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November 15, 2022 9 min read

Have you ever wondered why the sports bag gym goers use to carry their workout clothes is called a duffel, or duffle bag? Let’s clear that up before we look at our choice of the best gym duffel bags for regular exercisers.

Duffel bags are named after the town where their thick cloth was originally manufactured. The town of Duffel is in Belgium, near Antwerp, and its production of the bag's coarse, woolen cloth dates back to the mid-17th century.

Vintage Duffel Bag – Image from Shutterstock

So, is it “duffle” or “duffel”? Both spellings are correct, depending on where you are. In British and Australian English, the usual way of writing is “duffle,” but the common spell in American English is “duffel,” like the name of the Belgian town of origin.

What to Consider When Selecting a Duffel Bag?

Although your preferences will likely differ from the next person, there are basic requirements for a duffel bag worth buying. To be included on the best gym bags list worthy to carry your gym gear, it would have to be roomy, durable, and odor-resistant. However, if your typical gym session is scheduled after or before work, you might prefer a bag that is not only functional but also stylish enough to look good on your commute and in your office.

Keep in mind that there are other options. You might also want to consider the best backpack if your load is typically heavy and the weight would be better spread across both shoulders instead of one. Here are some things to look out for when shopping for a duffel bag.

Duffel Bag Size

The best gym duffel bag should be large enough to accommodate all your gym clothes and allow easy access. Wide openings and pockets with easy access can be useful features. Consider the size of the lockers at your local gym. If they are skinny, you’d want a duffel bag that is flexible enough to fit.

Comfortable Carry

The straps on your gym bag are not only an aesthetic feature but also functional. It may be easy to slip a duffel strap on and off a shoulder, but carrying heavy gym gear a long way, the load might ruin your posture.

Posture Damage – Image Shutterstock

Long-term use of shoulder bags leads to a variety of postural deviations, according to a small 2012 study in Studies in Health Technology and Informatics. The study argues that stress and strain on the spine can lead to pain and even postural scoliosis.

Two-strap backpacks are recommended in a March 2015 study from the Journal of Human Kinetics for a similar reason: to reduce the likelihood of back pain.

Whatever duffel bag you end up choosing — two straps, one strap, or both — make sure it is a gym bag with a padded shoulder strap. Nothing’s going to make you hate your choice more than straps digging into your shoulders. Pick adjustable shoulder straps with padding that will last through many, many training sessions.

Useful features

Duffel with shoes

The features of a specific gym bag might be what clinches the deal. You might need a bag that can accommodate bulky items like a yoga mat or a basketball. And a ventilated gym shoe compartment may be what convinces you to buy.

For some gym goers, a padded laptop sleeve is essential, and the more zippered compartments the better, including one for valuables like a mobile phone, wallet, and car keys. How about easily accessible water bottle pockets to separate them from your workout gear?

Versatility

This may be the most important factor to consider. The best gym bags have a zillion uses. For example, if you take it along to your favorite coffee shop to deal with urgent emails or other office work before or after your gym session. You’ll need a duffel bag with a separate laptop compartment and internal pockets for chargers and other related objects.

Depending on your lifestyle or occupation, your duffel bag may have to serve as an overnight bag when you travel, so you might need a gym bag suitable to take as a carry-on if you travel by air.

Water Resistance

Waterproof or water-resistant fabric for linings or compartments will be essential if your workouts include swimming. Furthermore, if you shower and change after early morning workouts before work, you’d want a suitable space in the bag to keep your sweaty gym gear away from other things in the bag. At the same time, you would want such pockets to have waterproof linings and ventilation to keep smells, dampness, and sweat from seeping into the material of the bag

Material Type

Commonly used materials for manufacturing gym duffel bags include polyester, canvas, nylon, leather, vinyl, and more. Careful consideration is required, based on your unique needs, your style, and your budget.

You might fancy a stylish and chic gym bag, but it is also important to ensure the outer fabric is abrasion-resistant, and the interiors are wipeable, washable, and water-resistant to hold wet clothes when necessary.

Here are the five gym duffle bags we regard best for regular gym goers.

1. Nike Brasília Duffle Bag

The Nike Brasília duffel bag is one of several in the Nike range of duffels and backpacks. Its capacity allows you to tote your gym gear to and from your workouts while staying perfectly organized. It has enough space for special shoes for your session or a change of clothes, so you can head to your office straight from your early morning gym session or to happy hour after the gym if you work out after work.

This streamlined duffel offers a separate vented shoe compartment where you can keep dirty shoes and sweaty clothes away from the other contents of the duffel bag. It also has internal and external pockets, some of which are magnetic, to securely store toiletries or accessories.

The bag is made of at least 65% recycled polyester, a breathable and sustainable blend of materials, including recycled water bottles. It repels water and scratches, and it can be wiped clean.

The zippers on the main compartment and zippered pockets move smoothly, and they are easy to grasp. This duffel bag includes a mesh pocket on the exterior, offering a convenient storage option for small belongings. If you choose the backpack version of the Nike Brasília you will get water bottle pockets and a padded laptop compartment and storage space for chargers, etc.

You can carry this duffel bag in two ways. The Nike duffel bag has a padded shoulder strap that evenly disperses weight for comfortable carrying on the go.

If you don't want to throw the Nike bag over your shoulder, its dual handles provide an optional carrying option to suit your needs.

This duffel bag is water-resistant and can be wiped clean. Furthermore, the coated bottom helps shield your things from bumps, scrapes, and spills.

It has one minor downside, though. The nature of the durable fabric is stiffer and thicker than other duffel bags, making it heavier when empty (though not excessively so), and more difficult to fold small and squeeze into small storage spaces, like a small locker at the gym.

Pros

  • Lots of organization options and storage space

  • Magnetic pockets for storage

  • Made from sustainable materials

  • Comfortable to carry

  • Very durable

Cons

  • Pricey

  • Difficult to fold and store

  • Limited Colors

2. Under Armour Undeniable Signature Bag

The Under Armour Undeniable Signature bag is a simple, high-quality option that is less pricey than the Nike Brasília Duffel Bag. This lightweight option can hold plenty of workout gear without weighing you down. It has handles and an adjustable cross-body strap.

It is spacious, featuring a separate vented shoe storage compartment and a large zip pocket extending the entire length of the bag’s outside to hold gym gear, other garments, small electronics, or books. It has pockets on both ends, one of which is an open mesh pocket for a water bottle.

The top-entry flap of the main compartment is easily accessible while you’re carrying the bag, with zippers working smoothly. Although the duffel bag has a large mesh pocket inside for keeping personal items separate and handy, some may need more interior pockets for organization.

This Under Armour duffel bag is made from polyester, which is lightweight and flexible, making it comfortable to carry and easy to fold up for storage in small lockers. This bag is water-resistant and scratch resistant and can be wiped clean.

This duffel bag is stylish and available in a wide range of colors, and it is versatile enough to also serve as a weekender or carry-on bag.

Pros

  • Lightweight and foldable

  • Large exterior pockets

  • Easy to wipe clean

  • Comfortable to carry

  • Durable construction

Cons

  • Only one interior pocket

  • Minimal toiletry storage

3. Lululemon Command the Day Duffle

This gym duffel bag from Lululemon comes with a significant price tag, but if you're constantly lugging a good amount of gear, it's worth it. This Command the Day Duffle is designed for work-to-workout transitions and week-to-weekend expeditions. It has a roomy main compartment, plus several exterior compartments—some that are zippered and some that aren't. There is even a zippered pocket to hold your protein shake.

Lululemon Duffel Bag

One of the outer compartments is a padded pocket designed to fit a 13-inch laptop if you want it to double as your work bag, and one is an expandable pocket for your sweaty gear. If you’re after a duffle bag with plenty of pockets to organize your essentials, this might be just the bag for you.

There are enough mesh and other compartments to keep your keys, phone, and wallet separate from other tech items like your phone charger, headphones, and even a bulky MacBook charger.

The whole thing is water-repellant, so it can handle sweat or a rainy day, and it's large enough to use as a weekend bag. The handles, which can be buttoned together, are smooth and soft.

The Lululemon Command the Day Duffle is slimmer in structure than most other duffel bags and is comfortable to carry in a briefcase hold. However, it expands significantly when fully loaded, at which time the detachable, adjustable shoulder strap is necessary. Unfortunately, it is not padded and very uncomfortable when the bag is heavy.

Pros

  • Large interior

  • Water-repellent fabric

  • Zippered exterior pockets

  • Multiple pockets inside

  • Expandable pocket for shoes and sweaty clothes on the outside.

Cons

  • Pricey

  • Only comes in a black – pet owners may want to go for another duffel.

  • Unpadded shoulder strap

4. Adidas Defender Duffel Bag

If you are a fitness enthusiast on a budget who needs a reliable, roomy duffel bag that is built to last, then the Adidas Defender is for you. It has two spacious zippered side pockets for keeping shoes and dirty clothes separate. The top opening allows easy access to the contents.

Adidas Duffel bag

It is made of sturdy ripstop polyester that stands up to wear and tear. A ripstop is woven fabric using a reinforcing technique that makes them heavy-duty and more resistant to tearing and ripping. The durable, padded, water-resistant base protects contents from wet locker room floors or fields. Furthermore, Adidas offers a lifetime warranty, showing their confidence in the Defender’s reinforced stitching and overall quality.

The Defender comes in three spacious sizes and a wide range of colors. They have padded carry handles that can be Velcroed together, and an adjustable, removable padded crossbody/shoulder strap. This budget-friendly duffel even has a padded haul handle on the end.

Adidas Defender duffel bags can be wiped clean, and it is treated with FreshPAK™ technology to resist bacterial odors.

PROS

  • Spacious
  • Zip pockets on both ends
  • Padded base for protection
  • Adjustable, removable padded shoulder strap
  • Padded carry handles
  • Padded haul handle on the end
  • FreshPAK™ technology resists bacterial odors
  • Flexible enough to fit into cramped gym lockers

As for cons, the only complaints we found were about the duffel bag being bigger than what the consumer expected, and another complaint was about the color of the duffel bag they received seemed a lighter shade than on the website from where it was ordered!

5. Herschel Duffel Bag

The Herschel Novel™ duffle bag comes in two mid-sizes that prove that a duffle bag can be both functional and fashionable. Herschel has signature, well-known aesthetics that they added to a solid, quality-designed exercise bag, but the Novel Duffel comes with a high price tag to match the name. The Novel is where the gym duffel bag segment converges with the weekender or carry-on travel bag—simply and successfully.

Herschel Duffel Bag

Duffel bags are so functional that not many of them look stylish, but rugged instead. The Herschel Novel™ duffle has the Herschel signature striped liner in both the main compartment and functional side-access separate shoe pocket.

The Novel duffle is an ideal bag for holding whatever you need for your gym workout, but it is equally suitable to use as a carry-on for weekend getaways. It has a spacious interior with a waterproof zipper, and an internal mesh storage sleeve that will hold a tablet or any other items you’d want easy access to.

Both the outer material and the lining are 100% polyester, and Herschel offers a limited lifetime warranty to show their confidence in the quality of their Novel duffel bags. It has a pair of reinforced carry handles and a removable padded shoulder strap for comfortable carrying.

PROS

  • Herschel is known for quality, long-lasting products

  • Availability in several designs

  • Sturdy fabric and lining

  • Firm shape

  • Decent size and volume for quick trips and training

  • Easily accessible separate compartment for a pair of shoes

CONS

  • Only available in two medium sizes, which means people who need a small or large back will have to find a non-Herschel option.

  • The Duffel lacks multiple pockets inside to keep the contents organized.

  • The price tag might only suit the staunch Herschel clients and those who can afford it.

A Final Note

Whether you are a gym newbie wanting to arrive looking the part, or you have been a loyal gym goer for years looking to upgrade your current sports bag—there is a duffel bag for you out there. Be it a designer bag like the Herschel Novel, or an Adidas product from Amazon to suit your budget.

If you feel you need lots of storage, and you like to have everything separated in zippered pockets, don’t rush. Take a look at the bags discussed here, or expand your search to consider alternative options.

Even if we have just made you aware of what to consider when you go shopping for the perfect duffel bag, we’ve served some purpose.