Essential Running Gear (Equipment For Every Outdoor Runner)

Running isn’t an equipment-heavy activity.

That’s what makes it so desirable for so many people.

It’s just you and your body out there on the terrain, putting in the work.

While equipment may be largely unnecessary, though, all runners know a little specialized gear can make runs far more enjoyable, not to mention healthier and safer.

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Essential Running Gear

If you’re running outdoors, especially in places with vehicular or pedestrian traffic, these are the items we deem absolute essentials.

Hydration Pack

  • Who needs it: Every runner
  • Why you need it: To stay hydrated during your run without having to carry a water bottle
  • When you need it: Always

A hydration pack is hands-down our top must-have item for runners.

You can’t run without water, and this is the most convenient, comfortable way to carry it.

For our top hydration pack picks, see Buying Guide: Best Running & Cycling Hydration Packs For The Money.

Fitness Tracker

  • Who needs it: Every runner
  • Why you need it: To monitor your heart rate and keep track of your time/miles/calories burned
  • When you need it: Always

What? Every runner needs a fitness tracker?

Come on.

These things weren’t even popular until a few years ago.

Point conceded.

But, though fitness trackers only hit the mainstream in recent years, they are certainly popular now.

They are also more accurate than they have ever been.

If you’re serious about your running (and your health), there’s no reason not to employ an easy means of monitoring your heart rate and mileage.

Some fitness trackers we trust:

Sunscreen

  • Who needs it: Every runner
  • Why you need it: To protect your skin from sun damage
  • When you need it: Always (even on cloudy days)

Ideally, your running clothes have built-in UV protection, which prevents the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays from penetrating through to your skin. (For more on dressing for a run, see What to Wear Running.)

For everything that isn’t covered, you need sunscreen.

Outdoor long-distance runners have a greater risk of skin cancer, so lather it on every time you run.

Hydration Tablets or Salt Packets

  • Who needs it: Long-distance runners
  • Why you need it: To restore electrolytes and prevent cramping
  • When you need it: On runs longer than an hour if you’re not hydrating with a sports drink

Hydration tablets or salt packets (just dump the salt on your tongue and take a big swig of water) are an easy way of re-upping your sodium/electrolyte levels during a run. (The other main means is drinking an electrolyte-containing sports drink, like Gatorade, instead of water.)

If you’re heading out on a long run, you may want to do a blast of sodium on your way out the door, but a re-up once every hour can keep your levels at a healthy keel.

Hydration tablets that work:

Running Headphones

  • Who needs it: Runners who listen to music while they run
  • Why you need it: To stay pumped
  • When you need it: Whenever you feel like it (except when you’re running on the road, in which case you should keep your ears open for traffic sounds)

If you’re going to listen to music while you run, most headphones/ear buds simply won’t cut it.

The pounding of your feet jostles things loose, and wearing regular ear buds is a great way to end up spending half your run searching for a lost bud in the grass.

Running headphones are designed to stay in place and provide comfort as you run, and their fairly reasonable prices make them must-haves.

Safety Running Accessories

These items are about safety on your run.

Running Light

  • Who needs it: Runners running at night or in poorly-lit conditions (rain, snow, dark paths, etc.)
  • Why you need it: So you don’t step in a hole and break your ankle, to signal for help if necessary
  • When you need it: When running at night or whenever you need a little more light to see the way ahead

If you are running at sunrise, sunset, or in total darkness, you need to be able to see AND be more visible to others.

A running light accomplishes both of these things.

For more on running lights, see How to Stay Safe Running in the Dark.

Reflective Running Gear

  • Who needs it: Runners running at night or in poorly-lit conditions (rain, snow, dark paths, etc.)
  • Why you need it: So drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians can see you
  • When you need it: At night or in other low-light conditions

Again, when running in anything but daylight, you need to be more visible to others.

This is the purpose of reflective running clothes and accessories.

For more on reflective running wear, see How to Stay Safe Running in the Dark.

Running Recovery Accessories

These items can help aid in recovery before or after a run.

Muscle Roller

  • Who needs it: Every runner
  • Why you need it: To loosen tight muscles and promote recovery
  • When you need it: Before and after a run

Rolling out the muscles in your legs before a run has been shown to help warm the muscles up, which increases range of motion, reduces fatigue, and helps prevent injury.

Rolling out the muscles in your legs after a run has been shown to reduce recovery time and lessen muscle soreness.

All in, rolling is a simple means of making runs more effective and reducing some of the unpleasant side effects of running.

Plus, it’s inexpensive, so why wouldn’t you give yourself a boost in performance and healing?

Compression Leg Sleeves or Socks

  • Who needs it: Long-distance runners
  • Why you need it: To promote blood flow and aid in recovery
  • When you need it: After a long run

A 2015 study of compression sock use in marathon runners found wearing compression socks for 48 hours after a marathon improved runner recovery, leading to better performance on a fitness test two weeks later.

Simply put, compression socks help runners recover faster after running long distances, which makes them a good recovery tool to have on hand if you run more than a few miles at a time.

Gear Up For Greater Results

Running may not be an equipment-heavy activity, but a little gear can go a long way towards improving performance and comfort.

So, when it comes time for your next run, gear up to get the most out of it, whether you’re training for a half-marathon or just taking a few laps around the neighborhood.

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