How to choose (and pack) the perfect gym bag

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Packing for the gym is a bit like packing for a trip: OYou need to have all the supplies you will need for your destination, and you also need everything organized so that you can find it at the right time. And just to keep things fun, you need to have a plan to deal with content that will often be wet and smelly.

Here are some tips for choosing and packing your gym bag so that your trip runs smoothly, and nothing is smelly or harder to find than it should be.

Think about suspenders

How will you wear your gym bag? I usually carry a bag from the car to the gym and back again, so I like a gym bag style that I can hold in my hand. My bag has a shoulder strap that I can attach in the blink of an eye, but I usually prefer not to.

On the other hand, if you have a walk or a bus ride to navigate, backpacks make more sense. Don’t forget to think about what else you will take with you—for example, if you take the metro to work and the gym. A backpack and a handbag or shoulder bag can play well together. It’s up to you to choose what you use for the gym and what is for your business. You can also consider a larger backpack style bag with dedicated compartments for each function.

Shoe tunnel or no shoe tunnel?

If you only need to carry a few things, a one compartment bag can do the trick. But if you need more than just a bottle of water and a towel, you need to start planning. and containment.

There is always a pair of weightlifting shoes in my bag, and these should be kept separate from everything else so that I don’t have any dirt from the floor or a stench on the rest of my stuff. Many bags have a waterproof tunnel-shaped compartment that you load from the outside, and it’s arguably perfect for shoes.

I don’t like the shoe tunnel, however. I want my shoes to be able to breathe—to help get rid of that stench—therefore I prefer a compartment with a mesh panel. (My bag is an Adidas Defender, which has a mesh pocket on the outside and one without a mesh.)

The shoe tunnel can also double as a wet bag, which is essential if you are swimming or know you will end up with wet or particularly dirty clothes. Remember to empty it as soon as you get home.

How Pack smarter

No matter how many compartments your bag has, you’ll need to make sure you can access the right things at the right time. I recommend breaking down the things you need into categories and grouping each category by itself:

  • Things you will need before you start exercising, such as your exercise clothes
  • Things you will need during training, such as your belt and water bottle
  • Things you will need next, like your towels and shower supplies
  • Things you probably won’t need but take just in case, like a first aid kit or spare cereal bar.

However, you are not limited by the integrated compartments of your bag. Think like a traveler and use extra organizers like shoe bags and packing cubes.

If I’m going to a meeting where I need a lot of stuff and I’ll be there all day, I have my usual business, more a lunch box full of snacks, a shoe bag with an extra pair of shoes and a drawstring bag that has all the kinds of straps, wraps and gloves I might need during the day. A lot of these things are duplicates or backups that I don’t normally carry. By confining them to their own bag, I can easily find all my usual things in their usual place, and always know where to find the extras.

Unpack it when you get home

The most important part of taking care of a gym bag, besides going through it every now and then to remove what you don’t really need, is to open it every time you get home:

  1. Open that protein shaker and wash it immediately, or at least throw it in the sink. (If you were smart, you rinsed it off while you were still at the gym.)
  2. Put wet or dirty clothes in the laundry.
  3. Air out anything that has perspired but won’t be washed off, such as your knees and shoes. Loosen the laces and pull the tabs, and place them on or next to your bag so you don’t forget them when you repack.

This process only takes a few minutes, and it does so much to make sure your bag doesn’t fester in its own stench. When I played roller derby, my skate bag was a rolling suitcase, and I had a little corner in the basement to store it. Every day when I came home from training, I would unzip the suitcase and hang each knee and elbow pad on a set of hooks I had installed for this purpose.

When it’s time to head back to the gym, reverse the process (again, this only takes a few minutes) and make sure you have everything you need.

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