It’s peak gear-testing season here at Runner’s World. Why? Spring’s unpredictable weather and fluctuating temperatures—though frustrating when deciding what to wear for a run—mean we’re rigorously evaluating gear against Mother Nature’s finest smorgasbord of conditions. Like you, we’re finally breaking out our split shorts and sunglasses, but there are still days we need to bundle up in gloves and tights. A cold snap might usher in an early morning snow squall, or an especially sunny and humid weekend can just as swiftly end in an unexpected cloudburst midrun. (Throw seasonal allergies in the mix, and you might be greeting the new blossoms along your favorite route with a sneeze or sniffle.) That’s why we’ve tested gear, tech, and apparel with a special attention to what will help you feel more prepared amidst spring’s uncertainties. We’ve put in hundreds of hours researching, evaluating, analyzing, and sweating to report our feedback and data behind some of the best products we’ve tested.
We went deep on socks to see which ones are the best for drying fast in pop-up showers and those that will wick sweat efficiently on especially hot days. Next, we got the scoop on a virtual running app that we originally liked for simulating group runs during the pandemic. But, this app continues to keep us motivated (and occupied) on the treadmill for when the sidewalks are flooded or the pollen count is off the charts and we’ve retreated indoors. As our favorite trails in eastern Pennsylvania finally began to thaw, we took a shoe that one tester dubbed an “all-terrain Vaporfly” on a 34-mile trek through mud and gravel and up 12,500 feet of vert. And last but not least, we soaked some budget wireless earbuds in the shower to to see if their waterproof rating could really withstand a long-run downpour.
Most importantly, we want to hear from you, our RW+ Members. Is there a gear-related question that you’ve been mulling over on your long runs? Something you’ve heard recently about shoe tech that you think we should test? Maybe it’s simply a new workout product you’ve been eyeing that you want to know more about. No suggestion is too big or too small for our test team. Drop it in the comments section and let us know.
The Best Sweat-Wicking Socks
One common method for assessing how well a fabric handles sweat is called a vertical moisture-wicking test, which simulates the material’s ability to pull moisture away from the skin. If you were running in a sock that performed poorly, you could get blisters. For the test, we cut six-inch-long by one-inch-wide strips from 10 different socks. Each of the brands uses its own unique blend of fabrics in its construction, ranging from nylon and spandex to polyester and merino wool. Next, we hung the strips on a support stand with one end dipped in blue-dyed water and measured the time it took for the water to soak upward two inches. Top performing socks would clock the fastest times, and also dry quickly afterward.
Of the 10 socks we tested, those made from polyester performed most consistently at the task. However, in our wear-testing, we found they also harbored the most stink. One sock, the Steigen Running Quarter, actually repelled moisture and saw no migration at all—we’d pick this pair for running in the rain when you’ll be splashing through puddles. The drawback is that the material’s hydrophobic coating can feel a little slick inside your shoe. The fastest moisture-wicking sock overall was the Smartwool, but its thicker cushioning meant this pair also took longer to dry. The socks below hit a nice sweet spot of odor control, moisture management, and comfort.
Can a Smartphone App Simulate Your Next Group Run?
With virtual racing gaining popularity, the next step was naturally to move group runs virtually. But even as in-person runs and races are gradually returning, this is an app we still can’t delete from our home screens. The Charge Running app is designed like a group run “class” where workouts are led by an instructor; here’s how the experience compares to what you might experience on your weekly group run or during a studio treadmill class.
In real-time, you’ll join a scheduled group workout with other runners while an instructor in your earbuds cues you on pace, effort, and form. And, like us, you might be surprised by the sense of community you get, even virtually. But unlike in-person trainers with seemingly endless stores of energy, these virtual workouts depend on your phone’s battery and data plan. We tested the app out on the roads and inside on the treadmill to see how much juice the program requires and what the hit to your data plan may be.
- On average, one 45-minute class used about 10 percent of an iPhone’s battery life.
- Older phone models and very cold outdoor temperatures drained battery faster.
- The average amount of data utilized was consistent across all the phones we tested at about 35 megabytes per class.*
We liked that the app made time on the treadmill fly by, and that the outdoor GPS tracking was spot-on. Plus, we didn’t have to worry about checking our workout splits or DJ-ing the music—the instructor does both for you. However, we found that the app-based cadence tracking could be inaccurate, based on where you hold your phone. It was also difficult to pay attention to both our surroundings and the instructor while running in busier areas with traffic.
*That’s roughly the same amount of data as streaming a five-minute online video, and far less than what you’d need for an hour of Netflix (about 1,000 megabytes, or 1 gigabyte).
Craft CTM Ultra Carbon: A Super Shoe for Beyond the Road 26.2
Type: Road and Light Trail
Weight: 10.3 oz (M)
Drop: 10 mm
Craft’s CTM Ultra Carbon may have all the appearances of a marathon super shoe—a high stack, carbon-fiber plate, and even a racy winged heel—but it’s made for ultras. Our video producer Pat Heine took the shoes straight out of the box for a 34-mile run with over 12,500 feet of elevation gain on a mix of gravel forest road and leafy, rocky singletrack.
“While climbing, the snug fit locked in my heels and the forefoot rocker rolled uphill smoothly,” Heine says. “Flying downhill, there was just enough cushion underfoot to take the sting out of hard landings. The tall stack height and narrow heel did make the shoe more prone to tipping for lateral movements on technical singletrack. But its tread bit into loose gravel and dirt well enough for short segments, and tightly spaced lugs kept most rocks from getting stuck. Back on the pavement, the ride was snappy and propulsive to crank the pace. After over seven hours of running and 13 hill repeats, my legs felt fresh enough to drop into a low-5-minute pace on the last downhill back to the car.”
These $23 Wireless Earphones Survived Pouring Rain
Not all earbuds that claim to work in the wet are equal. We particularly wanted to see how budget headphones stacked up against more expensive models in this area. An IP, or Ingress Protection, rating describes how well an object resists foreign objects and intrusions. For earbuds and headphones, you might see a combo of letters and numbers like “IP67.”
Your IP Cheat Sheet
- The first number refers to the product’s resilience against small objects or particulates like dirt and dust.
- The second refers to moisture resistance.
- If a product hasn’t been evaluated for either of those categories, you’ll see an X in that place.
- IPX6 is considered water-resistant only; a rating of IPX7 is fully waterproof.
- “Fully waterproof” means the buds should be able to withstand water submersion of 1 meter for 30 minutes.
Recreating a Spring Downpour
We tested one budget wireless headphone, the $23 Mpow Flame, and one expensive model, the $170 Kygo E7/1000. Using a low-pressure showerhead at a rate of 1.6 GPM, we consistently replicated a 90-minute run in heavy rain. In terms of precipitation rate, that’s equivalent to rainfall at 4.6 liters per square meter per hour—just before a “yellow” rainfall advisory would be issued. The water temperature was about 58.3 degrees F. We evaluated the sound quality and Bluetooth connectivity before and after the shower test, and found that even a pair of $23 buds was sufficiently waterproof; neither the sound quality nor connectivity was adversely affected.
So, What Can a Pricier Pair Offer?