15 Must Haves Every Runner Needs

One of the most appealing aspects of running is its sense of minimalism. You don’t have to have tons of fancy or expensive equipment in order to be a successful runner. But as you start to run longer and race more, there are certain items every runner needs.

Whether it’s for personal safety, injury prevention, or getting you through months of training runs so you can toe the line at your target race, these must have items every runner needs will make running easier and more enjoyable.

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15 Must Have Items Every Runner Needs

You know you’re making the shift from casual runner to more serious runner when you start accumulating running gear. How many of these must have items every runner needs do you already have in your training bag?

1. A Proper Training Plan

Sure, you can go out and run on your own. But when you’re ready to make the leap from recreational runner to committed athlete, you need a professionally written training plan. These plans should be tailored to your target race distance.

If you’re looking for a great training plan that covers 5K, 10K, half marathon, and marathon, the tried and true Run Less, Run Faster has a new 2021 edition that covers you at each of those distances.

The longer your race distance, the more research you should do before picking a training plan. Thinking of running a marathon? Choosing the right marathon training plan should be done before you even type in your credit card digits to register.

2. Actual Running Shoes

Whatever you do, know that every runner needs actual running shoes. Your old sneakers aren’t going to cut it, especially as you increase your mileage and running frequency.

Choosing the best running shoes for you is a personal choice. You can use online tools like Shoe Dog Shoe Finder to help you get an idea of what shoe is best suited to your body, your mileage, and your training and racing goals.

3. Running Socks

The options for running socks are almost endless. Again, the best running socks for you is a personal choice. There are socks that can help if you’re blister-prone, you have plantar fasciitis, or you often get shin splints.

But that can be a lot to ask of socks, so if you’re blister-prone, make sure you read Should You Pop A Blister?

And if you have chronic lower leg soreness, check out Can I Run With Shin Splints?

4. Running Watch

Every runner needs a watch that’s just a bit more sophisticated than an analog timepiece with a second hand.

While you may not need the latest and greatest GPS or smartwatch, having a running watch that can chime intervals will be useful in your marathon training. You’ll also likely want a watch that has “split” or “lap” time features so you can get feedback about your pacing.

Whether or not you need data like altitude, acceleration, or calorie burn is up to you.

One other thing to think about if you’re a midlife marathoner: make sure you get a watch with large numbers. Your eyes will thank you as you try to read your times while on the run.

5. Water Bottles

Some runners new to distance training don’t think they really need water bottles. They’d rather just plan their route around public water fountains. That plan works great until you’re six miles into your run, and the water fountain is broken.
If you’re wondering what’s the best way to carry water while you run, there are so many options! Whether you choose a hand-held water bottle, a belt bottle, or a water backpack, just make sure you have what you need so you can stay hydrated as you run.

6. Phone Holder

While some runners prefer to leave their phone at home for a true break from reality, most runners can’t imagine running without their cell phone. Whether it’s for safety reasons or because you don’t want to miss that amazing shot for Instagram, having a phone holder will mean you’re always connected.

7. Running Belt

Even in organized half marathons and marathons with high-quality aid stations, every runner needs to be prepared to carry their own nutrition and other necessities.

Race belts are the easiest way to stash your stuff for a long run. Whether you prefer a purely stretchy design or a buckle-and-clasp is personal preference.

The best part is that if you get a race belt you love, you won’t need a separate water bottle holder or phone holder.

8. Identification Tag

Please don’t leave your house for a run without some form of identification. Every runner needs to have ID and emergency contact information on their person for every run.


9. Waterproof Sunscreen

Long training runs can be a great way to spend time outdoors and get your Vitamin D. But when you start running outside multiple hours multiple times a week, it’s time to find some runner-friendly sunscreen.

Waterproof sunscreen ensures that the sunscreen can do its job, even when you start sweating like a beast. Elta MD is the best– easy to apply, doesn’t leave your hands greasy, and doesn’t drip. You may also like a small stick sunscreen to pop into your running belt so you can reapply mid-run.

EltaMD UV Sport Broad Spectrum SPF 50 Sunscreen Sport Lotion, Body Sunscreen with UVA and UVB Protection, Water Resistant up to 80 Minutes, Non-Greasy, Oil Free Formula with Zinc Oxide, 7 oz Pump
  • SPF 50 sport sunscreen protects your skin from UVA and UVB rays and is specially formulated for active lifestyles and outdoor activities

10. Reflective Vest

If you’re going to do any training at all either before dawn at dusk or later, making sure you can be seen by bikes and cars is essential for your personal safety. Reflective vests are an inexpensive insurance policy.

Wearing a reflective vest while running in low light should not impede your running gait or arm swing in any way.

11. Sport Sunglasses

Quality sunglasses are important both for your eyes as well as for minimizing fatigue from staring into the brightness. No fog, no slip, polarized athletic sunglasses are the best option for when you’re logging daytime miles.

You don’t have to break the bank buying running sunglasses– remember they’re going to get sweaty and grimy. Save the fashion (and some cash) for your after-run shades.

12. Anti-Chafing Lube

This is one thing absolutely every runner needs. No matter your speed, your size, your age, or your experience, you’re going to chafe sooner or later.

Just trust me on this one.

body glide Original Anti-Chafe Balm, 0.80oz
  • Apply Before You Get Dressed, On Thighs, Neck, Arms, And Anywhere Skin Is Rubbed. Stop Trouble Before It Starts

13. Running Recovery Tools

There are so many options for stretching and massage aids– what to choose?! Every runner needs to decide for himself what type of post-run recovery aid he likes best to help speed up recovery from running.

Whether it’s a massage ball, foam roller, or massage gun, remember that these recovery tools only work when you use them!

14. Bone Conduction Headphones

If you can’t imagine logging lots of miles without your favorite tunes or the latest podcast, then your list of runner needs must include bone conduction wireless headphones.

This type of headphones leaves your ears open to hear traffic noise or other pedestrians while still allowing you to hear your playlist. Safety first!

15. Training Logbooks

If you have a fitness smartwatch, you’ll probably want to use the software that allows you to digitally record your training sessions and progress. Having all the data crunched for you can be really encouraging.

I still recommend using paper training logbooks for one simple reason:

Every runner needs to be able to sit down at the end of a long training cycle and flip through the pages to experience the highs and lows of months of running effort. Seeing comments about how you felt– written in your own hand– about your hard work is a powerful way to psych yourself up before your race.

Ditching all the gadgets and running without technology every once in a while can be liberating!

While this list of must-haves is personal, it isn’t exhaustive. Every runner needs to determine for herself what will make running safe, healthy, and fun for a lifetime.

Karen Shopoff Rooff is an ACE certified personal trainer and health coach with more than 20 years’ experience running marathons and ultramarathons. The Marathon Finish Line blog is for informational purposes. Please seek advice from a medical practitioner before engaging in a new fitness program.