An Athlete's List of Gym Bag Essentials

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
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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 Jogging supplies shot knolling style.
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Don't forget to pack the most essential exercise clothing:

  • Workout top. It's not a bad idea to bring an extra shift if you 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

Sports shoes and socks on wooden background
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It seems too basic to mention, but more than gym goer has had the unpleasant surprise of forgetting to pack a pair of workout socks. This forces you to either go sockless or wear whatever you happen to be wearing which would be fine if you were going right home after your 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!

Water Bottle

Woman holding water bottle in gym
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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 or MP3 Player

iPod on Laptop Keyboard
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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

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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. You don't want to have to decide if you would rather leave your gym bag unattended and hop it's still there at the end of your workout or lug your bag with you throughout your workout. Neither choice is ideal. Bring your lock.

Energy Bars and Quick Energy Food

Woman eating cereal bar after training and holding smart phone
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You may want to keep an energy bar or two in your gym bag just in case you need some pre- or post-workout calories. Try keeping a high-carb bar in case you don't plan your pre-exercise foods very well or if you need a boost during a long workout and a Carb + Protein bar on hand for a post-exercise snack in case you don't have time to plan a real meal. 

Heart Rate Monitor

Smartwatch showing pulse.
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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

Refreshing deodorant for hygiene
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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
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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

Laundry bag containing dirty washing with copy space
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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.