Along with a slew of testers, we put dozens of the latest running gadgets through the wringer to uncover the year’s best and brightest.
For the Tech Awards this year, we took a wider view when we thought of the word “tech.” In the past, these awards had been limited to wrist-worn gadgets and analytical gizmos, but this year we considered tech to be any product that could make running easier, safer or faster and utilized new technology, whether that meant in creation or function. That led to our slew of testers trying out everything from vibrating foam rollers and fitness trackers to bone-conduction headphones and shoes made from algae (seriously!). After countless hours of testing and more than 50 product reviews, we narrowed down our top picks to 18 clever products organized into five helpful categories. Click through the pages below and prepare to geek out.
For The Early Adopter
Garmin Forerunner 935, $500
This is the ultimate endurance athlete’s watch. If you only run, this watch may be over the top in its capabilities, but it’s amazing for the multisport-minded. It lets you track everything from running, cycling and both pool and open-water swimming to cross-country skiing and paddle sports. With built-in GPS, heart rate, sleep tracking and smartphone notifications—and the ability to sync to Strava, Garmin Connect and even open your daily TrainingPeaks workout from your wrist—you have everything you need to reach your goals in one watch. It also offers performance-monitoring features to let you know if you’re over- or under-doing it.
Testers reveal: For all its high-tech (and perhaps intimidating) features, it was surprisingly simple to set up, navigate and sync with other devices and apps. Despite its compact package (weighs 49 grams), the Forerunner 935 did slightly overwhelm slim wrists.
Geek-out factor: You could wear this watch for an ultramarathon—its rechargeable battery lasts up to 24 hours in GPS mode!
VivoBarefoot Ultra 3 Bloom, $85
These crazy-looking shoes are made entirely from algae—yes, you read that right. This lightweight, amphibious pair utilizes a technology that harvests algae biomass from freshwater sources and turns it into a foam, something traditionally made from petroleum ingredients.
Testers reveal: The shoes are a take on the barefoot running trend, meaning they’re great for strengthening the entire foot and lower leg, but you should only wear them in moderation at first to avoid injury. They’re breathable and drain water well, but if you wear them sockless, they might suction to the bottom of your foot.
Geek-out factor: VivoBarefoot reports that one pair of men’s size 9 Bloom shoes returns 57 gallons of clean water to the habitat and reduces 40 balloons worth of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. How’s that for eco-friendly?
Mio SLICE, $129
This tracker goes beyond just counting your steps—it uses a proprietary metric that takes into account your heart rate and delivers a PAI (or “Personal Activity Intelligence”) score. You get “credit” for anything that increases your heart rate, like spin classes, playing with your kids or yoga.
Testers reveal: Testers had varying opinions on the fit of the watch—some were able to find a comfortable position, while others couldn’t quite cinch it to the right tightness or were bothered by it while they slept. Its more holistic approach to tracking activity was motivating, even if it doesn’t serve as the best run-specific watch (it tracks steps and heart rate but won’t reveal your stats like distance and time while on the move).
Geek-out factor: If you find it comfortable enough to wear at night, it uses heart rate to track the different stages of sleep so you can analyze your nights over time.
For Chasing A PR
Polar M430, $230
This waterproof Polar provides more than the data you’d expect from a run watch (think: heart rate, sleep and activity tracking, and workout time and distance). It also has “Smart Coaching” capabilities that can monitor training load, track your recovery status and provide training plans for 5Ks up to marathons based on your goals.
Testers reveal: Heart-rate tracking accuracy, lap counting for the bike and run (not swim), and impressive battery life (it offers GPS recording options to extend it) were the highlights. Testers wished, however, that the two Polar apps it pairs with (Flow for activity summaries and Beat for workout coaching cues) could be combined into one.
Geek-out factor: The watch includes a five-minute fitness test to estimate your VO2 max, which you can take regularly to see how you improve and to help you push yourself during workouts.
Jaybird X3, $130
If the credit for your best workouts goes to the music you were listening to, then having high-quality, sweat-proof headphones is a must. These fully customizable Bluetooth headphones deliver top-notch audio performance for sport headphones, contain eight hours of sound on a single charge and have multiple tip, fin and headphone orientation options (over or under your ear) so you can find your ideal fit.
Testers reveal: The setup was simple, and some testers were shocked by how secure the fit was; however, others (with relatively small ears) never found a perfect fit.
Geek-out factor: If you really want to customize your sound, Jaybird’s MySound app allows you to adjust your sound profile (like your bass and treble) exactly to your liking, and your settings are saved in the headphones.
Garmin Running Dynamics Pod, $70
This grape-sized device can serve as a tiny run coach to help improve your running efficiency and form. Weighing less than half an ounce, it clips onto the back of your shorts and tracks six key metrics, including cadence, ground contact time, stride length and vertical oscillation. It syncs with a compatible Garmin device (such as the Forerunner 935 on page 66).
Testers reveal: The setup is crazy simple—it practically syncs itself with your Garmin watch—and the stats are helpful if you’re looking to take your running to the next level. Finding all the metrics info in the Garmin Connect app, though, isn’t intuitive for inexperienced users.
Geek-out factor: There’s not an on/off button—it “wakes up” when it senses movement, and the replaceable battery can easily last up to a year (assuming you use it an hour every day). One fewer thing to charge!
Oakley Radar Pace Prizm Road, $449
Part eye protection, part tiny coach, these sunnies provide real-time data, including pace, distance, heart rate and cadence by pairing with external and internal sensors. Revealing how this info reflects your progress toward your specific training goals, they give you in-the-moment coaching.
Testers reveal: These are built for speed—they won’t provide feedback unless you’re running (not walking). The voice activation uses a microphone and is a handy feature, but testers did feel self-conscious about talking to their sunglasses in public.
Geek-out factor: While the price is steep, you’re partly paying for high-quality shades—they fit securely and have UV and impact protection in the lenses, plus an extra set for low-light conditions. They can even replace headphones; you can control your music from the touchpad near the temple.
For The Mother Runner
Garmin vívosmart 3, $140
This slim fitness tracker is designed for all-day wear, as it constantly monitors your stress level—it uses heart-rate variability on your wrist to determine whether your current stress level is low, medium or (eek!) high on a little graph. When your stress level does reach that top level, you can take that as a sign to go for a walk, step outside or even follow the relaxation breathing exercise on the tracker to get your stress under control.
Testers reveal: Besides the stress tracking, testers loved that the Vívosmart 3 is waterproof, a feature that’s especially handy for sleep-deprived moms who may forget to take it off. You can swim in it, shower in it or bathe little ones, worry-free!
Geek-out factor: In addition to wrist-based heart-rate monitoring, a step counter and the ability to sync with your smartphone for text and call notifications, this sleek-looking watch is the first Garmin tracker to also estimate your VO2 max and give you a “fitness age,” something you can improve with regular exercise. It can also automatically detect when you’re exercising, whether you are cycling, swimming or running.
BOB Revolution FLEX LUNAR, $470
The newest offering from the well-established jogging stroller brand adds an important element to running with little ones: visibility. For the first time, BOB added full panels of an ultra-reflective geometric print to the canopy and sides of the stroller that illuminate when headlights hit them, making morning and evening jogs safer. The “flex” in the name also refers to the adjustability of the padded handle—it easily rotates into nine positions so parents of different heights can each comfortably run with a child.
Testers reveal: This stroller comes with all the thoughtful details you’d expect from this brand, including internal pockets for holding sippy cups and toys, a super-padded seat, an extra-large UPF 50+ canopy and easy two-step folding. The voluminous storage space underneath (it’s 15 percent larger compared to other models) was handy for things like storing a diaper bag for a trip to the park, but it made the head clearance in the seat lower, making testers wonder if kids might outgrow the stroller sooner.
Geek-out factor: You can call this an all-terrain stroller—it offers a top-of-the-line suspension system so baby has a cushy ride no matter how bumpy it gets out there.
2XU Postnatal Active Maternity Tights, $200
These aren’t just high-waisted yoga pants—these are legit compression tights from a brand that prides itself on its compression technology, testing and fabrics. The tights feature compression panels specifically designed to help your abdominal muscles recover from either a natural or C-section delivery. Made with a seam-free tummy panel (so it doesn’t irritate a C-section incision) and a wicking Lycra material, these tights are meant to provide support for the post-partum body, from everyday wear to yoga and running.
Testers reveal: These pants keep everything in place; they fit so well that they don’t slip around or slide down, even when wearing them all day. One tester said the tights “made me feel fantastic and confident in my post-pregnancy body,” though the relatively boring solid-black aesthetics could use some work.
Geek-out factor: The compression, which is on the moderate to firm end of the scale (22–25 mmhg), specifically targets two of the locations on the body that need the most help when recovering from a pregnancy: the lower back and the pelvic floor muscles.
Scosche LitFit, $30
If you’re going to be running with an armband anyway, you might as well make it a light-up LED armband to protect your smartphone, keeping you safer when you’re out on the roads.
Testers reveal: The neoprene-Velcro combination in the armband provided a secure fit, and the touchscreen controls on the phone worked seamlessly through the screen protector (which is weather- and sweat-proof). The built-in key slot was also convenient.
Geek-out factor: The rechargeable armband case offers bright white LED lights in three modes—solid and two flashing.
Nathan Neutron Fire RX Runners’ Headlamp, $55
The newest iteration of this headlamp is also the lightest ever, plus it kicks out 160 lumens of light (versus 115 from the original version). The weather-resistant headlamp features one main bright-white LED spotlight and two strobe strips on either side that turn red, green or blue.
Testers reveal: The colored lights and main spotlight don’t have to be on at the same time. The white light, which can be extremely bright, is great for lighting your path on unfamiliar routes, but the colored lights are fine on their own for keeping you visible. While the headlamp is pretty comfortable worn on the head, the strap is adjustable enough that you could wear it on your arm without it bobbing around.
Geek-out factor: The rechargeable battery provides 20 hours of burn time, and in addition to the lights, the entire strap is made from reflective material, so you’re visible from 360 degrees.
Aftershokz Trekz Titanium, $130
These bone-conducting Bluetooth headphones deliver music through your cheekbones rather than in your ear, keeping your ears open to the sounds around you.
Testers reveal: While pretty much every tester was skeptical of wearing headphones that don’t go in your ears, they were pleasantly surprised by the sound quality and comfort. For some, they were more comfortable to wear for long periods of time, while others found the titanium wrap-around band weighed a little heavy on the tops of their ears after long-term use. The built-in volume buttons make adjustments relatively simple, and they come with earplugs so that you can use them on a plane without hearing your neighbors.
Geek-out factor: You can get up to six hours of use on a single charge, and the noise-canceling microphone allows you to use them for calls and voice commands in addition to music.
Strava Beacon, $8 per month
Part of the Premium membership on the popular athlete social network is a feature called Strava Beacon, which allows you to send a link to three safety contacts of choice, and it allows them to click on the link and see your exact location in real time. It gives both you and your loved ones peace of mind that if something goes wrong during a run, they know exactly where you are and can send help.
Testers reveal: For Strava users, setup is seamless (and doesn’t take too much effort for non-Strava users). Testers found it extremely accurate—just make sure the safety contacts stay up to date and Beacon is turned on before you start a workout. The emergency contacts don’t need to have any specific app on their phone—they just have to click the link they receive via text.
Geek-out factor: The Beacon feature is also an awesome tool to use for a mid-run meet-up or race participant tracking.
For Recovery Zen
Hidrate Spark 2.0, $55
It’s easy to get behind on fluid intake. That’s where the Spark 2.0 comes in—it has a sensor within the 24-ounce bottle to record how many ounces of water you’re taking in and glows to remind you to drink water if you’re not on track to meet your personalized hydration goal.
Testers reveal: Testers were surprised by their own drinking inconsistency—the bottle helped them stay more hydrated throughout the day. It takes some adjusting to remember to set the bottle down right before and after refilling (otherwise, it’s very inaccurate).
Geek-out factor: It syncs up with fitness trackers, such as Apple Watch and My Fitness Pal, via Bluetooth. When the location services are turned on, the app knows the last place it paired with the bottle so you can retrieve it if you left it somewhere.
Bose SoundLink Revolve, $200
When it comes to wireless speakers for listening to music between workouts, Bose has thought of everything. This pint-sized, waterproof Bluetooth speaker is easy to take on the go and delivers high-quality sound in 360 degrees.
Testers reveal: Easy to set up and use, this speaker absolutely lived up to expectations. The 12-hour (all-day!) battery life was a big plus.
Geek-out factor: Even if you don’t have your phone on you, you can use the button on the top of the speaker to access Siri or Google Now and send a text. Simple as that!
Fitbit Charge 2, $150
The biggest recovery perk for the Charge 2 is its sleep tracking feature—it uses your heart rate to track which state of sleep you’re in (light, deep or REM). It also tracks steps and activities, estimates your VO2 max (and shows how you compare to people your age) and allows you to enter water, calories and weight into the app so you can have a holistic view of your current fitness level.
Testers reveal: The sleek watch had a high-end feel, and its simplicity was a big hit—setup is a breeze, and there’s only one button. The movement reminders (250 steps per hour!) were handy for those with desk jobs.
Geek-out factor: One feature guides you through breathing sessions based on your heart rate to help you get your stress levels and blood pressure under control.
Trigger Point GRID VIBE, $100
Kick your foam rolling up a notch with a vibrating foam roller. This compact roller utilizes the brand’s signature GRID foam on the outside and features a vibration frequency designed specifically to make foam rolling hurt less so that you can roll longer and deeper.
Testers reveal: The vibrations do seem to relax muscles more—if you stopped over one spot, it really felt like a massage, minus the stranger touching you. Second-floor apartment dwellers should put down a yoga mat when they roll so as not to disturb downstairs neighbors (the vibrating against hardwood floors gets loud!).
Geek-out factor: The rechargeable battery lasts for two hours, and the size is compact enough (12 inches long and 3.5 inches in diameter) that you can keep it in your car or travel with it.