6 Things to Consider When Buying a Gym Bag

Buying Guide

If you need a new gym bag for training, here's exactly what you should look for, including side pockets, padded shoulder straps and a shoe compartment.

Last updated: January 8, 2022
7 min read
The Best Gym Bags for Training

When it comes to gym bags, the good news is the bad news: There are so many options. On the upside, you can find exactly what you need for how you train. But on the downside, where do you even begin?

To find the best gym bag, start with your needs. What are you going to be carrying inside that bag? Where will you be bringing it? What will you be storing in it? And what kind of extra features do you need to get you 100 percent ready for each training session?

With those questions in mind, here’s how to narrow down the best gym bag for training — for your training.

1. Where You Train

The setting of your workout — corporate gym, athletic training center, outdoor soccer field, indoor basketball court — can influence your gym bag choice. So can the location of your workout, like whether you walk there from your house, drive there in your car or hop in a bus with your teammates. Each of these elements gives you a clue as to what kind of training bag will work best for you.

  • Going to be training outside? Make sure you get a gym bag made from durable, waterproof material in case you have to contend with the elements. (This is also key if you’ll be keeping it poolside while you train.)

2. Size of the Bag

Next, consider how much gear you’ll be taking to the gym, track or field — and what size gym bag you’ll want to carry around with you. Also consider if you'll use your bag for other purposes besides workouts, such as taking it to the office for a post-work basketball game.

  • Need to store your ID and phone while you’re on a run? Consider a fanny pack (they’re back in style, haven’t you heard?).

  • Need to hold a lot of gear? A larger duffel is a good option to store all the gear and extra apparel you might need.

  • Bringing it to work? Try a sleek, stylish (but functional) backpack or a small, inconspicuous duffel bag you can toss under your desk.

3. Material It’s Made From

In general, you’re always going to want to look for a gym bag made from lightweight but durable material. Most commonly, you’ll find bags made from either polyester, nylon or a polyester-nylon blend. If you’re training indoors, the durability of the material is likely all that matters.

But if you’re training outdoors (or if you’re a little more particular about the construction of your gym bag), you’ll want to look for the following:

  • Ripstop fabric: If you toss your bag on the asphalt, gravel or concrete during sessions, look for ripstop fabric. The fibers are woven together using a special reinforcing technique that makes them resistant to tearing and ripping.

  • Waterproof coating: If you set your back on a rough or wet surface, look for elements of waterproofing, especially water-resistant coating on the bottom of the bag, so moisture won't seep up from the ground into your bag and its contents.

  • Sustainable materials: These days, more and more gym gear and apparel is being made with recycled or sustainable materials. For example, some Nike training backs are made with up to 65 percent recycled polyester.

  • Zippers: These small pull-tabs may seem insignificant, but have you ever tried to open or close a gym bag with a broken zipper? Not fun. So make sure the zipper pulls are durable and solidly constructed and the tracks are reinforced.

  • Sweat-wicking: Runners, hikers and anyone else planning to bring their pack with them during training should prioritize moisture-wicking materials — at least on the parts that come in contact with your body. As an alternative, look for a backpack with venting, which allows more airflow and prevents excess sweating.

One final consideration is if you need to be able to quickly see into your gym bag. An important concern as some schools, public places, gyms, and offices require translucent bags for security. In this case, find a back made with clear or mesh material, so you always know exactly where your gear is. Be wary of storing your wallet, phone and other personal or valuable items in a see-through bag.

4. Compartments and Pockets

After you've settled on the basic elements of a bag that are important to you, consider what other functional features you want in a gym bag, like extra compartments and pockets. At a minimum, you’ll probably want a large main compartment with at least one smaller pocket for keys and wallet and a water bottle pocket. Other options include:

  • Hooks, clasps or D-ring key clips
  • Extra side pocket for second water bottle or snacks
  • Laptop pocket for those commuting with your gym bag
  • Hidden pockets for securely storing your phone and wallet
  • Shoe compartment to keep sweaty or dirty sneakers separate post-workout (bonus points if it’s a ventilated shoe compartment)
  • Water-resistant pocket or laundry bag for sweaty gym clothes or a wet swimsuit
  • Separate compartment for clean clothes
  • Storage for specialized sporting equipment (see below )

5. Straps: Two Short vs. One Long

The straps on your gym bag are more than just an aesthetic feature, they also serve a functional purpose. Sure, you can slip a duffel strap on and off a shoulder, but if you’re carrying heavy gear a long way, think about what that load might do to your posture.

Long-term use of shoulder bags lead to a variety of postural deviations, according to a small 2012 study in Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. The study argues that stress and strain on the spine can lead to pain and even postural scoliosis. Two-strap backpacks are recommended in a March 2015 study from the Journal of Human Kinetics for a similar reason: to reduce the likelihood of back pain.

The danger of shoulder injury shouldn’t dissuade you from using a duffle bag if that’s what you need to haul around your gym gear. Sometimes, a backpack isn’t big enough, or, if it is, it’s awkward and cumbersome.

Why not get the best of both worlds with a gym bag that features more ergonomic straps? Plenty of duffel bags have a removable shoulder strap plus two attached hand-

held straps. Others can convert to a backpack or roller bag. And if you do find yourself shouldering your gym bag on one side, make sure to switch shoulders to even out the load.

Whatever you end up deciding on — one strap, two traps, or both — make sure you purchase a gym bag with a padded shoulder strap. Nothing’s going to make you resent your gym bag purchase more than straps that dig uncomfortably into your shoulders.

Pick straps with padding that isn't going to wear down after a few uses. That padding needs to last through many, many training sessions. For example, many Nike gym bags feature Nike Max Air cushioning in the straps for personalized comfort.

6. Additional and Sport-Specific Features

Now comes the fun part: deciding what compartments and features make your gym bag perfect for your workout or sport. While the options are many, here are a few add-ons to consider when buying a gym bag:

  • Separate compartment or storage space for a soccer ball or basketball
  • Strap or bungee cord to use to hold your yoga mat in place
  • Second shoe compartment for cleats or post-training footwear
  • Sternum and/or waist strap to distribute the weight of your pack more evenly and hold your pack to your body as you move
  • Durable shell if you plan on being outside or getting hit by stray soccer balls or golf balls
  • Hydration reservoir to store bladders if you’ll be on a long hike or ruck

One important thing: Pick a bag you like. Consider the overall design, logos or decorations, and color(s). You should like the way your bag looks and it should fit with your personal style. After all, you’ll be carrying it around a lot.

The Best Nike Gym Bags for Training

Still need a little more help narrowing down your options? Follow these recommendations.

Nike Brasilia

This line of gym backpacks and duffles features:

  • Padded shoulder straps
  • Spacious main compartment
  • Separate bottom compartment for shoes or sweaty clothes
  • Multiple exterior pockets
  • Coated bottom for water resistance and durability
  • Laptop and water bottle pockets (backpack only)
Nike Hayward

This sleek and stylish Nike favorite features:

  • Durable outer shell
  • Laptop pocket
  • Top loop to hang the backpack
  • Adjustable shoulder straps
  • Sternum strap
  • Bungee cord on front for additional storage
  • Lots of pockets — including a roomy main compartment
Nike Utility

This solid Nike line features:

  • Nike Max Air cushioned shoulder straps
  • Spacious, zippered main compartment that opens wide and flat
  • Mesh sleeve, zip pocket and adjustable divider
  • Multiple zippered pockets on the front keep small items within reach
  • Laptop and water bottle pocket
  • Eyelet vents and mash back to keep you cool and let your gear breathe
Nike Gym Club

This classic gym duffle features:

  • Lightweight design with ripstop material
  • Outer zippered pocket to keep your things secure and within reach
  • Side snap pocket for quick-grab convenience
  • Spacious main compartment

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