Whether you commute to the office or the coffee shop, you probably need a way to organize the pens, tech accessories, and toiletries you take with you every day. To find the best options to carry what different people might need with them, we spent a week researching 50 bag organizers and testing 20 of them, and we found six organizers we liked for their style, durability, and usability.
Some backpacks and purses come with all the pockets and loops you’d need, but others are black holes, swallowing charging cables and tubes of lip balm. For those people (and I count myself among them), the right bag organizer simplifies grabbing accessories while on the go, or moving gear from one bag to another. But everyone has different carrying needs, which is why we have picks to suit a variety of situations: a tech-forward cable organizer that zips closed, a customizable mesh-pouch setup, picks that prioritize toiletries (while making room for tech), and a stylish duo of cosmetic travel pouches made of premium materials—as well as some alternatives where applicable.
Best for chargers and cables: Incase Nylon Accessory Organizer
Get this if: You want a sturdy, lightweight, waterproof organizer to corral all of your gadgets and chargers as well as some toiletries or cosmetics in one place.
Why it’s great: The Incase Nylon Accessory Organizer has plenty of room for everyday gear; it zips closed, so items won’t get lost or fall out; and it’s water-repellent.
The Incase bag is roughly the size and shape of a large paperback, and like a book it opens flat from a spine. It’s 2 inches thick, which is among the slimmest we found for this type of bag, but it still has enough space to stash most of what we carried for a day. It has two medium-sized loops that can hold two 5 W USB power adapters or multiple pens. It has an external zip pocket with a cable-sized hole leading to the inside. We love this feature because it’s great for charging a phone without removing the external battery pack from the main compartment. It also has a large, padded pocket lined in faux fur that won’t scratch delicate phone screens. The bag’s inside flaps have a mesh pocket that is big enough to store a MacBook power adapter (with the cord in a different pocket), five more mesh or solid pockets of various sizes, a small zip pocket ideal for SD cards, a pen loop, and three small elastic loops that are the right size for earbuds.
With all of the organization slots, your gear stays neatly in place, even if you drop your bag. None of the items got tangled or moved about when we shook and flipped this Incase bag around. This wasn’t the largest bag we looked at, due to its slim design, but it will hold most of what you need for the course of a day.
This bag is a poly-nylon blend, so it’s durable. In our tests, some bags, like one from Bagsmart, ended up scuffed and discolored from rubbing against the cables we loaded into the bags—but the Incase stayed pristine. The Incase was the only cable-organizer bag we tested that successfully repelled water—not just from the exterior material, but also along the piping, which is where other cases often failed and liquid soaked through, potentially damaging your important gear.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Incase cable organizer is a soft-shell bag, so its contents can distort the bag’s shape when full. But the bag’s edges remain rigid—so the seams don’t pucker—it’s contents don’t fall out, and zipping and unzipping the bag is still easy.
Sizes: 9½ by 6 by 2 inches
Colors: mulberry, olive
Most customizable: The Container Store Black Micro Mesh Pouches
Get this if: You prefer to have different bags for different kinds of gear—phone cables, cosmetics, pens and notepads—so you can grab only what you’re going to need.
Why it’s great: The Container Store Micro Mesh Pouches are a no-frills solution for keeping your cables and toiletries organized while being able to clearly see what’s inside. These pouches are made of a finer mesh than other mesh bags we tested, so smaller items, such as pens and hairpins, won’t fall through the holes. The material also has some give, so you can stuff the bag without fear of splitting a seam. And we found the zipper to be the smoothest among those of all the pouches we tested.
These pouches are great for mixing colors and sizes to match your organizational needs. They come in three sizes and four colors; we recommend the two smaller bags because they’re easier to carry and load into a backpack or tote bag. We also like assigning each bag’s contents a different color, so it’s easier to grab the right items in an instant. That way you can have one bag for gadgets and accessories you take when flying, say, and another for the makeup you bring to work for touch-ups, and you can easily know which one to grab on the way out the door. (Jada Yuan, writer of The 52 Places Traveler at The New York Times, parent company of Wirecutter, also uses these bags.)
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Because the bags are covered in tiny holes, liquids will spill in and out of them, and they’re not ideal if you want complete privacy for your toiletry items. As a workaround, we recommend storing your toiletries in a black micro-mesh bag because the darker color will mask the bag’s contents better than the lighter ones.
Sizes: 7¾ by 4 inches; 7½ by 3 by 5 inches; or 14¼ by 10½ inches (but we think this bag is too big for most people)
Colors: aqua, black, pink, or silver
Also consider: Vaultz Mesh Storage Bags
Get this if: You like the idea of organizing your stuff into a collection of mesh bags, but you don’t want to spend a lot—and you don’t tend to carry very, very small items.
Why we like it: Wirecutter senior editor Dan Frakes likes the Vaultz Cord Storage Bags as modular storage at a fraction of the cost of other bags. The mesh bags are sold in a pack of four for just $8 at the time of writing, while The Container Store pick starts at $5 each. These zip pouches are lighter and more pliant than any other bag we tested, and can scrunch into a tight ball when not in use and still rebound to their original shape. Each pack comes in a combination of four different sizes and colors. This makes it easy to organize your gear and grab the right pouch from your travel bag in an instant. You can separate daily tech and toiletry supplies into two bags, keep a driving kit in your car for phone mounts, pack charging cables and adapters in another, and save the last one for important documents when you’re traveling out of town.
Where it falls short: These mesh bags aren’t great for storing smaller items (such as earbuds and pens) because it’s easier for them to get caught in the holes or fall out. And because the bags are made of mesh they’re not waterproof.
Sizes: 9 by 9¼ inches; 5½ by 9 inches; 5 by 8 inches; 5 by 7 inches
Colors: black, red, orange, and yellow; or mint, pink, purple, and blue (for $6 more)
Best for toiletries (and tech): Dsptch Dopp Kit
Our pick: Dsptch Dopp Kit
Get this if: You want a not-too-big bag that can keep both toiletries and cables in their place—and you need it to be waterproof.
Why it’s great: We found that traditional cable organizers, like our Incase pick, aren’t ideal for carrying toiletries around because they’re designed for holding gadgets rather than tubes of lotion. (To some of us, it just feels weird fitting moisturizer and lip balm in elastic loops designed for cords.) The Dsptch Dopp Kit is better suited for carrying both cables and lotions because the main compartment has three wide elastic loops that comfortably fit bulky toiletries (like sunscreen) and tech accessories (like charging bricks) beside each other. It also has plenty of room to stash all of the gear used in our tests. And it’s about half the size of the Herschel Supply Co. Chapter Travel Kit that we tested, so it’s easier to fit into a backpack or tote.
The Dsptch toiletry bag is covered in ballistic nylon, so it’s tough and resists scratches and scrapes more than most bags we tested. The Dsptch bag’s material is also completely waterproof, making it one of only four bags (and the only dedicated toiletry bag) we tested that didn’t leak.
This bag also has two unique storage features. The first is a two-way pocket that’s accessible from the outside or inside the main compartment. So important items, like an ID card or cash, are easier to reach from the outside when in a rush. The bag also comes with a removable, padded valet tray that snaps into the secondary compartment. You’ll probably want to store delicate items (like a dress watch) in this slimmer compartment, away from bulky tech accessories.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Dopp Kit’s main compartment unzips down only an inch on the sides, so it’s harder to peer into and harder for larger hands to dig inside the bag. The black version of this bag’s black interior compounds the issue, because it’s very dark inside. (If you have limited vision, we recommend purchasing a bag with a lighter interior, such as the grey, grey speckled twill, moss, or navy, which have matching linings.)
The side compartment’s padded valet tray takes up valuable space and we had trouble quickly grabbing an item from the section when the tray is in place without fully unzipping the bag. It’s a minor annoyance—we prefer keeping the valet in the bathroom or on a nightstand to fully take advantage of the bag’s storage space.
Sizes: 9 by 4 by 4 inches; valet tray is 7 by 3 inches
Colors: black, black camo, grey, navy, moss, grey speckled twill, and charcoal speckled twill
Also consider: Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer
Get this if: You want a bag that packs slim and lets you see most of your stuff at a glance, but you don’t need it to be waterproof, and you don’t mind unrolling the whole bag to remove a single item.
Why we like it: The Osprey UltraLight Roll Organizer is what Wirecutter deputy editor Michael Zhao uses to organize his cables and gear. Its dimensions (6 by 3 by 9 inches) make it the slimmest toiletry bag we tested, but it still packs plenty of storage space and organization features. Its combination of full-width, slimmer mesh compartments—great for cables, adapters, and pens—and a deeper pocket for accommodating bulkier chargers, batteries, and toiletries give you a lot of packing flexibility. You can see almost everything inside when the bag is fully opened and it folds into thirds like a letter for packing away.
The bag is also easier to spot-clean than other toiletry bags we tested. Both sides are made of ripstop nylon, which is slicker than canvas or ballistic-nylon bathroom bags, so it’s painless to wipe off lotions and liquid makeup foundation spills.
Where it falls short: In our tests, we found the Osprey cumbersome to both unbuckle and unroll to access a particular item. It’s not as intuitive to use as other picks, which you can just unzip. On the other hand, it has the benefit of letting you see what’s in each pocket at a glance without having to rummage through any dark compartments.
This toiletry bag also isn’t waterproof (the Dsptch Dopp Kit was the only truly waterproof toiletry bag we looked at). And a very, very small number of Amazon reviewers reported seams and mesh pockets ripping after just a couple months of use.
If you want a dedicated toiletry bag that’s compact and spill-proof, check out our guide to the best toiletry bags.
Size: 6 by 3 by 9 inches
Colors: electric lime; poppy orange
For luxe organizers: Cuyana Leather Travel Case Set
Get this if: You want a nicer-looking, more elegant way of carrying your accessories—and won’t miss individual compartments and lots of internal organization.
Why it’s great: We like the Cuyana Leather Travel Case Set because they’re a pair of two beautiful leather bags that are big enough to hold our essentials, and they have a broad base that keeps them upright when opened up. The clamshell bags come in 13 different jewel and pastel colors, and are made of Argentine leather with synthetic leather linings. The exterior leather is pebbled, which is easier to maintain a good grip on than the smooth, soft leathers of some other bags we tested. Each bag has gold- or silver-toned zippers that run effortlessly across their teeth. And the stitching throughout the bags is clean, and we didn’t find any signs of loose seams.
The Cuyana set is sold with a large (7 by 12 by 3½ inches) and small bag (5 by 8 by 2½ inches small). We easily fit our daily essentials in both cases, and closed them without having to force them like some other bags we tested. The organizers are spacious and the leather shell is thick, so they don’t warp when full. And the wide base makes each bag sturdy, so it won’t tip over either. Thanks to the clamshell design, the duo open wide enough to store bulky chargers and power adapters, along with everything else. The bags’ wide mouths also make it easier to search for objects that get lost in the bottom of the bag.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: We like that the Cuyana set comes with two bags, but feel that the larger one is too big to cart around daily with our other commuting gear. The large Cuyana is 7 by 12 by 3½ inches, which could be challenging to stuff into a backpack, messenger bag, or tote. The smaller clutch is a more manageable size at 5 by 8 by 2½ inches, and can easily fit into another bag. Both Cuyana bags lack multiple pockets and loops, so unsecured cords may tangle. (The large bag has one pocket; the small bag doesn’t have any). If you don’t plan on using both bags regularly, the $110 to $125 price may be prohibitive.
The Argentine leather requires delicate care, so if you’re rough with your accessories or are prone to spilling liquids and lotions, this bag isn’t for you. Cuyana recommends wiping small blotches with a damp cloth or leather cleaner, and consulting a leather-cleaning professional for serious stains.
Sizes: 7 by 12 by 3½ inches (large); 5 by 8 by 2½ inches (small)
Colors: pebbled leather is black, blue, blush, burgundy, ecru, jade, navy/black, olive, pearl grey, pistachio, red, soft rose, or stone; shimmer leather is champagne.
How to choose a bag organizer system
The easiest way to decide what type of organizer you need is to inventory the accessories you cart to and from work each day, then look at how you transport those items already, and how that systems works for you. For example, if you prefer to have many small bags for different situations, and you carry your gear in sandwich bags, a pouch system might work. Or, if you want to have everything with you at all times, and tend to just throw everything into in a big void in your backpack, the way to go may be a toiletry bag, traditional cable organizer, or makeup clutch.
Here’s a look at the different types of bag organizers we reviewed.
Pencil pouches are ideal if you prefer a minimalist and modular approach. They lack pockets and loops, and you can purchase as many as you need without paying for pockets you have no need for. These bags are often sold in different sizes so that you can divide your gear among them to your personal preference. They are likely to hold less gear per pouch and less likely to be waterproof than other bags we tested.
Cosmetic bags and toiletry/Dopp kits are pretty similar. They typically have a large main compartment and minimal organizational features—often a sole pocket or limited elastic loops. Unlike pencil pouches, most cosmetic bags and toiletry kits are opaque, so no one will know you’re packing a menstrual cup next to a multiport adapter. Most of the bags we tested in the category weren’t waterproof, including most toiletry bags.
Traditional cable organizers come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles. They can fold closed like a book, roll flat like a blanket, or have a flat, open grid system like a placemat. Our favorite style is a zippered book, which allows you to store gear in both covers, as well as the spine. They also come with more pockets and elastic loops than roll or grid organizers, and smaller gear won’t fall out of the bags like they can with the other styles. Many of these bags are marketed as water-repellent, but in our tests, those claims didn’t always live up to the hype.
How we picked and tested
We researched dozens of bags by browsing everything from manufacturer websites to bag enthusiast blogs. We compiled a list of more than 50 options and divided them into four categories: pencil pouches and mesh bags, cosmetic bags, traditional cable organizers (which includes zip books, roll bags, and grid sheets), and toiletry bags. (For this guide, we didn’t review purse organizer inserts because that’s a different category entirely.) We considered each bag’s design, size, organizational features, materials used, price, and online owner reviews. Then we shrunk the list by consulting a small panel of Wirecutter staffers about what they prefer in a bag, and considered some bags that staff members loved. That left us with a spread of 20 bags to accommodate various tastes. We tested the bags based on the following criteria:
Overall design: We reviewed each bag’s materials; the elasticity of elastic loops; the smoothness of zippers; and advanced features, like customizable compartments.
Bag configurations: We filled each bag with a day’s worth of the accessories (below) a person might need when traveling to work each day, looking for bags that could hold more gear and were easier to organize:
1 USB flash drive1 SD card1 Lightning–to–3.5-mm headphone jack adapter1 earbud set1 laptop multiport adapter1 external battery1 USB power cord and adapter1 lip balm1 travel-size bottle of lotion1 bottle of hand sanitizer1 small notepad1 small pill bottle1 makeup brush1 makeup compact2 tampons2 condoms3 hair ties2 pens1 ID badge
and a partridge in a pear treeShape retention: We tried closing the bags when stuffed with gear, and noted which bags deformed under the pressure.
Contents retention: We zipped each bag, shook it around, and opened it again to see if its contents had flown about.
Waterproofing: We ran each closed bag under a kitchen faucet with a spray setting for five seconds. We took any bags that remained dry, filled them with 2 tablespoons of water, and checked them for leaks.
Community review: We asked 18 people to share their thoughts on their favorite bags from our test pool.
Assorted bags/pencil pouches
The Custom Leathercraft 3 Multi-Purpose Clip-on Zippered Bags are better suited for your home toolbox than an everyday gadget bag. The trio of pouches are made of canvas, so they’re tough, and sharp nails and needle-nose pliers won’t damage them. The canvas was rougher than our panelists preferred, and most staffers found the dark colors unattractive. Many of us also prefer pouches that are transparent because we don’t like guessing what’s stored in each bag in the set.
The IPOW BD02 pencil pouches are sold in a set of four. We liked the fun floral patterns and traditional pencil pouch shape. But the bags weren’t big enough to hold more than a single bulky item, such as a laptop charger. The zippers also stuck and some broke during our tests.
The five bags in the Modern Bethel Travel Pouch Set are covered in vinyl, so they’re waterproof. But in our tests, the seams weren’t stitched cleanly and the bags leaked water. We also found that the larger bags (13¾ by 10½ inches and 11 by 8¼ inches) are so big that they’re as bad as just leaving things loose in your backpack or purse to begin with.
The Muji Double Fastener Case (medium) was great for storing the small gear on our list. But it couldn’t hold our bulkier items without permanently deforming the polyester bag. It’s also not waterproof, so a spilled soda or leaking lotion bottle would damage its contents.
The BUBM cord and cosmetic organizer is a two-way makeup and brush bag that’s convertible to store tech gear as well. The top is a traditional makeup bag, and the bottom unzips horizontally to store brushes, tablet pens, and skinny cable cords. But the main compartment isn’t big enough to carry most of the accessories on our list. And the padded chamber absorbed leaking water, which means that it could retain the stinky odors of other spilled liquids over time.
The Chiceco Handy Makeup Pouch offers better privacy than our pick from The Container Store because it’s made of 100D Oxford nylon and not micro mesh. It’s small enough to carry with one hand, and is flexible and durable enough to cram full with gear without fear of it tearing. But the zipper broke during testing, making the bag virtually impossible to use.
The Leatherology Clamshell Makeup Bag is sold in two sizes (medium and large) or as a set. Both sizes were great for splitting the storage of our tech gear and personal hygiene items. We liked that both bags have zip pockets, and the clamshell design was ideal for finding small items hiding at the bottom of the bag. But the leather was too soft, and it was easy to scratch and scuff during normal use. Leatherology allows only a 30-day return window and only for unused gear, which isn’t ideal for a product that costs $85 to $180. The company also doesn’t offer a warranty, but a spokesperson said “we stand behind our products and take care of our customers.” Yet, we called the customer service line twice and never spoke with a live person (once we were on hold for 30 minutes before giving up and ended the call).
The Herschel Supply Co. Chapter Travel Kit measures 18 by 4½ by 6 inches, so it holds our essentials with plenty of room to spare. But its large size also means it was way too big to carry each day. This Dopp kit also isn’t waterproof.
Traditional cable organizers
Leatherology Small Tech Bag Organizer has three elastic loops, but the loops loosened after just a couple of uses. The bag is made of soft full-grain leather, which scratches easier than what we would like from a $65 bag. (You can upgrade to the firm, full-grain German leather bag for $100.) This bag is also subject to Leatherology’s limited 30-day return window (described above).
Both Bagsmart bags we looked at have plenty of loops and slots for our gear, but it felt weird putting toiletries in such a techie-looking pouch. Model Travel Universal Cable Organizer (BM0200044B001) wasn’t waterproof. And though the Thicken Cable Organizer (BM0200064A001) model did repel water, its inside wasn’t very durable and got scuffed up by our bulky laptop cable.
The Hynes Eagle Travel Accessories Organizer was too small to hold even half the gear on our list. The floral pattern on the bag was grainy and looked cheap. The bag also wasn’t waterproof.
The Power Packer is durable, looks nice, and is big enough to store bulky cables, external power packs, and travel adapters. Although that’s exactly what it’s designed to carry, most of our testers found it big for everyday use. And the knitted fabric accents absorbed and leaked water to other sections of the bag.
The Skooba Design Cable Stable DLX that we recommend in our guide The Best Gear for Travel is, at 12 by 9 inches (compared with the 9½ by 6 inches of the Incase), a bit too big to take with you daily, and its smaller sibling the Skooba Cable Stable Mini lacks internal zippered pockets for keeping small items like SD cards in check.
Our former budget pick from that same guide, the AmazonBasics Universal Travel Case, has a hard shell that makes it awkward to fit in some bags and less accommodating to big and small loads, and its internal pockets are loose and prone to objects moving around in transit.
1. Jada Yuan, How Do You Pack for a Yearlong Trip?, The New York Times, June 27, 2018
Read the original article on The Best Bag Organizers.