Running Gear You Need – And Gear That You Don’t

Recently, I was talking to a family friend about her running. She’s run a few marathons and has a personal best of about 4:20, so she’s doing really well for somebody who’s only been running for two years.

Running Gear

Her next race is a Warrior Dash and she’s also running a half-marathon in April.

Clearly, she’s getting into running in a big way. I love this. And she’s showing her newly found love for the sport by buying a lot of running gear. Listening to her list of purchases though, I was cringing. There was a lot of stuff she didn’t need (that she thought she did) and she wasn’t buying the gear that really mattered.

A quick example: she dropped $250 on a Garmin that she thought she needed for a 5k. Then she was frustrated that it measured the race at 3.3 miles and was freaking out about it. But USATF-certified courses are legitimate, so my suspicion of the accuracy of these devices only grew. She also probably didn’t run the tangents.

So what gear should all runners have? Here’s my personal list of necessary items. And then my list of optional stuff you can skip if you want.

Running Gear I Recommend:

Foam Roller – Costing less than $20, it’s a basic investment in your running health. I own a 24″ roller and it’s perfect to self-massage trigger points, sore areas, and tight muscles. It’s also a great conversation piece for guests when they wonder why you have a foam cylinder lying in your living room.

Tennis Ball – I use a tennis ball for really tight or sore muscles. It’s great at getting deep areas that the foam roller has trouble with (think: glutes or hamstrings). Just be warned, it will hurt. A lot.

Road ID – I’m all about safety when you’re running outside and Road ID can provide first responders with the information they need to save your life. After wiping out on my bike two years ago going 35 mph down a hill (I still have scars) and getting bitten by a dog (twice), I know that shit can happen. Be safe. And use promo code pcGIFTCARD10 to save 10% until 12/25/2010.

Synthetic socks. I prefer Wrightsock double layer socks – the double layer means you’ll never get a blister. It’s only happened once in 4 years of wearing these. Stick with your cotton socks and you’ll constantly fight blisters, especially if they get wet.

A second pair of shoes, preferably lighter/minimalist shoes. Rotating your shoes is something I learned in high school. Elite athletes can wear up to 5 different pairs of shoes every week (or more) that are all for different purposes. Have two that serve different purposes – generally a more structured, cushioned shoe for easy distance runs and the lighter shoe can be for short runs or faster running. I wear the ASICS Speedstars and the Saucony Fastwitch. My racing/workout shoes are the Hyper Speeds.

Thera-Band/elastic tubing. These little bands can be used in a lot of ways and are a vital part of my ITB Rehab Routine. Adding some resistance to common exercises – like lateral leg lifts or the side shuffle – can help you build extra strength and stability.

Books. Go learn about running. It’s one of the best investments you can make in your running career. When you know more, you’ll make less training mistakes. And that will help you stay consistent, run longer, and race faster. Check out my personal list of 17 Running and Training Books that I own.

Optional Running Gear:

The latest $60 Nike running top. Look, I love sweet running clothes as much as the next person, but if I got a new running wardrobe every season I’d be broke. Top of the line stuff is expensive and you just don’t need fancy clothes. Get the basics  and you’ll be all set. My preferences:

  1. Winter gear: I like Under Armour ColdGear® tights in the winter and I’ve been had one pair for 4 years. My gloves are a $3 pair from CVS and I layer three synthetic shirts I’ve had for at least 5 years. It it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  2. Summer gear: I wear a pair of shorts, a Road ID, and a good attitude for my summer runs. Ladies, you can wear just a sports bra or a t-shirt. Summer is the season for skin.

Technology – I’ve mentioned before that I’m a minimalist runner so I’m usually against the “cool” gadgets that a lot of runners have.

  1. Garmin GPS devices. They’re kind of cool, but I’ll never own one. I see runners wearing them in races, despite them being fairly large and heavy. Their accuracy is also suspect, at best.
  2. Heart-rate monitors. I used to own one and got addicted to it. I wore it to bed to see what my lowest heart rate was (it was 38 beats per minute). Get one if you’re an advanced runner looking to perfect your tempo pace or a new runner looking to keep your heart rate below a certain number during your runs. Just set it and forget it.
  3. The newest iPod. Music while running can be dangerous if you’re not aware of your surroundings, but I’m not that stuffy. It can be fun. Usually I prefer the sound of the trail and the woods, but I may buy one soon. Just don’t think you need one. They’re not required to be a good runner.

‘Tis the season for buying gifts, so I wanted to provide a good round-up of gifts for runners. Some of these are practical and highly recommended, like a Road ID or foam roller. Others can be fun and you can put on your wish list, like a heart-rate monitor. They’re not necessary but I see the allure for you techie runners.

One of the reasons I love running so much is its simplicity. I don’t need a bag full of equipment and gear to go for a run. I don’t need a special court or playing field. I can run during any kind of weather with just a pair of shoes. Now that’s freedom.

If you do have (or are planning to buy) a GPS tool or a new wardrobe of fancy running clothes, just know that they will have a negligible impact on you becoming a better runner. Focus on running a little more, doing the little things, being consistent, and improvement will take care of itself.

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  1. I do use my iPhone when I run, attached to my upper arm with an Armpocket. Makes a great replacement for a Garmin watch, plus I have maps, phone & camera available when I need them.

    • Not a bad idea Bill. Having an iPhone lets you make a call if you need it, listen to music, or deliver a pizza to a road corner. You never know when you’ll need that versatility.

    • I use my iPhone in the same manner. It’s nice to know that I always have a phone with me just in case. Plus, why buy a Garmin when my phone can do the same thing and is just as accurate.

  2. I’ve actually found my Garmin Forerunner 305 to be very accurate and really helpful in determining pace. Also, those runs that you think are about 10 miles are often much less.

    It is also a heart-rate monitor and I don’t find it all that heavy or bulky at all. I don’t think you need it for a 5K, and until my cheap-o watch died on me I never raced with my Garmin, but I’ve found it to be a really useful training tool.

    • I’m not totally opposed to using a Garmin, I just don’t like it when runners use it as a crutch. The versatility is incredible and can be an interesting training tool (but it’s exactly that – a tool). Do you recommend the 305? Or is there another good model out there?

      • I really like my 305, but there is a similar model (310XT, I think) that is waterproof and would be great for triathletes.

  3. Fitz,
    Some very advice, But I agree with Jeff on the Garmin.
    I’ve owned one for over 3 years and it has greatly helped in my training and is very good for pacing in longer races.
    I’ve also tested it on a certified mile loop finding it very accurate and more often than not find races are shorter than they are meant to be!
    I do agree with you that in short races it is better not to use a Garmin.
    I believe in Tim Noakes central governor of the brain theory and think you can trick the limit it sets by racing the runners around you and looking at the garmin can bring out negative feedback, such as ‘shit I’m going to fast’ or you can lose concentration and lose secs each time you look down at the Garmin.
    But on longer races 1/2 and full marathons I think using the virtual partner can increase confidence by letting you run a more even pace as well as giving you a target to aim for throughout the event.
    Self massage; I recommend the following website, if you are serious about learning the best methods for self treatment click here;

    • Rick, are Garmins accurate on trails with undulating terrain and thick tree cover? I run mostly on trails like this so I’m curious about your experience. Cheers!

      • Fitz,
        I do run quite a few trail races each year, which include rough tracks and woods and forests.
        One of these races was a 10k and the other over 4 miles, both certified distances.
        my garmin 205 was very close to the measured distance.
        The first garmins did lose signal in trees extra but the new models are very good.
        But If you go through any tunnels then you are a bit buggered :]

  4. First, I love my Garmin Forerunner 305 because it keeps me honest with my pace during tempo runs. I don’t live near a track, and the terrain that I run on is hilly. I couldn’t keep pace without it if my life depended on it.

    Second, what’s wrong with a camelback? I take hydration on longer runs, and on long, hot runs, I need far more than I can carry in my hands.

    Third, I don’t like synthetic socks because I get blisters in those, too. I now run, virtually blister free, in Thor-Lo Experia wool-silk blend (you can find these on the Thor-Lo website).

    • Hey Brad, nothing too wrong with a Camelbak for those demanding runs. I’ve just never needed one and don’t know too many runners who use them. But if it works for you, stick with it. And I should have been clearer about the synthetic socks. I was mostly saying avoid cotton like the plague. Good choice with the wool-silk blend!

  5. I have to echo the GPS comments left here, I’ve never had issues with mine and accuracy, but I think a good deal of that has to do with my realization of the limits of the technology. (I’ve written a post about it here: for anyone that’s interested)

    As you wrote, your friend probably didn’t run the tangents of the course. Additionally the amount you weave passing other runners, moving over for water stations etc. will add mileage people don’t take into account.

    Another consideration is that all the documentation for Garmin 305’s say very plainly that the accuracy is +/- 10m 50% of the time. However people assume they are getting a sub-centimeter accurate device. The software does an excellent job of removing errant points and interpolating paths, but people have to be mindful of what exactly is going on.

    The big thing to remember is that they are a tool. It’s a great guide for pacing and distance, with instant feedback to keep you informed. NOWHERE does it state that the information should be taken as gospel, merely used as a guide.


  6. My friend is a certified UKA course measurer, one thing he told me is for each 1k he measures he has to add 1 metre, this is so if a world record was broken you will never get a short couse when re-measured!
    So a certified course will always be over distance.
    Also road courses are measured be taking the shortest safe route.
    As a ex cycle time trialer I learned all about shaving seconds by cutting the corners, but in many running events I’m often amazed to see people take the long way round corners etc.
    On my measured mile loop the difference between taking the shortest possible line and taking a wide line can add up to quite a few seconds, thats something to think about if your after a PR.

  7. Love my Garmin 310XT. Used to be obsessed with heart rate, now I use it primarily to train by pace. The devices say clearly that the accuracy is within 35 feet, on every GPS reading. That discrepancy can add up. I always find it amusing when people say the course was long (or short) because their Garmin said so….

  8. A lacrosse ball is a lot better at the self-massage job than a tennis ball, IMHO.

  9. I destroy tennis balls very quickly, better to use a dogs rubber ball or if you are not ‘tight’ with your money a proper massage ball :]

  10. I enjoyed this blog, some interesting reading and I liked the link to the tangents (makes perfect sense but never even thought about it!) I am enjoying my Nike + thing – it’s relatively inexpensive compared to the Garmin and it helps me to keep my track of miles and pace when I run. Is it necessary? Nah, I ran for 7 months without it but I am enjoying the bells and whistles.

    Thanks for the link to the books – I’ll check them out too.

  11. Important basic gear should include a refective vest and a blinking light or two. Vests are great, but too often, near sunrise or sunset, drivers do not turn on their lights, making reflectors useless. I like the safety of both passive and active devices for low-light runs. Road ID is crucial too. ‘Glad you had that listed. (I like their Firefly blinky LEDs, fwiw)

  12. I love my Wright socks. No blisters for me either. I also never leave home without my Road ID. I consider it my good luck charm.

    I like my Garmin. I don’t use it for all my runs. Sometimes, I like to run “naked” and not worry about pace or distance. But I have a terrible sense of time and distance so I do use my Garmin for important work outs like a tempo or intervals or long runs. No heart rate monitor so I try to run by feel but will check in with the Garmin to make sure I’m not going to hard or at least staying within the McMillan range for that workout.

  13. UA Cold Weather gear is a must, along with a reflector vest and a head lamp for a cold winter night run in Boston! I love learning about the sport and different training methods, so books are always appreciated. Your blog/tweets also provide terrific advice/training tips- so thank you and look forward to more in 2013!

  14. I started running in April of 2012 and I did the same thing early on bought the Timex Ironman watch the 1st watch I spent more than $200.00 on. By the summer I was using the watch for understanding my pacing. Now I don’t use the watch at all. I use Footies socks, UnderArmor Cold Gear mocks and leggings and two pairs of Asics running shoes.

    The only tech I use is Map My Run on my phone witch I use for training program. In the 12 races I ran last year, Map My Run and my Ironman watch was always off on distance ran.

  15. Thanks for your article. I’m beginning to scale down my load of tech accessories. I believe with all of the gadgets we carry today we are losing sight of running itself. Here’s an article about getting back to natural running.
    I still believe we need the basics. Like you mentioned, a second pair of shoes. We just shouldn’t get all carried away in the hype of big corporations who are trying to fill their deep pockets.


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