Pro tip: Don't buy the athlete on your list socks. (Unless they have specific tastes and love odor-resistant wool.) Instead, consider the gadgets they may or may not have in their arsenal. For some, that means a fitness-oriented smartwatch or, perhaps, a single-purpose wearable designed to go deep on a single sport. You might also consider wireless headphones that won't fall out or malfunction in the face of sweat or raindrops. Or a Nintendo Switch game for your favorite sedentary athlete who has trouble finding motivation otherwise.
Our list includes some oddball entries too, including a doo-dad that straps your phone to your sports bra while working out, and a vibrating muscle massager that pro athletes swear by. Heck, we'd even make a case for smart shoes. Not all of them, by any means, but we found a pair even us skeptics can get behind. Have a look. And seriously, don't go with socks.
If you're feeling philanthropic and want to incentivize someone's exercise habits this holiday season (OK, after January 1st), the $160 Aftershokz Aeropex bone-conduction headphones tick a lot of boxes. This lightweight Bluetooth headset provides a way to listen to workout-motivating tunes while keeping ears open to the surroundings. They work especially well for biking and running but also do a great job for turn-by-turn directions and low-level background tunes. Just make sure you're not gifting to someone who loves their music loud or bassy, as they do have certain trade-offs, and quality suffers in noisy environments. If you know someone who's an avid swimmer, you may want to consider the new Xtrainerz model ($150), with 4GB of onboard storage (no Bluetooth) and a fully waterproof construction aimed at phone-free and immersive sports. They even come with earplugs. -- Jon Turi, Homepage Editor
Apple Watch Series 5
Apple's fifth-generation Watch adds an always-on screen that makes it more like a traditional watch. There's also a compass built into the new model, making it a more intriguing wearable for outdoorsy types. Then there's all the health-monitoring features, including fall detection, heart rate tracking and even an ECG for folks with possible cardiac issues. If you're looking for fitness smarts, the Series 5 will automatically offer to log runs, walks and other workouts when it detects sustained movement. It's not cheap, but it is the best all-around smartwatch, with the most evolved selection of apps and features. It's also easy to customize for the lucky giftee, thanks to an ever-expanding array of bands and straps. -- Mat Smith, UK Bureau Chief
Beats PowerBeats Pro
The Powerbeats Pro are our new favorite wireless workout headphones. If someone you know has upgraded their phone but is now missing the ol' headphone jack, Beats' first truly wireless 'buds might be the best way to work out wirelessly. The snug fit and hooked design ensure they stay put instead of falling out when someone hits the treadmill. Outside of breaking a sweat, the Powerbeats Pro are subtle enough to be anyone's go-to wireless buds, with an even sound profile and four different colors to choose from. Just don't forget: Your special someone will need a Lightning cable to charge them. -- Mat Smith, UK Bureau Chief
Garmin Fenix 6X Pro Solar
Adventure. It mostly happens outdoors, and famously, that's where the sky is. Garmin put two and two together and slapped what it's calling Power Glass on its Fenix Pro Solar GPS watch. As the name suggests, the sapphire watch face is now not only durable but also has a solar panel "lens" on top that will juice up the Fenix while the athlete in your life scales a mountain, rafts down the river or, let's be real, ambles to the taco shop to pick up their lunch order.
The Fenix line has always offered stellar battery life (up to two weeks depending on usage), along with stacks of activity- and health-related features. Of course there's GPS so your giftee won't get lost, but there are also always-on heart rate monitoring, live weather updates, a slew of running tools and a whole lot more -- all in a stylish frame. In fact, the adventurous person in your life will probably still be finding new features on the Fenix long after the holiday season comes to a close. -- James Trew, Managing Editor
Koala Clip Lux
For the female runner in your life, you could just buy a $6 armband for their phone. But if you want to score extra points, you might want to consider the Koala Clip. Unlike an armband or belt, the Koala Clip attaches to the strap of a sports bra and rests against the wearer's back, promising zero slippage or bouncing mid-run. The flat, wide design also means your recipient can stash more items than regular pouches, so money for a post-jog ginger beer can stay close at hand without the need for an overflowing bag.
The Koala Clip comes in three sizes and five creatively named color options. So if Fierce Flamingo or Salty Sapphire sound more like pet names for the one you love than colorways, this gift is the perfect, practical choice. -- James Trew
Leatherman Free P2
It never hurts to have a multitool handy. From opening packages and beer bottles to tightening loose screws or loosening rusted bolts, a good multitool can handle it all. So if there's a hiker or outdoorsy type on your list who always likes to be prepared (or is habitually unprepared) for whatever life throws at them, a new multitool could be a great gift. Our current favorite is the Leatherman Free P2. Honestly, these things haven't evolved much over the years, but the new magnetic latching system in the Free series is a serious game changer. It can easily be opened with one hand, the knife blade locks in place so your giftee won't accidentally slice a finger off and there are enough tools here (19 in total) to accomplish most basic tasks without forcing one to reach for a full toolbox. -- Terrence O'Brien, Managing Editor
Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure
The spiritual successor to Wii Fit involves a bendy resistance wheel and a leg strap that looks kind of like a garter belt. Ring Fit Adventure combines bodyweight workouts (and a lot of jogging in place) with an array of entertaining mini games. Some will map your movements to a pottery wheel or a rotating robot smasher while others force players to bend and twist to avoid bombs and other hazards. There's a relatively fleshed-out RPG experience here, which is simple enough for kids to play but physically demanding enough for grown-ups. For parents with a New Year's resolution to get fitter or lose weight, it's a sly way of burning through a hundred calories or so. Buy it for the kids but sneak in your own workout session. -- M.S.
Soul Run Free Pro Bio
Pounding the pavement is often a solitary affair. Running buddies have lives to attend to, and frankly, who can afford to have a personal trainer on hand? If you know a budding athlete who could do with some motivation and running tips -- and some music to keep their mind off the pain -- the Run Free Pro Bio is the perfect gift.
The headphones deliver wireless audio that's clear, crisp and impactful: perfect for that mile-four perk-up. The real benefit here is the built-in AI personal trainer. And we're not just talking about the occasional motivational message: They also have sensors that measure altitude, head angle, maximum force, step length and more. All of this data is then presented back to the wearer as practical ways to improve their form. -- James Trew
While your family packs on the holiday 15, you know that come January 1st, they'll be all about the gym. Hitting the treadmill after a hiatus is a recipe for injury, and that's where the Theragun G3 comes in. We assume the name Therapeutic Gun didn't quite have the commercial ring to it, but that's really what this is. Aim it at a sore muscle or joint and it'll zap it with a deep percussive massage -- up to 40 times per second. It's effective enough that many pro athletes swear by it. The company claims the Theragun can reach 90 percent of muscles and joints when used alone, but you'll soon be giving your loved one back massages with it, so you can guilt them into giving you one in return. -- James Trew
Under Armour HOVR Phantom
While Nike's Mags tend to hog all the smart shoe limelight, there are other, more practical connected trainers. Under Armour's HOVR Phantom SE series (along with the CT, pictured above) is one of them. Sensors in the shoe track cadence, distance, pace, stride and steps, which you can then sync with popular training app MapMyRun (which Under Armour also owns). Once your giftee has uploaded a few of their runs, the app will give advice on how to improve their form and performance with data from their actual feet (not wrist) -- and they don't even need their phone.
Fortunately, the shoe itself is also packed with features that your running nut's feet will appreciate. For one, there's the HOVR foam and mesh that UA claims return energy from your strides and a neutral stance that strikes a balance between comfort and flexibility. UA claims HOVR feels like antigravity, but we're pretty sure they'll still need to do the running part. -- James Trew
Xiaomi Mi Band 4
The Mi Band series of fitness trackers has one major selling point: price. At $35, the fourth iteration continues to keep things affordable, making this an ideal stocking stuffer. Despite the low price, there are still some premium features here, including a color display and 24-hour heart-rate monitoring. It'll even track your swimming, which is a novelty at this price point. Of course, there's a selection of colors to suit the recipient's style and even an Avengers special edition for any Marvel fans looking to get in shape for the new year. Not bad for something half the price of the cheapest Fitbit. -- James Trew