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Buyers Guide

The Best Gym Bags for Every Type of Exerciser

by , March 23, 2017

Historically, gym bags have been horrible, generic and saggy excuses for carry – but there’s been a shift in the past few years. Gym rats and fitness fanatics have been asking for more, and brands have delivered with some exciting offerings. But before we dive deeper, let’s talk context: what makes an awesome gym or exercise bag?

Here are a few useful considerations to think about.

Suitable Organization

The amount of organization you need will depend on what you use the bag for. But essentially you want your gear to be tidy and accessible – after all, sorting through a jumbled mess wastes time you could be spending on your workout. Look for organization that separates your dirty/wet clothes from your clean/dry clothes. If you already have a bag you enjoy but it doesn’t offer this feature, you could use the likes of packing cubes or breathable stuff sacks to organize your gear.

Good Access

A good gym bag should allow you to easily pack your gear and access it quickly when you need it. Consider features such as wide openings and quick-access pockets to get to your gear quickly.

Carry Comfort

Your body is already getting a workout from your exercise – don’t put it under further strain by hauling around an uncomfortable bag. Features such as ventilated back panels in packs, padded shoulder straps and grab handles, and options to alternate carry modes to suit longer and shorter distances can help reduce carry strain and keep you comfortable on the move.

Appropriate Aesthetics

When it comes to gym bag aesthetics, there’s two considerations you want to keep in mind. Personal tastes and where you’re going to be carrying the bag. First off, it should suit your personal style and preferences. After all, you’re not going to be inclined to carry something around if you don’t like how it looks. Secondly, is the bag strictly going between home and the gym, or are you going to be taking it into a work environment? If you’re taking it to the office to squeeze in a lunch break workout, go with a bag that looks suitably smart for your work environment.

Useful Features

What features are you looking for in a gym bag? Maybe you want a ventilated shoe compartment. Do you need to carry bulky items like a mat or basketball? Do you want a laptop compartment in addition to storage for gym gear? How about easily accessible water bottle pockets? Think about what features will help satisfy your carry and gym needs.


You’ve probably heard of one-bag travel. There’s no reason you can’t apply that philosophy to your gym carry. A bag that serves as both a work and gym bag means greater carry freedom. And if you don’t need it for work, you could consider a bag that doubles as a gym and travel bag instead. Getting more out of your carry is awesome.

Now we know that looking for bags can be fun but time-consuming. So we’ve made things a little easier by rounding up our top picks of the best gym bags to complement a range of exercise preferences and budgets. So if your current gym bag just isn’t working hard enough for you, give one of these workout partners a try…

The North Face Apex Gym Duffel (US$59.95)

The North Face Apex Gym Duffel

Athletic carry at an affordable price

The Apex Gym Duffel offers a straightforward and functional design with two compartments to separate clean and dirty clothes. A mesh top on the dirty clothes compartment helps ventilate your gear, while a fleece-lined pocket provides protection on the go for valuables. There’s also a choice of grab handles or a removable shoulder strap to get your bag where you need it to go. Bonus? If you’re on a budget, don’t sweat it. This duffel won’t break the bank.

Nike Vapor Max Air 2.0 Duffel Bag (US$70)

Nike Vapor Max Air 2.0 Duffel Bag

A versatile hauler for the gym, playing fields and beyond

The wide opening and large main compartment of this duffel allows quick access to your gear, and there’s a separate wet/dry compartment for stashing dirty or wet clothes. When you need to cover ground the bag can be carried across the body using the curved Max Air strap, while grab handles provide easy portability over shorter distances. Another handy feature is the water-resistant coating on the base to protect your gear when laying the bag down on wet or damp surfaces.

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 30L (US$79)

Patagonia Lightweight Black Hole Duffel 30L

A packable duffel that sheds the pounds

A heavy bag can give you a serious workout before you’ve even reached the gym. But weight isn’t a problem with this duffel which comes in at a mere 453 g (1 lb). The packable design stuffs into its own pocket for convenient storage inside a larger bag or when not in use, making it a handy gym or day bag for your travels too. A diagonal zipper provides easy access to the main compartment, and the carry straps are adjustable for slinging over a shoulder, using as backpack straps, or carrying by hand.

Speedo Tri Clops (US$84.97)

Speedo Tri Clops

An award-winning pack for triathlons

The Tri Clops was designed to cater to the needs of triathletes, with dedicated storage for running, cycling and swimming gear. The pack scooped a Red Dot Award for its design, which can be opened up for fast and convenient access to your gear. The Tri Clops is hydration bladder compatible and features a removable smaller bag for keeping wet and dry (or dirty and clean) items separate.

Manduka Go Free Yoga Mat Backpack (US$95.99)

Manduka Go Free Yoga Mat Backpack

Yoga mat carry that doubles as a day-to-day bag

The bulky shape of yoga mats makes them awkward to carry in a lot of bags. That’s where this pack steps in, providing front exterior storage for a yoga mat (or other bulky exercise equipment). The pack holds EDC essentials in addition to a mat, and can also serve as a daypack for general use.

Nike Cheyenne Responder (US$120)

Nike Cheyenne Responder

Ultimate accessibility on the go

Get frustrated rummaging for gear? Nike’s Cheyenne Responder tackles that challenge like a champ with its thoughtful design that opens out completely to provide great access to all your gear. The quad zip design also allows you to access different parts of the pack, so you can get to specific items without exposing all the contents.

Aer Fit Pack (US$120)

Aer Fit Pack

Fit for work and play

A Carry Award winner for Best Work Backpack, the Aer Fit Pack brings clean aesthetics and clever organization to the table with a design that stores work and workout gear separately. The bag looks at home in an office environment, with space for a laptop, EDC and work tools. But it also packs in storage for gym clothes and a separate shoe compartment – ideal for a quick run during your lunch break or hitting the gym after work without having to carry two bags.

Topo Designs Classic Duffel (US$129)

Topo Designs Classic Duffel

A hard-wearing and multifunctional hauler

Topo’s Classic Duffel delivers on simple functionality and rugged durability. Crafted from 1000D Cordura, this duffel can take a beating while hauling plenty of gym or sports gear in its 42L volume. The bag features pockets for organizing smaller items, along with grab handles and a detachable shoulder strap. It’s also suitable for travel use, whether you’re off on a weekend adventure or clocking up the miles over several days.

lululemon athletica Para Duffel (US$148)

lululemon athletica Para Duffel

Urban style for gym essentials

The Para Duffel combines urban-friendly aesthetics with separate storage for shoes and dirty clothes, and a choice of pockets for smaller items. The grab handles can also be worn as backpack straps for easier carry over longer distances.

lululemon athletica Para Backpack (US$148)

lululemon athletica Para Backpack

Sleek style with handy organization

If you like the understated aesthetics of the Para Duffel but want a bit more organization and a dedicated backpack style, the Para Backpack could be a good fit for your needs. The pack includes a padded pocket for your tech, separate pockets for dirty clothes and shoes, water bottle storage, and reflective detailing for increased visibility on the go at night.

Nike Court Tech 1 Tennis Backpack (US$150)

Nike Court Tech 1 Tennis Backpack

One-bag organization for tennis players

Never mind the battle that awaits on the tennis court, the trial begins long before. Carrying a tennis racket along with a bag for your clothing, shoes, tennis balls and any other gear you may need can be a pretty bulky affair. The Nike Court Tech 1 Backpack does away with that by delivering a one-bag system that holds multiple rackets, balls, shoes and clothing in a comfortable backpack form. The bag stands upright for convenient access to gear, with dedicated compartments for different items and an internal dividing shelf. Nike have also designed the bag with maintaining optimal string tension in mind, providing an insulated racket pocket to dissipate heat.

Aer Duffel Pack (US$150)

Aer Duffel Pack

Working hard in the office and the gym

Like their Fit Pack, Aer’s Duffel Pack provides a smart single-bag solution for carrying gym and work essentials. The front-loading main compartment provides easy packing and access for your workout gear, along with a ventilated and separate shoe pocket. A padded laptop pocket on the back keeps your tech protected on the move, and side pockets ensure your water bottle and smaller work and EDC items are organized and within easy reach when you need them.

Aer Gym Duffel 2 (US$170)

Aer Gym Duffel 2

A thoughtful blend of functionality and style

The Gym Duffel 2 features a ventilated main compartment and separate ventilated shoe pocket, handy for airing out your gear when not in use. There’s also plenty of organization for your EDC and clean clothes. Additionally the bag features a padded laptop pocket, which combined with the sleek, low-key aesthetics makes this a great work/gym hybrid.

RYU Quick Pack LUX 1.1 (US$185)

RYU Quick Pack LUX 1.1

Minimalist style with thoughtful access for the gym, travel and EDC

The Quick Pack LUX 1.1 is suave enough for the office and roaming the city streets in style. But this pack is more than just appealing aesthetics. The drop front opening enables easy packing and great access to your gear, while the molded internal shell helps to protect the contents against life’s bumps and scrapes, making this a handy pack for the gym, travel or daily use.

DSPTCH Gym/Work Bag (US$192)

DSPTCH Gym/Work Bag

Practical design for grafting at work and the gym 

As the name suggests, this bag is designed to find the balance between work and gym carry needs. It does so by packing in useful features such as a ventilated shoe pocket, a separate padded laptop pocket, and a moisture-resistant lining. The main compartment features an interior water bottle pocket as well as a hidden pocket for storing your valuables.

DSPTCH Gym/Work Pack (US$198)

DSPTCH Gym/Work Pack

Slim daypack to versatile gym buddy

Like the bag above, this pack embraces the gym/work divide with a padded laptop compartment, ventilated shoe compartment, and internal tablet sleeve. Additionally, it also offers an exterior pocket with a Fidlock closure for storing clothes, a ball, shoes or a range of other items you may need for work or exercise purposes.

Incase Sport Field Bag (US$199.95)

Incase Sport Field Bag

Tailored for active tech users

Incase are known for their streamlined silhouettes and tech-friendly designs. With the Sport Field Bag you get all that and a little extra. The bag offers an exterior padded laptop compartment for quick access to your tech, a mix of pockets for keeping small items tidy, and a wide opening on the main compartment for easy access to your gear. In addition, the interior features a dedicated ball storage compartment, with the option to collapse the compartment to increase the internal storage space if you don’t need to carry a ball. The ventilated ball compartment also doubles as a wet/dry storage area. Rounding things off is moisture and odor-resistant Ariaprene foam technology in the back panel, shoulder straps and carry handle – handy for a pack designed to help you get active and sweaty.

RYU Locker Pack LUX 1.1 (US$215)

RYU Locker Pack LUX 1.1

Practicality with panache

We doubt a portable locker ever looked this good. The Locker Pack LUX 1.1 exudes the same clean style of the 17L RYU Quick Pack LUX 1.1, but with its 22L volume it may be your preferred choice if you need to carry a little extra. The pack includes an externally accessible laptop sleeve, along with a hanging loop, molded internal shell and drop front design so you can avoid rummaging for specific items.

Lexdray Portland Sneaker Duffel (US$325)

Lexdray Portland Sneaker Duffel

A touch of urban luxe with gym and carry-on functionality

This duffel may be inspired by sneakerheads, but its versatile design adapts to the gym and beyond. The bag’s rolltop central compartment holds two to three pairs of shoes, with further compartments providing suitable storage for keeping clean and dirty clothes separate. There’s also plenty of pockets to organize smaller items, a removable shoulder strap, and carry handles. Size-wise it’s suitable for carry-on use, allowing double duty as a travel bag.

Stuart & Lau Regimen Gym Bag (US$395)

Stuart & Lau Regimen Gym Bag

Luxurious versatility for work, workouts and travel

Suave and sophisticated, the Regimen Gym Bag from Stuart & Lau adds understated luxury to your gym setup. The weatherproof bag features a ventilated shoe pocket, a padded laptop pocket, and additional pockets for water bottles, EDC and other smaller essentials. A versatile and stylish piece, this bag works hard at the gym, looks good in the office and is ready to go when travel beckons.

  • wvh

    Most of these don’t look like you’d use them also as a work bag, with space for a laptop and documents, and without that “fell into a barrel with random colours and logos” look to it that most sports clothing and equipment invariably has. Has anybody tried using a small travel bag like the Timbuk2 Aviator?

    • TeamCarryology

      Hey @wvh, there’s a bunch here that we’d happily lug to work, especially the pieces from Aer, RYU and Lululemon. And sure, travel bags can work in a gym setting. The Timbuk2 Aviator is a fine example.

  • JakiChan

    Interesting that the Aer Gym Duffel didn’t make the cut. I chose it over the DSPTCH bag.

    • TeamCarryology

      Hey @jakichan:disqus, it was close, but it’s our third favorite from Aer. We much prefer their backpack carry, but each to their own. 😉

  • http://stainlesssteelface.tumblr.com Jed

    Most important thing for me: will it fit in the lockers at my gym?

    Obviously it’s hard to tell without anything for scale (you’ve only listed the volume for one of them), but most of these look like they won’t.

    • Julian Carrasquillo

      I can speak for the Aer Fit Pack.

  • camcheline

    I’m loving a lot of these. Just wish there were some color combos like Topo bags. My two main criteria is separation between shoes and clothes and solid padding for my macbook 15″. (want good padding and good fit for new touchbar) Any of these stand out as best for that @TeamCarryology:disqus?

    • camcheline

      The Ryu and Aer duffle bagpack and pretty neck in neck for me right now. Don’t love that the Ryu doesn’t have a dedicated separate shoe compartment, but looks like solid material and slick. The smaller one does look slicker too, but afraid of needing the extra space.

      • TeamCarryology

        Hey @camcheline:disqus, the Aer or DSPTCH feels like the best fits for you, for sure. Both have solid laptop protection and shoe compartments. Note, the DSPTCH will be a touch heavier.

    • Sam_K

      I have the same criteria as @camcheline:disqus and a few others. I want a backpack with a separate shoe compartment, a good padded section for my laptop, prefer a backpack (not a duffel), space for toiletries and space for a water bottle and a shaker cup. I’ve narrowed it down to the DSPTCH Gym/Work Pack, Aer Duffel Pack 2 (which is an updated version) and the Lululemon Assert Backpack. The Lululemon Para Backpack doesn’t seem to be available in the US anymore but the Assert Backpack looks like a nice alternative. Features are more important than aesthetics for me. Any comments @TeamCarryology:disqus?

      • camcheline

        I ended up getting the Aer. I just couldn’t fit that much in it. So ended up buying Topo’s new duffel bag. Which is too big and not compartmentalized. But oh so pretty. Not sure what’s different about the Duffel 2, but that DSPTCH is looking interesting. I just wonder how strong the material is. Also still got my eye on the RYU. So hard to find that perfect fit of big enough, not too big, some style and compartments so you’re computer or clean clothes don’t smell like feet.

        • TeamCarryology

          The @camcheline:disqus, the hunt continues, haha. Surprised the Aer wasn’t big enough, their Aer Gym Duffel would most certainly fit anything you’d need, but it’s all black and not as much fun as a Topo. The RYU is much the same as the Aer Duffel Pack as far as usable space. Have you thought about ‘inception packing’? A dry bag and a packing cube or two in your duffel should solve your problems.

          • camcheline

            Ha. Well the aer is great if you’re packing shoes and like one item. But that shoe hole fills the bag up pretty good. I’d usually have my laptop and a change of clothes, but was tricky to get it in right. Doable. But tricky. Had to put my water bottle in there too cause the sides pockets were useless and would slip out or be impossible to add to once the bag was full.

          • TeamCarryology

            Bummer. Yeh, it sounds like inception packing’s the way to go: http://www.carryology.com/luggage/check-in/inception-packing/

          • Sam_K

            @camcheline:disqus @TeamCarryology:disqus I ended up gett the Aer Duffel Pack 2 and @camcheline is right, you can’t fit that much in it once you put in some some sneakers but I was able to fit my workout clothes, workout gloves, a small toiletry bag and a shaker cup. I was even able to fit a 25 oz stainless steel water bottle and an umbrella in the water bottle compartment when I fully expanded it.
            The bag works for me and I really like all the compartments but I wish the laptop compartment had some pen holders. The size of the bag fits easily inside standard gym lockers. If the bag was slightly wider and rectangular instead of tapered at the bottom then it would hold more stuff and it would still fit in a gym locker.

          • Sam_K

            @TeamCarryology:disqus @camcheline:disqus Another inexpensive backpack that has a separate shoe compartment and laptop compartment is the Under Armour Hustle 3.0 backpack.
            It supposedly has 30L of volume. The biggest downside is that it’s made of polyester so it probably won’t last long.

        • Sam_K

          @camcheline Did you get the Aer Fit Pack or the Aer Duffel Pack? I’m assuming that you got the Duffel Pack. If it’s the Duffel Pack, then I’m surprised that you couldn’t fit much in it.

          I saw the DSPTCH gym/work pack at their NYC store but I wasn’t impressed with the compartments. The black one is made of nylon and appeared to be pretty strong. The ones made of twill didn’t appear as strong.

          I don’t believe any of the Ryu models have a separate shoe compartment. They have short videos on their website showing how each bag is packed so you can see for yourself.

      • TeamCarryology

        Hey @Sam_K:disqus , the the DSPTCH Gym/Work Pack and Aer Duffel Pack 2 are awesome. We’ve played and tested both. Fine choices. The Lululemon Assert backpack looks a little light on ‘usable space’ (lots of compartments / pockets layered over each other), but we haven’t tested that. That said, on a quick look, the Assert duffel looks better for a space and access, and can be carried as a backpack (the question is how comfortably?), that could be an option too. But it’s the Aer and DSPTCH for us.

        • Sam_K

          Thanks @TeamCarryology:disqus! The Lululemon Assert backpack claims 30L of storage space which I questioned based on the pictures and is much larger than the DSPTCH Gym/Work Pack (25L) and the Aer Duffel Pack 2 (24L). I work in NYC so I will check out the DSPTCH at their store and the Lululemon at any of their stores.

  • Melissa M

    I like the Topo Designs Duffell and the RYU but I use the Von Baer Milan Travel Bag for a more professional look. It has enough compartments for my stuff (laptop included) and can double as a gym bag.


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