bag.


Now that we have answered the questions, ‘what is a tote bag?’, let’s explore shoulder travel bags. Also called a handbag or purse, shoulder bags are more multi-functional. It’s one of the more traditional bag designs, but not unlike the tote bag, it fits a lot of purposes. Let’s review the same criteria mentioned above to decide between tote vs shoulder bags:


Compared to a tote bag, your average shoulder bag is generally smaller. Consider a small purse that you’d partner with an elegant gown or something compact to hold your phone, wallet, keys and even passports during travel.

But even though this is true for some types like your shoulder travel bag, again, there isn’t a strict rule when it comes to size.


The straps are perhaps the biggest differentiator between the two. Shoulder travel bags will have one that, as the name suggests, will drape across your shoulder. This is because you’re not expected to carry heavy items with it, placing less strain on your neck and back, and providing more comfort with ease of transport. Another strap feature that you’d notice is it’s always long enough to be worn over the opposite shoulder, too.


Is accessing items quickly important to you? A shoulder bag has multiple interiors instead of just one, which lets you organise your belongings without a bag organiser. Unfortunately, this usually relates to less room available. There is also likely to be a zippered component featured on the side of a partition right in the middle of your bag.


Apart from the single strap attached to the bag itself, shoulder bags offer a little more distinction when it comes to style. They come in various shapes, including rounded, rectangular, and square.


Now you the definitions of tote vs shoulder bags, are you still struggling with what is best for your campaign? Answering these three questions might help you decide:

1. What will your clients use them for?

Let’s say that you’re selling beachwear. Even though a swimsuit can fit in a small pouch, you can offer a tote bag should they reach a minimum purchase, or offer it at a discounted price, as it can double as their bag after purchase, and be re-used for days at the beach.

If they are promotional materials, you might want to fill your shoulder bags with a range of company-brand swag that recipients can utilise in their everyday lives.

2. How heavy are the items going in the bag?

Tote bags are popular for carrying heavy items that require more strength from the body to carry, but that’s not the only consideration. Different materials have different tensile strengths. See which fabrics are available before deciding.

3. How big are the items?

Although we know that totes are generally larger, it’s always better to refer to the dimensions of the bag instead. If you’re anticipating bulkier items, we suggest going with our shoulder bags.

When it comes to tote vs shoulder bags, it’s not a competition of which is better. It’s about determining what would be more appropriate for the end purpose. Regardless of which you want to go with, you can trust Albury Enviro Bags to provide environmentally-friendly bags made from high-quality materials that help to spread awareness for your brand.

If you’re still not sure what type of bag would work best for your purposes, we can help you choose! Find out more by calling us at 02 9534 6283 today.