Although people tend to search for ‘running headphones’ (or ‘headphones for running’), what follows is also a list of the best headphones for gym, work outs, sports, cross-fit, cycling and fell trekking, as well as running.
Whatever your activities of choice, these buds and headphones will soundtrack your path to fitness.
My first advice is this: go true wireless. There are several true wireless bud options for the gym – think Apple Earbuds but more robust and sweatproof. I know a lot of you reading this will think, “no way, I’m not an early adopter and they’re too expensive.” However, you are bang wrong: once you get used to having no wire at all rubbing on the back of your neck and no snagging on things ever, it is bloody hard to go back to the more traditional styles of running/gym headphones.
I also feel that the various limitations of true wireless, which make them irritating to use as full-time buds, just don’t apply if you only run, ride or work out in them. The battery life is invariably short but it’s more than long enough for gym and running, at least for anyone who’s not doing ultra-marathons. The usually slightly poorer sound quality is also less important for pumpin’, workout-style listening. Obviously, if you work out to Nick Drake, it’ll be more of an issue, but I think you may be in a minority, there.
True wireless is still in its infancy as a product category but already some clear leaders have emerged: Jabra Elite 65t for runners and gym goers, and Bose SoundSport Free for gymming only – the shape of the Bose and the way they whistle when it’s windy make them less useful for outdoor running, I found.
However, those who prefer the old-fashioned, considerably more affordable route to a sweat-soaked soundtrack should get a pair of NuForce. About 18 months ago, I said the
is the best pair of Bluetooth headphones for running and gym. Now, in 2018, they remain comfortable, they still sound excellent and still they’re very light and well weighted. The battery life of 8-10 hours is alright, too.
If you prefer headphones that let through sound from the outside world (for instance, a double decker bus bearing down on you at 30mph), go for the
. I know that brand usually turns out hipster-friendly basics, but these are impressive.
A decent pair of sports headphones are a very worthy investment. Research has shown that the right type and tempo of tune can keep you in the zone for longer, and we’ve all ran up park steps to a suitably bombastic soundtrack like we’re Rocky. Even if we’ve then keeled over at the top.
There are four things to look for, really.
1. Waterproofing. Although a ‘normal’ pair of headphones can work well for exercise, if they fit well enough, they’re just not built to stand up to heavy rain when running or, more importantly, sweat when doing any exercise. And sooner or later, sweat or heavy rain will find them. And it will kill them. All the headphones here are sweatproof and rain resistant, but not suitable for immersion (ie: swimming, or running in Manchester).
2. A secure but comfortable fit. You can get all sorts of fitness-oriented designs that wrap tightly around your head, over and around your ears, and then deep into your cranium. However in my experience, the best types of running headphones are actually either true wireless or lightweight Bluetooth in-ears with tips that go into the ear as usual, but with additional, curved, tapered ‘hooks’ that sit under the antihelix of your ear. For those of you who aren’t ear doctors, that is the crater of cartilage that sits above your earhole.
Of that type, pioneered (I think) by Monster and Bose, the
are the best.
3. Decent sound quality. I don’t want to overly generalise but really this is the least important element in sports headphones. Most people want to be able to hear/feel their tunes as they workout and be motivated by them, whilst blocking out the gym/the world. They don’t necessarily want to be picking out hitherto undetected nuances in the string quartets of Brahms or the early works of Fleetwood Mac. So two of the headphones here sound really good and the rest sound good enough, usually with a lot of low-end and mid-range tones.
4. Situational awareness. This is all-important for some people, who feel that effectively deafening themselves leaves them in danger of traffic or muggers when road running. It’s of no importance to me, as I prefer to shut out the world entirely when working out, but nonetheless I’ve included three great pairs of headphones specifically designed to let ambient sound through.
Whatever the sound you want, there is nothing more annoying than ear buds worming their way out when you’re trying to stay focussed. The main causes of this are poorly fitting ear-tips, plus the vibrations through your body and movements of your head as you run or work out. Even the best running headphones can become annoying when their cable snags on the back of your neck or your clothing.
Okay. On your marks, get set, SHOP!