I need an elegant solution to my bag problems . . . what is it?
February 9, 2020 6:19 PM   Subscribe

After spilling coffee, breakfast shakes, and tumblers full of iced lemon water on my way into work, I am in desperate need of a new solution!

Every day I leave my home with many items: a cross-body purse (Baggallini), a soft-sided (insulated) lunch bag, another bag with books/student work (typically a canvas bag from Barnes & Noble), and two 24 oz. tumblers filled with beverages (breakfast shake and filtered iced water).

I'm a teacher, so I try to bring everything I need with me during one trip (once I walk into the building, I'm typically engaged in immediate conversations with colleagues or students and am preoccupied for the rest of the day). I drink my breakfast shake during my first period class or prep period and sip on my water throughout the day. I refill my tumbler with water I have in a small fridge in my classroom (I don't like the drinking fountain water and there isn't another filtration system near my classroom, although there is one in the building). I prefer to start the day with delicious, filtered, fruit-infused water from home. I don't have any time to prepare things once I arrive at school, because I like to roll up late like that.

So: how in the world do I carry all of this? My current "system" is to drape bags over my shoulders/arms and carry the tumblers in both hands. This is awkward, but becomes additionally problematic when I stop for coffee once a week. On those days I either forgo my water tumbler (sad!) or put one of the tumblers into my purse (you're right - this has resulted in spillage on more than one occasion). At this point, my bag lady foibles are well-known by my students and other staff members. It's one of those funny/not funny things; my antics result in great hilarity, but I'm secretly super stressed out about it.

I think what I really need is a bag with exterior pouches/areas designed to hold beverage containers. However, most of the ones I've seen are only designed to hold a 12 oz. bottle. I'd like something somewhat stylish/professional (I am late thirties/female). I don't have a set budget . . . this is really impacting my quality of life and starting my days out in a stressful way, so I'm willing to spend a bit more to get it right. But, perhaps, there are other solutions as well? Things I'm missing?

Thank you, Hivemind!
posted by WaspEnterprises to Grab Bag (33 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you put your water in some kind of a bottle or flask with a serious seal (there are many options), you could just drop it in your bag and not worry about it. Insulated Kleen Kanteens work well for me. Similarly, you could put shake in another thing with a good seal, and then swap to a different lid (one with a straw or whatever) to actually drink it. The Kleen Kanteen ecosystem of caps and accessories is again good for this.
posted by rockindata at 6:31 PM on February 9, 2020 [14 favorites]

If you are looking for a professional-looking bag with ALL THE POCKETS, there are a number of diaper bags like the Tom Bihn Parental Unit that might be an option.
posted by rockindata at 6:34 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Agree on Kleen Kanteen. Also, I have a Zojirushi that has literally never spilled a drop despite being upside down in my bag many times. The seal on those is amazing.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 6:34 PM on February 9, 2020 [14 favorites]

I would first consider replacing my tumblers with something that seals better than a tumbler, like a vacuum bottle so I can use any bag to hold them.

If that's not an option, I would consider whether something like this would work with my tumblers. Or a plastic beverage caddy like this one.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:36 PM on February 9, 2020

Two suggestions: first, a non-leaky, vacuum thermos will help with spillage and the Zojirushi ones (available on Amazon in 24-oz size) keep beverages at a consistent temperature and don’t leak. I toss mine into any old bag and it’s fine.

Second, a big roomy messenger bag like one from Timbuk2 or Rickshaw will hold all your stuff. Timbuk2 offers bags with a bottle holder or two; Rickshaw offers attachable/detachable pockets for organizing things. When I was commuting and schlepping my laptop, lunch, tumbler, and a small purse, this was the solution that worked best for me.
posted by sobell at 6:37 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Consider a water-bottle sling (strap-style, bag-style,handmade)?
And I totally recommend a quick-release caribiner type clip to attach the lunch bag to your shoulder bag just to get in from the parking lot.
posted by aimedwander at 6:38 PM on February 9, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you for the great suggestions so far! An important note: one of the reasons that a typical canteen hasn't worked for me is because my shake needs to be stirred and has ice in the tumbler. The water tumbler also has ice, as well as slices of fruit. The tumblers are simply the easiest to load with ice and to clean at the end of the day. I am realizing, however, that the seal issue is really paramount. Trying to hit both requirements (ice is a must) is my problem.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 6:49 PM on February 9, 2020

They make ice cube trays that make long skinny ice specifically for water bottles. Like this one:


I agree with everyone else, your main problem here is that you need to carry your drinks in containers that seal. There are wider-mouthed canteens, but a narrow one isn't hard to clean, especially if you get a brush.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:54 PM on February 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm going to agree with rockindata and say look at diaper bags. There are a lot of nice-looking diaper bags with outside pockets big enough for your beverages. I use a teacher tote that holds my laptop, textbook, notebook and my lunch(with room to spare), and the outside pockets keep my tumbler upright. But it's not especially professional-looking.
posted by dogmom at 7:07 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yes, Klean Kanteen has wide-mouth versions.

Nthing Klean Kanteens for spill-free carrying. Another option is Nalgene if you prefer clear bottles. Both are very popular among teachers and students here.
posted by satoshi at 7:07 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am agreeing with all here - the problem is not the bag, it is the liquid container. You will really struggle to get a bag that is able to reliably hold orientation for a non-well sealing tumbler/container. Any slight knock of the best bag in the world and you are spilling again. Change the container.

Try something like this: There are versions with straws too:


one of the reasons that a typical canteen hasn't worked for me is because my shake needs to be stirred and has ice in the tumbler.

if it has ice, it doesn't need to be stirred. It needs the lid closing and then shaking. The ice will stir it. Besides, a wide mouth canteen allows stirring with something else anyway, so no issue.
posted by Brockles at 7:11 PM on February 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

The Zojirushi has a wide enough mouth where you can easily drop in fruit and ice cubes. I’ve often used mine for ice water and the cubes are still present up to 24 hours later. Your preferences for beverage preparation can be easily accommodated here.
posted by sobell at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

You can also modify any bag that comes close to what you need. Sewing on some fabric to add a second cup holder would be really easy.
Also, it might be easier on your back to get a backpack.
posted by flimflam at 9:09 PM on February 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh my god what are we the same person?! I use this bag from Crumpler which has two inner pockets:

And in those two inner pockets I carry two flasks. One with a smoothie (needs to be shaken although I don’t have ice) and one with delicious herbal tea (no fruit but I leave the teabag in). I looooooove love love these tumblers from Kinto. They have a great seal and come in three pieces, tumbler, filtery bit, lid. The filtery bit stops you drinking your teabag for example, or the ice. BUT you can unscrew and also drink straight from the tumbler for thicker smoothies. So good. Link here, two sizes, many colours, no leaks or spills:

I’m in Australia so haven’t linked to places to buy but there are loads of Crumpler and Kinto stockists globally super easy to Google.
posted by t0astie at 9:09 PM on February 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

I use this shaker bottle - if you close it FIRMLY, it has a good seal the won't spill. No problem putting ice cubes in it. If you get something else, you might want to get some shaker balls so you can shake it up again before drinking it (instead of stirring)
posted by metahawk at 10:36 PM on February 9, 2020

Best answer: Here you go: a two-pack of double-walled 40 oz thermoflasks ($35). Throw those in any bag big enough to hold the rest of your stuff. Just double check that both the lid and the mouthpiece are screwed on tightly, and you should be good to go.

Not wide enough? Too tall? Check out Stanley thermoses and food jars -- 20 oz example.

Here's another idea -- instead of toting all your water, you could buy a water filtering water bottle. That one works surprisingly well for what it's trying to accomplish. I wish it were a little bigger -- in a single meeting, I can drink all that water and want more -- but it's generally good enough, or you could get two. Then you could leave them at your desk and not carry them back and forth!
posted by slidell at 10:37 PM on February 9, 2020

I hate carrying multiple bags (and so does my spine) so if it were me, I would want something like this (depends on the shape of your tumbler but one of the answered questions claims it holds a Camelbak) and probably this.
posted by notquitemaryann at 10:47 PM on February 9, 2020

Contigo AutoSeal West Loop 24-oz travel mug (specs at Contigo; for sale elsewhere). Another 24-oz Contigo option, which I've yet to try, $20 at Kohl's. These are advertised as dishwasher-safe lids, hand-wash tumblers; in my experience, the unpainted-body versions survive machine-washing -- the painted ones chip and peel.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:49 PM on February 9, 2020

Yes on Contigo, they are paper cup shaped and survive being dropped entirely without spilling. I also like Ion8 water bottles if temperature control is not an issue.

And is there a reason you're not going for a backpack? Something around 20-30 litres with mesh pockets on both sides should carry everything you have in one handy package and be easier on your spine while leaving both hands free. I'd go with something like this.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:57 PM on February 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

yep or this
posted by notquitemaryann at 11:42 PM on February 9, 2020

I can fit ice cubes and sliced fruit into my relatively small chillys knock off, not all ice cubes but most I’ve tried including those coming out of hotel ice machines.

So nthing everybody who says you need better drinks solutions and the bag problem will disappear. I own two contigo tumblers and my fake chilly and neither leaks.

I would still recommend you look for one bag large enough to contain your materials, drinks & lunch if you’re after a more grownup/professional look though.
posted by koahiatamadl at 12:04 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nthing the Zojirushi. The seal and temperature control are fantastic. I use mine to carry hot coffee, and it keeps it so hot that it burns my tongue even hours afterwards. That's how effective those things are.
posted by unicorn chaser at 3:50 AM on February 10, 2020

Could your two containers fit in one of those drinks holders they give you at McDonald’s or Starbucks to carry up to 4 drinks? That would at least free up one hand
posted by raccoon409 at 4:47 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Back when I was carrying smoothies to work, someone here at metafilter suggested one of these wine carrier totes to carry them. It worked like a charm: Amazon link.
posted by backwards compatible at 4:54 AM on February 10, 2020

I found an Under Armour-branded insulated water bottle made by Thermos on a freecycling pile at work, and am very impressed with it. The lid unscrews to provide a wide-mouth opening and also has a flip top. Both seal well, it’s easy to clean and a nice size, and there’s a loop for a carabiner.
posted by jon1270 at 5:53 AM on February 10, 2020

Rather than a disposable one, perhaps one of these reusable drinks carriers could help: one, two.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:44 AM on February 10, 2020

i recently purchased this lunch bag, which has two side pockets for whatever. they fit my 32oz insulated cup perfectly. it has dramatically reduced the amount i spill.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:03 AM on February 10, 2020

I totally agree with those who say get better vessels, but you also might be interested in tote bag organizers.
posted by advicepig at 7:06 AM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Nthing Zojirushi. And aside from how good it is at insulating beverages, my 20 oz Zojirushi is super light compared to the other insulated vessels that we have. My favorite cup by far for my commute.
posted by odin53 at 7:15 AM on February 10, 2020

Dream setup:

Briggs and Riley @Work Medium Spinner Brief (substitute a cheaper spinner bag or roller bag if this is unaffordable)
eBags Crew Cooler II (check out the side pockets in the pics. This thing sits on the handle of your spinner bag or roller bag)
posted by oceanjesse at 7:41 AM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: Wide-mouth hydroflasks will seal and be easy to put your fruit and ice in and clean at the end of the day! Sticking your drinks inside a bag seems like the key step here.
posted by amaire at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2020

Best answer: I carried a Hydroflask with a flip-top lid for a couple years, tucked in a messenger bag with my laptop and other moisture-sensitive things. It never once spilled. I've also loved Zojirushi thermoses. Folks are right: you need something spill-proof. The rest is just aesthetics. If you're somewhere near a good outdoor store like REI or Sports Basement, I'd go look at their options (but really, you can buy Hydroflasks at my local Safeway now, and they're so much nicer than the Contigo shit at Walgreens).

But beyond all this, why on earth are you carrying so many bags? That would stress me out -- though we're different humans with different lives, so I may be off-base here! Could you consolidate everything, so that everything has a place where it belongs? What if you carried a large Timbuk2 messenger bag, for instance? That's what I do (though I carry a medium); it has a spacious laptop sleeve, with enough room for me to keep my Mac plus a few larger file folders or other flat things that lack structural integrity. In the main compartment, I typically have space for a lunchbag (or in my case, a change of clothes for the gym), plus all the little things I'd keep in a purse (wallet, Advil, bandaids, pens, lotion, phone, etc), plus one flask (but usually not room for two). I use smaller bags or packing cubes for keeping a spare set of toiletries and underwear, gym clothes, etc, so I can just grab a cube with what I need and go in the morning. With this system, my hands are almost always free so I'm never juggling keys and drinks, etc. Partly this is because I don't own a car and take public transit everywhere, which requires a different kind of engagement with the world (like, I'm not ever going to have the space to put stuff down en route), but partly it's because I'm super scatterbrained and without a really air-tight system in which everything I carry with me day to day has a place it belongs, I'd lose things! So! Imagine you didn't have a car and take the bus to work, or ride a bike. What could you purchase (or what do you already own) to streamline your setup so that you always have free hands? This might seem like a silly exercise considering you do own a car, but navigating an unwieldy setup day after day is stressful! And just because you don't have to go very far (car to parking lot) doesn't mean it isn't a source of stress in your life!
posted by tapir-whorf at 6:07 PM on February 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I’m back to follow-up! After an investment in two wide-mouth Hydro Flasks and a Vera Bradley backpack, my life has really, truly changed for the better. A huge thank you to everyone who took the time to link to solutions and actually help me get to the root cause of my stress around this.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 12:51 PM on September 25, 2020 [4 favorites]

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