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This List of Gym Bag Essentials Covers All Your Bases

From emergency snacks to necessary gear, here’s everything you might need.

By Lauren MazzoFebruary 20, 2024

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It can be energizing and motivating to hit the gym for a workout. There’s more equipment to play with, more space to move, and more people to see. 

What the gym offers in terms of equipment, though, it lacks in other supplies. You don’t have snacks or extra beverages just a few steps away, nor is your home bathroom (stocked with all your shower stuff and getting-ready tools) available when you finish. If you forget your shoes or want to swap your cycling cleats for strength sneakers mid-workout (a là Bike Bootcamp), you don’t have your whole closet of footwear options right there to choose from.

The good news is that strategically packing your gym bag with essentials can make all the difference. Having what you need can ensure a smooth transition to and from your workout, make your training session more efficient, and offer all the comforts of a home workout even when you’re away.

Not sure what to pack? What’s worth keeping in your gym bag will depend on your workout style and unique needs. That said, if you’re a workout beginner, venturing to the gym for the first time in a while, or just want to ensure you have all your bases covered, we’re here to help. The following list of essentials covers everything you might need in your gym bag, including some pro tips from Peloton instructor Alex Karwoski

From snacks and gear to unexpected must-haves, keep scrolling for the ultimate list of gym bag essentials.

Workout Footwear and Outfits

Athletic Wear

If you typically head to the gym from elsewhere and plan to change before your workout, you’ll want to pack whatever you plan to wear for your session. That might include: 

It’s a good idea to have an entire extra outfit in your gym bag in case you accidentally forget something at home or hit the gym on a day you weren’t planning to. Alex specifically recommends stashing an extra pair of workout socks, as they’re easy to forget. And if you ever use your gym bag to go to barre or Pilates classes, it’s wise to include an extra pair or two of grippy socks.

Shoes

If you won’t be walking into the gym wearing your workout sneakers, you’ll have to bring them in your gym bag. Pro tip: If your bag doesn’t have a dedicated shoe compartment, stick footwear in a drawstring cloth bag or an extra plastic bag to avoid getting dirt and germs all over everything else.

If you do any workouts that involve specialized footwear, such as weightlifting or cycling, be sure to throw those in, too. And if you regularly shower or swim at the gym, you’ll likely want some flip-flops or shower shoes.

A Swimsuit

If you like to log swim workouts in your gym’s pool or hang out in the steam room or sauna (and don’t like to do so au naturale), you’ll want a swimsuit in your gym bag. 

Woman opening up gym bag in a locker room

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Workout Gear

Gym Bag

It goes without saying, you’ll need a bag to serve as your gym bag. With so many options out there, it can be tough to pick one. You don’t necessarily need to buy something new or choose a bag specific to the gym: you can use a backpack, tote, weekender, or small duffel bag that you already have. Anything that can stash your stuff should do the trick.

If you are in the market for a new gym bag, however, here are some tips on what to look for: 

  • Separate shoe compartment

  • Inside zip pocket for valuables

  • Comfortable carrying straps

  • Can fit into your gym’s lockers

  • Mat-carrying strap, if you plan to carry your own

  • Washable or easy-to-clean

  • Water bottle holder to keep your drinks upright

Sweat Towel

If your gym doesn’t offer free sweat towels (or using the community ones weirds you out), you should stash a soft, microfiber one in your gym bag. In a pinch, a hand towel from your home bathroom works, too.

Water Bottle

This is one of Alex’s gym bag must-haves. Even if you carry your emotional support water bottle or insulated tumbler with you everywhere you go, it’s a great idea to have an extra one in your gym bag—especially if your typical bottle leaks when tipped over or doesn’t fit into the holders on treadmills or bikes. A shaker bottle with a mixer ball can be handy to have, too, if you plan to whip up a protein shake right after your training session.

Yoga Mat

Theoretically, the yoga mats at your gym should be cleaned regularly—but there’s no way to know for sure. If you have the space, bringing your own mat for floor work, stretching, and yoga classes is smart. Some brands make super thin, foldable travel mats that serve as an excellent portable option if you don’t want to lug around the full thing.

Specialized Gear 

While your gym should supply most workout equipment, there are some small items it won’t have—or which are better to bring on your own. Love to lift? Don’t forget your belt, wrist straps, weightlifting gloves, and chalk. If you love to do glute activation work, be sure to pack some mini resistance bands (aka booty bands). Tight? Bring a massage tool or lacrosse ball. Swimmers may need goggles and a swim cap, and runners or cyclists may want an anti-chafe stick. “As a rower, I always have a good butt pad with me in my gym bag because it can double as a small pad to stretch on,” Alex adds. 

Toiletries and Beauty Products

Deodorant

Whether you need it pre-workout, post-workout, or both, deodorant is the one hygiene item that’s non negotiable in a gym bag, according to Alex. Spray or gel deodorant can be a better option for your gym bag since powder sticks can crumble or break up when jostled around too much.

Dry Shampoo 

Dry shampoo is, perhaps, the best beauty invention for people who work out. Soak up sweat in your strands and give your style new life with a few spritzes of dry shampoo. Hit up a beauty store or the travel-size section of a drugstore to get a mini can of your favorite brand so it doesn’t take up too much room in your gym bag.

Hair Ties 

Long hair? You’ll thank yourself later if you stock your gym bag with extra hair ties. Leaving your hair down during a workout can not only be a nuisance, but it can also be a safety hazard, as it can get caught between weights or in machines. To keep hair ties from getting lost in the bottom of your bag, loop a small carabiner clip through them all and attach it to a zipper or loop inside your bag.

Body Wipes

Even if the idea of a gym shower gives you the ick, you can clean up post-workout with disposable body wipes. They’re a game-changer to keep on hand for emergencies when you need to dash straight from a workout to work, an appointment, or an event.  

Menstrual Products

Periods have a knack for arriving when you least expect—like in the middle of a yoga class. Be prepared by stashing extra menstrual products in your gym bag so you’ll never be stuck with what’s in the ancient bathroom machine. 

Lip Balm and Hand Sanitizer

You may not reach for lip balm often during your workout, but on a dry day or when your skin is parched, the extra tube of lip balm in your gym bag will be a godsend. Hand sanitizer will come in handy for use between pieces of equipment or after handling free weights, which are surely covered in a collection of germs.

Skincare and Shower Minis

Freshening up after a workout can be tricky when you don’t have any of your favorite beauty products around—and the shower products at the gym often leave a lot to be desired. Invest in travel-size or mini versions of your favorite skincare products (face wash, moisturizer, SPF) and shower items (shampoo, conditioner, body wash) for your gym bag so you’ll always have everything you need.

Hair Tools

Morning exercisers who head to work or out for the day after hitting the gym may want to spring for an extra blow dryer, straightener, or other hot tool to style their hair after a shower. At the very least, pack a comb or brush to tame and detangle your hair.

Miscellaneous Items

Headphones

If you carry your favorite headphones in your backpack or purse, you may not feel the need to keep some in your gym bag. But the only thing worse than a missed workout is a workout without music—and dead earbuds happen to the best of us. Buy an affordable pair of headphones to keep in your gym bag as a backup just in case you forget your favorite pair or they run out of battery.

Heart Rate Monitor or Smartwatch

Love to obsess over your workout metrics? If you use a heart rate monitor or smartwatch specifically for your workouts, you’ll want to make sure that’s in your gym bag so that you never miss an opp to track your progress.

Snacks and Drinks

Another must-have from Alex? An emergency candy or snack supply. If you’re famished or feeling tired, some shelf-stable, high-carb snacks like dried fruit or gummies can offer a jolt of energy. For post-workout snacks, stash something high in protein like nuts or a protein bar to optimize your intake and kickstart recovery. Keep small portions in plastic or silicone baggies so they’re ready to grab and eat.

If you’re training hard, you may also want to have some individual-serving packets of hydration or electrolyte powders on hand. And if you’re trying to build muscle, you may want to consider having some protein powder ready to mix up immediately after a strength workout.

Laundry Bag

Alex recommends bringing a spare laundry bag for sweaty or smelly clothes. Better yet, make it a dry bag with a plastic-lined or waterproof interior: that way, it can handle wet items, too, like a used shower towel or swimsuit.

Shower Towel

Gym towels are often scratchy, too small, and questionably cleaned—if they’re even offered free of charge. Avoid the hassle by bringing your own shower towel. Opt for a microfiber travel towel or a Turkish towel to save space in your gym bag rather than a plush cotton one from your home bathroom.

A Lock

If your gym doesn’t have lockers with a built-in lock or combination system, you’ll want to BYO padlock or combination lock to keep your stuff safe. Heads up: Locks come in different sizes, so make sure the one you buy can fit into and out of your gym locker with no issues. No one wants their endorphin high crushed by finishing a workout only to realize their laptop was swiped from their locker.

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