Backpacks have changed as the things that we carry have evolved over the last decades.

20 years ago, your backpack was either a school bag or if you were ahead of the times, you could have carried a bulky laptop briefcase.

Nowadays, most day backpacks have a padded laptop sleeve for your technology, it’s something we’ve come to take for granted.

The same can be said for today’s gym bags.

A gym bag by any brand will likely have a shoe compartment with some separation for wet and dry clothes. Like laptop compartments in our work bags, a shoe compartment is something that we expect in our gym backpack… but what makes the best gym backpack for men or women?

Because every gym bag will come with a shoe compartment, it’s less about finding a solution for carrying your footwear and more about finding a gym bag that fits your style and lifestyle.

Are you looking for a workout bag that also acts as a work bag since you commute to work every day?

If so, you’ll probably want to look for very wearable bags made with materials that are also either wearable (similar to apparel) or that give off a refined, professional look (like leather).

aybe you live in a city like Los Angeles where driving plays a big role in your day to day so you’re looking for a pure training bag that carries more of your belongings (like clothes and a towel), since you’ll only be carrying your bag in between walks to your car.

Or if you’re a frequent traveler who also likes to workout on the road, you might find a weekender large bag to be ideal for your on the go lifestyle. Something made with canvas, leather, nylon, or some combination of bag materials made for larger bags.

You can veneer it a thousand different ways when choosing a gym bag, so we find it more important to focus on the construction, materials, and function that a shoe compartment can have in your gym backpack.

Ventilation in the shoe compartment of your gym bag

The most important thing to look for in a gym bag is great ventilation.

This can be achieved in a few ways, depending on the material, but you generally want to look for some eyelets, mesh ventilation, or perforations in the fabric (if there’s some type of leather) or embroidered holes.

Regardless of the material or construction, the idea is that the fabric has to be able to breathe in order to let moisture out.

In one of those oh too familiar scenarios when you leave your gym bag in the car over the weekend, the worst thing is to come back to discover a new science experience taking place in between your shoes and still moist shirt.

The space tradeoff in your gym bag 

While the upsides still outweigh any cons, it’s still worth noting that there are some downsides of having a dedicated compartment for your shoes.

Space (volume in liters) is always something that you should look to optimize in any backpack or everyday carry bag. If you’re not carrying shoes in your gym bag compartment, it’s a large volume of space that’s not being utilized.

Some gym bags have a floating wall so if you’re not using the shoe compartment, you can extend the wall to your main compartment to achieve more space.

Others, like duffle gym bags, can have a shoe compartment extend to an outer pocket where it doesn’t interfere with the main compartment where you might want to put your clothes.

With training bags geared around certain sports, you can also find gym bags that have a shoe compartment on the outside of the backpack, like this Kevin Durant backpack by Nike.

The insight for this unique placement was based on feedback from professional and amateur athletes who like to show of a little bit of their basketball shoes, as opposed to hiding it inside their bag.

Shoes, for many are a sense of pride and you don’t get to show off your latest kicks when they’re tucked away in your dedicated shoe compartment.

Final thoughts

To find the right gym bag for you, explore how you see a gym bag or backpack fitting into your lifestyle and start your search from there.