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The Best Gym Bag

After researching 100 bags and then testing 22 of them during endless workouts, we think that the Everest Gym Bag is the best bag for anyone who wants to bring fresh clothes to the gym and take sweaty clothes home again without your gear resembling a fragrant swamp. It easily carries everything most people need, like a change of shoes and fresh clothes, and has some features, such as a water bottle holder, that are hard to find in bags that cost twice as much. The Everest Gym Bag includes a deep ventilated shoe pocket, metal fasteners (instead of plastic), three spare pockets, and a lifetime warranty—exceptional features for the price.

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The Everest Gym Bag has an easy-to-access main pocket with a classic U-shaped zip top and a total of six exterior pockets: two zippered, three small open-mesh accessories holders, and a dedicated water bottle compartment. In addition, it also has a vented shoe and laundry pocket, and after days of running, heavy lifting, and swimming, that extra venting meant that we never came home with a mysterious potpourri of heinous body odors trailing behind us. It’s made of commonly used 600D polyester, which you’ll recognize if you’ve ever held a school knapsack. It’s a decent material that’s easy to wash and still able to protect contents from the usual grime of gym lockers and floors. And one advantage the Everest has over our upgrade pick: It will stand well enough upright on its own as you pack or unpack.

It only comes in one size: 8 by 11.5 by 10.5 inches or 1,950 cubic inches, a small-to-medium capacity, but that’s enough for a spare set of clothes, shoes and some light gear. It also comes in five colors. If you have extra training gear, such as boxing gloves or a heavy gi, you might want to consider our pick for sports equipment down below.

Budget pick
Protege 24
A bag with all of the features readers requested that costs less than a takeout lunch.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.

If you aren’t worried about breaking plastic components or specifically want an elastic bungee strap to secure oversize gear such as a yoga mat, the Walmart Protege is our choice. Measuring 24 by 12 by 12.5 inches (length/width/height), it’s slightly larger than our top pick, but made from the same weight (600D) polyester. It has three zippered exterior pockets, but no water bottle holder. Like the Everest, it includes a shoe and laundry pocket. Unlike the Everest, this pocket isn’t ventilated, which can lead to olfactory upset depending on how hard you’ve worked out that day. What you also won’t get is any kind of warranty coverage. Walmart does offer a 90-day return policy and you might get lucky trying to replace this bag after that time period, but it can’t be guaranteed. Still, this is a remarkably good bag for the price and comes in two colors (black or red, both with jaunty white piping).

Upgrade pick
Jnr Kong Bag
Made to withstand a lifetime of abuse, the King Kong should last through every injury and triumph.

If you’re tough on your gear, train in unusual places, or simply like to buy items that will last a lifetime, there are few bags that compare to the King Kong Jnr Kong Bag. During testing, the competitive lifters we interviewed all gravitated to this bag immediately for its durability and strength. Just holding this bag lets you feel a difference in quality compared to most every other bag. The 1000D nylon is thicker and more robust than other sport bags: the difference between a school knapsack and a thick canvas duffle bag. The King Kong Jnr Kong Bag comes with four accessory pockets (one velcro-sealed for clumsy hands) and a mesh catchall. Although the additional shoe compartment is less ventilated than our top pick, we think people won’t mind the compromise given the strength of King Kong’s construction. The durability of the bag is evident throughout, from its double-stitched seams to all-metal fasteners. The junior measures 18 by 11 by 11 inches and holds roughly 33 liters
. If you need more space, the King Kong series of bags has two additional sizes and 4 colors. The King Kong is protected by a 25-year warranty, as long as the original purchaser still owns the bag.

Also great
Adidas Team Issue
With three sizes to choose from and 18 colors, this bag is perfect for anyone who needs extra space for their gear or customization for their team.

Some sports require more gear than others. For the price, we couldn’t find anything better than the Adidas Team Issue. It comes in three sizes, offers 18 colors, and has a vented shoe and laundry pocket. The medium version is equipped with four outside zippered pockets (three on the small version), an internal small pocket, and 600D polyester. If you are lugging that extra gear, the extra wide and padded shoulder strap should relieve some of the strain. However, you’re still paying more for a heavily branded bag with mostly plastic hardware.

Table of contents

Why you should trust us

While there are many lists, there aren’t many comprehensive gym bag reviews out there that we found trustworthy. For this article, we spoke with several professional personal trainers, the owner and clientele of a well respected body building gym, and a couple of high school coaches about their experiences with kit bags. In particular, we leaned on the experience and expertise of:

Larry Pollock, owner of KO Fitness in Ventura and one-time world record holder for the deadlift in his weight division.

Danielle Williams, fitness director of the Ojai Valley Athletic Club with 10 years of experience in health and fitness.

Dan Waldman, high school lacrosse coach at the Thatcher School, who has been playing some kind of organized sport for as long as he can remember.

I’ve been working out for nearly 15 years, practicing boxing, savate, muay thai, martial arts, and weightlifting in all manner of gyms around the world, including church basements in Scotland, garages in California, and high-end clubs in New York. I’ve used everything from plastic shopping bags to backpacks to dedicated gym bags to carry my gear around. I also write about many aspects of travel luggage and bag design for The Wirecutter.

How we picked and tested

22 gym bags waiting their turn.

Gym bags are very similar: They tend to be made from easy-to-wipe-down 600D nylon and have one main compartment, a shoulder strap, and a smattering of small pockets or mesh compartments. They’re fine. And while no gym bag can improve your actual workout, the right one can drastically improve your time before and after your workout.

We all have specific ideas of what a gym bag should be depending on our needs and there are thousands of bags out there that would work. To clarify our search, we published a public survey to see what most people wanted from a gym bag. Respondents said their dream bag would be simple and cheap while still able to carry a lot of stuff. If possible, the ideal bag would have a dedicated shoe or laundry pocket and some small pockets for miscellaneous gear.

Larry Pollock, owner of KO gym, and Nicola Gilpin, NPC figure competitor and KO gym member, check out the Jnr Kong Bag.

All of our picks meet these requirements. What separates each from the other are the small details. Our top pick and upgrade bags both use long-lasting metal fasteners for the shoulder straps, for instance, when most models we tested used plastic clasps.

After interviews with personal trainers, coaches, and gym buffs, we came up with a few other parameters. As with anything that will likely be shoved in and out of a locker, we looked for bags without elements that can easily snag such as loose mesh pockets.

Other features we think make small, but significant differences when you’re using a gym bag three times a week:

  • Reinforced sides, which help the bag stand up during packing.
  • Reinforced seams, especially where the shoulder strap attaches to the bag.
  • Easy to pull zippers on small pockets.
  • Easy to clean interior.

Unfortunately, every bag we tested needs to be hand washed. There are simply too many handles, seams, and easy to tear mesh pockets to try and put one of these into a washing machine.

The shoulder pads from top to bottom: Adidas Team Issue, Jnr Kong Bag, Walmart Protege, Everest Gym Bag.

Unless you’re particularly abusive to your gear, you don’t need to spend too much on a gym bag. They’ll probably spend most of their lives in a locker or in a closet. As with any bag, what will work best for you all depends on how specific your needs are. If you aren’t worried about spare pockets or isolated laundry and shoe storage, a simple duffel bag, paired with a plastic shopping bag or dry bag to contain your dirty shoes or wet towel post-workout, is all that’s necessary to bring clean clothes to a gym and sweaty clothes home again.

While there are backpacks specifically designed to be gym bags, we found these designs to be cumbersome and difficult to use for everyday use. Ultimately, for the money, it’s easier to turn a regular backpack into a gym bag than the other way around. If you would prefer a backpack that can double as a gym bag (most of them can), we’ve researched a full list of recommended backpacks here. We particularly liked the North Face Pivoter for the gym.

Our pick

If you go to the gym more than a couple of times a week, the Everest Gym Bag will serve you perfectly. It combines the durability of more expensive gym bags with some small features that were rare on other models, such as the well-vented laundry pocket and lifetime warranty. It’s the only bag we tested with a water bottle holder, which fits our top water bottle pick perfectly. However, the holder is too narrow for most shake-cups and other larger water bottles.

The Everest, similar to the other models we picked (except our upgrade pick), has a slightly rigid frame, which helps stand the bag upright as you pack it. The bag also comes with an optional removable board which fits the bottom of the back for added rigidity, sort of like a pet carrier.

The shoe pocket has a wide opening and easily fits a pair of size 11 running shoes. The pocket’s 1½-inch mesh vent should provide plenty of air circulation, to help eliminate any lingering odors or moisture. The only unavoidable complaint is how much room those shoes take up once they’re inside the bag. After weeks of testing, I often used these separate pockets to hold my laundry and carried my bulkier shoes by hand.

This bag has metal zippers, D-rings and clips, which is a significant upgrade in quality when it comes to bag construction. On the importance of metal hardware: “If you can find it, I prefer metal over plastic for these areas,” said Danielle Williams, pointing to a plastic carabiner attaching a shoulder strap to a bag. “This? I can break that, no problem. It will be the first thing to fail.” The bodybuilders of KO gym wouldn’t even look at bags with plastic carabiners: “Our gear is just too heavy.”

Despite these metal attachments, the Everest and our budget pick, the Walmart Protege, were both easily ripped from their seams by Squat World Record holder Roy Glenn. While we don’t think most people will ever put their bags through that kind of abuse, if you need a bag that will last longer both the Adidas Team Issue and Jnr Kong Bag are far better reinforced.

The Everest holds about 1,950 cubic inches or 32 liters, the size of an average day pack, and measures 18 by 11.5 by 10.5 inches, which fits perfectly inside a standard gym locker. Similar to nearly every other bag on the market, the Everest is made from 600D polyester. It’s a perfect material for gym bags: easy to clean, durable enough for light use, and very inexpensive.

Separate shoe storage keeps things tidy.

After zippers, these usually-plastic connectors are the most likely component of any bag to break or get crushed. The Everest is the least expensive bag we could find that still used long lasting metal fasteners to connect the shoulder strap. The Everest, same as every bag we tested, is built around an easy to open U-shaped main compartment. It also includes a small inside pocket, two front-zippered pouches, one larger exterior zippered shoe pocket, and 3 open-top mesh accessory holders. It weighs 2 pounds, 8 ounces unpacked and comes in five colors. Although somewhat bland looking, we find it enjoyable for a gym bag, with no large or garish logos advertising your brand affiliation.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Several testers pointed to the water bottle holder and remarked about how difficult it was to find in any gym bag, but they wished the one on the Everest was able to carry a variety of bottles. And while the laundry pockets and a removable bottom panel increases the flexibility of a bag, they’re also the first things to obscure a lost item of clothing or gear. The Everest is no different, and its jet black interior won’t help.

Less expensive but less durable

Budget pick
Protege 24
A bag with all of the features readers requested that costs less than a takeout lunch.

*At the time of publishing, the price was $14.

The most affordable gym bag we found that still comes with separate laundry / shoe pocket, the Walmart Protege is the best possible deal. Made from the same 600D polyester as our top pick, there’s not a huge difference between the two bags. The Protege has a separate laundry, same as our top pick, but it is not vented, which may mean some extra build up of sweat and odors after your workout. Also, instead of metal fasteners, the Protege uses plastic clips to attach its shoulder strap. While these should be fine, we still prefer metal when we can find it.

Also like most bags, this one is dark on the inside. The downside: “Black interiors are unavoidable, but everything blends in when it’s black,” said Danielle Williams. Every person we spoke to had some note about how easy it is to lose items inside a gym bag. Removable bottoms panels were the biggest culprits. “If there’s a phone in there? I’ll look into this bag a hundred times before realizing it has slipped under here,” said Larry Pollock, holding out an insertable bottom panel from a bag.

One interesting feature we didn’t find on other bags we tested: The Protege comes with a bungee attachment for extra equipment, such as a rolled-up yoga mat. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly as many exterior pockets as our other picks. That won’t help if you enjoy organization, but the two large side pockets should carry almost everything you need. It’s important to note that these side pockets are slightly vented, which means they could also double as your laundry pockets. Unfortunately, the venting holes were so small they didn’t make much difference during testing.

Built to last a lifetime

Upgrade pick
Jnr Kong Bag
Made to withstand a lifetime of abuse, the King Kong should last through every injury and triumph.

Most gym bags are made to be somewhat disposable. Inevitably, odors, stains, and the weird abuse they sustain wears them out. Before we tested the Jnr Kong Bag, we wouldn’t have considered spending three figures on a gym bag, but we become somewhat enamored. Complete with metal fasteners and made of 1000D cordura, it is the toughest bag we tested. This stronger material, while water resistant, doesn’t wick water as easily as the cheaper nylon bags during cleaning, but that didn’t stop Larry Pollock, owner of KO gym, and a few of his clients and trainers from unanimously agreeing they would pick this bag for their heavy lifting gear.

The bag comes with two large outer pockets (one of which has a smaller inner pocket), two mesh external pockets, and two small outer pockets, one zippered and one velcro sealed. “I like to have a few small pockets, ideally with velcro closing them” said Dan Waldman, “when you’re tired, zippers can be tricky to navigate around small angles and get caught on cheaper linings.”

Same as our other picks, the King Kong has an isolated shoe or laundry bag. Unfortunately, unlike our top pick or the Adidas Team Issue down below, there’s barely any venting at all.

The fit is a little more snug than our top choice, but works just fine.

The Jnr Kong Bag is the only bag we’re recommending without any structural support on the sides, as it does have a firm base sewn in. While overall we think that a more rigid design of our other picks makes for easier packing and unpacking, it’s not to everyone’s preference. If you prefer a more malleable duffle bag feel, this is the bag for you.

In our destructive testing, Roy Glenn took one look at this bag, threw up his hands, and said, “No f***ing way.” Every corner of this bag is built to last, from the zipper points to the seams, and should stand up to years of abuse.

There are four colors and a camo option to choose from, and the Kong comes with a 25-year warranty as long as the original purchaser is still in possession of the bag, which should be plenty of coverage for even the most dedicated gym buff.

For lots of equipment

Also great
Adidas Team Issue
With three sizes to choose from and 18 colors, this bag is perfect for anyone who needs extra space for their gear or customization for their team.

The Adidas Team Issue is a decent bag that’s just as functional as the rest of our selections but a bit overpriced for what you get. However, it’s the best bag we could find that came in a variety of sizes ranging from small (24 by 11.5 by 12 inches), to medium (26 by 12.50 by 13.5 inches), to large (32.5 by 13.5 by 15 inches). This variation in choice makes it perfect for anyone who often hits the gym with extra gear. Just don’t expect to fit the large version into your average sized gym locker too easily.

Similar to our top pick, the Team Issue has a well ventilated shoe or laundry pocket. It does not have metal shoulder strap fasteners, opting for somewhat thin plastic clasps. Considering that the Team Issue is more expensive than our top pick, we hoped it would have better-quality hardware. That said, it’s got an appealing, classic look that’s not dominated by its logo. It’s a nice change from some of the designs we saw during research.

Surprisingly, this bag took more abuse than we expected. Roy Glenn, our destructive tester, after easily finding the weak points in our top pick and the less expensive Walmart Protege, took several turns trying to find a way to break this bag. While he took the shoe pocket out easily enough, the reinforced seams stopped him from breaking down the bag completely, although he was able to bust the zippers from their tracks. We don’t think anyone would likely put their gym bag through those kinds of stresses.

The Team Issue has four outside zippered pockets (three on the small size) and an internal pocket. It is made of standard 600D Polyester. If you are lugging that extra gear, the extra wide and padded shoulder strap should relieve some strain from carrying all that extra weight. It comes in 18 colors, so there shouldn’t be any trouble finding the look you want.

The competition

Adidas Squad III: One of our senior editors, Casey Johnston (writer of the column Ask a Swole Woman), uses this bag and likes it. The color and design aren’t to everyone’s taste and we were thrown by the patronizing label on the small inner pocket, “Little Stuff.” Overall, it’s a very good bag, but it was edged out of the competition by more gender-neutral options with better features such as metal hardware or cheaper prices.

Adidas Sport ID: This bag was too expensive for its no-frills design. We did appreciate the lightly vented shoe pocket, but the price, lack of pockets, and the plastic hardware all excluded it from our top picks.

Athletex Ballistic: We liked the price of this bag, but the small central opening and plastic attachment points were strong marks against it.

Bad Bags Duffel #2 SP: This was in the running for our more expensive upgrade pick, but it was was edged out by the Jnr Kong Bag for its more classic gym bag look and cordura construction. However, if you don’t mind the leather accents and blunt construction of the Bad Bags Duffel, these should be worth the money.

Dakine EQ Bag: The EQ is a nice duffel, but it’s a little light on features to be considered a true gym bag.

GoRuck Gym Bag 38L: This is a great basic duffel and would probably appeal to someone who likes to keep it simple but durable. However, it doesn’t have the necessary features, such as a dedicated shoe pocket, to fit into this guide.

Herschel Novel Duffle: While trendy and handsome, this bag is too expensive for what it is. If it were half the price, it would have been a decent contender.

Hex Sterling Sneaker Duffel: The Sterling Duffel is an absolute behemoth. You can forget about getting this in and out of your average locker. We we’re interested in the roomy sneaker pockets, but the Hex is more about keeping your Lil Posite Ones looking fresh after a day of travel. It’s a well-made bag for that purpose, but too specific for this guide.

Nike Brasilla 6 (MED): Another fairly basic gym bag. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. You get more for your money with our top pick.

Nike Auralux Tote: This item was discontinued during our testing, but we hope that something like it will come back. Although too expensive by half, the idea of stylish tote as a gym bag would, we think, be appealing to many people.

The North Face Apex Gym Duffel: This was more duffel than gym bag. It’s a well-made bag for the price, but the lack of a separate shoe compartment knocked it out of consideration.

Ogio Crunch Duffel: The small opening and plastic hardware knocked this out of testing fairly quickly.

Under Armour On The Run Tote: We liked the strong construction of this bag, especially the metal shoulder strap attachments. But without any specific interior organization for shoes or or gear beyond a few small pockets, this is a glorified (but easy-to-clean) tote. It’s perhaps your best option if you don’t want the usual look of a gym bag. With a few small organizational changes, a dedicated laundry pocket and maybe a laptop sleeve, the On The Run might sneak into our top picks.

(Photos by Caleigh Waldman.)

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Sources

  1. Danielle Williams, Fitness Director of the Ojai Valley Athletic Club, Interview
  2. Larry Pollock, Owner of KO Fitness in Ventura, Interview
  3. Dan Waldman, Thatcher School Lacrosse Coach, Interview
  4. Ashley Oerman, 8 Gym Bags You Need in Your life ASAP, Women’s Health, September 2014
  5. Kylie Gilbert, 15 Gym Bags for the Sweaty but Stylish, Shape, May 2016
  6. Sean Tirman, 20 Best Gym Bags for Men, HiConsumption
  7. Christine Flammia, The 9 Best Gym Bags for Men, Men’s Health
  8. AJ Powell, 20 Best Gym Bags for every Budget, Gear Patrol

Originally published: March 30, 2017

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