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How to Choose the Best Running Shoes and Apparel for You

Even if you are a beginner to running, you've most likely noticed that there is a very wide array of running apparel and accessories. Numerous brands, fabrics, and colors compete for your attention at each corner of any sports store you enter, making it nigh impossible to determine what outfit you should actually choose.

Add on the fact that wearing the proper clothes has the potential to make or break your running experience as a whole, and the entire process of selecting what to wear may seem almost anxiety-inducing.

Fear not, however. While there are a few guidelines you should always keep in mind while deciding upon any apparel, actually doing so is far simpler than it may seem at first.

There are four main components of a running outfit: a shirt, pants, socks, and shoes.

Running Shirts

When looking for running or workout shirts (and pants and socks, for that matter), you should always try to choose garments that are made of lightweight, breathable material like nylon or polyester—never cotton.

Why? The former two are known as “sweat-wicking” fabrics in that they minimize chafing by pulling moisture away from your skin during your runs (thus making the overall experience more comfortable). Unlike other materials, they also dry quickly, meaning that getting stuck in a rainstorm won’t keep you wet for long.

Cotton does not have either of these properties and is not recommended to wear at all for running. This seemingly minor differentiation between fabrics will ultimately ensure your run is as enjoyable as possible.

The length of your shirt should largely depend on the climate you are going to run in. If where you live is more of a warmer area, it is definitely best to choose ones that are shorter. Conversely, if your town is generally colder than most, longer garments would be more beneficial. While you will quickly warm up while running, added layers such as a light jacket can also help insulate you during your run. (If this is the case, you also may want to acquire extra accessories such as gloves.)

Remember that you can always, of course, shed them if you become too hot. If (or when) the temperature varies between your runs, it may be wise to invest in a few different pairs of shirts and outerwear in order to adapt to the occasion (for example, you could have an outfit or two for winter and another for summer).

It is also critical to consider the color and general hue of your shirts. Consider purchasing brighter-colored garments, especially if a large number of your runs take place at night. Evidently, cars may not be able to see you in the dark if you are sporting black or dark gray clothing—though, as mentions, certain clothes designed for running are naturally reflective and thus visible to drivers.

Most clothing tags will list whether or not their respective shirts happen to contain that characteristic (as well as a variety of other information, of course), so be sure to always inspect them before making a purchase.

As with any other type of clothing, ensure that you know your size while determining what to buy. Baggy shirts will hinder your running ability, and while you certainly don’t want one that’s so tight it’s suffocating, it’s best to wear a garment that is more form-fitting than not.

Nike as well as Athleta have a plethora of suitable running shirts available for purchase.

Running Pants

Much like with shirts, the type of pants you should wear for running depends mainly on your comfort level. Some runners prefer form-fitting leggings (known as compression tights), while others desire shorts (or even running skirts).

Both are commonly seen in a casual and competitive cross country scene, so choosing one over the other will not definitively affect your running performance. If a certain variant of pants feels either too confining or too loose, feel free to attempt to try another.

You can wear shorts during winter runs (or leggings during the summer runs) so long as you do not feel uncomfortable while doing it.

Pockets, too, are a factor that may affect your choice of pants. There may be times in your running experience when you absolutely must take items with you on a run (car keys are one of the more common examples).

While you can certainly carry whatever you bring along in your hands, you may find it more convenient to place your items within your pants pockets. Or in a runner's belt (more on that below).

Most shorts and leggings contain pockets, though there are certainly more than a few outliers that do not. Ensure that you check whether or not a pair of pants has some before making a purchase.

Adidas sells both leggings and shorts (as well as everything that could be considered in-between), so you may want to peruse their website for anything of interest.

Running Socks

Many runners do not consider socks to be an integral part of the overall cross country outfit. Given that wearing the proper socks can prevent blisters, however, they should absolutely be paid more attention to. As with every other aspect of your apparel, running socks come in several different lengths, sizes, and colors.

Saucony is always a reliable brand due to its products’ lightweight sweat-wicking fabric and overall comfortable fit for any foot size. It is recommended that you look for socks that fully cover your heel. Too often have runners been subject to blisters forming on their exposed heels due to them rubbing against one’s shoes (which will be discussed in the next paragraph).

As such, it is highly recommended to purchase a pair of socks that completely cover your feet.

Running Shoes

Of all the elements of a running outfit, shoes are usually the first to cross every runner’s mind—and for good reason. Though all of the above garments are incredibly important, the shoes are what truly carry a runner across his or her entire experience, whether cross country, track, trail—whatever terrain. It is no wonder, then, that such a crucial element comes in a variety of forms. Which one you should buy depends on (what else?) the size and arches of your feet, as well as what terrain you intend to be running on.

As with any other shoe, choosing one that is your foot size will ensure that you do not experience either discomfort and long-term injuries. The same can be said with regard to the arch of your feet. Depending on which you have, the design of the shoe you should get will differ greatly. Having supinating (or high-arched) feet, for example, will mean you should have a pair of shoes that offers much more cushioning than, say, shoes for neutrally-arched feet would. Similarly, pronating (or low-arched) feet will require shoes that provide motion support.

If you are unsure what your feet’s arches are, try contacting a running store such as Fleet Feet (or, better yet, one that is local) to consult a professional. Arches and foot size aside, RunnersWorld also advises that you look for a pair of shoes that allows “comfortable ankle motion” without any slippage of your heels.

If you are planning to be running on trails and paths rather than asphalt or concrete, look for shoes that are designed to be used for that very purpose. Certain pairs are tailored towards running on rugged terrain, while others are suitable for running upon roads and sidewalks. The simple biomechanics of it are demonstrated in the below video.

Knowing your running itinerary in advance will greatly aid you in your search for the proper shoes.

REI estimates that a high-quality pair of running shoes should last you for between 400 to 500 miles (which, to put into scale, is more or less the distance between San Francisco and San Diego). Your pair, however, may be different. If at any point in your running career your shoes begin to fall apart (i.e. the soles start to slip off entirely) due to prolonged usage, it would be wise to replace them.

Runners Belt

If you plan to carry keys, phone, and ID with you while out on a trail—a lightweight running belt is best. Especially for those of us wearing pants or shorts that don't have pockets, or we just don't want to put the added weight in them, or be annoyed with the noise of keys jingling.

In that case, try our Gearproz Running Belt with 3 zippered pockets, plenty big for a large phone and even some small snacks. These are comfortable, step-into belts—no plastic buckle. Just make sure to buy the size that fits you.

They are currently discounted from $27.95 to $19.95—but if you are reading this article, we're giving you an ADDITIONAL 20% OFF if you enter the code GEARPROZ at checkout. You can read more about them here.

These Assets Can Make all the Difference

There is no doubt that a proper running outfit is one of the most impactful assets a runner can have. Clothes quite literally have the ability to improve your ability as a runner. While you certainly could run in a T-shirt and jeans (heck, I once knew a cross country teammate who practiced while wearing a leather jacket), the overall experience would likely stall your running development and cause all your runs to be significantly more uncomfortable (not to mention make you more susceptible to injuries). It is thus strongly advised to invest in garments that suit you and your physical needs.

Happy Trails!

Jack Dippel

Avid Runner and Outdoor Specialist


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