i keep seeing this

The Art World Loves This $99 Patagonia Backpack

Photo-Illustration: Strategist; Photos: Getty, Patagonia

I first saw the backpack in 2018 on my colleague at a policy think tank, the editor Bobby Gross. He told me he’d copied it from the artist (and founding member of trend-forecasting group K-HOLE) Dena Yago a decade ago when they both lived in Berlin. I wanted it right away but was ashamed to crib, especially because Gross told me a half-dozen friends had already bought it after seeing his, so I recommended the backpack to my brother. When I went to Art Basel in 2021, I saw it multiple times, and in 2022, I spotted it in the possession of two separate artists at Ceramics Club at Greenwich House Pottery (none of them were associated with any of the above). I’d given in and bought one at some point in there, and by early this year, I was getting to the point where I regularly stuck my hands into other people’s backpacks thinking they were my own.

Patagonia’s Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack is a really good bag. It can be carried as either a tote or a backpack, depending on the situation, and it folds into its own internal pocket, for easy storage. Though it is crafted of black ripstop, it does not scream, “I hike!” Though it has a large number of pockets and adjustable straps, it does not scream, “I code!” (Though my brother, an actual coder, appreciates its “‘tactical’ or ‘gear’ feeling.”)

Yago, who received hers as a gift from her mother 15 years ago, likes it because it’s versatile. “It’s kind of a flex to show up to an opening with the bag and then also be able to take a meeting with the bag.” She’s noticed it on many other art-world friends: “I know two curators in Germany who have it, and a friend who’s a curator in Miami. I’ve tried other backpacks and professional lady bags, but maybe the appeal of the Patagonia bag is the fact that it has many internal and external pockets.”

As for who among the circle of 20- and 30-something-year-old NYC working artists started this backpack trend, it seems more like a “multiple independent discovery” situation, like calculus or a game of telephone. The artist Dmitri Hertz bought the bag in 2021 in the Patagonia store. The bag was displayed in pouch form, and “the transformative nature of it was very compelling for me,” he says. Megan Mi-Ai Lee, another artist, “first saw the backpack when I ran into a friend with it at an opening.” She mentioned it to her roommate later, and her roommate said she had been considering buying the backpack for her boss. The roommate, Grace Volinsky, says, “My employer asked if I could make a list of great and not too dorky commuter backpacks, and this bag was at the top.” She bought one for herself, too, drawn especially by the lack of bulk: “With this bag, my stuff is taking up the majority of the room, rather than the materials of the bag.” It’s also ideal for slightly less savory pursuits. One New York artist, who preferred not to be named, told me, “It’s an ideal bag for shoplifting because there’s a hole on the back side where you can slip things in.”

If the bag is damaged, Patagonia will repair or replace it, and many people I spoke to have taken full advantage of this particular benefit. Bobby is on his fourth replacement in a decade; he only paid for the bag once. Yago’s on her third. “Every time I’ve tried to get it repaired they send me a new one. It can carry many heavy things. The only thing that I’ve found is that when you put sharp objects in it, it does tend to get holes,” she said. On the other hand, the fabric is highly cleanable: A pungent mishap with a bottle of fish sauce washed right out.

Editor’s Note: The all-black version of the Patagonia Ultralight Black Hole Tote Pack is currently only in stock at End Clothing. If you want something brighter, there are also “pitch” blue, “wavy” blue and “husk” tan options.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best acne treatments, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, natural anxiety remedies, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

The Art World Loves This $99 Patagonia Backpack