6 cheap gym bag essentials and workout gadgets you need this year

Woman packing a gym bag
(Image credit: Just life/Shutterstock)

The end of one year and the start of another often acts as a “clean break” for fitness fans, or beginners who are looking to become more active in the coming months.

Whether you’re a hardened weightlifting pro with the calluses to prove it, or you’re looking to get started with some gentle cardio and basic lifting exercises, you’ll need the right attitude and a few key ingredients in your gym bag. It's easy to overspend on fitness kit, but we’ve put together this guide to cover everything you’ll need to take your first steps into working out at the gym for less. 

Here are our picks for the best, and cheapest, essentials you need in your gym bag.

1. Fitness tracker: Huawei Band 7

If you’re looking to take fitness seriously, you’ll want to track your progress – whether that’s calories burned, time intervals, or simply how far you’ve run, walked, or cycled.

While the best fitness trackers and the best smartwatches can reach much more expensive price ranges, there are plenty to get you started with your cheap gym bag essentials.

The Huawei Band 7, for example, retails for under £50 and features great tracking across heart rate, sleep, distance, and more, and has an AMOLED display with bright, vibrant colors.

On the other hand, the Amazfit Bip 3 Pro feels a little on the cheap side but offers a larger display and a built-in GPS – so you can leave your phone at home on runs if you’d prefer.

Sennheiser CX sport

(Image credit: Sennheiser)

2. Earbuds: Sennheiser CX Sport

As with fitness trackers, there are a huge number of options for earphones while you’re at the gym, and plenty of aspects to consider.

If you’re looking to run or engage in some more strenuous activity, you’ll want to look for something that’s wireless and sweatproof, or at the very least, sweat resistant. On our budget earbuds list, the Sennheiser CX Sport were rated the best cheap earbuds for working out, although the JLab Go Air Pop are decent buds sold at an outrageously low price. 

iPhone users will no doubt gravitate toward AirPods, but we’ve found they can be a little slippery in the middle of a mid-distance run, so we’d advise trying the Beats Fit Pro instead. These are comfortable, have noise cancellation, and offer the same instant pairing as Apple’s in-house option.

For Android users, or anyone looking to find a cheaper alternative, there are a whole host of wireless earbuds or headphones available, with many now offering designs that mimic AirPods. 

3. Resistance Bands: Odoland

Resistance bands, like this Odoland set with handles and a door anchor, offer an ideal, quick workout that you can throw in a cheap gym bag. They're great if the equipment you need is in use, and they come in different sizes so be sure to find the one that offers the best resistance for you.

With a huge variety of exercises possible, and the added benefit of engaging your core a little more than traditional weights, you’ll find plenty to like even if you're not planning on going to the gym anytime soon. They can replicate almost any form of cabled exercise. The elastic resistance also replaces heavy weights, making them safer for older exercisers and an easy way to build strength.

They’re also ideal for newcomers or returning to training following an injury since they’re easy to use, and you can pair them with plenty of other equipment like pull-up bars and Olympic bars. It's like having a second gym in your pocket.

4. Yoga Mat: Proworks

Whether you’re looking to get started with yoga or not, having an exercise mat handy in your bag is ideal for finding a corner of the gym to knock out some sit-ups, press-ups, or anything else that would otherwise mean coming into direct contact with the floor.

Mats can be thin or thick (more than 4mm), with the latter being more durable but a little bulkier. You’ll also want a mat that works with your size – this writer is 6-foot-4, meaning my options are, understandably, a little limited – but there are yoga mats for all shapes and sizes. This Proworks mat is cheap and extremely well-reviewed on Amazon, with over 10,000 ratings averaging 4.5 stars. 

Finally, if you’re going to be taking part in classes on shiny floors, consider investing in a non-slip mat. 

Protein shaker and scoop

(Image credit: Norrabhudit/Shutterstock)

5. Protein Shaker

Plenty of fitness enthusiasts will use protein powder as an efficient way to help increase their protein intake. Protein helps build muscle, either for enhanced performance, improved recovery, or for weight loss. Added protein has also shown to be incredibly satiating according to research, more so than carbohydrate-based snacks.  

Having your powder in a shaker ready to consume shortly after your workout is an ideal part of your gym bag, and a quick way to make sure you're getting enough protein to help your muscles recover after a workout. If you're consuming a protein shake straight after the gym, you're less likely to snack on unhealthy stuff throughout the day.

Protein shakers come in metal or plastic options, and we’d opt for the former where possible. They’re usually dishwasher safe (cleaning your shaker is as much part of your routine as any rep!) and have a better seal, but they can be more expensive. Ordering protein-based powder from retailers such as MyProtein, Bulk or Huel often means your shipment comes with a free shaker, but most plastic ones can be found for under $10, £5, or AU$20. 

6. Microfiber towel

Whether or not you shower at the gym, it’s a good idea to pack an odor-resistant, microfiber towel for your workouts.

That’s because it doesn’t take long to build up a sweat, and while you can mop it down with hand towels, you’re better off doing everyone a favor and catching it in an odor-free towel and washing it when you get home.

Lloyd Coombes
Freelancer & Podcaster

Lloyd Coombes is a freelance tech and fitness writer for TechRadar. He's an expert in all things Apple as well as Computer and Gaming tech, with previous works published on TopTenReviews, Space.com, and Live Science. You'll find him regularly testing the latest MacBook or iPhone, but he spends most of his time writing about video games at Dexerto.