Which is the best type of gym bag: duffels or backpacks?

Would you rather have a stylish or a functional gym bag? We'll help you decide

Which is the best type of gym bag: duffels or backpacks?
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The struggle is real: should you get a gym bag that makes you look cool or one that's highly functional? The humble gym bag is an essential piece of gym equipment and you will definitely need one now that gyms have reopened worldwide. It’s been too long! Home workouts are great and all but nothing can replace the feeling when you step through the gates of the real Church of Iron, wafts of sweat entering your nostrils and images of overly muscular men bombarding your vision.

And when in the gym, you can’t just carry around your workout shoes and gym gloves in a shopping bag, risking looking like an absolute fool? No, you need the best gym bag to house all these items and more, such as protein bars and your pre-portioned protein powder, essential after each workout. Should you get a backpack or a duffel bag, though? That's the big question.

Why you should buy a duffel bag as your new gym bag

When you think about bodybuilders, the image that pops into mind is a muscular person wearing a string vest, sporting a duffel bag on their shoulders. Duffels have always been the go to bags of meatheads and you as a beginner lifter must get one too so you can belong to the big boys or girls club. Using a duffel will surely get the pro lifters’ approval.

And we tend to agree: duffels do look cool and better still, they are great for people who can’t be bothered to keep their gym stuff organised. Just open the flap on the top and throw everything in the bottomless main compartment of the duffel: out of sight, out of mind. Duffel bags are also great for people who have loads of stuff to carry around: this type of bag is often called a ‘holdall’ for a good reason.

Duffels are sturdy too, especially the bottom of the bag, since they're more likely to be placed on the floor than backpacks. As a bonus, a well padded duffel doubles up as a pillow or floor cushion for when you haven’t got anything to rest your head/body on.

Which is the best type of gym bag: duffels or backpacks?

(Image credit: Built for Athletes)

Why you should buy a backpack as your new gym bag

If duffels are so great, why should you bother with backpacks? There are two main reasons: organisation and back health.

Nothing beats backpacks when it comes to keeping your stuff organised: there are a million pockets and different compartments available to ensure that those sweaty tank tops stay away from your pre-portioned rice, chicken and broccoli. Some bags take the concept of organisation to the next level, such as the excellent Matador SEG30 Segmented Backpack which has more pockets and storage compartments than a smaller wardrobe.

As for back health, let’s just circle back to the image of that bodybuilder sporting a duffel on their shoulders. If that duffel is full, they will lean to one side to counterbalance the weight of the bag which is not great for your spine, at all. Of all the people, bodybuilders should know best that loading just one shoulder will result in an imbalance in muscle activation.

Which is the best type of gym bag: duffels or backpacks?

We would argue that all things considered, a backpack is a better choice for most people. Backpacks are more comfortable to wear and offer more options to keep your gym gear organised, should you want to. We can even give you tips on how to organise your gym bag: it’s not as hard as it sounds.

We’re sure that even though we said you should get a backpack, at least a few people will get a duffel bag and that’s perfectly fine. We all have different needs and for some, a duffel bag just works better as a gym bag. For the rest, a backpack will do just fine.

Matt Kollat
Section Editor | Active

Matt Kollat is a journalist and content creator who works for T3.com and its magazine counterpart as an Active Editor. His areas of expertise include wearables, drones, fitness equipment, nutrition and outdoor gear. He joined T3 in 2019. His byline appears in several publications, including Techradar and Fit&Well, and more. Matt also collaborated with other content creators (e.g. Garage Gym Reviews) and judged many awards, such as the European Specialist Sports Nutrition Alliance's ESSNawards. When he isn't working out, running or cycling, you'll find him roaming the countryside and trying out new podcasting and content creation equipment.