Notes on Totes: Testing the ADK Packworks "Grocer" Pack

When ADK Packworks contacted me to ask if I was interested in testing out their three-way Grocer tote, I was immediately intrigued. As you may (or may not) remember, I occasionally play hooky and spend the afternoon riding the light rail, having a couple of cocktails, and doing some light grocery shopping.

My first tip in that earlier piece about shopping by rail was to "pack smart"--that is, bring your own bags. Having a good, sturdy bag is key to taking the train--or bus, or bike, or skateboard!--and shopping successfully. Up until now none of my options were entirely satisfactory. Canvas bags allow you to access the contents, but can be heavy and bulky; backpacks distribute weight better, but you have to zip and unzip, and then dig around to access your foodstuffs.

The ADK Grocer seemed to address both of these issues by virtue of adjustability: an open-top, framed tote with adjustable straps that allow you to convert it from a double-strap to a single-strap tote, or into an open-top backpack.

The ADK Packworks website describes their product thusly:

Inspired by a 150 year old design, ADK Packworks™ has created a new category for the pack and bag industry by developing a patent pending 4-sided internal structural folding frame. It has incorporated this design into a range of grocery & shopping bags/totes and recreational backpacks that offer functional features targeting multiple product categories and lifestyle markets.

I might not have any clue what ADK Packworks was referring to by the inspirational "150 year old design" were it not for the fact that my cousin, Jamin, is a basket maker by trade. Jamin makes Black Ash baskets in a traditional style; heirloom-quality pieces that have been featured in Vogue, as at the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Among Jamin's designs are these Adirondack-style packs, and while I do not own one myself (I can't afford them--seriously) I have had the opportunity to carry one, and so I can actually make a one-to-one comparison.

I spent a couple of weeks test-driving ADK Packworks' "The Grocer" and overall I came away impressed. The ability to change the strap--and thus the way you carry the bag--is extremely useful. My husband and I used the pack backpack-style to see a movie and picnic on the lawn at Miller Outdoor Theater. Normally I would have used one of Jamin's baskets (a wedding present--can't afford that one, either) to stash our olives, cheese, baguette, wine, glasses, and napkins, which would have required carrying my blanket, book, and sweater. By using The Grocer we had room for our picnic goodies as well as all of the other gear. I like the interior framing, which prevents the bag from bulging uncomfortably. Another interesting feature is the open top--when we took this pack to the farmers market I wore it, and Josh just dropped in veggies as we shopped.

On various trips to grocery stores--and one trip to the post office to mail about twenty books at once--I tested the single- and double-handle tote variations on The Grocer. The single-strap variation is definitely better for lighter loads, and also allows you to carry the bag cross-body while the double-strap option can be carried by hand, or over-the-shoulder, and allows for heavier contents to be carried comfortably. The dimensions of the bag are not necessarily enormous--15"x11.5"x8"--but with careful loading the bag carries quite a bit.

I can't say enough about the difference the internal framing makes--this includes a hard-bottom panel that collapses in two, so you can fold and store the bag flat. There are also small handles built into the top of the bag that help you lift the bag onto your shoulder(s). The only drawback are the nylon straps, which are rather hard and have scratchy edges--like the nylon straps of your backpack that are not covered by padding. When I wore the pack with a tank top, there was a bit of chafing after carrying the bag for more than a few minutes.

Given that I have been coveting my cousin's Black Ash Adirondack pack since I first saw one bearing gifts at Uticone Family Christmas 2001, I wanted to be objective in my comparison of the two packs. Jamin's version has hand-dyed leather straps that are, naturally, much softer than the stiff nylon of The Grocer. Then again, The Grocer comes in at an affordable $25, while Jamin's are priced in the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds (AND HUNDREDS) of dollars range, depending on size. Unless Jamin is willing to give me a 99 percent Friends & Family discount, the ADK Packworks Grocer is certainly the most affordable option--it's a solid, sturdy bag, and well worth the price tag.

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Christina Uticone