What to Wear Running: The Best Clothes & Gear for Beginners

Running gear including shirt, sneakers, headphones, and water bottle
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In This Article

If you're a new runner or training for your first 5K, you may be wondering, “What should I wear when running?” The good news is you really don't need a lot of fancy running gear or expensive clothing to be a successful runner. It’s a pretty low-maintenance sport—and there are plenty of money-saving tips for runners.

But if you want your runs to be as comfortable and safe as possible here are the most essential items to consider.

Running Shoes

When you get started as a runner you'll need a good pair of running shoes that are the right fit for you. Wearing the wrong type of shoe is actually one of the most common causes of running injuries.

When shopping for running shoes, don't pick a pair just because you like the brand, style, color, or price. You definitely don't need to buy the most expensive pair in the store, but investing in a good pair is a smart idea that will help prevent injuries and make for more comfortable runs.

If it’s your first time shopping for running shoes, visit a running specialty store where experts can evaluate your foot and running style and recommend the right shoes for you. The staff will measure your foot, watch you run on a treadmill, and analyze your gait. Some stores even allow you to take them out on the road in the area.

During that visit you want to be sure that you are wearing run-specific socks when you try on shoes. The thickness of the sock will change the fit of the shoe. If you don't have a pair with you, ask the salesperson for a pair to borrow.

Features to Look For

Here are a few things to consider when buying a new pair of running shoes.

  • Cushioning vs. lightweight. Shoes that are heavily cushioned are great for new runners—especially those that are heavier. However, cushioned shoes usually weigh more and may feel clunkier during a run. Try lighter weight shoes and cushioned shoes to see what you prefer.
  • Reflective surface. If you plan to run in the evening or early in the morning, consider a pair of shoes that include some sort of reflective material. You'll be seen by drivers and cyclists more easily when you wear them.
  • Tread. Think about the surface where you are most likely to run. Will you run on a treadmill? On the road? On trails? On a track? Trail running shoes will have a deeper thicker tread than shoes designed for treadmill, track, and road running.

Quick Tip: Once you know the right running shoe for your style and gait, you can shop around for deals when it’s time for a replacement pair.

Running Clothes

When you're first getting started with running, you don't need to rush out and buy a whole new wardrobe of running clothes—unless that’s really important to you. But if you want to pick up a few new items, here’s where to start.

Running-Specific Socks

It's a smart idea to avoid wearing 100 percent cotton socks as a runner. If you wear cotton socks, the moisture won't get wicked away if your feet sweat or if you step in a puddle.

Instead, wear running socks that are a synthetic blend to help prevent blisters. Look for materials such as polyester, acrylic, and CoolMax. For winter running, wool blends like SmartWool are a good choice. Some runners even choose to wear double-layer socks for additional blister protection.

The style of the sock is up to you. Some are cut very low close the ankle. You'll find others that are ankle height and there are even some compression socks that extend over the calf. Choose the style that works best for you and that works for the weather. Many runners choose lower socks in the summer and higher socks in the winter.

Technical Running Clothes

Running specific clothes are lightweight and designed to move with your body. Seams are placed in areas to enhance movement and where they are less likely to chafe. Also, many running-specific clothes are reflective so that you stay safe when running in the dark.

Running gear is usually made from fabrics including high tech versions of nylon, wool, or polyester. During cold weather running, running in technical fabrics will help keep you dry and warm. On hot weather runs, they will wick the sweat away from your body and help prevent chafing.

Technical fabrics also hold up a lot better through use and washing cycles than workout clothes made of cotton. Both cold and warm weather gear may incorporate vents to increase breathability.

Quick Tip: When you go for a run, be careful not to overdress. Once you warm up, your extra body heat will make it feel about 15 to 20 degrees warmer. For example, if the temperature is above 55 degrees outside, you'll probably be fine running in a T-shirt and shorts.

Supportive Sports Bras

Women should make sure they're wearing a good, supportive sports bra designed for running or other high-impact activities. Try it on and test it out by running in place and jumping up and down. Your sports bra should fit properly and not be too stretched out.

If you have a large chest and have had trouble finding a comfortable, supportive sports bra in the past, try one of these top sports bras for large chests.

Most sports bras need to be replaced after 72 washes, when the elasticity is lost, or if your weight changes significantly.

Other Features to Look For in Running Clothes

  • Compression. Some running socks, tights, and tops are made out of compression fabric. Compression gear may help to speed recovery after your run and many people prefer the feeling of support they get when they wear it.
  • Pockets. If you don't want to carry a pack when you run, look for jackets, tights, capris, and other gear with pockets. Many pockets are specifically designed to accommodate a phone or small items like a key or credit card.
  • Thumbhole. Many tops and jackets incorporate a thumbhole in the sleeve to increase hand coverage during cold weather runs.
  • Sun protection. Some running gear is specifically designed to protect your skin in the sun. In addition to wearing a hat and sunscreen, wearing SPF clothing can help decrease your risk of skin cancer.

Other Running Gear

There are a few additional items that aren’t necessarily essential but can make a big difference in the quality and safety of your runs if you bring them along for the ride.

Sports Watch

A running watch is great for timing your runs, staying on pace during races, and tracking your route using GPS. Even a simple watch with a stop and start button can be helpful to beginner runners so they can time their runs and use it to measure run/walk intervals. Some running watches can also track your heart rate and other metrics.

Running Belt

Keep your hands-free on the run by adding a running belt. There are plenty of sleek options for your ID, money, and keys, or roomier belts to hold larger items. Carrying your ID (or wearing an ID tag on your shoe) and having some extra cash on you is a good practice in outdoor running safety.

Phone and Apps

Not everyone chooses to run (or race) with their phone, but if you want to have it on you for emergencies, to listen to music, use a running app, or take pictures on the run, it’s not a bad idea to bring it along. You can certainly carry it in your hand, but you may also be interested in a belt, armband carrier, or other gear with pockets to help stash it while you’re on the move.  

Sun Protection

Runners spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun, so don’t forget to protect your skin from sun exposure. Here’s how:

  • Use a waterproof sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and offers broad-spectrum protection, which means it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Stick formulations are especially good for your face because the sunscreen won't run into your eyes.
  • Add a visor or hat that will give your face extra protection. They also help absorb sweat, so the sunscreen doesn't run into your eyes. You’ll be especially glad you have a hat if you get caught running in the rain.
  • Invest in a good pair of UV-blocking running sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun's damaging rays.

Water

When running more than 30 minutes, it's important to consume water to stay hydrated. If you don't have access to water on your running routes, you may have to carry your own fluids with you. Here are some of our favorite running water bottles and carriers to use on the go.

A general rule of thumb for fluid consumption during your runs is to drink 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes.

What Not to Wear During a Run

Now that you know what to look for in good running gear, you should also be advised of features to avoid.

100% Cotton

Cotton is a big no-no for runners because once it gets wet, it stays wet, which can be uncomfortable in warmer weather and dangerous in cold weather. Your skin is also more likely to chafe if you're wearing cotton. Avoid cotton gear and cotton socks.

Sweatpants

Yes, this re-emphasizes the “no cotton” rule, but it's worth repeating. Sweatpants and sweatshirts were once popular cold-weather running attire. But with the advent of running clothes made from technical fabrics, sweats are considered "old school" among runners. They are fine for short runs, especially when worn as an outer layer, but will usually not be comfortable for a longer run.

Running clothes made from technical fabrics wick away sweat and keep you dry. If you wear cotton sweats for a cold outdoors run, you're going to get wet, stay wet, and then get chilled. Not only could this be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous, but your running performance will likely suffer as well.

Sweats are great for lounging around the house after a run, but if you want to feel comfortable and look sharp for your cold outdoor runs, stick to running tights, pants, and shirts made from technical fabrics.

Heavy Layers

When running in cold weather, don’t wear a thick coat or shirt. If the layer is too thick, you’ll overheat, sweat too much, and then get chilled when you take it off. You’re much better off dressing in thin, wicking layers so you won’t sweat excessively and you can easily remove a layer and tie it around your waist ​when you start to get warm.

It is also smart to avoid overly thick socks. Your feet swell when you run, especially during hot, summer runs. If you wear thick running socks, your toes will rub up against the front of your shoes and you’ll be at risk for black toenails.

Worn Out Shoes

Running in old or worn-out running shoes can lead to running injuries. Over time, your running shoes lose shock absorption, cushioning and stability. Running in worn-out shoes increases the stress and impact on your legs and joints, which can cause overuse injuries. 

Be aware of the signs your running shoes need to be replaced. One of the best things you can do to prevent running injuries is to replace your shoes every 200 to 250 miles. You may also consider using two pairs of running shoes, rotating in a new pair when your old pair is about half-way through its lifespan.

New Gear on Race Day

Race day is not the time to experiment with a new pair of running shoes, running shorts, or a new sports bra. You should be trying out new clothes and shoes during your training runs and then stick with your tried-and-true favorites that you know are comfortable.

A Word From Verywell

This may sound like a lot of gear you need to buy before you can start running, but just focus on the basics first. That starts with a comfortable, supportive pair of sneakers that suits your specific needs and goals and a desire to get out there and hit the road.

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Article Sources

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