Best gym bag 2020: duffel bags and backpacks fit for gym kings and queens

Find space for all your gym stuff and be the queen/king of the changing room with these stylish and practical gym bags

best gym bag
(Image credit: King Kong Apparel)

If you don't want to carry your gym kit around in a plastic bag, you will need a good gym bag. The best gym bags are versatile, hard-wearing carriers that were designed to be hurled over to the nearest empty bench as soon as you arrive in your gym's locker room. Whoever places the bag down gently, anyway?

Many – if not most – gym rats will tell you that the only way to establish dominance in the gym is to carry your gym kit around in a duffel bag, but like we said in our how to pack a gym bag how-to, it's usually better to carry your sweaty gym wear around in a backpack, especially if you are under the age of 40. Older guys may prefer the Italian Job/away-day-casual cool of a duffel but seriously granddad, the kids don't dig it.

Whether you’re pounding the treadmill at 6 AM or have to drag yourself to the gym after work each evening, we all approach exercise in different ways. But no matter your level of expertise (and ability to not repeatedly hit the snooze button), the humble gym bag is an essential bit of kit for beginners and pros alike.

How to buy the best gym bag for you

There are no set rules to follow here, but plenty of considerations to weigh up when buying your gym bag. If you plan to exercise on your way home from work, you’ll need a bag to carry your kit and trainers, but also leave space for anything you take to the office – and, preferably, a way to keep them separate.

But, if you pick a bag with space for trainers, your packed lunch, and a laptop, then you should check out the lockers at your gym before buying, as some larger bags might not fit.

And of course, this being T3, how your gym bag looks is an important factor to consider. After all, who feels inspired to head out and hit the gym for an hour if the kit bag staring back at you is a tatty, smelly mess?

Speaking of which, the material of your bag is important if you intend to carry wet swimming trunks and a damp towel home each evening. Waterproof rubber or neoprene are good for the swimming gear and shower stuff, but the inferior airflow of these bags mean they can start to smell if not aired out properly.

Canvas is better for starving off that distinctive damp smell, but may wear out more quickly if used often. If you walk or cycle, look for lightweight bags made from Nylon or polyester. Finally, there’s leather, which gives you the luxury looks, and even smells nice if your trunks don’t get involved - but brings with it a high price and some regular maintenance to keep it looking its best.

The best gym bags, in order

best gym bag: King Kong CORE25 Backpack

(Image credit: King Kong Apparel)

1. King Kong CORE25 Backpack

The ultimate gym backpack

Specifications
Best for: For gym people who like to keep their stuff net and organised
Material: Ripstop Nylon/600D Poly
Capacity: 25 litres
Reasons to buy
+External weight lifting belt holder+Daisy chain+Ripstop nylon fabric+Separate compartments for shoes

• Buy the King Kong CORE25 Backpack for $119.95 at King Kong US

• Buy the King Kong CORE25 Backpack for €109.95 at King Kong EU

Sometimes you can tell if a bag manufacturer knows its target market and this seems to be the case with King Kong Apparel. At King Kong, the mission to create the best gym bag was fulfilled by the CORE range which includes the CORE25 Backpack and the equally as versatile CORE35 Duffel bag.

There are loads of features that make the King Kong CORE25 Backpack the ultimate gym bag. For one, it is made of Ripstop nylon material so it can withstand some throwing around and all those times when you have to cram your bag into those tiny gym lockers. It is also the perfect size for any gym session – 25 litres – nor unnecessarily big like some of the duffel bags, neither it is too small to actually contain all the stuff you'll need in the gym (and after the sesh).

The King Kong CORE25 wins the race for best gym bags by providing you with the flexibility to carry all your gym wear and accessories in a way that works for you. Clever features let you wrap your weight lifting belt around the bag – as opposed to taking up all the space in the bag – as well as hanging all your smaller accessories, like locks and keys, on the daisy chain at the front of the bag.

There are also plenty of options to organise your gear inside the bag: the top flap opens fully so you can see what's inside the main compartment better, but there is also a separate laptop compartment inside and a zipped compartment at the bottom so you can keep your shoes or towels away from your prepped meals. There are also multiple zipped pockets at the front and the side of the bag for phones, wallet or whatever you would like to carry with you to the gym or elsewhere.

If this wasn't enough, there are also two side pockets for water bottles, or more like one pocket for your gym water bottle and one for the protein shaker. Better still, the King Kong CORE25 Backpack offers all this versatility why not looking too awful either, on the contrary, this gym bag looks sleek and rather pleasing to the eye, taking standard gym bag looks into consideration.

If you need some more space, opt in for the slightly larger CORE35 Duffel which also has all the features as the CORE25 Backpack but in the duffel form. There isn't a reason why the King Kong CORE25 Backpack shouldn't be your next gym bag. Buy it now.

best gym bag: Adidas Convertible 3-Stripes Duffel bag medium

(Image credit: Adidas)

2. Adidas Convertible 3-Stripes Duffel Bag – Medium

Great price and practicality

Specifications
Best for: Practicality
Material: Polyester
Capacity: 43 litres
Reasons to buy
+Ventilated zip shoe pocket+TPE-coated base
Reasons to avoid
-Ripstop nylon fabric cover would be nice

Can't really go wrong with an Adidas duffel bag, can you? Especially in this case, for the price, you'll get a good-sized holdall bag with plenty of extra compartments to separate your used gym gear from the clean items.

The list of compartments is as follows: zip main compartment, ventilated zip shoe pocket, zip pocket on end and you even get three inside slip-in pockets. The base of the bag is TPE-coated so it can withstand some trashing around at least.

The 'convertible' part in the name might give this away but this duffel bag doubles up as a sort-of backpack as well, if not a comfortable one, but at least you can distribute the weight of the bag and its contents equally between both shoulders by throwing it on your back.

best gym bag: Nike Vapor Energy 2.0

(Image credit: Nike)

3. Nike Vapor Energy 2.0

Adjust the size to your gear

Specifications
Best for: people cycling to the gym
Material: 100% Polyester
Capacity: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Adjustable size thanks to roll top design+Loads of pockets
Reasons to avoid
-Admittedly not as spacious as a holdall

Your spine will thank you for carrying your gym gear on both shoulders. Backpacks are more convenient to carry all your sweaty shoes and gym tights in than duffel bags, and the Nike Vapor Energy 2.0 has the added benefit of being a roll top bag, so you can easily adjust the size of it, depending on what you pack at any particular session.

There are loads of pockets on this bad boy so you can organise your gear, snacks and gadgets accordingly – there is a dedicated shoe compartment too! The underside of the Nike Vapor Energy 2.0 is coated so it will stay dry for longer and won't wear out too easily either. And thanks to the the black colourway, the Nike Vapor Energy 2.0 just goes with everything you might have to wear, both inside and outside the gym.

best gym bar: Zone3 Triathlon Transition Bag

(Image credit: Zone3)

4. Zone3 Transition Bag

For people who like to plan and organise – even in the gym

Specifications
Best for: Organisers
Material: 100% waterproof polyester
Capacity: 40 litres
Reasons to buy
+May compartments and organising pouches+100% waterproof
Reasons to avoid
-Bit bulky

The Zone3 Transition Bag was designed for triathlon but it can function equally as good as a gym bag, too. With the holding a capacity of 40 litres, the bag has been designed so that each compartment can be accessed in a different direction to help maximise space and functionality.

There isn't enough space here to detail all the features of this well-equipped bag, but in summary, it consists of three main compartments, along with many smaller pouches and removable wallets to make prepping all your stuff easier.

The bottom compartment is great for the items you would like to keep completely separate from all your other items in your gym bag, let it be a wet towel or your gym trainers.

The middle compartment has a zipped mesh pocket for accessories and features removable waterproof PVC wallets for small valuable items.On the sides, you'll find two large, soft mesh pockets, ideal for gym water bottles and protein shakers.

The top compartment is perfect for snacks and phones and other small items. Granted, a 40 litre bag is on the large side, but rest assured, you can literally fit everything into this bag!

best gym bag: Built for Athletes HERO 2.0

(Image credit: Built for Athletes)

5. Built for Athletes HERO 2.0 Backpack

Tough, spacious and now comes with 2 gym water bottle pouches

Specifications
Best for: People who carry all their gym stuff with them
Material: Ripstop and waterproof
Capacity: 45 litres
Dimensions: 48cm x 34cm x 29cm
Reasons to buy
+Tough material+Plenty of space+Adjustable+Side-pouches for water bottles
Reasons to avoid
-Lot of loose compression straps-Bulky

• Buy the HERO 2.0 backpack directly from Built for Athletes

We quite liked the first version of the Built for Athletes Hero backpack and the upgraded features of the second iteration has made this already excellent gym backpack even better. The main appeal of the bag are the newly-added two side bottle holders (big enough to hold a 750ml water bottle each) and the laser cut molle for a stronger and cleaner aesthetic. 

The 45l capacity is not only enough for most – if not all – of your gym wear, shakes, snacks and so on, but the volume is also fully adjustable using the compression straps found all around the bag. The main compartment has a clamshell design and opens fully, making it super easy to organise and retrieve items from it. There are plenty of mesh pockets inside and even a dedicated laptop compartment at the back, too.

The material used for the bag is waterproof and ripstop synthetic polyester and even the zips are tough: they are YKK Japanese zips that can withstand even more vigorous pulling. At the front of the bag you'll find the laser cut molle system to which you can attach your locks and keys and anything you want, really.

The Built for Athletes HERO 2.0 backpack is suitable for cabin luggage, although please check with your airline before you try and board the plane. Obviously.

best gym bag: Under Armour Sportstyle Duffel

(Image credit: Under Armour)

6. Under Armour Sportstyle Duffel

A barrelful of fun

Specifications
Best for: Gym lockers
Material: Polyester
Capacity: 24 litres
Reasons to buy
+Highly water-resistant finish
Reasons to avoid
-Not an awful lot of organising compartment

The UA Sportstyle Duffel deas what it says on the box: it is a stylish duffel bag, with emphasis on the appeal for gym-goers. Given the brand's reputation, this bag was designed for people who frequent the gym and would like to communicate this fact to other people – even outside the confined walls of the church of iron.

The UA Storm technology delivers a degree of water resistance, although the Sportstyle Duffel is by no means a dry bag. As much as the bag is not an over-organiser's dream, it does have an interior mesh zip pocket for keeping your shoes away from your snacks.

The 24-litre capacity is big enough to store most of your essentials in the bag but not too bulky to block the walkway on the tube.

best gym bar: Oakley 90's small duffel bag

(Image credit: Oakley)

7. Oakley 90's Small Duffel Bag

Sundried tomato colour!

Specifications
Best for: Carrying the essentials
Material: Polyester and TPU
Capacity: N/A
Reasons to buy
+Retro vibes
Reasons to avoid
-Definitely on the small side

From Oakley's website: "From the gym to every day errands, our expandable 90's Small Duffel Bag lets you carry what you want in style." And we agree, this small but surprisingly well-organisable bag can hold most of your gym essentials and a bit more thanks to the three mesh zipper pockets in and around the main YKK zipped compartment.

North Face Base Camp Duffel

8. North Face Base Camp Duffel

The all-purpose holdall for those who have a lot of stuff

Specifications
Best for: Lots of kit
Material: Nylon
Reasons to buy
+Large capacity+Variety of colours
Reasons to avoid
-A bit bulky-Expensive

This gym bag is huge. With a whopping capacity of 95L, you could say carrying it is a workout in itself, but it’s handy for those who need to carry more than just their gym kit. This is ideal gym bag for personal trainers who meet their clients outdoors for workouts. The interchangeable straps mean you can carry this bag as a holdall or a backpack, plus it’s weatherproof, so it could easily double as a camping or adventure bag. If the size of this puts you off but the style is ideal, it's also available in small and medium options.

Nike Brasilia 6

9. Nike Brasilia 6

A classic-looking gym bag for sportspeople of all stripes

Specifications
Best for: Everyday use
Material: Synthetic
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Shoe compartment
Reasons to avoid
-Too many pockets-Not as sturdy as some

This Nike gym bag is a true classic. Featuring a spacious main compartment, and a separate shoe section providing optimum ventilation to eliminate odours, it’s the ideal bag for every leisure activity you can think of. Carry as a duffel bag, or over the shoulder using the detachable strap, for the convenient convertibility of the North Face Duffel at a more pocket-friendly price. 

Herschel Supply Co Novel Duffel Bag

10. Herschel Supply Co Novel Duffel Bag

A timelessly stylish bag with a generous capacity, great for the everyday gym-goer

Specifications
Best for: Style
Material: Nylon
Reasons to buy
+Stylish+Large capacity
Reasons to avoid
-Expensive

Adidas 3 Stripes Performance Team Sport

11. Adidas 3 Stripes Performance Team Sport

A trusty gym bag for those on a budget

Specifications
Best for: Budget buy
Material: Polyester
Reasons to buy
+Affordable+Very spacious
Reasons to avoid
-Plain

If your irregular gym habit makes the prospect of shelling out for an expensive bag galling, then the Adidas 3 Stripes Performance Team Sport bag should do nicely. It has a large capacity with an easy to access main compartment and separate shoe pocket with ventilation, and while it’s not the most exciting-looking bag, it’s a great entry-level model from a well-known brand, with a classic gym bag look and feel. Footballers looking for a bag that can hold their kit, towel, change of clothes and boots; this is the one.

(Image credit: Waterfield)

12. WaterField Bootcamp Gym Bag

Stylish gym bag that doesn’t scream “gym bag!”

Specifications
Best for:: efficient use of space
Material:: waxed canvas or ballistic nylon
Capacity:: 14.5 litres
Reasons to buy
+Stylish+Fits in gym lockers
Reasons to avoid
-No laptop compartment (it really is gym-specific) 

• Buy the WaterField Bootcamp Gym Bag from SF Bags

The WaterField Bootcamp Gym Bag has been sized to fit easily in a gym locker so it’s smaller than many of the bags in this guide, yet it offers enough space for your gym clothes, shoes, bottles and few other items. The main compartment has a clamshell opening so you can unzip it on its side and pack it like a suitcase, while there is also a second zipper on the top of the bag for quick access to the contents when the bag is packed. This compartment is lined with gold ripstop nylon which is a nice touch as the light-coloured fabric makes it easier to see what’s inside the bag.

Inside the main compartment you’ll find two zipped pockets which can hold cosmetics, weight-lifting gloves, carabiners, CrossFit wrist wraps or other smaller items, while on the outside of the bag there are two water bottle pockets – one on each side – and a slimline pocket on the front and back. The front pocket has a magnetic closure and also features a key clip and sections to stash a phone, wallet, earbuds and so on. The rear pocket is open at the top and would hold a magazine or similar.

The bag features two leather-grip handles at the top as well as a detachable shoulder strap you can use if your journey to the gym is further than from your car door. There are two fabric options available – either black ballistic nylon or tan waxed canvas. We’re particularly partial to the waxed canvas model which we think will age nicely over time.

Dimensions: 13.5 x 12.5 x 6.5 inches (34.3 x 31.8 x 16.5 cm). Weight: Canvas – 2.3lbs (1.04kg); Ballistic – 1.9 lbs (0.86kg).