On the surface of it, a gym bag looks like a pretty simple piece of kit, with a pretty simple job to do: helping you transport your sports kit – shoes, clothes, and any other equipment – to and from the gym with minimal fuss.
When you start to dig a bit deeper however, you realise that there are a lot of variables to consider, and a bewildering array of options out there. All of the models mentioned here are excellent, but to make sure you choose a bag that’s right for you, it’s worth thinking carefully about the following factors.
Firstly, size. Will this bag just be carrying trainers and clothes, or do you need to fit a yoga mat in it, for example? How about a squash racket? It’s also worth looking at the lockers available in your gym, and working out if the bag will fit in them.
The size of gym bags (like rucksacks and other luggage) is usually given in litres, with anything from 30 to 60 litres being fairly standard.
The second thing to consider is the internal layout of the bag. Does it let you keep clean clothes separate from sweaty ones? Are there separate pockets for keys, wallets and phones? Does it offer side access allowing you to get to a particular bit of kit – a towel say – without having to unpack the whole lot?
Some bags are obviously designed with specific sports in mind (tennis bags, for example) but in general, bags with specialist features tend to be more expensive, so it’s worth thinking about which ones you’ll actually use.
Carrying systems and straps are very important – no-one wants a bag that digs into their shoulder uncomfortably. If there are a few different carry options, so much the better. It’s also worth thinking about the materials gym bags are made of – ideally you want a bag that weighs as little as possible, but at the same time you don’t want one that’ll fall apart if it gets scraped along a changing room floor. Look out for terms like “ripstop nylon” (a type of reinforced weave).
The final consideration is style. A sporty-looking bag might be fine for the gym itself but if you’re coming from work then you may want to opt for something smarter. The bags we’ve picked on these pages range from fully-featured sports bags to more general purpose holdalls.
Patagonia black hole duffle: £70, Patagonia
Patagonia are best known as an outdoor goods brand, but its duffle bags are so well-designed and practical that they’re well-worth a look even if you’re unlikely to ever venture outside an urban environment. It’s the little things that make a difference here, like making the zip run diagonally across the bag, which instantly gives easier access to its contents.
The straps allow you to carry this like a backpack or over the shoulder, and with its 30 litre capacity, there’s a decent amount of space for your shoes and gear (although if you need more, you can buy this in a variety of larger sizes, too). Made of tough ripstop fabric, this is built to last, but it’s also very light. It weighs in at a shade over 450g, and packs down into its own pocket for easy storage. Its versatility and functionality set this apart already, but the thing that confirms its status as our favourite is the fact that it’s made from fabric that meets the stringent BlueSign environmental standard, making it the most eco-friendly bag on this list.
The North Face base camp duffle, S: £50, The North Face
A duffle bag designed for base camp might sound like overkill if you’re just catching a bus to the gym, but many of the features that make this ideal for expeditions make it brilliant in more prosaic environments too.
Take the straps, for example, which let you wear this like a backpack, carry it like a conventional duffle or use a single shoulder strap. Inside, there’s a separate zipped pocket for valuables, and even a waterproof ID pocket in case you’re worried about things getting rained on. We’ve chosen the 50 litre (small) version here, but The North Face sell this in a range of sizes, from an XS 30 litre all the way up to a whopping 132 litre XL model. It’s usually not the cheapest, but iy's half price at £50 now. Buy one of these and you won’t need to replace it for a long time as the construction is basically bullet proof.
Herschel Sutton duffle: £75, Herschel
Named after a frontier town in Saskatchewan, Canadian hipster-favourites, Herschel, specialise in creating stylish, functional bags with a retro feel. The Sutton duffle is a classic example. If you’re looking for a gym bag that’s smart enough for the office without feeling like a briefcase, this is an excellent option.
With 46.5 litres of carry space, this will fit most kit you could wish to keep in it. The features here are fairly limited – there are just those two top carry handles and the handles on either end, and inside, things are similarly simple. But that’s deliberate – the designers here have focussed more on clean lines and classic styling rather than fiddly pockets for everything. It’s available in a whole range of colourways, including a co-branded collaboration with skateboard company Independent Trucks.
Fred Perry classic barrel bag: £75, Fred Perry
Like the Herschel duffle, this bag is as much about form as it is about pure function. The look is perhaps more sporty as opposed to street wear, but it’s similarly retro. Unlike the Herschel model however, this isn’t a modern throwback – Fred Perry have been making barrel bags to a similar design for decades.
The latest incarnations are made from polyurethane rather than real leather, and feature a web mesh inside that helps keep your valuables separate, but from the outside they look almost identical. That makes sense though: when you’ve got design heritage as rich as Fred Perry’s, you’d be silly not to play on it – after all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it?
Nike Brasilia gym bag: £21.95, Nike
A typically sporty-looking gym bag from the world’s biggest sportswear company, the Nike Brasilia is an excellent, low cost option. It’s available in a variety of different sizes, (we’ve chosen the 36 litre version) and different colourways. In terms of features, there’s a wet/dry pocket that lets you keep wet clothes or muddy shoes separate from the rest of your gear, and a shoulder strap, as well as the classic carry handles. It might not be the best-looking bag out there, but if you’re looking for a no-frills option that’ll do it all, this is great.
Under Armour undeniable duffle bag: £36, Under Armour
This 56 litre bag offers plenty of space and its padded straps mean it’s comfortable to carry no matter how full you pack it. With reinforced, abrasion resistant panels on the base and sides, this is tough too. But the main reason we rate this as a gym bag is the range of features and pockets. The large vented pocket – designed to hold sweaty clothes or shoes after your workout – is a particularly welcome addition. The style here is very sports-focussed, and that oversized UA logo might not be to everyone’s taste. But if it’s just the gym you’re using it for, this is an excellent option.
The verdict: Men’s gym bags
Patagonia is famous for its commitment to “doing no unnecessary harm” to the environment, while at the same time making the best – and most durable – products possible. The black hole duffle is a case in point. Supremely functional, versatile and built to last, this is a great gym bag even without the environmental element – but that definitely helps it steal the best buy crown.
At the other end of the scale, we also love the Fred Perry classic barrel bag. It’s doesn’t offer loads in terms of functionality, but it’s one of the best-looking bags here. Sporty, but classic, it’s the kind of thing you can imagine the characters from Chariots of Fire taking to training, which can only be a good thing.