February 26, 2024

Photo-Illustration: The Strategist; Photos: Retailers

Runners can be picky about their gear — and rightly so. Your friend’s favorite energy gel might make you feel sick, and your tried-and-true sneakers could leave another runner with shin splints. That lands runners firmly in the “hard to shop for” category, but it is still possible to find gifts for the runners in your life that they’re sure to love. (We didn’t include any running shoes on this list, because we think the best kicks are dependent on fit and feel and trying them out in person. And, of course, we’ve got a guide on how to choose the right ones for yourself.)

Drawing on our favorites, plus the input of avid runners, coaches, Strategist staffers, and other experts, we’ve compiled the best gifts for all runners — whether they’re tackling their first miles or collecting medals. To help you shop, we’ve sorted all our gift ideas by price range.

Nathan StrobeLight, 2-Pack

Between work, other hobbies, and spending time with family, busy runners squeeze in their runs either early in the morning or late at night — often when it’s dark outside. These clip-on lights can help them stay safe and visible to cars and others.

Night Scope Rechargeable LED Warm Knit Beanie

Strategist junior writer and former Division I distance runner Brenley Goertzen prefers this Cyclops-looking beanie with a removable light over a traditional headlamp because it’s “less conspicuous, very lightweight, and much more secure,” she writes. It’s kept Goertzen warm and visible on below-zero runs, but she also uses the beanie as a nighttime reading light.

Pro-Tec Spiky Massage Ball

Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard keeps this “spiky pain ball” in his bag at all times and uses it for breaking up tight muscles after long runs. “It is not a pleasant device,” he writes, “but if I could get one that was made of metal, I probably would.”

'Run Fast. Eat Slow: Nourishing Recipes for Athletes,' by Shalane Flanagan and Elyse Kopecky
Very Good Deal

Author Shalane Flanagan is a four-time Olympian and winner of the 2017 New York City Marathon. Together with runner and nutrition coach Elyse Kopecky, she has written a collection of tasty recipes (like the popular superhero muffins) specifically for runners.

Endure by Alex Hutchinson

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.”

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Very Good Deal

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.

Rebound by Carrie Jackson Cheadle and Cindy Kuzma

A runner who’s sidelined by injury may have more time to read, and Rebound, recommended by Running Ruminations blogger Erin Mink 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.”

Buff Original Multifunctional Headwear

Buffs have long been a favorite among runners for many purposes. Because they’re made from breathable, quick-drying material that doesn’t get soggy, they’re useful for staying warm in the winter or wicking away sweat in the summer. 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.”

Supergoop! 100% Mineral Sunscreen Stick

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.

Nike Slim Running Waistpack

New York features editor Katy Schneider uses this slim waist pack from Nike to turn errands into an aerobic workout. “My weird stop-and-go style of running makes carrying a credit card while I jog necessary,” she says. “And my Nike fanny pack is the object that makes that possible.”

Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light No Show Tab

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. Strategist contributor Steven John likes this pair because, he says, “along with all the compression and support you’d expect from a good running sock, they feature a specifically anatomical design tailored to each foot.”

Stance Men's Run Crew St Sock

Do reliable socks one better with a fun print, as on this pair from Stance. David Roche, the coach and founder of the SWAP running team and co-author of The Happy Runner, says this is “so key for wanting to get out the door each day.”

Maurten Gel 100
Strategist Tested

If you’ve got a long-distance runner in your life, consider gifting them a pack of these gels from Maurten, the Swedish company famous for its carbohydrate-heavy hydrogel drink mix that Eliud Kipchoge uses to fuel his marathon races. These have a sweet, Jell-O–like texture, are easy on the stomach, and aren’t syrupy or thick like other gels.

Bandit Running Cushion Run Quarter Socks

Bandit is relatively new to the running-apparel scene, but its sleek designs geared toward competitive runners have made the brand noticeable among the urban running crowd, especially in New York City, where its first brick-and-mortar location opened in 2022. Bandit’s mid-weight socks (with its signature “current” logo) are frequently out of stock, but you can sign up for restock notifications.

Black Diamond Wind Hood GridTech Gloves
Strategist Tested

These gloves are one of our favorite men’s pairs for winter running. Jeff Lane, a former snow ranger for the Mount Washington Avalanche Center, likes their thickness for high-output aerobic activities: “I start a run in mitten mode and after 15 minutes or so, when my blood is finally flowing through the fingertips, it’s super-easy to pull back the shell and let the fingers breathe a bit more.”

Petzl Bindi Headlamp
Strategist Tested

I’ve been using this 35-gram rechargeable Bindi as my main headlamp for nighttime runs since 2018. It’s small enough to fit in the back pocket of my running shorts, but it doesn’t skimp on brightness: It pumps out 200 lumens on its highest setting.

Goodr OG Sunglasses

These shades are part of ultramarathoner Emily Halnon’s running kit, and she likes them because they never slip or bounce when she’s running, skiing, or climbing. Plus the frames and lenses come in a ton of fun color combinations, so you can pick the perfect pair for your giftee.

ProBar Bolt Organic Energy Chews

Professional rock climber Alex Honnold powered through his recent 32-hour continuous mountain mission almost exclusively with ProBar Bolts. They’re a tasty snack for any endurance athlete. “It’s hard to fuel big pushes in the mountains, and these are one of the best things that I’ve found,” he says.

FlipBelt

Chris Chavez, founder of the running-commentary website and podcast network Citius Mag, swears by this running belt for carrying his phone and other essentials. “It doesn’t even look like I’m wearing it when it’s over my shorts and under my shirt,” he says.

TriggerPoint Grid Foam Roller
Strategist Tested

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.”

Nathan SpeedDraw Plus Insulated Water Bottle - 18oz

For runners 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.

Running with Sherman by Christopher McDougall

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.

Koala Clip

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 with the peace of mind that everything is secure,” she says. “No bounce, no chafe — can’t go wrong.”

Spring Energy Gel - Canaberry, 10-Pack

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.

ASICS Men’s Rival II Shorts

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, writer and runner Steven 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.

Nike Dry Tempo Running Shorts

For a comparable women’s pair, try these affordable Nike shorts. Former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson has worn them for everything from 5Ks to marathons, and they’ve always been comfortable with no annoying chafing or riding up, she says. They last forever and, with a 3.5-inch inseam, they’re neither too long nor too short.

The Buddy System Adjustable Hands Free Dog Leash

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.”

Vim & Vigr Solid Black Moisture-Wick Nylon Compression Socks

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.

Satisfy PeaceShell Running Cap

For the running obsessive in your life, consider this hat from Parisian running brand Satisfy, which makes distance apparel with a heavy emphasis on design.

Holos Organic Overnight Muesli
Strategist Tested

I’ve been prepping these packs of overnight muesli each night before my morning runs, and they’ve quickly become my go-to breakfast and midday snack. I like how they’re super-easy to make (just add milk and mix in a jar) and how one pack keeps me full and satiated (there are 20 grams of protein per pack). Plus, they come in flavors that actually taste good, like maple and almonds, chai, and cocoa.

Janji Runterra Shirt — Women's

Janji Runterra Long-Sleeved T-Shirt - Men's
Very Good Deal

The running brand Janji makes some of the most unique pieces (it works with local artists from different regions each season — like the current French West Indies collection) that are highly functional. “I love how soft and lightweight it is, while offering more warmth and coverage than a short-sleeved T-shirt,” says Adelson. It actually gets its smooth feeling from Supima cotton. Cotton clothing is generally taboo in the running world, since it holds on to moisture and takes longer to dry than wool or synthetic materials, but Janji blended it with polyester for a shirt that both feels good and regulates your temperature.

Janji Multipass Sling Bag
Strategist Tested

The typical trade-off with packs designed for running is that more space translates to a bulkier bag, and the more bulk you have, the more the pack is prone to move around while you run. Janji’s Multipass Sling offers a ton of space to carry around your essentials, but thanks to a cross-body strap that locks it into place, you can jog or run without all the jostling. It’s the best thing I bought in 2022.

Oiselle Flyout Long-Sleeved T-Shirt — Women's

This long-sleeved shirt looks like your typical winter base layer, but it features such a cool innovation that it’s shocking no one else thought of it first: the watch-window. It’s a little hole on the wrist so you can view your GPS watch while still keeping your shirtsleeves pulled down to cover your hands. If you’ve ever spent a cold run with one hand exposed so you can check your pace, you’ll realize how ingenious this is. “I have a few of Oiselle’s tops with watch-windows, and they make a huge difference in my cold-weather running,” says Adelson.

On Running Weather Shirt

For guys, this half-zip from On Running features a watch-window.

Tracksmith Session Shorts — Men’s
Strategist Tested

In our roundup of the best gym shorts for men, we picked the sleek Tracksmith Session shorts as the best pair for running. “The Session shorts feel most at home during runs, of course, but they work just as well for sweaty, aerobic gym sessions,” we wrote. I’ve used both the five- and seven-inch-inseam versions of the Session and like how buttery soft they feel against the skin.

GU Roctane Sports Gel Sea Salt Chocolate, 24-Pack

With quick-digesting sugar, caffeine for even more energy, and amino acids to promote muscle recovery, this chocolate-flavored gel is Adelson’s favorite for tough efforts. “Plus it just tastes really good. I find it reminiscent of chocolate frosting but with a pinch of salt to keep it from being way sweet,” she says. A box of 24 should get a runner through a training cycle and, if you aren’t sure what flavor the runner likes, there’s always the variety pack.

Tracksmith Downeaster

Pro runner Mary Cain tends to run cold, but this merino-wool half-zip from Tracksmith lends her the right amount of insulation and breathability.

Article One Eyewear Avalon Active Sunglasses

I’ve been running in Article One frames since 2018; they’re particularly great because of the wide, grippy, yet soft nose pads, which don’t budge, even as you bob up and down and sweat. The chunky, clear frames make the Avalon also my favorite pair of shades to wear when I’m not running.

Theragun Mini (1st Gen)
Strategist Tested

Strategist contributor Rio Viera-Newton loves her portable Theragun Mini. “Of my many purchases this year, my wisest investment has undoubtedly been my Theragun Mini — a massage-therapy tool beloved by physical therapists, trainers, and athletes (including basketball player Kyrie Irving) that helped relieve my back, neck, and shoulder pain after a bad accident,” she says. “Once I actually powered the thing up, I was taken aback by its might — at three different speeds, it vigorously vibrates to loosen up muscles, while the attachment ball thrusts up and down, massaging deep into those sore spots.”

Garmin Forerunner 45S

When we 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 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.

Jaybird Vista 2 Earthproof Wireless Headphones

Dylan Bowman, a professional ultrarunner and participant in the Wings for Life World Run for spinal-cord-injury research, knows that not all headphones are built for the demands of runners. He says he’s had to buy five or six pairs of AirPods over the past few years since they can’t stand up to his intense training. This year, he’s hoping to receive a pair of Jaybird Vista earbuds that are actually designed for running since they’re a favorite among his fellow athletes. Even if the runner in your life isn’t competing in 100-mile races, they’ll appreciate that these earbuds are totally waterproof and sweatproof, super-lightweight, and come with three interchangeable buds for getting a perfect fit.

Roll Recovery R8 Roller

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, recommends the R8 because it’s travel-friendly and lets you work all the major running muscles without having to roll on the floor.

Salomon Active Skin 8 Set Vest

For runners going longer distances who need more water than can fit in a handheld, this hydration vest features two soft flasks that hold a total of one liter. It includes a backpack for stashing essentials, like a windbreaker for when the weather changes. Salomon vests are a favorite of Tom Daly, co-founder of the running and yoga lifestyle brand District Vision, who says, “Salomon cranks out the best light- and mid-weight vest packs.”

Lululemon Fast and Free High-Rise Crop II 19 Inch

Adelson is a big fan of these stretchy Lululemon tights that come in a ton of colors and have deep pockets on the thigh for her phone, energy gels, and keys. And she’s 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.”

Jabra Elite 85t

We included sweat- and water-resistant Jabra Elite 85t earbuds among the picks in our Best In Class roundup and especially like the button that temporarily pauses the Elite’s noise-cancelling features so you can hear traffic around you or chat with your running partner.

Polar Grit X Rugged Outdoor Watch

This high-end watch is designed for ultrarunners like professional endurance runner Susie 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.”

Garmin Forerunner 735XT
Very Good Deal

For runners who compete in triathlons, this Garmin watch 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.”

Apple Watch Ultra

Photo: Courtesy of the Vendors

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 enjoy this watch so much that they will keep it on at all times, running or not. (Experts we polled across various fitness disciplines named the Apple Watch the best overall activity tracker, whether you’re running laps on the track or just taking a stroll around town.)

Oura Ring

One splurge-worthy pick for the data-minded runner is the Oura Ring, which looks like a wedding band but is actually a streamlined wellness tracker that measures resting heart rate, sleep time and quality, body temperature, activity level, and much more. Bowman says it’s “the best gift I’ve received recently that’s supported my life as an athlete,” telling us, “I use it mostly to gauge my recovery and sleep quality, which has a tremendous impact on my training and performance. It gives me an amazing visual into how my body is responding to different inputs, from my level of exercise to the foods and beverages I consume.”

Thule Urban Glide 2

“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.

With additional reporting by Karen Iorio Adelson.

The Strategist is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Some of our latest conquests include the best women’s jeans, rolling luggage, pillows for side sleepers, ultra-flattering pants, and bath towels. We update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.

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