July 5, 2011

Flint’s Running Gear Guide

Whether through Facebook, Twitter or personal messages, I get asked more and more frequently about running gear. What I recommend, what’s best for a beginner and so on. Although sadly I can’t buy and review every piece of gear out there, I have purchased and tried my share of equipment and there really are some things I wouldn’t go without anymore.

It’s far from extensive, but here’s a list of gear I have tried and then adopted.

Shoes / socks
For shoes and everything feet, you can find extensive reviews here.

Funny enough, the basics of running clothing (technical t-shirts and shorts, mostly) are the easiest pieces of gear to buy. I have never come across any pair of shorts or running t-shirt that wasn’t well-built and comfortable. Just make sure the material is light and dries quickly (which is almost always the case) and you’re good.

For the record, I run in Nike DriFit shorts, the “split-short” type. For tops, I’ll either use a technical t-shirt received as a perk in a race (for short runs) or a combination of a compression t-shirt, which eliminates the very real and painful nipple friction, and a sleeveless cycling vest because of the useful back pockets. In that case, I wear an Adidas TechFit Powerweb compression shirt and a Craft Triathlon Cut vest.

This is one department I hesitate to advise about. The reason is: not everyone seems to agree on one specific type of underwear. I’ll usually go for the low-cut type brief, but as soon as the run gets over 25km, I wear compression-type boxers from Under Armour to eliminate friction issues.

Arm warmers
I have made these a stand-alone item because they are my discovery of the year. I always regarded arm warmers as the ultimate look-at-me item, worn only by pros and wannabes. How wrong I was. I bought a pair of Asics arm warmers in early spring and, after trying them out, I never head for a race without them. The beauty of this piece of gear is that it will really keep you warm before (and even a couple kilometres into) a race, and when you’ve warmed up, they’re super easy to take off and stash while running. They even fit a FuelBelt pouch. Even in rainy weather, they will keep you warm. They are not waterproof, but their fabric’s performance isn’t affected when wet. Arm warmers are #1 on my list of additional gear a runner should get.

Hats, scarves
I don’t wear hats and caps. I just don’t like them. I’ll usually wear a regular bandana, but when it counts, I always wear my Buff. It’s basically a microfiber tube that you can wear multiple ways, from a scarf to a head band. It’s fantastic. You’ll honestly wonder how you’ve lived without it!

I’m not going to tell you that you need fancy auto-adjusting sunglasses to run efficiently. However, I do think you need some eye protection both from trail hazards and intense sunshine. Go for a pair that is light, offers good UV protection and is preferably made of polycarbonate, which is - almost – unbreakable. My eyewear of choice for several years now has been Ryders sunglasses because they are designed in wind tunnels, which makes them optimal for bicycle riding, motorcycle driving and outdoor sports all at once. They are also very affordable and sturdy. My current pair is the Ollie.

GPS / cardio monitor / watch

The more experienced I get, the less I’m inclined to use gadgets that monitor my every move. It’s a philosophic thing I guess, but I prefer to run free. But I digress. I do use a couple things to monitor my runs, mostly when I pace another runner or during an event (in case my TimeChip would fail, for example).

When I focus on effort level and calorie burning, I wear a Mio Drive+ strapless heart rate watch which, like it name says, is awesome because you don’t have to wear that pesky chest strap under you shirt. Just put your index and middle finger on the top buttons, wait a couple seconds and you get your heart rate. Do this multiple times during your workout and the watch will calculate your calorie burn based on your effort level. It’s a very nice piece of equipment, but I think Mio would make a killing if they added a GPS, which is a crucial element for any runner.

Because my Mio doesn’t have a GPS, I had to purchase another running watch that could track my speed. I chose the Garmin Forerunner 205 because it’s less expensive and doesn’t come with a chest strap. I can’t say I’m overly excited with it. It has neat features like a programmable split-screen that lets you choose which information is displayed (pace, time, calories burnt, avg speed, etc.), but it also has many downsides. First, it’s a bulky thing with a large, flat piece that houses the GPS antenna and makes the screen harder to glance at. But more disappointing is the computer application (Garmin Training Center) that comes with the watch. It’s a clunky, ugly piece of software that doesn’t provide any more insight into your run than the watch does. It literally looks and feels like it was programmed in 1993. There’s supposed to be an alternative, an online community called Garmin Connect. But I haven’t tried it yet.


There are many ways to stay hydrated on the run, and I have come to rely on different solutions for different contexts.

I use a QuickDraw bottle from Nathan for my short runs, speed work and while commuting (I run to work). It holds 650ml (22oz) of liquid and features a little stashing pocket for my keys, a zippered mini pocket for a $20 bill and a mesh pocket for whatever else. It’s very easy to hold, as you just have to slip your hand in the strap and forget you’re holding a bottle. I’ve come to like this solution very much because it’s fast, light, and easy to clean when you get back home.

I used to use a FuelBelt Endurance 4-bottle hydration belt for runs between 5K and 21K. It holds 4 x 250ml (8oz) bottles and features an elastic holding system that’s pretty clever and holds the bottles decently well while making sure they are easily available when you want them. It takes a little getting used to, but this item is probably the most versatile hydration equipment for distance runners looking for an all-in-one solution. Cleaning the bottles is a hassle (it’s hard to reach the bottom) and you can’t leave liquid in them for an extended period, or they’ll grow mold quickly.

I have tried to expand my belt’s capacity with bigger, 295ml (10oz) bottles, but these really don’t work as well and they’re not worth the $12 a piece they ask for them. They’re too heavy when they’re full and swing a lot. Also, even though I am a small guy, I find them very bulky and in-the-way.

UPDATE. After some extensive use of this product, I was very disappointed with the quality of the bottle material and bite valves which molded up and can't be cleaned.

For marathons and beyond, I use a hydration pack from Camelbak called the Snoblast. I’m a bit of an oddball on that one because it’s not a “running” pack per say. This bag was created with winter sports in mind, but it has awesome features some other packs I tried were lacking :

  • It’s not significantly heavier than specialized packs
  • the drinking tube can be zip-closed entirely inside the shoulder strap
  • the bag is expandable in case you need more storage space
  • the water compartment is outside the main bag space
  • the design is flat and keeps the bag close to your back
  • it features an inside pocket that protects your phone and allows its use as an MP3 player (through an earphone wire latch)
  • The drinking tube is insulated, which keeps liquids cool in the summer and, well, liquid in the winter
  • It has 2 fully retractable straps that allow you to carry stuff (shoes, a towel, etc.) outside the bag
  • There’s a bottom loop for a safety light for night time running
  • It’s the perfect running-commuter bag

Recovery gear
Although I do wear compression gear while running, I don’t believe it affects your performance in any way. I wear it because of its efficiency against friction and sweating. However, I believe some compression is very useful in recovery, because it seems to lessen the soreness and sluggishness in your legs after a long run. Whether you choose compression socks, calf sleeves or full-size tights, I think they can bring relief and optimize your recovery after intense efforts and long runs. I wear 2XU’s Compression Calf Guards up to 36 hours after a race. Yes, that means I sleep with them. My girlfriend calls them SexyTubes.

And no, she’s not serious.

Extra clothing in cold weather
When it gets cold up here, you need to add several layers of specialized equipment. Since it's 36 degrees and sunny outside right now, I really don't feel like talking about polar fleece and insulation. So let's keep that for some time this fall, a'ight?


PS - I'll be more than happy to add more gear reviews here if you'd like them. Just let me know in the comments section below.

PPS - If you have gear you'd like to be reviewed, you can contact me

1 comment:

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