Runners can be picky about their gear and rightly so — my favorite Gu flavor might make you sick, and your tried-and-true sneakers could leave me with shin splints. That lands runners firmly in the hard-to-shop-for category, but it is still clearly possible to find the runners in your life gifts they’ll love. Drawing on my own favorites (I’ve been running for a decade now and have completed five marathons and dozens of shorter races) plus the input of avid runners, coaches, and other experts, I’ve narrowed down the best gifts for all runners, whether they’re tackling their first miles or collecting age-group-race prizes.
Gadget gifts for runners
When I asked a few runner friends what gifts they’d like to receive, several mentioned a new GPS watch, often singling out Garmin by name. Garmin’s entry-level running watch, the Forerunner 45, lets runners track their runs and check their pace, heart rate, and distance mid-run; it also offers the ability to preprogram interval workouts and lots of other features. City Coach co-founder and head coach Jonathan Cane told us that the previous version of this watch would “certainly do the trick for a new runner, and will be adequate even for a more hard-core athlete.” It’s safe to say the new one will do the same.
If you’re shopping for a runner who competes in triathlons, this Garmin watch also tracks biking and swimming metrics. It boasts a 14-hour battery life, which comes in handy during longer events like Ironman races. According to Steph Willett — a triathlete and the team manager of Volée, a global community of female runners created by the apparel brand Oiselle — for a watch with so many features, this one “is light, fairly intuitive, and doesn’t look like a calculator on my wrist.”
Although Coros only started selling GPS watches in 2018, the Seattle-based brand has earned lots of buzz in the running community and is quickly becoming a big player in the market. The main reason? Its watches have a crazy-long battery life. This entry-level model will last 25 hours in GPS mode or 30 days for regular use, and its pricier watches go up to 60 hours and 45 days. “They’ve created a great product, for sure,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field–certified running coach and the founder of Strength Running. “It does everything: tracks sleep, steps, altitude, sunrise and sunset, calories burned, and of course all of the running metrics that runners care about.”
Sometimes listening to a good playlist or podcast can make all the difference in getting a runner out of bed on a cold day. Strategist managing editor Maxine Builder tested out these truly wireless earbuds and liked all the workout-friendly features they had to offer. They don’t block out ambient noise — which is a good thing for outdoor runners who need to hear things like oncoming cars — and they’re easy to adjust with a light touch while on the run. Builder notes “there’s also a so-called Sport Tip, a plastic hook that helps secure the earbuds to your ears even while you’re bouncing around.”
A little bit more affordable, these open-ear headphones are especially safe for runners because they don’t actually go inside the ear but rather transmit sound through the bones in your ear. Professional runner Katie Mackey told us she was initially skeptical about the technology, but was quickly won over: “After using them a few times, I was totally in love because I could hear the music just as well as with other headphones, but I can also hear all the noise around me.”
Among work, other hobbies, and making time for family, busy runners squeeze their runs in either early in the morning or late at night — often when it’s dark outside. To stay safe and visible to cars and other traffic, I use an older version of this clip-on light that’s totally unobtrusive when attached to my waistband.
Practical gifts for runners
When you’re running outside for several hours each week, you’re going to get a lot of sun exposure, but runners often neglect to wear sunscreen, thinking they’ll either sweat it off or it’ll run into their eyes. Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Health, says “a stick is a good way to get a sunscreen that doesn’t run as much.” Treat the runners in your life to this high-SPF, water-resistant sunscreen stick (a favorite of dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum) to keep their skin looking just as good as their form.
There aren’t any fabric face masks that are particularly comfortable to run in, but runners who are doing their best to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 may find Buff’s neck gaiter to be the best possible option. Already a favorite for runners looking to stay warm in winter or block the sun in summer, Buffs are made from breathable, quick-drying material that makes them a good choice for running outdoors in crowded spaces. It’ll be a staple in many runners’ wardrobe post-COVID, too. Professional endurance runner Susie Chan says a Buff is “great for many things, from keeping your hair out of your face to a sweatband on your wrist.”
A wet cotton sock rubbing against the foot can cause painful blisters that may stop new runners in their tracks, which is why experienced runners know to invest in moisture-wicking socks made from synthetics or wool. Merino wool is an all-natural fabric that keeps you dry and regulates temperature whether it’s hot or cold out. Writer (and runner) Steven John likes this pair because, he says, “along with all the compression and support you’d expect from a good running sock, they also feature a specifically anatomical design tailored to each foot.”
Shorts are the foundations of a runner’s wardrobe, with lots of dedicated athletes wearing them well into the fall and winter. An inexpensive pick for guys, John says, these “lightweight, quick-drying, and secure-fitting shorts are suitable for use in just about any conditions.” He likes that they have a liner that’s supportive but not too snug if you’re wearing tights underneath to stay warm.
For a comparable women’s pair, try these affordable Nike shorts. I’ve worn them for everything from 5Ks to marathons, and they’ve always been comfortable with no annoying chafing or riding up. They last forever and, with a 3.5-inch inseam, they’re neither too long nor too short.
Runners have been loving the ultra-cushioned Asics Nimbus for more than 20 years now, with many loyalists picking up the new version each year and never straying. Personal trainer and fitness editor Emily Abbate owns 72 pairs of sneakers, but will run marathons (she’s finished six) only in the Nimbus. She says “the forefoot gel-cushioning system … keeps my foot comfortable mile after mile. With these, I never have to worry about uncomfortable foot cramps or pain in my arches.” As for the men’s version, John calls them the best all-around pair. “I wear these more than any other running shoe,” he says, “and I tend to wear them out by the time the new pair shows up.”
Stylish (practical) gifts for runners
“Having socks you trust is so key for wanting to get out the door each day,” says David Roche, the coach and founder of the SWAP running team and the co-author of The Happy Runner. A fun print helps, too, which is why he likes Stance socks. They have style and substance.
For runners who want their shoes to look as good as they feel, Erika Hammond, a founding trainer of Rumble Boxing and Rumble Training, loves these Adidas sneakers. They’re a favorite among celebrities and a Strategist-approved status sneaker. “I’m constantly on the move, either training or working out, and I always rock my Ultraboost,” says Hammond. The environmentally conscious runner in your life will especially like this pair, a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, which is made entirely from upcycled trash collected from coastal communities and beaches. As Girlfriend Collective co-founder and creative director Ellie Dinh says, “Many people don’t realize that most synthetic materials are made from plastic and that it’s entirely possible to create the same great functional and stylish products from recycled materials instead.”
An equally cool shoe, the On Running Cloudstratus was voted the status gym sneaker for men when we asked stylish gym-going guys. According to Rhys Athayde, the chief experience officer and founding trainer at Dogpound, they’re not only great for trail and road running — they’re also good for hiking, running-based workout classes, and even walking around town, because they exist at the intersection of “function, comfort, and style.”
I’m a big fan of these stretchy Lululemon tights that come in a ton of colors and have deep pockets on the thigh for my phone, energy gels, and keys. And I’m not alone: Dianna Falzarano, the director of TRX programming at Flex Studios, says, “They’re pretty tight so you don’t have to be constantly pulling them up.” And Helaine Knapp, the founder and CEO of the rowing studio CITYROW, adds that “the fit and style make me feel like I can conquer the world.”
Self-care gifts for runners
Writer Alison Freer bought these compression socks for her mom when she was recovering from surgery, but they’re just as useful for runners dealing with tight calves. Compression socks speed up muscle recovery and decrease muscle vibration caused by the high impact of running. Get the moisture-wicking ones to avoid overheating.
A runner who’s sidelined by injury might have more time to read, and Rebound, recommended by Garvey, will teach them how to develop the confidence, focus, and resilience to return to the sport even stronger than before. “A lot of books in running lit right now are talking about mental strength and resilience during workouts and races,” says Garvey, “but very few talk about how to develop that skill when you’re injured and on the mend.”
While performing self-massage with a foam roller might not be quite as relaxing as a massage in a spa, devoting a few minutes to rolling out your muscles after each run is important for staying loose and preventing injuries. The extra-firm TriggerPoint has raised bumps and lines to get even deeper into muscle tissue. “It’s just the right density to be effective without bruising,” says Radan Sturm, the founder of the Liftonic studio. “It’s the perfect size that allows you to target all major parts of the body, while being compact enough to travel with.”
Even more intense than your standard foam roller (and therefore, more effective), the R8 roller wraps around your muscles to attack soreness from all sides. “The spring-loaded rollers dig as deep as I want, with a gripping massage that feels like strong hands,” says Jonathan Beverly, editor-in-chief of PodiumRunner and author of Your Best Stride. “I keep it next to my desk and use it nearly daily.” Carrie Tollefson, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and national fitness director for Moms on the Run, also recommends the R8 because it’s travel-friendly and lets you work all the major running muscles without having to roll on the floor.
Splurge-worthy gifts for runners
This high-end watch is designed for ultrarunners like Chan, who regularly compete in races up to 50 or 100 miles long (or longer) on difficult terrain. Besides its military-grade durability, the watch includes a compass and altimeter, and keeps track of your speed on both uphill and downhill sections of your runs. Chan loves that the Grit X “has a function that reminds you when to drink and eat, monitors sleep patterns, and gives you mobility exercises to keep you strong.”
If you like the idea of gifting your favorite runner a GPS watch, but maybe want something they’ll wear when they’re not running, consider buying an Apple watch. It has lots of the same functionality as the GPS watches above, according to Meghan Takacs, a running trainer for the fitness app Aaptiv. “The Apple Watch is a good option to help novices appreciate accountability and structure,” she says. “It offers a daily steps goal to meet, along with reminders to get them in [and] the ability to sync popular apps.” Plus your recipient will likely keep one of these on a wrist at all times (running or not).
“A dedicated running stroller is a luxury but can make a big difference in everyone’s enjoyment of their time on the run,” says Brian Hayes, the head of digital at the running-apparel brand Tracksmith and father of a 1-year-old. He particularly likes this Thule style because it moves smoothly, thanks to a locking front wheel and superior shock absorption.
It’s not cheap, but if you want to keep your running loved one warm and dry this winter, give this heavy-duty (but not heavyweight) jacket recommended by Sean Fortune, the owner and founder of Central Park Coaching. “Streamlined for a great-looking, performance fit, it’s extremely breathable while being totally waterproof,” he says.
Motivational gifts for runners
Runners in need of some mental fortitude will find it in the pages of sports journalist Alex Hutchinson’s book, Endure. Hutchinson shadows elite athletes pushing the limits of human endurance, discovering that breaking barriers is as much of a psychological challenge as a physical one. Roche says it’s “a must-read for any runner looking to understand how their brain interacts with performance.”
While it’s not going to teach you how to structure an interval workout or what to eat before a marathon, Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s meditative memoir on long-distance running is a love letter to the sport that will resonate with any runner. “This is a book that truly can inspire someone to lace up and take this journey on their own,” says David Siik, the co-founder and creative director of Precision Run.
The runner you’re shopping for has likely already read Born to Run (which David Spandorfer, a co-founder of running-apparel brand Janji, calls “the preeminent running book of all time”). So instead of gifting that title, impress them with the author’s newest book, Running With Sherman. It’s about his experience running with, and ultimately adopting, a donkey. “I’m almost through this right now, and honestly, I had no idea I’d ever be rooting for a donkey so much in my life,” says Erin Mink Garvey, a blogger at Running Ruminations.
Gifts to take on a run
For runners who are wisely avoiding public water fountains right now, or those who regularly run off-road or on trails where there aren’t any fountains, a handheld water bottle lets them take their hydration on the go. Roche likes that this model, with its simple and ergonomic design, isn’t a hassle to carry while running. “The 18-ounce handheld is curved to fit in your hand, and I usually forget about it after ten minutes,” he says.
Figuring out where to stash your phone and keys while running is often a hassle, especially for women whose shorts don’t have much pocket space. As a solution, Garvey likes the waterproof Koala Clip sports bra pouch. “It’s designed to sit on the back of a sports bra, making it fairly easy to access mid-run if need be, but also with the peace of mind that everything is secure,” she says. “No bounce, no chafe — can’t go wrong.”
Dog parents like to bring their pup along on the road or trails, too. This hands-free leash attaches to your waist so it doesn’t mess with your stride. Annie Grossman — the owner and co-founder of School for the Dogs and co-founder of Store for the Dogs — says that, compared to regular leashes, this has “a little bit more flexibility so that if the dog goes to one side or the other, it’s not going to be pulling you along with him.”
Health-conscious runners will likely prefer a gel like Spring that’s all-natural and vegan. Roche says the canaberry flavor (containing banana, strawberry, and maple syrup) is a top pick among the athletes he coaches. With a box of 20 gels, runners won’t be caught before a run without their fuel.