If you’re squeezing in a workout before work, and then heading straight from the office to drinks or dinner, you’re going to want a gym bag that’ll hold everything you need for the day — and not look out of place in any environment. We asked 11 fitness instructors and gym professionals to recommend their favorite backpacks and totes for holding everything from your sneakers, spinning shoes, and sports bras to your toiletries, change of clothes, and laptop. Their handsome and functional picks are a far cry from your beat-up college-era duffel.
Best gym-to-office backpacks
While it looks sleek and streamlined from the outside, this backpack offers serious interior organization with two water-bottle pockets and zipper compartments in a variety of sizes for all your essentials. It comes highly recommended by Kelvin Gary, head fitness coach and owner of Body Space Fitness, who says, “I’m not necessarily one of those over-the-shoulder, old-school, big, bulky, Nike gym bag guys.” A typical day can take him from the gym to checking in on a personal training client to picking up his kids at school, and he likes that the RYU backpack helps him look put-together wherever he goes. Andrew Mariani, a trainer at Solace New York, also uses the RYU backpack. He likes that it’s “waterproof and has internal pockets made for laptop storage and water bottles, and valuables can be stowed [away] and secured.”
When Megan Norregaard, a trainer at Solace New York, is hunting for a gym bag, she says, “I look for something that is both functional and stylish. It needs to be big enough to carry clothes, shoes, toiletries, and food. I also look for a material that’s durable and water-resistant.” This Lululemon backpack, with a water-bottle holder, laptop sleeve, expandable pocket for dirty clothes, and an exterior phone pocket (for quick access), meets all of her requirements and more. Norregaard likes that it looks small and compact but holds a ton of stuff. “It’s like a Mary Poppins bag,” she says, “but cute.”
Best backpack for outdoor workouts
Another one of Norregaard’s favorites, this roomy backpack — “I can leave my apartment for two days and it holds everything I need, with space for more,” she says — also doubles as a workout tool. Its two reservoirs can be filled up with water or sand, adding up to 21 pounds in each, so you can take your bootcamp or lifting workout wherever you’d like, and the reservoirs barely take up any space when empty. Norregaard is also a fan of the bag’s looks: “The all-black design makes it easy to pair with anything I’m wearing,” she says.
Best backpack for yogis
For yoga fanatics committed to their very specific mat — or just a bit too germaphobic to use those questionably clean rentals at the studio — toting along a yoga mat adds another dimension to the search for the perfect gym bag. Fortunately, this backpack from Sweaty Betty has straps for carrying a mat, which can be tucked away when not in use. Leigh Barton, master instructor and director of programming at the Monster Cycle says it “looks office-ready and works well for workouts that don’t require extra equipment, like barre or yoga.” If you need to tote around boxing gloves or extra shoes for spinning, though, opt for something a little bigger.
Best gym-to-happy hour totes
“I’m not even sure this tote is meant to be a gym bag, but lots of people who come into the studio are using it that way,” says Taryn Toomey, founder of The Class by Taryn Toomey. “It’s chic without being overstated, and it’s oh-so durable.” Thanks to its crossover appeal for everywhere from the gym to the streets, Toomey and her students aren’t the only ones using the MZ Wallace Metro as an all-day tote. Danielle Nowak, head of partnerships and business development at ClassPass, says she owns a lot of gym bags but that this one is her absolute favorite. “It truly fits everything,” she says. “But it doesn’t really look like a gym bag, so I’m able to use it throughout my day and if I’m going out after work.”
Dagne Dover’s easy-to-clean neoprene bags are similarly both functional and attractive. “This duffel is chic enough to bring anywhere, but it’s perfect for the gym,” says Norregaard. “[It] comes with a laptop sleeve, a mesh pouch to carry essentials, and a water-bottle pocket.” Also, like the MZ Wallace totes, they come in tons of colors if you need a break from your basic black gym bag.
For Lauren Craft, head of public relations at ClassPass, this Adidas by Stella McCartney bag nails the balance between fitting everything she needs and not being too huge. “I love it because it’s the perfect size,” she says. “A lot of the ones I see are too big and bulky. This one is compact and small but still fits all my stuff — my laptop, all my clothes, sneakers — and fits right under the armpit.” Also available in solid black or gray, Craft likes her snakeskin-printed version, which is fun yet subtle.
Best duffel with a shoe compartment
Domenic Marzilli-Green, an instructor at Cyc, says “gym-to-work is the story of my life,” so he’s tried out his fair share of gym bags. “I’m always looking for something from a reputable brand that is lightweight to start, has plenty of space, clean style, can protect my laptop, and [can be carried] as a duffel or over my shoulder.” His current go-to is this Herschel bag because of its separate shoe compartment (a feature he says “can be surprisingly hard to find”), reasonable price point, and durability.
Best duffels for yogis
This Lululemon duffel, one of Barton’s recommendations, also has a yoga mat strap that folds into the bag when not in use. “It’s the perfect size for a workout outfit, change of regular clothes, and laptop (everything I need for class), with enough room for anything extra like makeup, a book, and a water bottle or juice,” she says. In all-black and free of flashy logos or tons of straps, Barton thinks it’s “a bit more work-appropriate” than some other, sportier options out there
Best convertible backpack-tote bags
It’s more expensive than the rest of our choices, but the Caraa Studio bag, a favorite of Cyc instructor Christine Abramo’s, does triple duty, converting from a backpack to a shoulder tote to a cross-body duffel. Abrama likes that it has “shoe space, laptop space, a section for dirty clothes, and a makeup pouch.” If you’re wearing it as a backpack, the breathable mesh back will keep you dry even after a sweaty workout.
Another multipurpose bag, the Andi can be worn over the shoulder or as a backpack. The leather-free vegan bag also attaches to a yoga mat and compresses into a tiny wristlet, which makes it perfect for travel. Bethany Lyons, founder and CEO of Lyons Den Power Yoga, loves that it’s “cruelty-free, lightweight, has structure, and looks sleek.”
Fitness trainer Kat Ellis calls the Lily tote “the most versatile bag I’ve ever owned.” The waterproof tote-backpack hybrid comes with a separate bag for shoes or dirty clothes and a cosmetics case, and features a protective interior laptop pocket. Beyond working out, Ellis says, “I travel quite a bit for work, and it allows me to carry my laptop, a change of clothes, toiletries, and my favorite book, without bothering my shoulders.”
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