gifts they might actually want

The Best Gifts for Runners, According to Runners and Coaches

Photo: Santi Visalli/Getty Images

Runners can be picky about their gear and rightly so — my favorite Gu flavor might make you sick, and your tried-and-true sneakers could leave me with shin splints. That lands runners firmly in the hard-to-shop-for category, but it is still clearly possible to find the runners in your life gifts they’ll love. Drawing on my own favorites (I’ve been running for a decade now and have completed five marathons and dozens of shorter races) plus the input of avid runners, coaches, and other experts, I’ve narrowed down the best gifts for all runners, whether they’re tackling their first miles or collecting age-group-race prizes.

Gadget gifts for runners

Garmin Forerunner 45S

When I asked a few runner friends what gifts they’d like to receive, several mentioned a new GPS watch, often singling out Garmin by name. Garmin’s entry-level running watch, the Forerunner 45, lets runners track their runs and check their pace, heart rate, and distance mid-run; it also offers the ability to preprogram interval workouts and lots of other features. City Coach co-founder and head coach Jonathan Cane told us that the previous version of this watch would “certainly do the trick for a new runner, and will be adequate even for a more hard-core athlete.” It’s safe to say the new one will do the same.

If you’re shopping for a runner who competes in triathlons, this Garmin watch also tracks biking and swimming metrics. It boasts a 14-hour battery life, which comes in handy during longer events like Ironman races. According to Steph Willett — a triathlete and the team manager of Volée, a global community of female runners created by the apparel brand Oiselle — for a watch with so many features, this one “is light, fairly intuitive, and doesn’t look like a calculator on my wrist.”

Although Coros only started selling GPS watches in 2018, the Seattle-based brand has earned lots of buzz in the running community and is quickly becoming a big player in the market. The main reason? Its watches have a crazy-long battery life. This entry-level model will last 25 hours in GPS mode or 30 days for regular use, and its pricier watches go up to 60 hours and 45 days. “They’ve created a great product, for sure,” says Jason Fitzgerald, a USA Track & Field–certified running coach and the founder of Strength Running. “It does everything: tracks sleep, steps, altitude, sunrise and sunset, calories burned, and of course all of the running metrics that runners care about.”

Sometimes listening to a good playlist or podcast can make all the difference in getting a runner out of bed on a cold day. Strategist managing editor Maxine Builder tested out these truly wireless earbuds and liked all the workout-friendly features they had to offer. They don’t block out ambient noise — which is a good thing for outdoor runners who need to hear things like oncoming cars — and they’re easy to adjust with a light touch while on the run. Builder notes “there’s also a so-called Sport Tip, a plastic hook that helps secure the earbuds to your ears even while you’re bouncing around.”

A little bit more affordable, these open-ear headphones are especially safe for runners because they don’t actually go inside the ear but rather transmit sound through the bones in your ear. Professional runner Katie Mackey told us she was initially skeptical about the technology, but was quickly won over: “After using them a few times, I was totally in love because I could hear the music just as well as with other headphones, but I can also hear all the noise around me.”

Among work, other hobbies, and making time for family, busy runners squeeze their runs in either early in the morning or late at night — often when it’s dark outside. To stay safe and visible to cars and other traffic, I use an older version of this clip-on light that’s totally unobtrusive when attached to my waistband.

Practical gifts for runners

When you’re running outside for several hours each week, you’re going to get a lot of sun exposure, but runners often neglect to wear sunscreen, thinking they’ll either sweat it off or it’ll run into their eyes. Jennifer Stein, a dermatologist at NYU Langone Health, says “a stick is a good way to get a sunscreen that doesn’t run as much.” Treat the runners in your life to this high-SPF, water-resistant sunscreen stick (a favorite of dermatologist Marnie Nussbaum) to keep their skin looking just as good as their form.

There aren’t any fabric face masks that are particularly comfortable to run in, but runners who are doing their best to protect themselves and others from COVID-19 may find Buff’s neck gaiter to be the best possible option. Already a favorite for runners looking to stay warm in winter or block the sun in summer, Buffs are made from breathable, quick-drying material that makes them a good choice for running outdoors in crowded spaces. It’ll be a staple in many runners’ wardrobe post-COVID, too. Professional endurance runner Susie Chan says a Buff is “great for many things, from keeping your hair out of your face to a sweatband on your wrist.”

A wet cotton sock rubbing against the foot can cause painful blisters that may stop new runners in their tracks, which is why experienced runners know to invest in moisture-wicking socks made from synthetics or wool. Merino wool is an all-natural fabric that keeps you dry and regulates temperature whether it’s hot or cold out. Writer (and runner) Steven John likes this pair because, he says, “along with all the compression and support you’d expect from a good running sock, they also feature a specifically anatomical design tailored to each foot.”

Shorts are the foundations of a runner’s wardrobe, with lots of dedicated athletes wearing them well into the fall and winter. An inexpensive pick for guys, John says, these “lightweight, quick-drying, and secure-fitting shorts are suitable for use in just about any conditions.” He likes that they have a liner that’s supportive but not too snug if you’re wearing tights underneath to stay warm.

For a comparable women’s pair, try these affordable Nike shorts. I’ve worn them for everything from 5Ks to marathons, and they’ve always been comfortable with no annoying chafing or riding up. They last forever and, with a 3.5-inch inseam, they’re neither too long nor too short.

Runners have been loving the ultra-cushioned Asics Nimbus for more than 20 years now, with many loyalists picking up the new version each year and never straying. Personal trainer and fitness editor Emily Abbate owns 72 pairs of sneakers, but will run marathons (she’s finished six) only in the Nimbus. She says “the forefoot gel-cushioning system … keeps my foot comfortable mile after mile. With these, I never have to worry about uncomfortable foot cramps or pain in my arches.” As for the men’s version, John calls them the best all-around pair. “I wear these more than any other running shoe,” he says, “and I tend to wear them out by the time the new pair shows up.”

Stylish (practical) gifts for runners

“Having socks you trust is so key for wanting to get out the door each day,” says David Roche, the coach and founder of the SWAP running team and the co-author of The Happy Runner. A fun print helps, too, which is why he likes Stance socks. They have style and substance.

For runners who want their shoes to look as good as they feel, Erika Hammond, a founding trainer of Rumble Boxing and Rumble Training, loves these Adidas sneakers. They’re a favorite among celebrities and a Strategist-approved status sneaker. “I’m constantly on the move, either training or working out, and I always rock my Ultraboost,” says Hammond. The environmentally conscious runner in your life will especially like this pair, a collaboration with Parley for the Oceans, which is made entirely from upcycled trash collected from coastal communities and beaches. As Girlfriend Collective co-founder and creative director Ellie Dinh says, “Many people don’t realize that most synthetic materials are made from plastic and that it’s entirely possible to create the same great functional and stylish products from recycled materials instead.”

An equally cool shoe, the On Running Cloudstratus was voted the status gym sneaker for men when we asked stylish gym-going guys. According to Rhys Athayde, the chief experience officer and founding trainer at Dogpound, they’re not only great for trail and road running — they’re also good for hiking, running-based workout classes, and even walking around town, because they exist at the intersection of “function, comfort, and style.”

I’m a big fan of these stretchy Lululemon tights that come in a ton of colors and have deep pockets on the thigh for my phone, energy gels, and keys. And I’m not alone: Dianna Falzarano, the director of TRX programming at Flex Studios, says, “They’re pretty tight so you don’t have to be constantly pulling them up.” And Helaine Knapp, the founder and CEO of the rowing studio CITYROW, adds that “the fit and style make me feel like I can conquer the world.”

Self-care gifts for runners

You may associate giant tubs of protein powder with weightlifters, but Fitzgerald explains that it’s also useful for runners to “help repair muscle damage after hard workouts.” Since runners can benefit from adding strength training to their routines, it’ll help them recover faster between sessions. He recommends this single-ingredient powder because “there are no ingredients that aren’t needed, and it tastes great.”

Writer Alison Freer bought these compression socks for her mom when she was recovering from surgery, but they’re just as useful for runners dealing with tight calves. Compression socks speed up muscle recovery and decrease muscle vibration caused by the high impact of running. Get the moisture-wicking ones to avoid overheating.

A runner who’s sidelined by injury might have more time to read, and Rebound, recommended by Garvey, will teach them how to develop the confidence, focus, and resilience to return to the sport even stronger than before. “A lot of books in running lit right now are talking about mental strength and resilience during workouts and races,” says Garvey, “but very few talk about how to develop that skill when you’re injured and on the mend.”

While performing self-massage with a foam roller might not be quite as relaxing as a massage in a spa, devoting a few minutes to rolling out your muscles after each run is important for staying loose and preventing injuries. The extra-firm TriggerPoint has raised bumps and lines to get even deeper into muscle tissue. “It’s just the right density to be effective without bruising,” says Radan Sturm, the founder of the Liftonic studio. “It’s the perfect size that allows you to target all major parts of the body, while being compact enough to travel with.”

Even more intense than your standard foam roller (and therefore, more effective), the R8 roller wraps around your muscles to attack soreness from all sides. “The spring-loaded rollers dig as deep as I want, with a gripping massage that feels like strong hands,” says Jonathan Beverly, editor-in-chief of PodiumRunner and author of Your Best Stride. “I keep it next to my desk and use it nearly daily.” Carrie Tollefson, a member of the 2004 U.S. Olympic team and national fitness director for Moms on the Run, also recommends the R8 because it’s travel-friendly and lets you work all the major running muscles without having to roll on the floor.

Splurge-worthy gifts for runners

This high-end watch is designed for ultrarunners like Chan, who regularly compete in races up to 50 or 100 miles long