This time last year, we assembled our Gear of the Year list, reflecting on 2020 and feeling hesitant yet hopeful for 2021. Things obviously still aren’t like what they used to be. However, races have started up again, we watched amazing Olympics feats this summer, and we’re finally able to run together again.

On these pages are the 28 products that upped our running game this year, or just brought us joy during these uncertain times. Nonrunners may not understand our glee over finding the right pair of shoes or splurging on a smartwatch with long-lasting battery life. But we’re the crowd who wake up before sunrise to get in a run before work. The crowd who save their pennies for registration, plane tickets, and a hotel room for a destination race. The crowd who talk at length about the merits of multiple pockets in running bottoms.

Here, we include our staff’s personal recommendations, spotlight cool gear features, and offer advice on upkeep. The miles can be rough, but with the right equipment—and a few reliable running buddies—you’ll be well-prepared for a fresh new year of training.

gear of the year

Jabra Elite Active 75t

Lakota Gambill
Elite Active 75t

These earbuds are designed for active—read: sweaty—busy people. Out of the many earbuds our editors tested, these charged among the fastest and held a respectable amount of juice. The battery lasts longer than five hours (24 with the charging case), and the in-ear fit is comfortable, with swappable silicone gel inserts. For outdoor use, the hear-through option comes in handy when you need to be aware of your surroundings, though it muffles the sound of your music a bit. A favorite feature is the ease of controls: Simply touch the outside of the earbuds to turn them on or off. When listening to music, remove one bud from your ear to auto-pause. Plus, a quick charge of just 15 minutes means you’ll be good to go for more than an hour of listening.

Beats Studio Buds

Lakota Gambill
Studiio Buds

These incredibly tiny earbuds have a surprisingly big sound. Maybe that’s not such a shock, given that they come from Beats. While you won’t mistake them for over-the-ear headphones, the detail in every note has focus and clarity—you’ll end up using them as often casually as you do on the move. That small construction makes them a little tough to yank out of your ears when your hands get sweaty, but the moisture won’t affect the sound quality, function, or fit. We experienced no slipping during a soggy five-miler on an 85-degree day, and they remained comfortable even when we stretched our long runs deep into the teens. The buds have tactile buttons that require a light press to pause or skip tracks, as well as active noise cancellation and transparency modes that you can toggle on and off without taking out your phone.

Garmin Enduro

Lakota Gambill

The biggest downside to this watch is that the battery lasts so long you might forget where you put the charging cord. The Enduro strips out unnecessary features, like touchscreens and music control, to focus on accurate tracking for a really, really long time. The battery lasts over 72 hours in GPS mode with the optical heart-rate sensor running, and recharges from almost zero to 100 percent in about three hours. The watch acquires a signal very quickly, and syncing activities to Garmin Connect is seamless. Plus, we LOVE that Garmin still allows you to sync and customize the watch through a computer, where many competitors have switched to mobile-only ecosystems. It’s super easy to load GPS courses onto the watch, and on-the-run directions help you stay on course and aware of what’s ahead. The Enduro vibrates if you take a wrong turn, and gives you specs on elevation along your route.

Garmin Forerunner 245 Music

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Forerunner 245 Music
$247.99 (29% off)

For a fraction of the Enduro’s price, the Forerunner 245 features all the basic functions you need to track your sleep, heart rate, stress levels, and training progress. The real draw here is running phone-free when you want to listen to your playlists and podcasts (Spotify subscription required). The watch stores up to 500 songs for a full six hours of jamming while in GPS mode.

gear of the year

Hoka Mach 4

Lakota Gambill
Mach 4

We gave the Mach 4 an Editors’ Choice nod in our Spring Shoe Guide, dubbing this trainer as perhaps the best Hoka yet. Almost a year later, we stand by this declaration. The shoe is remarkably lightweight yet still generously plush, and has the feel of a Hoka without quite looking like one. The Mach can be an everyday workhorse, speed shoe, or marathon racer. It owes this versatility to its dual-density Profly foam; the midsole is softer in the heel and slightly firmer in the forefoot, providing support and explosive rebound. The slightly curved rocker sole urges you to roll forward and go faster. But the best thing about the Mach is how comfortable it feels. It’s the kind of shoe that makes you glad you went out for that run.

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Nike ZoomX Dragonfly

Lakota Gambill
ZoomX Dragonfly

The Dragonfly has been rewriting the record books on the track. While it may look like a cross-country spike, it has an exceptionally thick ZoomX sole that tears up the oval. That Pebax-based foam takes the sting out of running but is extremely lightweight so it doesn’t slow you down. Much of that foam is centered right behind the ball of your foot—you feel a noticeable bulge there—so it’s really built just for your fastest efforts. Our testers all raved about the accommodating yet locked-down fit. The square toebox feels like a normal shoe, which makes it comfortable for longer track distances. Tip: Go sockless. The mesh is smooth against your bare foot and the back has a secure hold.

Asics Metaspeed Sky

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Metaspeed Sky

We gushed about this shoe earlier this year, and it’s earned a spot in our top products of 2021. The Sky, one of two MetaSpeed shoes designed to help you reach the finish line faster, is built for the “stride” runner—the person who takes longer strides to speed up. (The Edge, by comparison, is tailored to those “cadence” runners who typically run faster by taking more steps.) With a 5mm drop, carbon-fiber plate, and almost uniformly thick midsole from heel to toe, it helps those runners increase their stride length while making them roughly 3 percent more economical—you use less energy to cover a given distance. Some of the magic lies in the light, bouncy midsole. Other brands, like Nike and Saucony, are using Pebax for their top-of-the-line racers because it’s light and springy. The nylon-based compound that Asics is using feels much like that Pebax midsole. When you land, it squishes, but then firms up when you push off and springs back so you get all of the cushioning when you land again.

Buy Men’s Buy Women’s Full Review

The North Face Vectiv Enduris

Lakota Gambill
Vectiv Enduris
The North Face

Plated shoes have officially made their way to the trail. While companies like The North Face and Craft have started sticking plates inside their shoes, carbon fiber tends to be too stiff underfoot when the trail gets technical. The Vectiv Enduris offers runners something different by swapping carbon for a TPU plate, which makes the shoe comfier over long miles and provides much-needed compliance on technical terrain. The upper has a roomy fit, with soft knits and loads of protective padding. Of all the shoes in TNF’s Vectiv line, the Enduris offers the most cushioning, making it a plush off-road option for smaller runners, and a propulsive yet protective racer for those of larger stature (over-six-foot-tall TNF runner Dylan Bowman won second place wearing the shoes at the 2021 Hardrock 100). With the new sticky SurfaceCTRL rubber, the outsole also has some of the best grip we’ve tested this year.

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gear of the year

Title Nine Crash 2.0
Polartec Tights

Lakota Gambill
Crash 2.0 Polartec Tights
Title Nine

One winter, I spent weeks confined to the treadmill whenever the temperature dropped below 40. I thought I hated the cold; turns out, I just had the wrong tights. In January 2021, I wore the Crash 2.0 for a 13.44-mile long run, real feel in the teens. It was snowing the entire time, with periods where the wind was gusting strong and sleeting enough that I had to close my eyes. I finished my run at a Starbucks and walked the long way home listening to my audiobook. All said and done, I was outside for about three hours in the elements in these tights, and they kept me toasty the whole time.

The material puts my softest PJ pants to shame. It’s recycled Polartec polyester, and it feels buttery soft and fleecy, and insulates extremely well. The important thing is that it also breathes well. Usually when I hit around the seven- or eight-mile mark on my runs, I’ll start to notice that creeping, clammy feeling that comes from sweating beneath tights. That didn’t happen while wearing the Crash; the tights held my body heat, but ventilated enough that I could feel a slight breeze, so my legs stayed dry—even when I was dripping sweat under my jacket. Because the Crash’s smooth outer surface is slightly hydrophobic, it didn’t become saturated and heavy with sleet and snow. This makes for the ideal combo in cold-weather running gear: You stay dry from both the inside (you don’t feel like a sweat popsicle) and the outside (no rain or snow seeps in).

The calves feel very snug over tall, thick crew socks to help keep drafty air from sneaking up the ankles, but the overall fit isn’t as compressive as most pairs. If you’re running in a bone-chilling cold, these are a great alternative to wearing double tights—just as warm, if not warmer, without feeling too thick or bulky. And, there’s a zip pocket on the right hip that’s big enough to hold iPhone Plus models, and still have room for some cash and a key. The soft adjustable elastic waistband is connected throughout so it won’t get lost in the wash, sits right below the belly button (which I appreciate as someone who doesn’t like the super-​high-waisted trend), and offers plenty of slack to tuck in your shirt and top layers without feeling too snug. Morgan Petruny, Test Editor

District Vision Spino Maurten Elite Short

Lakota Gambill
Spino Maurten Elite Short
District Vision

Best known for stylish sunglasses, District Vision has rolled out a considerable line of apparel, too, including a limited-run “Peace of Mind” elite race kit in conjunction with nutrition company Maurten. The race shorts have extra storage to carry exactly the right amount of Maurten gels to get through a marathon. In fact, the six pockets on the back are each labeled for every 6K, so you have fuel properly spaced out during the effort. “Typically, I stash gels on the inside of my shorts, folding the top over my waistband and pinning it to the outside. This virtually eliminates any bouncing, but I always end up with some rash from the packets when the race is over,” says runner-in-chief Jeff Dengate. “I love that the Maurten fits perfectly in each pocket—they’re tall and narrow, so you’re not getting other brands’ gels in there without a little squishing.” The extra fabric on the back side required to stabilize the load feels heavy and hot, so save these for race day and hard efforts.

Oiselle O-Mazing Power Shorts Mini

Lakota Gambill
O-Mazing Power Shorts Mini

These past two years, the only type of short I’ve worn for racing is the O-Mazing Mini by Oiselle. I vouched for awarding them Gear of the Year in 2020, but the O-Mazing was discontinued. I’m not exaggerating when I say I checked Oiselle’s website daily to see if they were back in stock. This autumn, my nonstop site-scrolling paid off. This short (2.5-inch inseam; also available in 5-inch) has a 360-degree pocket, which is basically like having a built-in race belt. I’ve stored Gu, Picky Bars, a collapsible handheld during a marathon, fat key fobs, and my iPhone. On many occasions, I’ve definitely stored three of the aforementioned items at the same time with no risk of bouncing or waistband slippage. The new Mini is made of Power Plya, a thicker and more supportive poly-​spandex material, and an interior drawstring cord gives you the option to tighten the band. The short is available in black and “flying bird print” purple, but fingers crossed that more colors will come out next season—and that this short will be here to stay. Amanda Furrer, Test Editor

Knix Catalyst Sports Bra

Lakota Gambill
Catalyst Sports Bra

The Knix Catalyst is the only bra I’ve ever loved to pieces—literally. Being a curvier runner, my sports bras tend to “flip-up” when I’m moving, requiring me to make multiple adjustments throughout my workout. The Catalyst solved this problem by using an arched cut in the center of the bra where there would usually be fabric straight across. It allows me to move in every way—whether it’s yoga, biking, jogging, weight-lifting, or running errands—and doesn’t require me to readjust. While the issue of creating more inclusive wear in the fitness industry obviously is another conversation, it’s comforting to know that companies like Knix are fixing the problem. The brand is creating all-new designs, versus just adding inches to its existing size-small samples. Each body is different, and Knix is creating a space for all of them, the Catalyst being a stepping stone into that discourse.

There really is zero bounce in this bra. I’ve sprinted, jumped, hiked, and cartwheeled multiple times in the Catalyst and it felt like my chest was duct-taped—but without sacrificing comfort or ease of breathing. Perforated holes between the cups increase airflow, and the molded cups eliminate that “smushed together” feeling. The trick to the ladder straps is to fit them tighter, allowing them to naturally stretch.

My one and only gripe: I wish the fabric had a more durable construction. I very clearly killed this sports bra, and I think a stronger seam around the armpit would have given the Catalyst a fighting chance for longer use. Nevertheless, this bra changed how I work out, and until something better comes along, I plan to have this as my sports bra of choice. Lakota Gambill, Photographer

Bombas Merino Wool Ankle Socks

Merino Wool Running Ankle Socks

Truthfully, the best pair of socks that a runner can have is the pair that you forget about while you’re wearing them. And that’s exactly what happens when you wear Bombas. The merino wool creates a cushioned yet lightweight and flexible feel around your foot. The raised tab above the heel stays securely above the ankle collar of a running shoe, which means no slipping and no blisters. We’ve reached for Bombas for all kinds of runs and races—long, trail, rainy, sweaty, or chilly—and these socks look, smell, and feel as good as they did since day one. There are no signs of stretching, holes, or pilling. The price is pretty steep, but for every pair of socks purchased, another pair is donated to someone in need.

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Darn Tough Run Quarter Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock

Darn Tough
Run Quarter Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock
Darn Tough

Darn Tough guarantees its socks for life and will get you a replacement pair if you ever poke a hole in one. In some cases, the brand has even dropped replacements along the trail. (For instance, through-​hikers who recently blew out their socks on the Pacific Coast Trail picked up fresh pairs a few hundred miles north several days later.) Test editor Morgan Petruny wanted to see how long her pair could withstand running abuse. After wearing them running at least once a week without fail for nearly two years, she finally put a hole in one of them right at the ankle. That’s about 146 wears and washes. But, all that durability is nothing without comfort. Darn Tough uses a high stitch count for the Run Ultra-Light, so it’s velvety soft against your foot and wraps the arch with just enough compression for a secure fit and a smidge of extra support. Depending on whether you go cushioned or non-cushioned, you’ll get a slightly different mix of fabrics. The cushioned version tips the merino-to-nylon ratio in slight favor of wool, but both still feel warm in the winter and wick sweat well, even in the summer.

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Swiftwick Vision Six Impression National Parks

Vision Six Impression National Parks

These six-inch crew socks keep your feet cool and dry. This particular collection features thoughtful, fun graphics of America’s National Parks. They’re great to wear for adding a bit of pizazz to your running—or everyday—wardrobe. After six months of regular use, and with proper care (i.e., washing with cold water and hanging to dry), they’re still as good as new.

Knit Engine Mask and Ear Guard

Lakota Gambill
Mask and Ear Guard
Knit Engine

Since last spring, we’ve been absorbing—and filtering—new information on COVID-19, while also testing and refining our mask recommendations for runners. “It is still the case that fleeting contact in an outdoor setting is unlikely to transmit the infection,” says Amesh Adalja, M.D., senior scholar with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. However, wearing a face covering in crowded areas is still advisable to stop the spread. Out of all the masks we’ve tested, Knit Engine has the best design for runners. “Unlike the majority of masks I tested, the Knit Engine design has a shape that pulls the fabric away from your nostrils and mouth, providing coverage without you sucking in the material,” said writer and tester Heather Mayer Irvine. The mask is water-repellent to combat lip sweat, and comes with an adjustable soft ear guard for added comfort.

Nathan Reflective Gloves

Lakota Gambill
Reflective Gloves

Thinner than you’d expect, these lightweight, fleece-lined gloves kept our fingers, hands, and wrists warm through the coldest runs. Plus, their touchscreen technology actually works! So many gloves boast they’re “tech-friendly” but if you’ve ever tried to use your smartphone in the cold while wearing bulky running mittens, you know that’s not always true. Other highlights include a built-in “my nose is running” chamois in the thumb to catch rogue drips. The back of the hand graphic detailing is not only aesthetically pleasing but highly reflective, and there’s a little pocket for a single key or ID card. A small ask: a clip to hold the gloves together when not in use.

Ciele GoCap M

Lakota Gambill
GoCap M

When the temperature feels like 95 and you’re trying to keep a cool head during fall marathon training, a mesh cap is a necessity. Caps are perfect for headband- and visor-averse runners (we’re not hitting balls on a tennis court). Not only does Ciele’s GoCap tame flyaways and keep the sun out of your eyes, it also provides UPF 40+ protection, dries quickly, and has reflective detailing on the front and back. It’s soft and lightweight, and folds up small for shoving into a duffel bag—plus, it’s machine washable.

Rnnr Cold Weather Running Beanie

Lakota Gambill
Cold Weather Running Beanie

I’m a hat-hesitant runner. I sweat too easily, and both mesh summer caps and woven winter beanies leave me peeling off a soggy mess of fabric from my head after a run. But Rnnr’s cold-weather beanie is the first I’ve found that keeps my ears and noggin warm while allowing enough airflow to keep me comfortable. That breathability comes from a light, airy fabric weave that also gives the hat a soft, pillowy feel. I’m sure I could take a post–long run nap on it in a pinch. While it’s also available in black and a pastel block design, I opted for fluorescent yellow to improve my visibility during early morning and evening runs. Matt Allyn, Features Director

Janji Rainrunner Pack Jacket

Lakota Gambill
Rainrunner Pack Jacket

“This is peak running jacket,” raved writer and tester John Tyler Allen. “It’s perfectly tailored for a streamlined fit, elastic enough to stretch with you, waterproof, fully vented in the front and back and thus extraordinarily breathable, featherweight, and has a stowable hood and—pause for effect—a waterproof chest pocket.” The jacket is made of lightweight and windproof laminated ripstop fabric, which has a 30K/30K waterproof and breathability rating, meaning the Rainrunner keeps you dry without causing you to overheat. No minor detail was overlooked in the making of this jacket. Even the cuffs are designed to allow water to run off the back of your hands without soaking the elastic.

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Saxx Aerator


Saxx has made our Gear of the Year lists in the past, thanks to its men’s Kinetic running shorts, which feature a “BallPark Pouch.” The brand’s back this year, but with a tech tee that has been a staple through a stifling summer in the Northeast. Built using just polyester, the tee has an athletic fit—it’s not too snug but also not boxy like many basic tech tees. In our testing, we found that construction (combined with the lack of spandex) eliminates almost all bouncing from the tee when it’s saturated. The poly can be a little scratchy, so we still recommend taping your nipples if you’re prone to rubbing.

The Watch Sleeve

gear of the year
Lakota Gambill

Some runners can’t help checking the pace on their watch while they run. A hole in the cuff makes glancing at your watch easy, negating the struggle of taking off your mittens or rolling up your sleeve. Sure, you can use scissors to make a DIY watch face hole in your long-sleeve cuff (as a staffer’s nonrunner dad had suggested). But that leads to stray seams and the same risk as self-cut bangs—you can’t undo what’s been done. That’s why Oiselle’s shirts with thumbholes and watch window slits in the cuffs have previously appeared in our Gear of the Year roundup. The Oiselle Flow Long Sleeve ($72) is woven with the brand’s feather-light Flow Hoverfit material. This nylon and polyester blend is perfect for crisp, temperate runs at dawn or dusk, and the two-knit texture makes running no sweat under the sun.

Guys no longer have to miss out on the wondrous watch window with Path Projects’s Pyrenees T19 Hooded Long Sleeve Shirt ($68). “When the temperature starts to drop, it’s one of the first shirts I go for,” says senior art director Colin McSherry. “Its Tencel fabric wicks away moisture and controls B.O.” One thing to note: The watch slot opening is on the left arm only.

Goodr VRG

Lakota Gambill

The May 1990 issue of Runner’s World featured duathlete Kenny Souza wearing nothing more than a banana-colored Speedo and a pair of trendy, shield-style sunglasses. (Google at your own risk.) The all-new VRG from budget shades maker Goodr brings back a dose of that character, even if you choose to take a more modest approach with your wardrobe. The frame is actually built much like the brand’s OG sunglasses—from the inside, it looks like there are two separate lenses. But the sleek shield lens bridges over the nosepiece, which we appreciate especially when wearing the neon yellow pair—the sun makes that entire frame glow brightly. And, just like the OG that we’ve come to love, the VRG doesn’t budge a bit when you’re on the run and adapts to a wide range of face sizes. Sure, you could buy more expensive shades to get a dose of style, but Goodr keeps proving that you don’t have to.

gear of the year

Supergoop! Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50 Pump

Lakota Gambill
Play Everyday Lotion SPF 50 Pump

One winter day I went into a pharmacy to pick up sunscreen and lectured a poor store associate on how the sun doesn’t go on vacation. (He’d just told me they stopped stocking sunscreen end of summer.) Runners: Please wear it year-round. SuperGoop!’s lotion comes in one-ounce tubes to 18-ounce bottles, and I think every runner needs the latter for wherever they tie their shoelaces before heading out. The pump is quick and simple to use and the lotion doesn’t leave white streaks on my already tan skin. Its resistance to sweat and water lasts for over an hour. SuperGoop! says 90 percent of visible aging comes from sun exposure. Besides getting burned—and, yikes, skin cancer—how’s that for an incentive? A.F.

Avana Ashbury Water Bottle

Lakota Gambill
Ashbury Water Bottle

In a temperature test that pitted the biggest names in bottles against one another, this underdog stood out above the rest. We filled the Ashbury to the brim with 10 ice cubes and water, and its contents were just as cold 10 hours later. In fact, after 24 hours in a 70-degree room, the water warmed a mere seven degrees, making it the top performer of all the insulated models we tested. Avana’s triple-walled (not double) insulation even outlasted that of household names like Yeti and HydroFlask. And, the Ashbury did it without breaking a sweat. A specially designed mouthpiece lets you tilt the bottle and swig, or sip through the detachable straw while keeping it upright. The lid is fully leakproof, too.

Apothecanna Extra Strength Body Spray

Lakota Gambill
Extra Strength Body Spray

When something hurts and you want immediate relief, that’s when this CBD magic comes in. The extra-strength body spray comes in a packable two-ounce bottle with a locking lid so it won’t drip or leak. Along with 200mg of CBD, its ingredients include arnica, peppermint, juniper, and cannabis that work together to reduce swelling, inflammation, and stress. It cools and tingles immediately, and while the scent is slightly medicinal, it’s not overwhelming. You only need one or two sprays to get the job done, so even the tiny travel-size bottle lasts a while.

Tracksmith Tote

Lakota Gambill

Yes, this tote is ridiculously expensive, but it’s also luxuriously wonderful and built to last a generation. (Disclosure: I actually purchased this bag.) The 18-ounce water-repellent canvas is sturdy and durable. I’ve carried a 15-inch Macbook, workout clothes, and a few pairs of shoes all at once. It’s become my daily commuter sack, and I even use it as a weekender on short trips. The long leather straps make it easy to toss over a shoulder if you’ve packed it heavy like I do. Another thing I love: It’s handmade in Somerville, Massachusetts. Jeff Dengate, Runner-In-Chief