When working out and getting your sweat on, proper gear can make a huge difference in performance and even safety. This holiday gift guide covers accessories and essentials sure to please your favorite runner and fitness buff.
For more gift ideas, check out the other activity-specific gift guides from Active Junky, or ideas from our sister site, Tom’s Guide, with over 250 techy gift ideas. And don’t forget to sign up for Active Junky for the best deals and cash back on your gear and gift purchases.
Photo Credit: Kyle Kranz
|The North Face
When running on the road, bike path or trail, you’ll often deal with other forms of traffic from vehicles to bicycles. That’s when having proper lighting to see and be seen becomes a matter of safety. The Black Diamond Sprinter headlamp gives you white light in the front so you can clearly see your way and red lighting in the back so others can see you. Illuminating an oval area up to 50m, the 200 lumen Sprinter averages a full 24 hours on medium power running off the rechargeable lithium battery, and the red taillight strobe increases visibility from behind. The casing is storm proof, rated to IPX4 to protect against rain, and at only 3.7oz, it's lightweight and stays in place through high-impact running, making it a great choice for both road and trail running.
Best for: High-impact trail and road running with ample power and distance coverage
Trail running is perilous in its own right. Needless to say, a good headlamp is key, and one of our favorites has been Black Diamond’s Storm headlamp. Weighing just 4 ounces, the headlamp cranks out a max of 160 lumens, has IPX7 water resistant properties (which means it can survive heavy rain and a meter of submersion for half an hour), and houses a QuadPower LED, two SinglePower white LEDs and two SinglePower red LEDs. Trails light up for a good 20 feet ahead, throwing any potential obstacles into vivid relief. With the 160 lumens blasting, you can run with confidence. The Storm is killer for overnight races, as the 4AAA batteries are easily replaceable on the trail if you burn through the 125 hour burn time (on the brightest setting), and the touch-sensitive PowerTap feature makes it simple to dim the light when you need to read your map.
When winter hits and paths get icy, you don’t have to stop running or be trapped indoors. Active Junky testers instead opt for Kahtoola Nanospikes. Simply pull them over your running shoes, and you have your winter running solution. Ten tungsten carbide spikes per foot offer traction unlike any shoe can offer. Kahtoola’s rubber toe straps made proper alignment simple. Designed to track and grip at robust speeds, Nanospikes also worked well for walkers. Unlike many other winter traction devices, this model holds and releases while wearing well over hundreds of miles. The zippered carrying pouch makes transporting these nanospikes anywhere easy while keeping your transport bag free from snags or rips.
While socks can easily be overlooked when considering proper running gear, they can make a world of difference in performance and comfort. Balega Ultralight No Shows are high-performance running socks with strategically placed support and comfort. Reinforced cushioned heel and toe absorbs shock in foot striking areas, elastic in the arch provides support, and mesh panels help keep your foot ventilated and cool. And this is just a few thoughtful features. For those concerned with how some no-show socks slip, Balega has you covered with thick heel tabs that keep your sock in place. Available in a variety of colors and unisex sizes S to XL, Balega Ultralights are a great running gift or stocking stuffer.
FuelBelt’s largest volume handheld, the Enduro Fuel holds 16oz in its BPA-free plastic water bottle, which is top-shelf dishwasher safe. The silicone cap comes with a burst valve, so you don’t have to stop or use your teeth to get a drink—just squeeze, though this is important to keep in mind if you’ll be putting the full bottle in a bag. The insulated sleeve keeps water cool on hot days pounding the pavement, and the adjustable hand strap tightens or loosens for varying hand sizes. Water-resistant dual zippered pockets can accommodate keys, cash, ID or credit card, and reflective accents help increase visibility.
Best for: Road or trail running when all you need is a small amount of water and a couple small items
A second handheld option from FuelBelt is the Tech Fuel, which has a secure holder for your smartphone to keep it accessible while on the go. It fits standard devices, though it may not be large enough for your phone with a cover, but in our testing without a case shaking and bouncing around, our phone stayed secure and in place. Like the Enduro Fuel, it has an adjustable strap with reflective accents, and comes with two gel pack loops. The 10oz. bottle is BPA-free and top-shelf dishwasher safe. Testers noted the shape of the bottle is wider and better suited for larger hands. The pull-open valve is soft so you can open and close it with your teeth as you’re running.
Hydroventure Trail Running Shoe from Topo Athletic claims the crown as the “lightest fully waterproof trail running shoe on the market,” and testers scored it high for all-day comfort with a flexible rock plate underfoot. At 9.7oz, Hydro flew fast on flats with a minimal 3mm drop (stack height of 23mm x 20mm) combined with a competent 4.5mm rubber outsole as trails turned uphill. When splashing puddles turned into churning through deeper muck, this eVent-based Topo Athletic model paddled hard and fast – and stayed dry inside. Lacing eyelets and tongue loops locked in fit with little shifting and no foot or ankle abrasion even in wetter scenarios. Water is no barrier, nor are shattered trails or feet needing reasonable protection. This Active Junky pick comes with resolve, respect and the recommendation to buy a pair.
Pearl Izumi rides the thin line between external protection and internal breathability with the Fly Jacket. The running jacket is fashioned from Pearl Izumi’s proprietary Barrier fabric, which is water and wind-resistant as well as highly breathable. The Fly Jacket does away with pit zip, opting instead for open armpits for continuous airflow, great if you prefer venting hot, sweaty air out of your jacket instead of letting it circulate inside. There’s more to this piece than keeping you cool, though. The Barrier repelled everything but heavy rain, and wind felt nearly nonexistent throughout months of winter trail runs. Testers saw the internal mitts as a nice detail, allowing you to ditch gloves as you can tuck your hands inside a pocket within the cuff of each sleeve. As a bonus, there’s a zip pocket in the back to store a few items if needed.
Arc’teryx’s Soleus Shorts are not for the faint of heart, nor for the shy of thigh. Keeping in tune with classic style, these running shorts have a rockin’ slit up the side, making them seem even shorter. In addition to giving bystanders a show, the slits add mobility and ventilation, while the brief liner provides ample support. For a lightweight short, the Soleus provides a good amount of storage space. Three back mesh pockets welcome items such as small bottles and even a packable jacket. The small, elastic front pocket has enough room to cram a few energy gels as well.
The North Face’s Better Than Naked Tee lives up to its lofty name. We took the BTN out on hundreds of miles’ worth of trails while training for and eventually running the TNF Endurance Challenge 50k trail race. Our tester didn’t win, but the shirt in and of itself was a prize. The soft polyester is highly effective at wicking away sweat, but we found that the shirt’s open-backed design is what made it stand out from the rest of the competition – the shirt’s breathable mesh running up the center of the back allows the body to vent heat. The slim fit and soft material brought the shirt’s title to mind while our tester was running, and this normally bare-backed runner found himself wanting to keep the shirt on for its performance.
Made for those “in-between days” when spring feels not so far off, Pearl Izumi’s Flash Running Top has lace mesh back panels and long sleeves to maintain a comfortable core temperature. The brand’s Transfer Dry fabric wicks sweat and moisture away from your skin to keep you dry and cool, and UPF50+ protects you on sunny days. The semi-form fit is great for layering under a heavier jacket during warm ups or if the temperature drops. Features like thumbholes and internal fist mitts add extra functionality and comfort.
Just say it: Rad Rod. It has a way of rolling off the tongue, does it not? It also has a way of rolling out sore muscles. From the calves to the upper back and back again, this roller is one of our favorites. Why? Namely because of its stiffness. Firmer than most rollers on the market (unless you’re super hardcore and only use PVC pipe), the Rad Rod is as versatile as it is stiff. Work out the kinks yourself or have a friend dig in to those hard to reach places. Also, the Rad Rod is on the skinny side, making it more travel friendly.
The JadeYoga Harmony Yoga Mat is as durable as it is comfortable, making it perfect for levels of practice ranging from easy to arduous. Natural, spongy rubber compresses underfoot but responds quickly on the rebound. Even hot yoga classes won’t cause Downward Dog slippage, as the properties of natural rubber guarantee maximum grip. Not to mention, this construction is eco-friendly and sustainable, so you can practice without polluting.
It’s only fair to give your feet some love after beating them up all day pounding the pavement or trail. The old trick of soaking your feet in hot bathwater after long hot days feels even better after a serious foot massage. The updated Pro model comes with stainless steel balls you can freeze for extra therapy that’s perfect for conditions like plantar fasciitis or inflammation due to sprain or break. The portable Moji Foot Massager Pro is a treat for anyone spending hours punishing their feet.
The Fitbit Alta was the most accurate fitness tracker we tested, and its compact size, digital screen and comfortable design made it our Editor’s Pick for best wrist fitness tracker for all-day wear and metrics tracking. It automatically detects and tracks activities as well as sleeping patterns. Alta connects via Bluetooth to your phone to transfer all data to the app, and your phone can send notifications for calls, texts, and calendar alerts to the fitness tracker. The Fitbit app also syncs with other health tracking apps you may use, like MapMyRun and MyFitnessPal. It’s available in black or purple at the base price, or you can spend a bit more for different band colors and materials, like genuine leather.
Best For: All-day fitness and activity tracking with its simple design and overall accuracy
In our tests, the Fitbit Zip counted step more accurately than any other pedometer: for every 5,000 steps taken, it was only off by two steps, which is extremely impressive. It also tracks distance and calories, and while not perfect, was on-par with its competitors in those metrics. It was also one of the easiest pedometers to set up and use, which is typical of Fitbit devices. The LCD display shows steps, distance, and calories so you won’t need the app for basic information. But the accompanying app is one of the best and easiest to use, and you can personalize your goals and settings.
Best For: Accurately tracking steps all day with a device and app that are simple to use