Another year of running is ending, and we’re playing favorites. You may have already seen our picks for the best road running shoes and trail running shoes, and now it’s time to work our way up. We’ve gotten the chance to test out plenty of clothing, accessories, and more throughout the year, so here is the best running gear of 2021.
Even though we usually have a pretty good idea of what to expect from running shoes each year, the gear always surprises us. Whether it’s our changing tastes or sweet new tech, there’s always something to look forward to. This year, Rabbit blew us away with their shorts. Seriously, has anyone ever claimed the best road and trail shorts for both men and women before? As far as shirts and tights go, Tracksmith strengthened its vice grip with some classy new colorways. We still haven’t topped the COROS Pace 2 for watches, but there are quite a few newcomers on our list.
How did we make these decisions, you may ask? Well, we all had a wrestling contest in the Inner Harbor, and the losers got wet. Then the winner got to name all of their favorites first. Alright, so we all went into our own little corners and made individual lists. Then, we came together to have a friendly little debate and decide the winners. Not all of our respective picks made the cut, but the best gear sure did. Check out our picks and see if you agree with us.
This just about does it for a solid 2021 of running, but the gear reviews never stop. Check back soon for more good stuff and another great year of running in 2022.
We spent our warmer months feeling the Cali Vibes and showing off our guns (leg guns, obviously) courtesy of Rabbit. The Surf ‘N Turf turned out to be the perfect short for just about anything, whether we were on land or having a dip. It comes in a 4-inch inseam, which isn’t too short, and certainly not too long. You can also snag a 7-inch version if you need more length. Robbe practically lived in his pair while on vacation, even if he hit more Mai Tais than miles. You were probably California Dreamin’ if you caught us in too many other pairs of shorts.
PRICE: On sale for $52Shop The Short – Men Shop The Short – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Path Projects Sykes PX
The Sykes PX offers something a little bit different in a running short. Path Projects doesn’t build liners into their shorts so that you can pair them with your security of choice. There are three zippered pockets to carry plenty with you, and the 5-inch inseam is ever so slightly more modest.
The roadies weren’t the only runners in on Rabbit this year. Taylor covered plenty of tricky trail terrain in his pair of Shredders. They’re relatively similar to Rabbit’s FKT short, though they pack in the pockets to keep you well-stocked. The waistband offers four mesh pockets that stretch all the way around, and a zippered pocket on the bag is big enough to hold your phone. Rabbit’s Shredders are like having a kickass pair of shorts and a full-on utility belt without needing a separate garment.
PRICE: $80Shop The Short – Men
Rabbit made a clean sweep across our favorite shorts, and Alex has been rocking Mountain Climbers for the last three years. The latest 2.0 version makes them even better, with a higher waistband and more built-in storage space. Rabbit crafted an even softer material, too, so why would you ever need to take them off? The 2.5-inch inseam frees you to explore a full range of motion, which is a must on technical terrain.
PRICE: $68Shop The Short – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Ten Thousand Session Short
Ten Thousand is no stranger to running shorts, and the Session is the lightest of the bunch. It’s made to disappear no matter the length of your workout, and you can grab your pair with or without a liner. You’ll even get a trio of pockets for your phone, keys, and a little bit of cash.
Records fall, new names rise to fame, but one thing stays the same — Tracksmith’s commitment to quality. We simply have not found a better singlet anywhere. The sash is instantly recognizable, and the 2:09 mesh is as lightweight and breathable as you can ask for. As long as Tracksmith keeps pumping out new colorways, we’ll keep calling it the best singlet around.
PRICE: $65Shop The Singlet – Men Shop The Singlet – Women
Year after year, we come back to this, and no matter how many long sleeves we get in the mail, there’s only one that remains queen: The Brighton Base Layer. It’s a little more subtle with its Tracksmith sash, but you can’t escape the quality. It comes in six beautiful colorways, and the Brighton Base Layer is crafted from an engineered Merino mesh. Even better, the mesh is a bit more open across your core to let your body breathe easily. There are about zero shirts in this price range that I would say are underpriced, but for how much usage we’ve gotten out of these, we think it’s worth double. We’re not saying you should buy every color for your runs this winter, but we’re not not saying it, either.
PRICE: $88Shop The Shirt – Men Shop The Shirt – Women
The Path Projects Pyrenees might look like a traditional long sleeve, but this shirt has a secret — it has a hood. You might not be sold on a hooded t-shirt right away, but wait until you have that light trail breeze on your ears. It’s just heavy enough to hold the warmth in, and the left arm has a slot so your watch can poke through for easy access. Path Projects offers its Pyrenees in six different colors to match your Sykes shorts from up above.
PRICE: $68Shop The Short – Men
Our favorite shirt isn’t named because you can run far in it, instead, it’s all about Free Association Running. Ten Thousand teamed up with Rich Roll to focus on runners looking to free the mind, expand the soul, and reach a state of enlightenment. The best way to do so is by not worrying about your shirt, and the FAR T-Shirt basically disappears once you get moving. It comes in black and Mountain View, and the recycled materials and vegan fabrics make this shirt as good for the earth as it is for your body.
PRICE: $54 (SS), $64 (LS)Shop The Shirt
HONORABLE MENTION: The North Face Better Than Naked
Well, you could always run without a shirt, but The North Face has come up with something better. Its Better Than Naked shirt is made with FlashDry fabric, which speeds up moisture removal to keep you drier and more comfortable when you don’t have time to grab a towel.
The Nimbus tee is our unanimous choice for the best trail t-shirt of the year. It keeps the color palette simple so that the Polartec Delta fabric can shine. It thrives in hot weather, where the shirt can wick moisture from your body and provide some odor control for when you finish your run. We’re big on the flat-locked anti-chafe seams, too, because ain’t nobody got time to reapply Body Glide.
PRICE: $70Shop The Shirt – Women Shop The Shirt – Men
HONORABLE MENTION: Rabbit EZ Tee
The Rabbit EZ Tee offers everything you need in a running shirt. It just makes the choice that much EZ-er when you open your closet. It’s comfortable and breathable to the point where you forget it’s there, and the tailored fit looks great even when you’re sweating up a storm.
You don’t have to be a running tights truther yet, but the Turnover from Tracksmith just might change your mind. It’s designed for the hardest efforts on your coldest days with Tracksmith’s luxurious Inverno Blend. Heck, the Turnover Tight has been winning awards for years, and it’s not hard to see why. You can grab your pair in lined or unlined finishes, but shop quickly — these bad boys tend to sell out in a hurry. The turnover tight is great for the trails, too.
PRICE: $128Shop The Tight – Men Shop The Tight – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Janji Transit Tech Pant
The Transit Tech Pant is a great go-to option for your chilly runs or even your pre-race warmups. You may as well put ’em right back on when you cross the finish line because the Transit Pant is stealthy enough for life outside of running, too. Robbe’s been wearing his throughout fall, and the Transit Tech fabric is water and wind-resistant for your worst weather days.
Our top trail pant brings us right back to Ultimate Direction. We can’t help but love what they’re doing in the clothing department, and the Hydro Tight comes with enough storage space for 600mL of water. You might expect that much water to either ride up or weigh your down, but Ultimate Direction has come up with a bounce-free system to lock your hydration in place. Not to mention the two-way stretch mesh so we can get our moves on while we add up our Winter GRIT miles.
PRICE: $130Shop The Short – Men
Brooks is ready for the next generation of running — miles on the moon. At least, that’s what the Carbonite jacket feels like with its incredible attention to detail and ample pocket space. It can handle mild rain and wind, and probably a moon rock or two, and the reflective strips are crucial as the days keep getting shorter. Both Alex and Brandon loved their time in the Carbonite jacket, but you may want to size up if you plan to add extra layers.
PRICE: $180Shop The Jacket – Men Shop The Jacket – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: YMR Utö Windbreaker
This might not be the most affordable jacket we’ve ever run in, but YMR packed pounds of quality into every square inch. The Utö Windbreaker is made of 100% recycled polyester with zippered side and chest pockets and vents on the back to keep you cool under pressure. It’s also one of the most stylish jackets around, and the ripstop material can take some punishment.
The North Face is all-in on trail running this year. Its VECTIV shoes blew us away, and now the Lightriser FUTURELIGHT is here to finish the job. Thomas got the sweet Chlorophyll Green version, and it’s impossible to miss in any conditions. The North Face added 360-degree visibility to give you a little extra peace of mind when visibility is low, and the jacket packs back into its own pocket when you don’t need it. We’re suckers for sustainability, and the Lightriser FUTURELIGHT earned The North Face’s Exploration Without Compromise badge.
PRICE: $300Shop The Rain Jacket – Men Shop The Rain Jacket – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Janji Rainrunner
The Rainrunner is a more affordable alternative to The North Face’s jacket, and it’s new and improved for 2021. Janji promises triple the waterproof protection with lightweight ripstop construction, and we have to agree. Robbe stayed nice and dry during his testing, even in the unpredictable Baltimore fall. Did we mention it packs right back into its pocket for safekeeping?
What do you want us to do, not love our own hats? We’ve been putting out some pretty sick — and limited — designs together with the fine folks at BOCO Gear, and the Herring is our latest creation. It’s fully adjustable for those of us who run with a giant melon on our shoulders, and the bright green details won’t leave any question as to your loyalties. If you want something a little more subdued, the McHenry offers all-over olive excellence.
PRICE: $32Shop The Hat
HONORABLE MENTION: Ciele Athletics GOCap
If you’re not pickin’ up what we’re putting down, the GOCap from Ciele Athletics is pretty good too. It comes in more colors than you could count, and there are some special edition colorways to celebrate the world’s biggest marathons. You can wash it, you can pack it, you can smash it, and this little cap is always ready to go back for more.
If you want to be the king, you have to beat the king, and nobody managed to do so in 2021. The COROS Pace 2 remains our favorite running watch of the year with its incredible mix of battery life, weight, and optional bands. It certainly didn’t hurt that COROS rolled out a special Eliud Kipchoge edition of its Pace 2, which is gorgeous. There may be watches out there with extra features and premium materials, but we’d trade ’em all for this lightweight powerhouse. Honestly, we don’t think COROS is charging enough for this watch.
PRICE: $199Shop The Watch
Roark turned out to be a pleasant surprise in the last year, at least for our team. It came out of nowhere to steal our top spot for comfort and style when we aren’t laying down the paces. The Roark Run Amok fall collection includes hoodies, joggers, and more with badass graphics to boot. While the Roark Run Amok gear may not be the best technical running gear around, it’s perfect for the huge chunks of our day that we spend outside of running. Roark’s prices are even reasonable, so you can stock up in time for the holidays.
PRICE: VariesShop The Apparel – Men
Vuori has been another favorite of ours for a few years now, and it’s Meaghan’s top pick for 2021. It fits somewhere in that lifestyle and crossover segment — which is excellent for post-run but also just surviving the work-from-home landscape. Everything we’ve tried from Vuori has been well-made and stylish, from sweatshirts to sweatpants and shorts. Who really needs other clothes? Do they actually exist?
PRICE: VariesShop The Apparel – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Cotopaxi
If you’re dying for a pop of sustainable color in your life, you can’t look past Cotopaxi. We love everything from their packs to their jackets, and Cotopaxi seems to nail every collab it touches — looking at you, HOKA and Teva. Robbe loves his Teca Fleece as a go-to layer when he finishes his trail runs, but it’s a pretty great option for days off, too.
We’re pretty good at wrecking our running sunglasses, no matter the price. However, the team at Article One has inspired us to slow down and take a little more care with its stunning collaborations. This year’s pair is a joint effort with Mission Workshop, and they feel like having a whole new set of eyes. Both Robbe and Thomas love the spring-loaded arms, and the silicone nose pad is crucial to achieving that perfect fit. Best of all, Article One designed the frame to look stylish in any situation.
PRICE: $255Shop The Sunglasses – Men
Meaghan’s pick is high on the style, too, but a lot easier on the wallet. Bolle offers tons of designs to choose from and quite a few slick colorways, too. The Glory is our favorite pair right now, and it’s a tribute to Bolle’s 80’s heritage, complete with a big ole’ cat-eye lens. Of course, the lenses are polarized, and the Thermogrip rubber keeps them snug in place whether you’re running or relaxing around the house.
PRICE: $90-140Shop The Sunglasses – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Ombraz, Goodr
We went pretty premium for the top picks, but we just can’t quit our wallet-friendly pairs. Goodr has basically exploded with new shapes and designs in the last year, with Runways, Circle G’s, Mach G’s, and more for those who don’t want a classic Wayfarer. Ombraz is another recent favorite with a unique twist — its sunglasses don’t have arms. Instead, you bungie them to your head for a secure fit no matter what you’re up to.
If you’ve ever listened to our podcast (shameless plug), you’ve probably heard us talk about Feetures. If you’ve ever watched one of our videos, we were probably wearing Feetures. They’re the number-one-selling running sock company in the country, and for a good reason. Feetures have nailed the anatomical fit with compression zones, a seamless toe, and different heights to choose from. You can go no-show or show off your patterned power, and you can even save with code BITR10 at checkout.
PRICE: $16 and upShop The Socks – Men Shop The Socks – Women
HONORABLE MENTION: Falke
Falke has some pretty great socks of its own, and they’re a little more muted in case you need to class up the joint. There are plenty of cuts and patterns to check out, and Falke’s Cozy Class Socks are perfect for after you finish your run.
Our trail team is all-in on Smartwool’s premium socks. After all, the PhD Endurance Pro was developed with help from ultramarathon Rob Krar, so it must be doing something right. It’s a lightweight sock with a thin profile to fit most running shoes, yet the arch band keeps a secure fit across your foot. Smartwool even varies the pattern from sock to sock, so no two are the same — just like you and me.
PRICE: $24Shop The Socks
HONORABLE MENTION: Swiftwick Aspire
Our trail runner up may not always be as loud as the PhD Endurance Pro, but it’s just as comfortable. The Swiftwick Aspire is available in several cuts, and the ventilation channels on top of your foot should keep your run light and airy. Swiftwick is known for its thick underfoot cushion, and the Aspire has plenty to spare.
We’ve never been known to pack lightly, no matter how hard we try (have you ever packed shoes? It’s like an impossible game of Tetris). Luckily, Patagonia has us covered with a Black Hole’s worth of space. Robbe travels to all our events with the 55L Black Hole Duffel, which is perfect for trips anywhere from a weekend to week-long (but go easy on the amount of running shoes you’re hauling around). It’s super durable, and the shoulder straps easily clip on and off to convert it from a true duffel to a backpack in seconds. You can grab the duffel in sizes from 40L up to 100L, and the wheels make travel a little easier. The Black Hole is made from 100% recycled body fabric, and we never say no to sustainability. We could probably fit Robbe into the 100L bag, we just have to convince him to try.
PRICE: Up to $349Shop The Duffel
You want light? This Fenix has light. 1,500 Lumens of it, specifically. It’s advertised to blast light up to 150 meters, and we’re pretty sure it’s being modest. The HM65R-T combines one light beam and a floodlight to fill the night sky with illumination. Taylor found that as much fun as full-blast is, it usually isn’t necessary, so you can get up to 24 hours of use on a single charge at certain levels. The HM65R-T is rechargeable, so no more tossing out those AA and AAA batteries, and the fit dial feels just like a BOA system for your head.
PRICE: $99Shop The Headlamp
HONORABLE MENTION: Petzl IKO Core
The IKO Core may not burn quite so brightly, but it will surely burn for hours on end. It’s Petzl’s first crack at an LED headlamp, which means it relies on a series of smaller bulbs, and you can give a few brightness modes a try. Max Burn limits you to 6 lumens, but you get 100 hours of power, or you can crank to Max Light for 500 lumens and just under three hours of light.
Thomas got to review the Ultraspire Momentum a while back, and now it’s been refreshed with a few critical updates. It uses UltraCool mesh to wick moisture and ventilate your body. Ultraspire’s ErgoFit system uses a series of straps and weight balancing to lock the Momentum 2.0 in place while you bomb through wild terrain. We love the new Fluidic Holster System, which makes it easy to grab and replace bottles on the go.
PRICE: $90Shop The Pack
HONORABLE MENTION: Ultimate Direction Fastpack 20
Ultraspire’s Momentum might be light and sleek for life on the go, but the Fastpack 20 is ready to hold everything you need. The 21.5L capacity is more than enough for your water bottles and nutrition of choice, and you can even shove a lightweight jacket inside. The Ultimate Direction Fastpack is perfect for long hikes, and the colors are solid, too.
Do you know how many options are out there when it comes to running nutrition? Neither do we. There are so many that we’ve never tried, and probably plenty that we’ve never heard of. However, we do have a few that we like. Meaghan has been pretty big on Maurten gels over the last year, and Taylor is a ride-or-die VFuel fanatic on the trails. Alex prefers Spring Energy Gels, but it’s really up to you to find what works best. We recommend grabbing a few different gels for your next training block and deciding on a favorite.
PRICE: VariesShop Nutrition
Just like your pre-run nutrition is all up to your taste, your post-run is all about what makes you feel the best. Personally, I reach for a peanut butter and banana sandwich, but Robbe would rather have a pork barbeque and a sour beer. Meaghan takes her own road entirely, grabbing one of her homemade bagels and eggs. Over on the trail side, Taylor reaches for the New Belgium Mountain Time Lager when he finishes a run, and Alex opts for Odell Sippin Pretty in the summer or Bent Paddle Black Ale in the winter.
Questions? Comments? A favorite piece of gear that we missed? Let us know in the comments and let’s look forward to even more great gear in 2022.