Gear Advice from Coach Jeff Grant: DIY Sandbags
When I built my first gym, I wanted at least a dozen sandbags in lots of different sizes and I had a lot of success with a DIY sandbag project. While Rogue Fitness definitely makes some great high quality sandbags (Rogue Tactical Sandbag Series) and a beast of a heavy duty GORUCK 120lb sandbag has been a favorite torture team training tool of mine for years, during a gym start-up phase, it’s helpful to find some cheap CrossFit and functional training equipment. At the beginning, I simply didn’t have the budget for a big stack of Rogue or GORUCK bags. Plus, I wanted something a little bulkier and more functional feeling (for my tastes).
My solution was to make my own sandbags with military duffel bags and what I think is one of the top fillers out there, wood stove heating pellets. The price was right, even in expensive Switzerland where I live, and the resulting bag has an excellent feel. They don’t fold and thump you on cleans like bags filled with fine sand or rock fillers do. They hold their form and don’t temp the athlete to shortcut the awkwardness factor by having lots of handles. They also don’t feel like a brick or log (yes, train with those too), but for sandbag get-ups, stair climbs, sandbag squats, etc., they fit the body much better.
Here’s how to make one.
1. Find a military duffel bag. Visit your local military surplus shop or order online. Used bags are generally fine for this purpose. Nothing beats visiting a local military surplus shop to search for the right bag and just get lost looking at old, interesting gear. I remember doing this as a kid with my dad and it remains a highlight decades later. To this day, I have old military equipment I use for training that I bought at surplus shops in the US and Switzerland.
Here’s an example of the bags I’ve used to make training sandbags:
This style of military duffel bag is durable, water-resistant, and great for outdoors training as a sandbag.
A bag anywhere in the 22-24″ x 36-38″ range will work very well.
Warning: Don’t buy low quality duffel bags! I regret my first buying experience when I bought a super cheap set of “Army” duffel bags and the bags arrived in packaging marked Made in China. They looked cheap even inside the packaging and felt super cheap once I started using the bags. Maybe fine for a college student bringing laundry home, but terrible as a training sandbag. Two of the bags burst open within two days of training use and the others barely lasted 3 months. Buy real military bags and if you find any with a quality higher than those made for the U.S. Army, then let me know.
2. Purchase bags of wood stove pellets. If you live in a part of the world that doesn’t sell these or the season is wrong, try substitutes of recycled tire pieces or various landscaping materials. Sometimes Rogue sells bags of recycled rubber that work for this. I don’t recommend sand, especially fine-grained playground sand. I’ve been down this path. It WILL make its way out of the bags every time they’re dropped, and if a bag bursts open, the clean-up is a pain. And for sand to work well, it’s really important to use the right size bag. Too big and the bag folds and flops in very annoying manner. Too small and you end up with a brick. I’ve tried it all and remain a huge fan of wood stove pellets. I have found nothing that feels better in a training sandbag.
3. Purchase some liner bags – good old-fashioned, stop-rising-waters sand bags you can find at a local home improvement store. I like to use these as an inner bag because it makes it easier to remove the weight and wash the outer bag. If it’s your own bag for your garage gym, this may not be so important. In a multi-person gym though, these bags get regularly covered in sweat and dropped outside in the dirt and grass. Your clients will appreciate you washing them and the liner bags make this much easier.
4. Pour the wood stove pellets into a liner bag and drop that into the duffel bag. Zip tie the inner bag if you are using it and then the outer bag. Use two zip-ties. Cut off the excess.
5. If you bought a duffel bag with straps, you may want to cut the straps off as well, unless you plan to ruck with the sandbag. I use other rucks, so I prefer to streamline these bags so that no one takes an eye out with a flying strap. Stressed about cutting straps off a perfectly good bag? Don’t be … you’ll get plenty of great use out of it as a training tool.
If you wish, mark the weight with a fabric pen (marked in kilos below).
Photos of the finished product — a DIY Homemade Sandbag for Training
- Stuffed Gym Bag — using the same filler and a liner bag, I converted one old Reebok gym bag into a covert, lightweight sandbag. It’s great for scaling, single-arm work and passes/throwing.
- Other military bags — I picked up some vintage Swiss military bags at a surplus shop and love them. I filled one with rocks and the other with wood stove pellets.
- If you’ve got the budget and like the size of the Rogue bags or the features and durability of GORUCK’s sandbags, then these are virtually indestructible and they’ve improved in recent years.
- If you want an epic, very heavy sandbag experience, have a look at Rogue’s Husafell Strongman bag, which you can get in a 200lb (90kg) size or the GORUCK 120lb sandbag. Rogue’s new Feed Sack looks killer as well.
Example of Rogue Sandbags
In my Rogue bag, I use 2-3 sand-filled liner bags. To avoid the bag folding as the sand consolidates, I improved the setup by stuffing old clothes in the bag. It holds shape much better with this easy mod.
Recommended Weights: I’ve got bags that range from 8KG to 45KG (18-100 lbs). 25-30KG (55-66lbs) is the sweet spot for most in my gym and across a broad range of exercises.
Materials: duffel, zip ties, optional inner bag, optional old clothes to stuff
Now, maintain great form and enjoy the deadlifts, cleans, Turkish getups, runs and other awesome things you can do with a sandbag! Here’s a list of sandbag workout ideas. If you are looking for more garage gym ideas, check out this article with my lessons learned and top picks in 2021.
Jeff Grant is the author of Flow State Runner: Activate a Powerful Inner Coach’s Voice, Hill Running: Survive & Thrive, Run Faster: Unlock Your Speed in 8 Weeks, Running Heavy, and UltraRunning: Ultimate Guide. Based in Switzerland, Jeff is a coach and writer who specializes in mental coaching, peak performance, and transformation. He is also a Co-Founder of BridgeX Teams LLC, a global virtual team building company. Jeff’s popular newsletter is a digest containing inspirational and instructional resources, including his latest content. See recent issues and subscribe for free here. Refer to Jeff’s bio for more information, and please check out Jeff’s Coach & Author page on Facebook.