Mind and Body

These drawstring backpacks are lightweight & functional as hell

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by Scarlett James

The key to establishing a successful workout routine might just be having the right bag at the ready. One study found that those who worked out at the same time each day — particularly in the early morning — exercised more consistently. Couple that with a psychological process called “automaticity,” which is a proven to make habits stick by “priming” you with a series of cues, and you can see why having your gym bag packed and waiting by the door in the morning could actually help you make it to your next sweat session. The best drawstring backpacks make it easy to throw your stuff in without a second thought, so you can hit that HIIT class or chase a new PB.

Drawstring bags are usually built for sports, but some feature commuter-friendly details like padded straps or a leather-trimmed style if you’re headed into a more formal environment. If you are using it for a gym bag, look for one big enough for your gear or a full change of clothes, with places for water bottles and key cards. Most drawstring bags are made from industrial fabrics, and canvas is a natural alternative.

These five backpacks are easy to pack so you can get out the door in no time.

1. Best overall:

This classic drawstring bag, made from durable polyester, has a ton of features that make it a surprisingly solid low-profile backpack you can use every day.There’s a zippered exterior pocket for easy accessibility, and the side mesh pocket keeps frosty water bottles or wet umbrellas separate from the rest of your gear. What stands out are the headphone port for listening on the go, and inside the main compartment is a strap for your keys so they’re always easy to find.

  • Size: 16 by 20 inches
  • Available colors: 11

2. Best for the gym:

What put the Addidas Alliance II Sackpack a notch above other popular brands' sports bags was its undivided main compartment for versatile and easy packing. It's made from heavy-duty 600-denier polyester — the kind that’s used to make luggage — with deep drop mesh pockets that can hold a 20-ounce Contigo, plus a decently sized zip pocket on the outside. It comes in a ton of colors, is backed by a warranty, and has with a 4.5 rating after more than 5,000 Amazon reviews.

  • Size: 13.5 by 18 inches
  • Available colors: 46

3. Best looking:

A two-toned cotton canvas drawstring bag puts a minimalist spin on a utilitarian style. Its clean lines mean no external pockets, but there’s an interior pocket large enough to hold a pair of sunglasses. The canvas isn't water-resistant, but the vegan leather bottom offers a layer of protection when you have to set it down.

  • Size: 11.8 by 16.5 inches
  • Available colors: 9

4. Best for commuting:

Made of strong, water-repellent nylon, this drawstring backpack is great for hauling a laptop, with extra security in mind. A hidden back pocket keeps your cell phone and wallet safe, while a front zipper pocket makes it easy to access keys or work ID cards you don’t want to dig for. And two mesh pockets on the side keep water bottles and umbrellas separate from the main compartment, which can hold everything from a change of clothes, a pair of shoes, even a size 5 soccer ball. Its padded straps distribute weight effectively, and they’re lined with breathable mesh.

  • Size: 13.6 by 18 inches
  • Available colors: 2

5. Best for outdoors:

This waterproof backpack is made from double layers of water-resistant synthetic fabric that shoppers report actually lives up to the claim. It has an accessible front zippered pocket and an inline pocket on the back for security, with three pockets inside the main compartment (which is big enough to house a basketball). The wide webbed straps adjust easily via two metal buckles and feel like seatbelts, according to reviews.

  • Size: 11.8 by 16.5 inches
  • Available colors: 2
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