An Athlete's List of Gym Bag Essentials

A checklist of essential items to keep in your gym bag

For anyone who goes to the gym frequently, packing a gym bag becomes fairly automatic. You probably scoff at the idea of creating a checklist for your gym bag essentials.  That is, until the one day that you forget your running shoes. Then, suddenly, a checklist becomes more appealing.

If you've ever forgotten to pack something essential to a good workout, this list is for you. Here's a reminder of the basic "must haves" for your gym bag, plus a few little luxury items nice to have stowed away just in case. 

Gym Bag

Sport bag with jump rope and sport shoes
Gym Bag. Vstock LLC / Getty Images

Before you pack your gym bag, you need to have a gym bag. An endless variety of gym bag styles, brands and features are available, so choose the features you think make the most sense for your needs. I like a bag with a few small pockets for the smaller essentials, a separate compartment for shoes (or sweaty clothes), and an adjustable strap. Plus, it has to be washable!

Exercise Clothing

Men's Clothing
Don't forget to pack your exercise clothing. Shana Novak / Getty Images

Don't forget to pack the most essential exercise clothing:

  • Workout top. I sometimes bring an extra shirt if I plan to do weights or yoga after a hard cardio session.
  • Workout bottoms or shorts. If you don't have shorts or exercise bottoms with that cute little built-in underwear, make sure to bring a clean pair.
  • For the women, a sports bra.
  • Swimsuit or swim googles as needed. 
  • Hat, headband or hair bands as needed.


Shoes and Socks

Running shoes on bench
Shoes and Socks for running. Scott Mansfield / Getty Images

It seems too basic to mention, but on more than one occasion I've had the unpleasant surprise of forgetting to pack a pair of workout socks. This forces me to either go sockless or wear whatever I happened to be wearing -- which would be fine if I was going right home after my workout. But it's never a good experience to have to wear wet socks all day long. So, do not forget your shoes and socks! 

Exercise Socks
Running Shoes

Water Bottle

Water Bottle
Pack a water bottle in your gym bag. Tony Cordoza / Getty Images

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.  Staying hydrated is essential during exercise, and having a water bottle with you makes it that much easier to get adequate fluid intake while you sweat it out on the elliptical or spin bike. The longer and more intensely you exercise, the more important it is to drink.

It's helpful to weigh yourself before and after your workout, and drink 20-24 fl oz water for every 1 lb lost during exercise. So fill your bottle on your way out of the gym and drink up!

iPod | MP3 Player

Apple iPod Shuffle
Apple iPod Shuffle. (c) Pricegrabber

Does anyone exercise without their own music anymore? I didn't think so. If you are one of the "can't exercise without music" types, getting through an entire workout in silence or listening to the usually awful overhead music is the easiest way to lose all motivation. By all means, don't forget your tunes!

Small Padlock or Combo Lock

Metal padlock and key
Bring a lock for your gym locker. Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images

Most gyms offer lockers, but if you don't rent a locker, you usually have to bring your own lock. It's a good idea to keep it handy in your gym bag. On several occasions I recall having to decide if I would rather leave my gym bag unattended and hope it was still there at the end of the workout, or lug my gym bag with me throughout the workout. Neither choice is ideal. Bring your lock.

Energy Bars | Quick Energy Food

CLIF Bar Seasonal Flavors
CLIF Bar Seasonal Flavors. (c) CLIF Bar

I like to keep an energy bar or two in my gym bag just in case I need some pre- or post-workout calories. I usually keep a high-carb bar in case I didn't plan my pre-exercise foods very well or if I need a boost during a long workout. I have a Carb + Protein bar on hand for the post-exercise snack, just in case I don't have time to plan a real meal. 

Heart Rate Monitor

Smartwatch showing pulse.
Pack a heart rate monitor in your gym bag. Guido Mieth / Getty Images

While using a heart rate monitor is not necessary for everyone or for every workout, it is a great tool to have when you plan to do some interval training or a specific cardio workout. Even if used temporarily, it will help you learn how you feel at a given heart rate and you will become a better judge of your exercise tolerance and any limitations. 

Personal Hygiene Items

Travel or hospital bag with toothbrush, toothpaste, bottles, wipes
Bring your own toiletries to the gym. Ruth Jenkinson / Getty Images

This is just what it says -- personal. The list can include:

  • deodorant
  • comb or brush
  • lotion
  • shampoo
  • shower sandals
  • makeup
  • hand sanitizer
  • tampons
  • extra undies
  • headband or extra hair band
  • spare contact lenses and solution

ID or Gym Membership Card

Gym employee helping couple at front desk
Don't forget your membership ID. Jupiterimages / Getty Images

You go to your gym so often they probably know you by name, but it's still a good idea to just toss your membership card in your gym bag and forget about it.

Dirty Clothing Bag

Applique laundry bag next to towel
Bring a laundry bag to the gym for your sweaty clothes. Steve Gorton / Getty Images

Yes, I hear you say, "but that's what the gym bag is for." But the problem is that if you don't double-bag those sweaty wet post-exercise clothes, you can contaminate everything in your gym bag, including your gym bag. Wet, post-exercise clothing can be a breeding ground for bacteria, so keep the wet clothes bagged until they find their way to the washer.