I started running as a kid in the 80s before hi-tech fabrics and fancy running shoes were all the rage. I typically ran in cotton T-shirts and shorts, cotton socks, and a pair of beat-up Etonic sneakers.
Nowadays, runners have so many options for running clothes and shoes that shopping for gear can be pretty overwhelming. Runners who I coach often ask questions like, “What kind of running shoes do YOU wear?” “What are the best brands for running shorts?” “What sports bra should I wear?” The answer to all of those questions — much to the frustration of runners who just want simple answers — is, “It depends.”
Like with many things in running, what’s good for one runner may not necessarily work for others. I’ve been running in Mizuno Wave Riders for more than 10 years, but my husband much prefers his Brooks Adrenaline. So, it’s tough to give specific brand recommendations for clothes and shoes. However, there are certain features that I suggest you look for when shopping. Below, are tips on how to choose the right running shoes, shirts, socks, sports bras, and shorts.
If you’re only going to invest in one piece of running gear, make it your running shoes. Finding the right running shoes is critical because wearing old ones or shoes that aren’t right for your foot type and running style can lead to injuries, foot blisters, discomfort during runs, and all kinds of other issues.
Even if you have an old pair of running shoes that you think are comfortable, the cushioning may be worn out, so they most likely need to be replaced. You need fresh, well-cushioned shoes that are designed for running, fit well, and are appropriate for your foot type and running style. If you have high arches, for example, you need a different type of shoe than someone who has flat feet.
Visit a running-specialty store, where experts can evaluate your foot and running style and make recommendations for the right shoes for you. The shoe expert will probably give a few different options to choose from. Once you find a pair of running shoes that work for you, be sure to replace them every 300-400 miles because the cushioning will start to wear out.
It’s best to run in shirts made from a wicking material, so the fabric pulls the moisture away from you. That means don’t run in cotton shirts, which stay wet once they’re wet. Look for flat seams to avoid chafing and discomfort. Reflective stripes or piping are another useful feature, especially if you tend to run in low-light conditions. Other desirable, although not totally necessary, features include UV-protective coating for increased sun protection and anti-odor technology.
When buying running socks, the most important feature is the material. You’ll want to stay away from 100% cotton socks, which don’t wick away moisture. Running in socks that are wet from sweat or puddles can lead to blisters. And if it’s cold out, your feet will feel cold and clammy.
The best running socks are ones that are made from synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, and CoolMax because they’ll wick away moisture. For cold weather running, wool blends such as SmartWool are also an excellent choice.
Other features to look for are seam-free toe section (for more blister protection) and an elastic arch lock (to keep the sock in place). Padded soles are also good to give you some heel cushioning. If you like low-cut socks, make sure that they have a tab that covers your Achilles, so your running shoe isn’t digging into or irritating your skin.
Look for running shorts with an elastic waistband and a thin liner for comfort and to hold everything in place. Another great feature is a small pocket, where you can store your keys, ID, or nutrition. As with running shirts, some reflective piping or stripes is always a plus.
Women should make sure that they’re wearing a good, supportive sports bra. The sports bra should fit you properly and not be too stretched out. Most sports bras need to be replaced after about 72 washes, if you have a significant weight change, or the bra’s elasticity is shot.
A running specialty store is a good place to shop for a sports bra, since they’ll have sports bras that are designed specifically for runners. Many sports bras don’t have the right support for runners, especially if you’re large-chested. Follow these sport bra shopping tips to ensure the right fit:
- Make sure you try the sports bras on, in several different sizes. The right size for you may not actually be your usual size. You’ll know that the bra is too big if the material wrinkles or bunches.
- The bra should fit snugly but not constrict your breathing or dig into your skin. It’s a good fit if you can slide two fingers under the straps.
- Don’t buy sports bras that are made of 100% cotton because once you start sweating, they’ll stay wet and that could lead to chafing and general discomfort. Look for moisture-wicking fabrics such as Coolmax and Drifit.
- Look for seamless fabrics, seams with rolled edges, or covered seams as another protection against chafing.
- When you try on sports bras, jog in place or do jump up and down to test their support. The bra should minimize breast movement as you’re bouncing.
- If you have a large chest and need a lot of support, look for sports bras with wide shoulder straps and racer back straps. Two brands that specialize in sports bras for large chests are Enell, Shock Absorber, and Moving Comfort.