The 16 Best Gifts for Runners – The New York Times

The 16 Best Gifts for Runners  The New York Times

Photo: Roll Recovery

I’m a life-long runner—first, on my middle-school cross-country team, later as a form of ballet cross-training, and now as a civilian with a cherished daily practice. Throughout these years, I’ve met many other runners, from avid marathoners to casual joggers to newbies kicking off their first Couch to 5K. Whichever type of runner is on your list, they’ll likely appreciate something practical, to aid conditioning or recovery, or something jovial, to celebrate the practice itself.

Photo: Squirrel’s Nut Butter

Chafing is the bane of both distance runners and people blessed with thick thighs. But a swipe of Squirrel’s Nut Butter Anti-Chafe Salve will protect zones that rub together or blister. Made from beeswax, coconut oil, cocoa butter, vitamin E, and nothing else, the formula glides on smoothly and travels easily in its deodorant-style applicator. Avid runner and powerlifter Erin Price (formerly Wirecutter’s audience development manager) said she turns to this brand specifically for its “tried-and-true anti-chafing” powers. Erin said it keeps working for runs upwards of 10 miles. (This stick also comes in a half-ounce size, for easy reapplication on the go.)


Murphy’s (lesser-known) Law: Those who run a lot snack a lot. But rather than buying uninspired grocery-store trail mix for your loved one, try a custom blend composed of their favorites. I like to make mine at, which offers an exciting range of dried fruits, sweets, nuts, and savory snacks, in bags that start at 5 pounds. There are the usual suspects, like raisins and cashews. But more-notable additions include black walnuts, dried cantaloupe, and squash seeds, and there are helpful categories like unsalted, no-sugar-added, and raw. Start with one ingredient your recipient loves, and then curate a novel mix. Or feel free to copy the Dorie: pumpkin seeds, dried cherries, cashews, yogurt raisins, and toasted coconut.

Photo: Sarah Kobos

Unless your runner is lucky enough to live somewhere perma-temperate, chances are good they’re bundling up for many months of the year. As for me, my hands always get it the worst. Even after my legs, core, and head warm through exertion, my hands still stiffen like icicles. A thick pair of gloves can help, but for the coldest days, nothing beats an electric hand warmer. We recommend the USB-rechargeable Celestron Elements FireCel+. Its round shape is easy to grasp through mittens (or plop inside, which I prefer), and its battery lasts seven and a half hours. Most runners won’t mind swapping between hands, but you could also buy two. Or get a pack of our recommended disposable hand warmers.

Photo: Michael Murtaugh

For the new runner who is interested in closely monitoring their health (or the veteran runner who somehow hasn’t yet purchased one of these), a fitness tracker will make a great gift. Of those we tested, the Fitbit Charge 4 has the most user-friendly interface and app. Runners can reference the touch-screen face to readily check pace and distance without needing to whip out their phones. And if they’re a member of a run club, the Charge 4 also offers the option of connecting to a wide network of other Fitbit users through the app.

Photo: Rozette Rago

Many runners prefer silence. I, however, do not. My feet will pound in tempo only to ’80s pop songs, Britney Spears deep cuts, or sentimental sob bops. If your runner is likewise musically inclined, they’ll need a pair of earbuds that withstand sweat while still sounding great. Wirecutter recommends the Jabra Elite Active 75t. They’re not only waterproof but also comfortable—each pair comes with three tip sizes, so you can find your perfect fit. And they boast a seven-and-a-half-hour listening time per charge. Runners may also appreciate the noise-cancelling option: Using a handy slider, mute the sounds of passing cars or breathing, or silence the earbuds for conversation or increased situational awareness.

Photo: Girlfriend Collective

For going on runs or just looking like you plan to, leggings are a great sartorial choice. My favorite of Wirecutter’s rigorously researched recommendations was the Compressive High-Rise Legging from Girlfriend Collective. The stretchy fabric, which is made from recycled water bottles, is midweight, cool, and compressive yet not restrictive. The leggings come in sizes from XXS to 6XL, plus non-snoozy colors like plum purple, hazy blue, and geranium orange. The small internal pocket can securely store a key or credit card, but not a phone (for that, we recommend a running belt, below).

Photo: RX Bar

For easy on-the-go energy, I love RX bars. Unlike many highly processed bars, these are made from just a handful of recognizable ingredients, artfully outlined on the front of the wrapper. Each type of bar is subtly sweet (thanks to a base of ground dates), pleasantly chewy, and packed with egg-white protein (which you can taste but is entirely inoffensive). Individual bars at grocery stores can be pricey, so a variety pack featuring six flavors is much more cost-effective. If you know your recipient’s favorite flavor, you could also send them a pack of any type you choose.

Photo: Rozette Rago

At its most pared down, my running kit includes my cell phone, earbuds, and keys. Other runners may add their ID, credit card, cash, or even pepper spray to the mix. The best way to take it all on the go is to use a running belt. Among the 31 belts Wirecutter tested, Nathan’s The Zipster stood out for its superior storage capacity and comfort. Even when fully loaded, the thing doesn’t budge or waggle, and it feels equally comfortable when it’s carrying just a few essentials. The Zipster comes in three colors (gray, blue, and burgundy) and five sizes, from XS to XL. And just in case you’re not totally sure of your gift recipient’s size, exchanges are free within 30 days.

Photo: koldo studio / iStock

A massage gift card (prices vary)

Trust me, your beloved runner wants a professional deep-tissue massage. They want the longest deep-tissue massage money can buy. Give it to them. You won’t regret it. If you don’t know a skilled technician in their area, try calling a local gym for a recommendation, or search the American Massage Therapy Association’s directory.

Photo: Michael Hession

Whether it’s a race day or a rest day, hydration is often a runner’s top priority. Our water-bottle guide features a meticulously researched selection. And this one from Takeya emerged as being among the most versatile—not too clunky, small, or riddled with fussy parts. The spout has a twist-on flip cap, making drinking simple and spill-free, even if you’re slamming around on a treadmill. The silicone rubber base prevents this model from slipping or making noise on hard surfaces, and this bottle comes in an array of Instagrammable colors. (If any of my loved ones are reading: My favorite is pastel yellow.)

Photo: Brian, Dave, Neil and Colin / Uncommon Goods

For avid marathoners, running famed tracks is a point of pride, with each new marathon becoming another small victory. Celebrate your loved one’s milestones with glasses that feature each track and the surrounding blocks and landmarks. You can select from up to 15 popular city routes, including those in Berlin, Tokyo, and New York City. The etched maps look equally great contrasted against a fizzy post-race beer or fruit juice.

Photo: Roll Recovery

Yes, a foam roller can help massage out knots and tight spots in muscles, but they’re often unwieldy and hard to transport. A smaller, more-effective, and easier-to-use option is this torture device—errr, muscle roller. The spring-loaded, self-adjusting R8 Deep Tissue Massage Roller also packs more force, and it can be used while you’re sitting, standing, or lying down to isolate muscle points. Just clamp it onto a sore spot with comfortable pressure, and then draw it back and forth. It’s especially satisfying to do this while watching TV, according to Wirecutter senior staff writer and avid runner Chris Heinonen. Chris has had the R8 for three years and summarizes the experience succinctly: “Hurts but works.”

Photo: Injini

The humble sock is usually the last sartorial item one thinks about. Yet socks can make a big impact or, at the very least, be the difference between a comfortable jog and one plagued by slipping, sweating, and blisters. I polled my colleagues for their favorites, and the Run Lightweight No-Show toe socks are stunningly popular. True, toe socks look outlandishly silly, but they’re worth the private humiliation. Since each toe is ensconced in fabric, there’s no chance of skin-on-skin friction. A heel tab protects the backs of the ankles, and a band surrounds the midfoot for steady arch support. The socks are also lightweight and machine-washable, and they come in four sizes.

Photo: Sarah Kobos

Runners have nasty feet. I can say that because I know from experience that the constant pounding causes calluses, blisters, and general aching and tightness. In short, a good soak is never a bad idea. At Wirecutter we believe that a bucket is an adequate foot-soaking vessel. But in the spirit of giving, we think the MaxKare Foot Spa Massager is a much more luxurious option. Don’t let that bubble-gum-colored tub fool you: This humble device packs a punch. It provides consistent water heating, soothing bubbles, and a halfway decent massage, thanks to its 14 hardworking mini-rollers.

About your guide

Dorie Chevlen

Dorie Chevlen is a staff writer from Youngstown, Ohio, now living in New York. She has worked as a copy editor, fact checker, and sandwich maker, but this is probably her favorite gig. Her writing has also been published in Science, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. She has been called—both flatteringly and not—“a lot.”