Runners are creatures of habit—route, time of day, and, of course, what to wear and what gear to use. It can be hard for a runner to give up their favorite pair of shorts or sports bra despite obvious signs of abuse. While gear can’t last forever, there are some tricks to keep your favorite pieces in action for years—maybe even decades.
As a runner for nearly 20 years, I’ve tested a lot of gear, but only a few pieces remain in my closet as staples. Following are some of my favorite pieces, along with a couple of recommendations from the RW test team, that have outlasted that box of Twinkies you’ve been hanging onto for world’s end.
Pro Care Tips
TLC will keep your favorite items intact for the long run.
- Use your gear as intended
- Use a mild, no-bleach detergent to avoid destroying fibers
- Use a wool wash or wool detergent for wool-based items to remove dirt, which can grind the fibers
- Wash inside out to protect the outer layer; the dirtiest part of the fabric will be the side next to your skin
- When possible, hand wash or use a front-load washing machine on a delicate cycle
- Avoid high heat in wash and dry cycles
- Lay flat to dry or tumble dry low
- Lay socks flat to store or gently cuff the socks together; do not ball them up, which can cause stretching
- Rinse water bottles with water and soap—even if you only drink water, saliva can leave behind bacteria
- Allow plastic to dry completely, and store bottles and bladders in the freezer to avoid mold growth
- Remove fabric from the bottle and wash on a delicate cycle
- Use a brush kit to clean the inside of the straw valve on hydration packs
Headphones and Earbuds
- Wipe dry with a microfiber cloth after use and make sure ports are dry before charging
- Store in protective case
- Turn headphones off when not in use to prolong life of battery, which often cannot be replaced
EVA-Based Foam Rollers and Recovery Items
- Wipe down regularly with a wet cloth
- Follow weight-limit guidelines
GEAR THAT LASTS
TriggerPoint MB1 Massage Ball
Length of use: 10 years
When I stepped on my 10-year-old TriggerPoint massage ball, it split in half along the glue line and I heard a crunch. I wondered if, over time, the material in this type of recovery tool degrades, regardless of use.
The TriggerPoint ball, and similar tools that use EVA foam, are designed to withstand significant weight and pressure over a period of years, says Alex Strobridge, brand manager for TriggerPoint. The MB1, for example, has a weight limit of 360 pounds.
“The ball should not have given way the way that it did,” Strobridge says. RW test editor Amanda Furrer, for example, has had her MB1 for the same period of time, and it’s still whole. But EVA foam, Strobridge explains, can start to lose shape over time, particularly if there isn’t a solid core. Puncture marks are a sign of wear and tear that could affect the integrity of the foam.
Nathan QuickShot Plus Hydration Flask
Length of use: 10 years
In 2012, training for my first marathon, a clerk at a running store recommended the Nathan QuickShot—a lightweight, grip-free bottle that delivers a shot of water with just a squeeze. I’ve been using it ever since.
While you certainly can fill the bottle with water and freeze it overnight, don’t fill it up entirely or into the mouthpiece, says Katie Voigt, senior product designer and developer for Nathan: “Freezing will expand the plastic and deteriorate the product. Leave room for the ice to grow.”
Nathan has a lifetime guarantee for its products, but the lifespan of a handheld can also decrease by friction, cleaning it in a dishwasher, or letting mold take hold. In the case of this particular style, which allows hydration with just a squeeze of the bottle, Voigt says the gasket can wear out over time. If that does happen, Nathan will replace the cap.
The QuickShot was replaced by the SpeedShot, which is slightly larger but works the same way, explains Voigt.
Saucony Skyrocket Bra
Length of use: 1 year and counting
The sports bra is an essential piece of gear for runners who need to support their chests—even those with AA and A cup sizes, like me. A well-fitting sports bra controls breast movement from every angle to prevent neck, shoulder, back, and chest pain. I’ve tested my fair share of sports bras, but I always go back to a no-frills racerback. I recently fell in love with the Saucony Skyrocket bra, and even though I’ve been wearing it just shy of a year, it’s designed to support me for years of running.
The fit of a sports bra is crucial to ensure ample support. And that means ditching a bra once its band or material loses elasticity, says Sarah Clark, director of product for apparel and accessories for Saucony.
This particular bra is designed for high-impact activities for A and B cup sizes, and medium- to low-impact activities for C-plus cup sizes. Though elasticity degrades over time, the Skyrocket, made from a recycled nylon-and-spandex blend and a recycled nylon power mesh, should last for years when worn and cared for properly, Clark says.
For runners who prefer bras with more support—adjustable straps, underwires, and hook-and-loop closures—more care is required to maintain the integrity of the bra.
“Fasten the fasteners and wash in a garment bag on a delicate cycle,” Clark says. “For bras with removable cups, wash them separately. Lay flat rather than machine dry.”
Hoka Performance Knit 3-inch Short
Length of use: 2 years and counting
Tiny spandex running shorts are notorious for rolling or riding up. But technology has come a long way, and over the past few years I’ve gotten my legs in a few pairs that sit just right. One of those is the new-in-2020 Hoka Performance Knit 3-inch short.
The shorts offer a waistband pocket for the mini essentials, like keys and gels. The two side pockets (one with a zip closure) fit smartphones, credit cards, and more fuel. They’re just two years old, but I live in these shorts, and want to prolong their life. After all, they supported my 1:32 half marathon late last year, a personal best.
The shorts were designed to be worn across a variety of distances and paces, says Evie Moe, senior director of apparel at Hoka. Hoka athlete Magdalena Boulet won the Leadville 100 in 2019 wearing these very shorts, which are made with a smooth, sustainable Italian fabric composed of recycled multifilament polyamide and elastane.
Under normal training conditions—which yes, include training for a 100-miler and running five days a week—Moe says these shorts should last more than three years. That is, so long as you’re washing them properly.
“How you wash your clothes is a large part of how well they wear,” she says, noting that signs of wear and tear in running shorts can often be seen in the stitching and with pilling.
“Due to their knit construction, these Hoka shorts, however, perform really well under high abrasion and resist pilling,” she says. After running hundreds of miles in these shorts, I can confirm—not a pill to be found.
Current Model STAFF PICKS
Under Armour ColdGear Leggings
Test Editor Morgan Petruny
Length of use: 10 years
Petruny has owned a pair of UA tights for about 10 years. They’re well loved, with a torn knee from a midrun fall. “But they don’t sag and they’re still comfy and warm,” she says. “The thick waistband hasn’t lost much of its stretch.”
The material used in today’s ColdGear line is a polyester/elastane blend, a dual-layer fabric with “an ultra-warm, brushed interior and smooth, fast-drying exterior,” says Erin Dreisbach, a UA product line manager for the brand’s run and competitive train apparel.
Signs of wear and tear would be a stretched waistband and stretched material.
“If an elastic is made with natural rubber, it’s more likely to stretch and become brittle over time,” Dreisbach says. But the elastic used in UA’s tights is synthetic, which stands up better to heat and continual stretching.
Darn Tough Press Crew Sock
Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate
Length of use: 5 years
Dengate’s go-to socks are Darn Tough’s discontinued Press Crew, which provide a lightweight cushion with a merino wool, nylon, and spandex blend. This combination, says product line manager Owen Rachampbell, wicks moisture, regulates temperature, minimizes stink, provides protection from underfoot impact, and offers durability and stretch.
“Our socks are guaranteed for life, and we truly believe they can last that long if you’re using them for their intended activities and taking good care of them,” Rachampbell says. “Each sock is designed with a purpose that fits the technical needs, footwear, and aesthetic of that activity and its lifestyle.”
Signs that your socks are beyond repair are holes, thin spots, or a decrease in elasticity. Darn Tough will replace those socks and collect the worn ones to analyze where it can make product improvements.
Shokz OpenRun Headphones
Deputy Editor Jeff Dengate
Length of use: 3 years
Dengate has been wearing the headphones formerly known as Aftershokz Aeropex over thousands of miles—nearly every run, he says. The open design, which uses vibrations along the cheekbones to transmit audio, allows wearers to hear sounds around them, making for safer, more attentive miles. After a workout, Dengate hangs the sweaty headset on a closet hook until his next run. Over the course of 353 runs wearing them, he hasn’t noticed any corrosion or other signs of wear and tear.
“Jeff [Dengate] has it down when it comes to prolonging the headphones’ life,” says Paige Turner, communications specialist with Shokz.
In order to preserve the headphones, they need to be 100-percent dry before charging. The new models include a moisture detection alert, which alerts users if there’s moisture in the charging port.
The titanium-based headphones are designed for the long term, Turner says, and as long as users keep them dry and take efforts to prolong battery life—turning off when not in use, for example—there’s no reason they shouldn’t last for years. The headphones are designed to withstand temperatures between 0 degrees F and 100 degrees F but they should not be used in saunas or during sub-zero ski trips; this can mess up the circuitry and battery, Turner says.
For ultrarunners, Turner recommends using your best judgment: If the weather is particularly harsh, it’s smart to protect the headphones during the worst conditions. Signs of wear and tear include peeling or discoloration in the silicone casing, and corrosion near the charging ports or within the transducers.