Exactly What to Pack in Your Gym Bag

A poorly stocked gym bag can wreck even the best of workouts. To ensure you make the most of your time at the gym, we complied a list of workout essentials that every active woman and man should be sure to pack. Whether you're headed to a low-intensity yoga class or a sweat-drenched HIIT session, here's what you should have in your gym bag.

What you pack in your gym bag depends on what kind of workout you have planned. (Image: LeoPatrizi/E+/GettyImages)

Gym Bag Essentials Everyone Should Pack

Some items are non-negotiable, no matter who you are or what kind of workout you have planned.

  • Water Bottle: Sure, you could rely on your gym's water fountain, but avoid having to hop off the treadmill mid-workout by packing your own water bottle. Try Welly's Traveler bottle ($33), which you can carry with you, clip to your bag or slip in a side pocket. Plus, it comes with a removable infuser so you can add lemon or other fruit for refreshing post-workout hydration.
  • Extra Socks and Underwear: If you've ever gone to change after a workout, only to realize you forgot to pack a clean pair of socks and underwear, you know what a day-wrecker it can be. "At the beginning of my week, I place three to four pairs of undies and socks into my bag so I'm never left without a clean pair," says Chelsea Aguiar, performance coach at Performix House NYC and founder of Athaya Fitness in New York.
  • Lacrosse or Tennis Ball: Foam rollers are great recovery tools, but they also tend to take up a lot of space in your gym bag. A lacrosse or tennis ball, on the other hand, requires minimal space and offers a great alternative to a foam roller. You can even use it during non-gym hours. "Quick tip for runners: Rolling the bottoms of your feet under your desk at work can help keep feet happy and plantar fasciitis at bay," Aguiar says.
  • Mini Bands: "Depending on the facility you're at, they may or may not have the room to run, bound and skip to warm-up," says Mitchell McClellan, performance coach at Performix House NYC and founder of Mitchell McClellan Performance. He keeps a set of mini bands (closed-loop resistance bands like the ones from TheraBand, $5.99 to $7.99) on hand for times when he needs to do his warm-up and activation drills in a small area.
Layer up for yoga class. (Image: Bojan89/iStock/GettyImages)

Gym Bag Essentials for Her

Low-Impact Workouts

Restorative yoga, Pilates and other low-intensity workouts generally don't require a ton of items. That said, you'll have a better experience if you make sure to pack a couple of key things.

  • Layers: "Although the intensity of the workout may be lower, you still want to make sure your body is properly warm," Aguiar says. Be sure to throw a light hoodie, wrap top and even leg warmers (yep, they're back in style!) into your bag. Take them off when you feel warmed up, and then put them back on for brunch afterward.
  • Face Wipes: When all you need is a quick refresh, face wipes are an easy way to keep your complexion on-point, Aguiar says. She likes to pack Kind to Skin cleansing wipes ($4.46) in her bag.

Medium-Impact Workouts

Once you start increasing your workout intensity, you'll need to put a bit more attention into what you're packing in your bag. Here are your must-haves for medium-impact sessions.

  • Training Shoes: Having the right shoes is always important, but it's especially critical when you move into medium- and high-impact territory. "You want a sneaker with a thin, flat sole and wide toe box that bends at the toe but not the arch, ensuring proper arch support," says Aguiar. "If you can fold your shoe in half, it's likely not providing your foot with the support it needs."
  • Towel: You might find it helpful to have a small towel on hand to wipe moisture off your brow (or even the exercise equipment) — especially if you're prone to sweat.

High-Impact Workouts

Intense boxing workouts or HIIT classes call for more thought and preparation. In addition to the medium-impact essentials, here are the items you shouldn't leave home without.

  • Moisture-Wicking Clothes: For heavy training days, you'll want something more substantial than the clothes you lounge in. Steer clear of cotton and look for workout clothes that feature technical fabrics like polyester, spandex, elastane and nylon. "Nike's Dri-Fit material has great wicking capabilities," Aguiar says. But she warns that you'll want to wash your gear soon after your workout to avoid retention of sweaty smells.
  • Toiletries: A cleansing wipe may not be enough to make you feel fresh after an intense workout or run. So Aguiar recommends keeping a well-stocked dopp kit in your bag that includes minis of your daily skincare products (like this duo from Drunk Elephant, $23), along with extra tampons, cotton swabs, hair ties and bandages. Add shampoo and body wash minis, anti-chafe balm, a comb or brush, deodorant and any essential cosmetics, and you should be set!
What's in your gym bag? (Image: Eugenio Marongiu/Cultura/GettyImages)

Gym Bag Essentials for Him

Low-Impact Workouts

Even if you're not working up a sweat, you'll still want to pack a few essentials for low-intensity sessions.

  • Compression Pants: "You want something that's going to keep you warm during the duration of the workout, since you won't be getting your body warm," says Noam Tamir, C.S.C.S., owner of TS Fitness in New York City. He likes to wear compression pants, which are more fitted than regular pants, and designed to boost circulation.
  • Quarter-Zip Top: Tamir also recommends bringing a quarter-zip top that you can easily remove if you start to get warm during your workout.

Medium-Impact Workouts

As your workout intensity moves from low to medium, your need for specific gear increases. Here's what you shouldn't leave home without.

  • The Right Shoes: Whether you're doing a strength or cardio workout, you'll want to make sure you have appropriate training shoes. "If you're doing a more cardio-based workout, have sneakers that are geared toward running," Tamir says. If your workout involves more strength training, look for shoes with more stability.
  • Towel: Pack a small towel you can use to wipe away sweat. And even if you're not sweating, you might want to lay it on the equipment in case the previous user didn't wipe the machine down.

High-Impact Workouts

Once you move into intense workout territory, you'll want to pack a few more items to make your session more enjoyable.

  • Quick-Drying Clothes: Sweaty sessions call for tops and bottoms that are breathable and quick-drying. "I'll usually wear shorts with an inner lining and a short-sleeved shirt that's fitted to keep everything tight to my body," Tamir says. Bonus: Choose gear that also has anti-odor technology.
  • Toiletries: Chances are you'll want to scrub down after an intense workout. Or at the very least, freshen up your deodorant. Stock your kit with mini versions of your usual essentials, which could include: face and body wash, shampoo, razor, shaving cream, deodorant and moisturizing lotion.
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