My appreciation for the form and function for gym bags has come a long way since my days as a young swimmer. Back then, I regularly tossed my soaked towel into the same bag with my dewy swimsuit and mildewed goggles, yet I somehow still hoped that my socks and underwear weren’t affected by being swapped out of the same container that regularly transported these rancid items. Don’t ask how that turned out for me.
The point is, gym bags aren’t mere one-size-fits-all conveyance mechanisms; whether or not they can hold everything you need — in the way you require those items to be stored — can have a multipronged effect on the quality of your life. Don’t believe me? Just ask anyone who’s had to cancel a date because they accidentally smeared amino acid gel on their button-up shirt, or squirted Selsun Blue onto their pants.
Nowadays, gym bags are required to hold gym clothing, pre- and post-workout attire, towels, toiletries and your travel-ready collection of training equipment. Not only that, but they need to keep these items from interacting in ways that will ruin one or all of them, and prevent you from appearing at your post-workout engagement looking like a Bushwacker.
The Three Defining Features of the Best Gym Bags
1) Separation: A key feature of modern gym bags is their ability to separate clean clothes from dirty clothes, wet clothes from dry clothes and shoes from everything. Also, it would be great if the bag was versatile enough to carry both a water bottle and a laptop as well. Is that too much to ask?
2) Specialization: Gym bags aren’t only about carrying all of your training items around, they also need to carry the items that are the most critically important for your specific workout. If you require a specialized yoga mat to accompany you to the gym, that internal laptop sleeve isn’t doing you a lick of good.
3) Suitability: As much as I preach utility, walking directly from your gym and into your professional workplace with a military-style backpack is a horrendous idea. Even if your military backpack works like a dream, it’s not going to send the right message to your coworkers, and you need to factor that into the overall equation.
Okay, with that said, it’s typically not great to be left holding the bag, but nothing could be further from the truth with the five gym bags below.
Best Duffle Bag: Canway Sports Gym Bag
Why You Should Trust It With Your Most Valuable (Gym) Possessions: You can make fun of me if you want, but I’m a sucker for lots of pockets; they’re one of the surest ways to keep your favorite T-shirt from sharing the odor of your rancid sweatsocks. The Canway Sports Gym Bag has multiple exterior pockets, mesh pockets on the inside and outside, a special wet pocket for wet accessories, a convenient soft pocket for valuables and a compartment for shoes.
Why Your Sweaty Workout Gear Deserves Better: If you’re in the habit of lugging a lot of heavy clothes and gym accessories from place to place, you might feel more comfortable with that weight evenly distributed across both of your shoulders. This is precisely the sort of problem a gym backpack was designed to redress.
Why It Should Land in Your Shopping Bag: If duffle bags are your thing, this is the Swiss Army knife equivalent. Unless you truly require a bag that has external straps for lashing yoga mats and other large training tools to your body as you walk to and from the gym, your needs will be met with the Canway Sports Gym Bag.
Best Gym Backpack: Targus Gym Fitness Backpack
Why You Should Trust It With Your Most Valuable (Gym) Possessions: The Targus Gym Fitness Backpack has an isolated laptop compartment, for those of you who have ever been as nerdy as I am and have regularly conducted business from the round tables at a Planet Fitness. This also has all of my beloved pockets to go with ventilation, an exterior pouch for water bottles or bottled beverages and a detachable laundry bag to store your stinky banana hammock.
Why Your Sweaty Workout Gear Deserves Better: The common complaint about this backpack is that its construction doesn’t hold up all that well when its limits are tested. Having all of those pockets is a valuable option, but you may not want to stretch the limits of their capacity if the stitching of the backpack won’t be able to withstand too much of a strain.
Why It Should Land in Your Shopping Bag: This backpack looks every bit as sporty and no-nonsense as it performs. It will keep the weight evenly distributed across your back, and leaves both of your arms free to contend with all of the jealous onlookers who might step up to swipe it from you.
Best Gym-to-Work Bag: Lubardy Gym Duffle Bag
Why You Should Trust It With Your Most Valuable (Gym) Possessions: With the Lubardy Gym Duffle Bag, you can walk to and from the gym with a bag that wouldn’t look out of place in a professional environment, and that doesn’t have a massive mainstream shoe company’s logo screaming to everyone that you’re skipping out to the CrossFit box on your lunch break. It also has all of the modern accouterments you’re longing for in a gym bag, including all of the pockets and the special wet pocket for sweaty items. On top of that, it comes with a special towel that’s stored in a quick-drying compartment.
Why Your Sweaty Workout Gear Deserves Better: As fantastic as this bag sounds as an option if you’re heading to and from the gym for a daily weight-room session, I don’t know if I’d entrust it with my chlorinated pool towel and swimsuit — at least not with a clear conscience. For the more intense workouts, you might want a sportier bag that you expect to degrade over time, and not something you’ll be hauling into the office later on.
Why It Should Land in Your Shopping Bag: The Lubardy Gym Duffle Bag goes beyond offering most of the non-essential bells and whistles that are rapidly becoming commonplace, and even provides its own specialized towels and straps for carrying large items that can’t fit in its largest compartment.
Best Rucksack/Military Style: Arcenciel Tactical Backpack
Why You Should Trust It With Your Most Valuable (Gym) Possessions: Should you decide that you want the unmatched durability of a military style backpack to accompany all of the functionality of a fitness backpack, look no further. The Arcenciel Tactical Backpack has all of the special compartments you’ve been longing for, with all of the space you require to carry all of your essential belongings, along with a sleeve for your precious laptop.
Why Your Sweaty Workout Gear Deserves Better: The military style isn’t for everybody, and in some circles, it’s even known to arouse suspicion. You may know that you’re headed to the gym to get in some righteous powerlifting, but a good half of the people who see you strutting about are going to think you’re headed deep into the woods to train with your local militia group.
Why It Should Land in Your Shopping Bag: If you’re willing to absorb a few suspicious stares, the Arcenciel Tactical Backpack has the size, strength and separation that will enable you to hoist every tool included in your training to any location that you require it to go, while keeping it dry and clean in the process.
Best Budget Gym Bag: Everest Gym Bag
Why You Should Trust It With Your Most Valuable (Gym) Possessions: If you’re just looking for a slick toting device at the lowest possible price, it’s hard to find anything better than the Everest Gym Bag in the $15 price range. It has a holster for your water bottle, mesh exterior pockets for quick-drying options and a special side compartment for your shoes. Functionally, it’s a better bag than many people have spent two to three times as much on.
Why Your Sweaty Workout Gear Deserves Better: For everything this bag does have in its low price range, it lacks the internal compartments of pricier models, including the wet bags.
Why It Should Land in Your Shopping Bag: Dude, it’s $15; you blew more money on pizza last week. This is more than enough of a gym bag to keep most people happy for a long time, and if for some reason it fails to do so, hey, you blew more money on pizza last week.