this thing's incredible

This Perfectly Blobby Tote Expands and Contracts, Just Like Plans (and Life)

Photo: Monica Nelson

This past fall, I planned a four-day trip to New York. I ended up staying for 13, and in those nine extra days my life expanded; I put a book out, and the seasons changed. My small suitcase couldn’t hold the new sweater, sneakers, coat, and additional copies of Edible Flowers that I had acquired. My friend gave me this bag to help accommodate everything, and it effortlessly embraced it all.

The large packable climb tote is by Epperson Mountaineering, a company founded in Montana in the 1970s by an outdoorsman who saw a void in the market for a bag that met his needs — which, by looking at the collection, seems to have been gear with a loose form of utility, practical but not restrictive. The company was recently revived by a team of Japanese designers who have pushed the simple designs to extremes, offering an endless combination of colors and patterns. As a utilitarian object, the bag performs as designed. It’s constructed of a slightly sheer windproof nylon ripstop and folds down into a built-in zip pocket that weighs only five ounces. When open, it can hold as much as an overnight bag, and its rectangular shape remains as structured as whatever contents are inside. When used to its full capacity, it is perfectly blobby. Its main apparatus is its drawstring, which can be pulled tightly or left open to be used as a tote bag.

The simplicity of a drawstring is something I’ve come to appreciate this year through another favorite bag, the Pouch by Porto Studios, which is designed to pull together the small mess of one’s daily life into a neat, buttery leather carryall. I’ve never been one for built-in compartments, and the more I use these bags, the more other bags feel static. But a drawstring feels reliable, active, prepared for anything.

The friend that gave me the climb tote recently began learning to rock climb. He explained that the routes one climbs are referred to as problems. The act of summiting a rock is not at all Sisyphean, it is, in fact, incremental: a set of motions, a repetitive folding and expanding of the body, hooking on to things, trusting the wires you are attached to. I’ve thought about this in relation to travel and how we now approach the world outside of our small, folded-down spaces. I once approached the world as a vast place where the limits of exploration were endless. But the previous year I was, like everyone, folded down quite small. I was in Savannah, Georgia, away from friends, immersed in flower histories and photography. Lately, as things have started to expand back to full-size again, the delays, cancellations, and amendments of the past year have been an apt reminder that perhaps it’s only ever about showing up for what’s in front of us.

Packing the Epperson tote with precision is impossible; the bag forces you to be comfortable with the shifting of objects, an awkward readjustment along the way. But you can trust that it can hold it all. Whatever that may be. As I’ve thought about the unfolding of my own life, of expansion, or of future travel, I have let go of the idea that things need to be perfectly organized. A carryall is preferred. As is just showing up.

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This Perfectly Blobby Tote Expands and Contracts