16 Types of Gear Every Runner Needs, According to Experts

Some running gear is obvious, but there are some surprises on this list

running gear on hardwood floor

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Running—it's not that complicated, right? You hit the road, trail, or treadmill, and place one foot in front of the other for a pre-determined distance or time. Theoretically, it is pretty simple—though the physical exertion is anything but. Still, you might think a list of must-have running gear would be pretty short and sweet—good shoes and workout clothing should just about cover it.

To some extent, that's true. When it boils down to bare-bones "needs" for runners, good shoes and decent clothing will do the trick, but there are a surprising number of "nice to haves" that can take your standard run to new heights (so to speak).

We talked to the experts—trainers, coaches, and avid runners—to get the low-down on all the different types of gear every runner needs. Here is a list of 16 must-haves for every runner.

Well-Fitted Shoes

No surprises here, but if you're taking up running, you should be prepared to invest in high-quality running shoes. And not just any ol' running shoes, either. You need shoes specifically fit for your feet, gait, and preferred style of running.

"Running shoes are not 'one model fits all,'" says Caroline Bell, the head shoe reviewer for Fleet Feet. "Some runners over-pronate while other runners have a neutral stride, and there are different running shoes to accommodate different gait patterns. Rather than relying on the recommendations of what works well for your friends and family, it's important to get fitted for shoes by an expert at your local run specialty store."

When you find and wear the style of shoe that's best fit for you, your runs will feel more comfortable, and your shoes may even last longer. Take your time—and be willing to put some money into the investment—to make sure you choose the right pair.

Running-Specific Socks

Do not underestimate the power of a pair of socks to make or break your running experience. Wearing a pair of poorly-fitted, old, saggy socks is a recipe for hot spots and blisters, which can turn a good run, bad, faster than you can say "cruddy socks."

"I believe that running socks are an often-overlooked running essential," says Kevin Harris, CPT. "After all, your running shoes are going to be no good if your feet are sore from blisters. Running socks will help prevent those blisters and will allow you to run for longer without pain."

There are lots of running socks on the market, but they're not all created equal. Look for highly-reviewed socks with a good brand reputation and wicking qualities that help keep your feet dry. Also, the right running socks should really hug your feet and stay in place—it's excess movement that can cause irritation, so you shouldn't compromise on fit.

Compression Leggings

Not every run will call for leggings, but when it's chilly outside (or downright cold), a good pair of compression running tights is the perfect buddy for a better run. For one, they will help keep you warm. But beyond the cold-weather comfort they provide, compression leggings may have some performance-related benefits (so you may actually want to break them out in warmer weather, too).

To be clear, studies are mixed and the evidence is varied, but a 2019 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that wearing lower-limb compression garments (you know, like leggings) during sub-maximal running helped reduce muscle displacement, soft tissue vibrations, and muscle activation associated with running's impact forces.

In other words, they helped make the muscles more efficient. Now, does this mean you'll be a better, faster runner with compression tights on? Maybe not. But if they keep you warm and give you the mental placebo effect of an edge, there's certainly no harm in having a few lucky pairs in your closet.

For pregnant people who want to continue running during pregnancy, there's no reason to stop (unless, of course, your healthcare tells you to). That said, as your belly grows, maintaining your runs can start to weigh you down—literally. If you want to keep running, but it's causing you discomfort, you may want to consider pregnancy leggings made specifically for runners.

Evergreen Activewear offers a legging with a high, supportive waistband with a side zip that allows you to gradually unzip the waistband to expand as your belly expands. And once your pregnancy is over, you can zip the band back up again for the original support.

Moisture-Wicking Tops, Split Shorts, and More

Sweat is your body's natural cooling system, and nothing gets the internal "AC" running faster than, well, running. But it's not the sweat itself that cools you down, but the sweat lifting away and evaporating from your skin that helps remove heat from your body.

And if you've ever jumped into a swimming pool wearing a cotton t-shirt before, you know the only thing that happens when this type of T-shirt gets wet is that it gets heavy and sticks to your skin. In other words, cotton does you no favors when you're trying to keep your body cool while running. That's why lightweight, quick-drying, sweat-wicking running apparel is so important.

And while there are lots of products and options on the market, if you're trying to keep things simple, Mike Orton, the apparel product line manager at Brooks Running suggests you invest in two staple item to have in your running wardrobe—shorts and shirts. There are lots of running shorts options on the market geared to men and women.

"Split shorts are a great running short for unrestricted movements," Orton says. "A short-sleeve running shirt that is lightweight, wicks sweat, dries quickly, and offers a wide range of motion also serves the needs of all runners."

Meanwhile, Modibodi provides a pair of recycled running shorts that feature a breathable built-in liner that absorbs blood from a menstrual cycle while wicking away moisture to keep you dry and comfortable. The shorts are washable and reusable, and they can be used on the light to moderately-heavy days. This makes them perfect for people expecting their period, but it hasn't arrived yet.

For people with breasts, choose a sports bra that is properly fit and suited for the high-impact bounce that running incurs. Particularly, people with larger breasts should be prepared to seek out running-friendly sports bras with extra support to help prevent pain and discomfort.

Compression Sleeves

While compression leggings may or may not improve your running performance, throwing on a set of post-run compression sleeves (or just saving your high-quality compression leggings for after your run) may actually help you with your recovery. In fact, a 2022 review study published in Textiles found that when compression garments are worn after fatiguing exercise, users tend to experience reductions in perceived muscle soreness, likely due to a reduction in lactate dehydrogenase.

Just keep in mind that compression garments really do need to offer compression—as in, they need to be tight. A basic pair of spandex leggings aren't going to do the trick. Look for compression socks, compression calf sleeves, or compression knee sleeves that provide graduated compression and have been tested and reviewed for their benefits.

Also, if you tend to get achy after a workout, compression garments can help with blood flow and circulation. You may also want to try out some of the new technology available.

Nufabrx, for example, has a patented technology that infuses pain-relieving Capsaicin (Nonivamide) into the compression garments, offering time-release delivery into the skin as you wear them. Of course, the medicinal benefits don't last forever, but it may be a way to get some extra post-run pain relief without rubbing in creams or taking NSAIDs.

Rain Gear

If you're serious about running, you're not going to let a little rain stop you from hitting the pavement or trails, but you likely don't want to do it without something to help protect you from the elements. The last item that Orton suggests all runners keep handy is a packable, lightweight jacket.

"It should provide complete wind-proof protection and excellent water-resistance," he says. "It [also] should pack down small—like a 'just in case jacket' you can carry with you."

Cold Weather Gear and Accessories

Depending on where you live, you know you can't rely on getting your runs in only when it's 75-degrees and sunny. If cold weather is the norm where you live, you need to make sure you're prepared when the temperatures start to dip.

The obvious choices, of course, include the aforementioned running leggings (look for leggings designed to be worn during cold weather), along with lightweight long-sleeved layers and jackets you can add or subtract depending on the temperature and how you feel.

"We generally warm up when we run, so it's important to think about proper layering, including a base layer, mid-layer, and an outer layer that's warm, windproof, and breathable," says Bell. "If it's under 50 degrees, consider wearing a hat, a buff, or ear warmers to keep your head warm. And on particularly chilly days, running gloves and wool-blended socks can help you stay warm."

That gaiter (or buff) may be particularly important, says Rob Wagener, an NASM-certified personal trainer and avid runner. It can protect your neck, ears, nose, and mouth, even helping keep the warm air you're breathing close to your face.

"I run hills in midwest Illinois, and it's hard for me to leave the house without a gaiter mask," Wagener says. "They are lightweight and breathable, so I can pull it up over the lower half of my face if needed to protect myself from the cold wind, bugs, and even the sun."

And if you live in an area that has snow or ice on the roads for long periods of time, you should also consider traction devices to put on your shoes. According to Melia Garza, an RRCA-certified running coach, traction devices are a must-have when running in icy conditions.

"When you don't have proper traction, your running gait changes and you become more susceptible to injury," she says. "Traction devices give you the confidence to maintain your natural running form, greater ability to stay on track with your training, and greater protection from injury."


A lightweight, billed running hat may be one of the most overlooked pieces of running gear around. Sure, you can head outside without one, but when it comes to weather-protection, they do a bang-up job. In addition to shielding your scalp and face from the sun and helping keep flyaway hairs away from your eyes, they're a true gift when it comes to running in the rain.

"Whenever the forecast calls for rain, a hat with a bill becomes a must-have," says Garza. "The bill prevents the water from running down your face and into your eyes. This not only keeps you more comfortable, but is also important for safety,"


High-quality running sunglasses are another one of those items you can leave home without, but shouldn't. Clearly, they protect your eyes from the sun and harmful UV rays on bright days, but they can also help reduce glare and keep dust, dirt, and wind from irritating your eyes.

One other important benefit to keep in mind about wearing sunglasses when you run is that they can protect your eyes. If you tend to run on trails or in areas with low-hanging branches, they add a protective layer if a wayward bramble or twig catches your face and you're less-likely to end up with an injured eye.

Of course, not all sunglasses are designed to stay put and provide comfort during exercise. Look for lightweight glasses with stay-put features that will help prevent them from bouncing or sliding around when you start sweating. And of course, make sure they offer 100% protection from UVA and UVB rays.

Anti-Chaffing Roll-Ons

If you've ever experienced running-related chaffing, you know just how important it is to keep anti-chaffing creams or roll-ons in your gear bag.

"Outside of the usual running necessities, I can't leave the house without a swipe or two of anti-chafe balms," says Amanda Mae Renkel, UESCA-certified running coach and the owner of Mae's Miles and Music.

Renkel suggests stashing a small tube in your fuel belt. You never know when you might need it and having some on hand can help reduce your discomfort.

"Although I usually chafe in the same spots when it does happen, I've also experienced a few unforeseen occurrences, like when a new sports bra rubs the wrong way," she says. "Having that anti-chafe balm available to lessen the burn is crucial."


Sunscreen is one of those items that you just shouldn't leave home without, even on a cloudy day. Look for sports-specific sunblock with an SPF of at least 30. These will offer your skin greater protection and will be less likely to rub or wear off as you sweat.

"I have turned around and gone back home to get my sunscreen before practice," says Chari Hawkins, Team USA Track & Field Runner, who won the 2022 women's pentathlon at the US Indoor National Championships. "It's such a big deal to me; I cannot not have it,"

If you have sensitive skin, or if you always seem to end up with sunscreen in your eyes (despite the brand's stay-put promises), there are things you can do to remedy the situation. Meredy Carlstone, an avid runner and former PE-teacher in North Texas suggests using sunscreen for babies because when you sweat, it won't burn your eyes.

GPS or Fitness Watch

Accurately tracking your runs for time and distance can help you monitor your progress as you work toward your running goals. But that's not all fitness watches can do.

They can monitor your heart rate and oxygen saturation and they can track your exact GPS location and help you plan routes. They can even be used to assess changes in altitude over the course of your run. Plus, you can integrate music apps, payment apps, and email apps to function like a wallet and mini-computer on your wrist.

While wearing a running watch may not be an absolute requirement for all runners, it can certainly be nice. And according to the American College of Sports Medicine's 2022 survey of fitness trends, wearable technology is the number one ranking trend.

While some of the big names in the field (for example Garmin, Polar, Fitbit, and Apple Watch) remain top-ranking running watches, it's worthwhile to check out the features of other, lesser-known brands making their way into the market. It's possible to find high-quality watches with the same (or better) features as some of the big names, for more affordable prices.

Water Bottle or Hydration Vest

If your runs take place outside—especially if you're running long distances in the heat or at higher altitudes—you need to have a game plan when it comes to hydration. Many runners need to test out different styles of water bottles or hydration packs to find the one that works for them.

After all, there are plenty to choose from including hand-held bottles, waist-packs, and backpack-style packs on the market. But regardless of what you choose, drinking water at regular intervals is important to help prevent dehydration-related performance deficits.

And while it's important to test different packs and bottles, there's one other benefit for choosing a vest—the added storage.

"The one item I rarely run without is a hydration vest," says Greg Wilson, a runner who has participated in 15 marathons. "If I'm running more than 75 minutes, I tend to reach for the vest. I usually only throw the equivalent of a single water bottle in it unless I am going much further, but the pockets are why I really like it.

Wilson says he uses the vest to carry his car key, phone, a drink, and toilet paper. If he is going on a particularly long run, he might stuff it with more things like food and dry clothes.


There's no denying that logging mile after mile on the road or trails is tough, which is why headphones are so crucial for helping pass the time. With the right tunes, you can distract your mind while letting the music help carry you through the tough stretches. Plus, most bluetooth headphones that integrate with your phone let you answer calls or listen to voice messages without ever breaking stride.

The options for wireless headphones geared to running are many, and you can find versions that track heart rate and provide running feedback. That said, it's important to remember that noise-canceling versions may not be safe when you're running outside.

"For headphones, even on the trails, you have to be vigilant and aware of wildlife and other trail users, especially mountain bikers on single trails," says Alexa Lampasona, a trail runner based in Boise, ID. "That's why I have Aftershox, which are bone-conduction headphones so I can still hear my surroundings."

This type of headphones actually sits outside the ear (rather than blocking the ear canal), and essentially passes the music into the ear through vibrations, allowing you to hear your music and the world around you at the same time.

Running Belts, Arm Bands, and Accessories

If you prefer not to use a hydration pack to tote extra gear, you may still want to try using a running belt or arm band that affords you a pocket or two to stash a few important items.

"Something to carry my phone in is key," says Jen Steele, an RRCA and Revo2lution Running certified run coach.

Steele says she doesn't leave home without her running belt. These belts and arm bands are also good for storing gels, single-use packets of sunscreen or anti-chaffing gel, bandaids, keys, and credit cards or cash.

For those who are running during their menstrual cycle, you may want to try period cups or discs that collect menses for up to 12-hours per day. This can help reduce the likelihood that you'd have an accident during your run.

Safety Gear and Reflective Accessories

When you head outside for a run, you're sharing the roads and trails with cars, bikes, animals, and other people. While most runs start and end without a problem, you always need to keep safety at the forefront of your mind. This means you want to be easily visible to those around you, and you want to have a plan (and tools) at the ready in case you find yourself in a dangerous situation.

"If you're running while it's dark out, it's important to wear visibility and reflective gear as a precaution to help drivers see you," says Bell. "Since your arms, ankles, and feet move the most while running, place key reflective pieces there to make it easier for drivers to identify you as a moving pedestrian."

You also may want to consider wearing blinking lights on the front and back of your body. You can clip them to your reflective vest works well.

"And always wear a headlamp or carry a flashlight, even if you're running in a well-lit area," Bell adds. "This will illuminate your path and also alert oncoming traffic. "

And if you find yourself in a scary situation with a dog, wild animal, or another person, having personal safety gear with you is also important.

"I must recommend every runner, especially women, carry a personal safety device," says Whitney Heins, a VDOT certified running coach and the founder of The Mother Runners. "There's a long list of items, from small weapons to alarms and spray, but I personally recommend two—a Run Angel alarm, which sounds a very loud alarm and contacts your emergency contacts should you be in trouble, and a Defender Ring, which can injure an assailant and collect DNA."

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to heading out for a bare-bones run, a good pair of shoes, socks, weather-appropriate apparel, are about all you'll need. But as you build your habit, you'll discover which items you want to carry with you, and which accessories you need to stay comfortable and safe. So before you spend lots of cash on running accessories, allow yourself time and space to develop your own arsenal of must-have running gear.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the best way to get started running?

    The best way to get started running is to, well, start. That said, if it has been awhile since the last time you exercised consistently, or if you have old injuries that may become a problem with a new running routine, it's best to get the all-clear from a healthcare provider to make sure running is the best routine for you. Beyond that, having a good pair of running shoes and a beginner-friendly running plan that will help you ease into the sport are your best bets for a safe and happy start.

  • How do you stay safe while running?

    Generally speaking, running is a safe activity that millions of Americans participate in every day. That said, you never know when you might find yourself in trouble. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to safeguard your health and safety while running.

    First and foremost, it's important to communicate with your loved ones where you'll be running and how long you expect to be gone. That way, someone will be aware and checking on you if you don't arrive back as planned. You may also want to use a location-sharing app so your friends and family know where you are.

    Second, wearing the right clothing and reflective gear is important—you want to be visible and you want to be appropriately protected from the elements. Third, carrying your phone with you is critical for communication should you be injured or sick, or if you find yourself in a dangerous situation. You may also want to carry pepper spray or other personal safety devices with you to protect yourself from dogs, wild animals, or even other people.

    Finally, it's always a good idea to run with other people or to take a dog with you. And of course, stick to well-lit and well-traveled routes if you do decide to go running alone.

  • What is the best way to prevent running injuries?

    Injuries can happen even to the most cautious of runners, but there are ways to help prevent common issues. For one, it's important not to do too much, too soon. Overtraining in the form of runs that are too long, too intense, or too frequent for your own fitness level can wreak havoc on your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. It's important to work your way up gradually and to make sure you're giving your body time to rest.

4 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Leabeater AJ, James LP, Driller MW. Tight margins: compression garment use during exercise and recovery — a systematic reviewTextiles. 2022;2(3):395-421. doi.org/10.3390/textiles2030022

  3. Blahova Z, Holm JC, Weiser T, Richter E, Trampisch M, Akarachkova E. Nicoboxil/nonivamide cream effectively and safely reduces acute nonspecific low back pain – a randomized, placebo-controlled trialJ Pain Res. 2016;9:1221-1230. doi.org/10.2147%2FJPR.S118329

  4. Thompson WR. Worldwide survey of fitness trends for 2022ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal. 2022;26(1):11-20. doi:10.1249/FIT.0000000000000732

By Laura Williams
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.