The sheer volume of running specialty gear can overwhelm even the most minimalist shoppers; Tech, therapeutic rollers, energy gels, balms, and dozens more products may all seem tempting. While it’s true many such products can support a runner’s lifestyle, there’s only a few key pieces to the puzzle in addition to proper running shoes and comfortable clothes that new runners need to get started: hydration systems, quality socks, and headwear. We collaborated with Feetures! Running, Headsweats and Nathan Sports on this gear guide to get their expert advice on choosing the right products for your running needs.
SELECTING THE RIGHT HYDRATION SYSTEM
Adequate hydration is important to your health every day, no matter what you’re doing. But for runners, drinking enough water isn’t just important, it’s critical. Nathan Sports’s Greg Brantner, a long-time distance runner, gave us his advice on the different systems available to runners and how those new to the sport can find their ideal set-up.
His biggest advice: “Drink before you’re thirsty! If you’re in a situation where you’re already feeling the effects of dehydration, then it’s too late. You should hydrate before, during, and after a run, especially when new to the sport. Establish a consistent schedule for when you run, so you can hydrate accordingly – for example, making sure to drink more water the day before a long run. A sore muscle is a thirsty muscle, so if you’re having trouble recovering from your runs, you should hydrate more.”
Hydrating at home is a matter of bottle/glass preference, but hydrating while running is a different game. Many new runners will opt to carry a standard or disposable water bottle in their hand, but this can be uncomfortable and lead to grip fatigue and imbalanced running form. Others sometimes stash bottles along their training courses, but this too poses problems if they aren’t also carrying water with them and can’t get to the stationed supplies at the right times. On the contrary, “Running with hydration should be so effortless that you don’t realize that it’s there whether you’re using a handheld, belt, or pack,” Greg says. Using products “designed for running allows new runners to carry more fluid and focus on their run without being distracted by a slippery bottle or risk the negative effects of dehydration by not bringing enough fluids with them,” he adds. “This is important as new runners tend to need more hydration throughout a run than seasoned runners.”
To choose your ideal unit, “First determine roughly how much fluid you will want to run with – this depends on how far you run, how hot or humid it will be, your current fitness level, and whether or not you will have an opportunity to refill,” Greg says. See our Ultimate Guide to Running for a good place to start. Once you have a general idea of the water capacity you’ll need, what’s most important in choosing a hydration system is to try it on, Greg says. “Fill up the bladder, flask or bottle, then take a few laps around the store. This will give you a sense for what feels best in your hand, on your waist, or on your back.” Once you find what works for you, stick with it.
Types of Hydration Systems
This name may be misleading as handheld bottles designed for running require little to no actual holding. These smaller bottles are curved to fit the shape of your hand and use soft or elastic straps to hold the bottle to your hand without you having to grip it. Often, these straps come with a zippered pocked to hold keys, IDs, gels, chews, smartphones and other small items you may need to bring. Handhelds are best for runs during which you’ll need only 10 – 18 oz of water, though a full 18 oz bottle combined with a full zipper pocket can become uncomfortable and tiring to the bicep on the carrying arm.
Waist Packs and Hydration Belts
Waist packs typically hold one 20-oz or similar size bottle (sometimes two) in a sleeve pocket against your lower back with a larger zippered pocket for carrying small items. Hydration belts are similar as they carry two to four smaller bottles in cages or by clipping the bottles to the belt directly. These too have small zipper pockets for storage. Both adjust to your waist size for bounce-free, chafe-free running and allow for easy access to your water so you don’t have to stop every time you need a drink. Waist packs and belts are best when you need to bring more than 18 oz of water and/or find handhelds to be uncomfortable.
These backpack-style hydration systems are ideally suited to long runs as they store typically two liters of water in a low profile bladder carried on your back. Most can be adjusted to fit runners of all sizes comfortably without bouncing or throwing off balance. These too come with storage pockets as well as bungees on some models, making them best for carrying more than just a few objects, like a small first aid kit or anti chafe sticks, that are more often needed on long runs than short.
Replacing Your Hydration System
Quality hydration systems will last for years, so when it eventually comes time to replace or upgrade, look for something similar to what you’ve enjoyed in the past.
SELECTING THE RIGHT RUNNING SOCKS
“Socks are essential gear for running,” says Joe Gaither, marathon runner and Marketing Director at Feetures! Running “They are the first layer of protection for your feet, which are integral to the sport.” Even if you invest in proper running shoes, poor quality socks can negate the shoes’ benefits. In particular, running socks help prevent blisters, the number one runner injury, with a supportive fit and moisture wicking material.
When picking your ideal running sock, consider factors like material and height. Thicker socks take up more room in your shoe, which may be good for some but not others. Thinner socks take up less room and are more breathable and may be better for those whose feet tend to get hot. “The most important thing is to find a sock that is comfortable,” Joe says. “We recommend trying socks on before you buy to figure our what works best.”
Joe’s biggest advice: “I highly encourage new runners to visit a local running store. Running storeowners and their employees are extremely knowledgeable and they are passionate about sharing their knowledge to keep you healthy and active. Not only will they help get you the right shoes and socks, but they can inform you about common injuries and how to avoid them. What’s more, they can plug you into a training program for your first race or they can tell you about ‘fun runs’ or ‘pub runs,’ which are a great way to push yourself by running with others. The running community is very inclusive, so don’t be intimidated to get out and get involved.”
Types of Socks
Constructed seamlessly with non-constraining tops and cushioning, these socks are ideally suited to those with specific skin and footwear issues, particularly diabetics. These typically come in ankle and crew length, and which one you choose is mostly a matter of preference.
Try: Feetures! Light Cushion Therapeutic Socks
Performance socks are designed to do just that: perform. Usually made with sweat-wicking or insulating fabrics, seamless toes, heel tabs and compression bands around the arch of the foot, performance socks support both the muscles and skin of your feet while you run. Take into account what’s most comfortable to you and where you’ll be running when deciding on height. Ankle and crew length socks will protect your lower legs better on trail runs where rocks, brush and insects are a concern, and no-show socks will be enough for pavement runs.
Try: Feetures! No-Show Tab Socks
These knee-high socks use graduated compression to aid blood flow to and from your muscles to help them perform longer and recover faster. These can be worn during your warm-up, run and/or recovery.
Replacing Your Socks
Like most running gear, socks are built to last through the wear and tear of your training. Feetures! has a lifetime guarantee on their socks, “but this doesn’t mean that they perform at their best forever,” Joe says. If you notice your socks’ performance is dwindling, it’s worth upgrading to a new pair, but Joe recommends having multiple pairs to wear throughout the week to maximize their longevity.
SELECTING THE RIGHT HEADWEAR
The right hat is a big asset to many athletes as it helps regulate body temperature and protect skin. While it may seem easier to opt for a regular cotton baseball cap lying around your house, these soak up sweat and moisture as you run, reducing their effectiveness the wetter they get. Headwear designed for running, on the other hand, wicks sweat away to keep your head dry so it stays warm in the cold and cool in the heat. Mike McQueeney, longtime runner and President of Headsweats, gave us his insight on choosing the right headwear.
Mike’s biggest advice: “As with any sport, new runners need to invest in the right gear for their activities. The goal is to make the sport fun and prevent injury. As for a headwear, the intent is to reduce sun glare, wick moisture, help keep you relatively cool and comfortable.”
Types of Headwear
Much like an old-school bandana, shorty caps are soft, light and brimless. They feature a sweatband and tie in the back, making them great for running and wearing under a helmet while cycling. Caps are great for those who don’t like the bulk of a hat but still want full coverage.
Try: Headsweats Classic Shorty
The running variety of this standard hat is typically lighter, moisture-wicking and lined with a sweatband, and the bill protects your eyes from the sun.
Try: Headsweats Elite Fast Hat with a reflective strip
Visors have all the same features and benefits of a running hat but don’t cover the top of the head. Visors are popular among those with longer hair and triathletes.
Try: Headsweats Reflective Supervisor
These soft knit or fleece soft-shell caps are designed to keep your head and ears warm in colder conditions.
Try: Headsweats Thermal Reversible Beanie
Made of the same insulating materials as beanies, these, too, keep your ears warm in cold temps when a full beanie isn’t needed or preferred.
Try: Headsweats Thermal Headband
Running headbands don’t do much in the way of keeping your head cool or the sun out of your eyes, but they are great for keeping hair and sweat off of your face, which may be all you need.
Try: Headsweats Topless Headband
Replacing Your Headwear
“That really depends on use,” says Mike. “If you use the same piece of headwear during all workouts, then getting a season out of the product would be great. After prolonged use, check the fabric for tearing or pulled threads. Check the brim for wear and tear around the edges. If the headwear has elastic, once the stretch starts to fail then it is time to grab a new one.”
Note: Travel Well received trial products for testing from Feetures! and Headsweats but was provided no compensation from any collaborators to be included in this guide.
For more advice for new runners, see
What’s the running gear you won’t train without?