Athletes are some of the easiest people to shop for. We can never have too many socks, and we also need lots of stuff — stuff to track our workouts, stuff to keep us entertained and stuff to help our bodies recover. In my spare time I’m a distance runner and coach, with drawers full of gear I’ve road-tested.
Now, for my day job at Engadget, I’ve put together a list of sporty gift ideas that includes a few things I own, and a few items I want. And don’t worry, though I have a clear bias toward running, these should work just as well for other kinds of athletes, from cyclists to yoga enthusiasts. One word of caution: I’d advise against buying someone sneakers. It’s better to give them a gift certificate to a speciality sportswear shop and let a professional evaluate their gait and arch type.
Athleta Made to Move mask
A very 2020 gift for athletes: a mask for outdoor workouts. I love Athleta’s Made to Move mask for women, whose nose bridge and adjustable ear hooks make it the most comfortable option I’ve tried. It’s sold as a $25 three-pack in two color themes: warm reds and purples, and cool blues and blacks. For a unisex alternative, this Under Armour mask looks promising (just get the sizing right). I also like the look of this adjustable mask. You only have two sizes to choose from here; less of a chance you’ll get it wrong.
Apple Watch Series 6
For people who are only ever going to own one watch, the Apple Watch is consistently the best all-purpose option. It’s a stylish timepiece with deep iOS integration, an irresistibly fun step tracker and a workout app that supports 15 activity types. As a fitness watch, it’s less robust than purpose-built devices like Garmin’s Forerunner line, but it’s good enough for most people. Plus, built-in GPS and on-board music storage make it possible to leave your phone at home while you exercise.
Like last year’s Series 5, the new Series 6 has a built-in ECG test to detect irregular heart rates, and this version also adds an always-on altimeter (great for hikers) and a blood oxygen sensor that runs in the background, even while you sleep. It’s also just generally faster (and faster-charging) than the last-gen model, with slightly longer battery life to boot.
The only caveat, of course: Your giftee needs an iPhone user for them to use an Apple Watch. If your loved one is an Android person, we recommend the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Garmin Forerunner 245
Whenever anyone asks me what GPS sports watch they should buy, my default recommendation is always the midrange option from Garmin’s Forerunner line. With the 200-series, you get enough features that serious athletes want, like wrist-based heart rate tracking, VO2 Max ratings and a blood oxygen sensor. Runners in particular receive data on their cadence, stride length and ground contact time. And don’t be fooled by the name either — despite the apparent emphasis on running, the 245 also tracks other activities like cycling, stair machines, ellipticals, indoor rowing and pool swimming.
As a Garmin user myself, I appreciate its attempts to quantify my training load (too much, too little or just right?) and also its breakdown showing how taxing my workout was, both for aerobic and anaerobic training. Just as important, I’ve owned several Garmins now, and the battery life is always long enough to get me through a marathon with juice to spare.
And remember, this is just the midrange model — you’re not missing much by skipping Garmin’s highest-end running watches. For the money (up to $600 on pricier models), you’re mainly getting luxuries like contactless payments and onboard music storage, which are overkill for most people.
Amazfit Bip S
I reviewed the Bip S for Engadget on something of a lark, mostly because I was intrigued by the idea of a $60 sports watch. At that price, after all, most other brands only offer basic fitness bands. Though I didn’t know much about Amazfit before my review, I came away impressed with the Bip S’s accurate GPS tracking, long battery life, built-in heart rate tracking and lightweight, water resistant design. My main complaint was that the user interface feels unpolished, but that won’t stop the athlete in your life from getting a good workout in. If you’re on a budget, Amazfit offers the best value in this price range.
Beats Powerbeats Pro
I recently reviewed a handful of wireless workout headphones, and the Beats Powerbeats Pro is the set I’m tempted to buy for myself. The behind-the-ear hook design feels comfortable and sturdy, while the onboard controls are easy to master, partly because they’re the same on both the left and right earbuds.
The main drawbacks are that the ear-hook design wasn’t always comfortable to wear with sunglasses, and the charging case is relatively heavy. (It also charges via a Lightning cable, which will be less of a problem for iPhone owners.) Even if your giftee isn’t an iPhone user, the headset responds to voice commands for all the major assistants: Siri, Alexa and Google.
Jabra Elite Active 75t
My other top pick in that wireless workout headphone guide was Jabra’s Elite Active 75t. Though its onboard controls are initially more confusing than the Powerbeats Pro, the 75t has a discreet in-ear design that blends in better with street clothes. Aside from the design, available in six colors, the 75t won me over with its compact, lightweight charging case, which promises longer runtime than most of the competition. I also found the company’s HearThrough tech does a good job balancing audio playback with letting ambient sound in, making it safer to run outside. Like the Powerbeats Pro, it works with Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa. As a bonus, too, the 75t recently received active noise cancellation through a firmware update.
Hyperice Vyper 2.0
We athletes have a love-hate relationship with our foam rollers. They hurt to use, especially after a punishing workout, but you know what hurts more? Continuing to train with tight muscles. This cordless roller from Hyperice looks like a traditional model, but packs a 40-watt motor allowing athletes to more easily loosen stubborn muscles. Hyperice claims that vibration therapy allows users to regain 40 percent more range of motion than they would have with just basic foam rolling. That said, if ever your giftee finds themselves low on battery, they can still use the Vyper as a normal roller.
For the runner who already owns a foam roller, how about an alternate approach to muscle relaxation? The Theragun Mini looks like a small power tool with a vibrating tennis ball attached. It’s roughly pound-and-a-half weight means athletes can pack it in their bag for races and hikes, while the small ball attachment can fit in places where a traditional roller can’t, like your hamstring or the sole of your foot. There are three adjustable speeds and, if your giftee wants more options, there’s an ecosystem of interchangeable heads (yes, just like some power tools).
I don’t own YogaToes — yet — but they’re on my wishlist. This little doodad slips between your toes, separating them just enough to give those small muscles a proper stretch. The company claims they can help in treating and preventing plantar fasciitis, a common running injury. They’re also said to aid more chronic foot conditions like hammer toes, bunions, crossed or overlapping toes, and flat feet. The YogaToes come in two designs — Original and GEMS — but we recommend the latter for most people as it has an adjustable frame.
Goodr Running Sunglasses
Lots of my runner friends rock Goodr sunglasses, and for good reason (pun unavoidable): They’re lightweight, inexpensive and they stay put even as your face gets sweaty. As you can see, I stopped short of recommending a specific model here, and that’s because the selection is simply overwhelming — and I mean that in the best way. The website allows you to shop by sport or frame style, and from there you can filter by lens and frame colors, head size or lens type (the options are clear, gradient, reflective and non-reflective). Obviously you’ll need to have supreme confidence in your knowledge of your giftee’s style. But, it’s hard to go wrong with a pair of the plain black OGs. (Plus, at $25 they’re a solid stocking stuffer.)
Run Fast. Eat Slow.
Maybe it’s that she was the first American woman to win the New York City Marathon in 40 years, or maybe it’s just her potty mouth. Whatever the reason, I stan Shalane Flanagan. The retired Olympian has two cookbooks offering healthy recipes designed for athletes in training. (Har har, no, it’s not just a dozen recipes for spaghetti. What do you think we are, carb loaders?) I own the original volume, Run Fast. Eat Slow., and I can attest that the dishes are satisfying, even if your giftee might have to restock their pantry with more wholesome items.
Think of Yaktrax as snow tires for running shoes: a rubber cleat with steel spikes and a velcro strap that tightens around the top of your foot. I requested these myself a few holiday seasons ago, when I decided I wanted to continue running outdoors through the winter. That extra traction makes it safer to run through snow and slush, and runners might feel less strain in their calves and ankles, which otherwise have to work overtime to keep you balanced. Particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic going strong, there are likely lots of athletes who can’t go back to a gym just yet, or aren’t willing to take the risk. Rubber cleats will help them stay active throughout the winter — with less worry about taking a nasty spill.
Apace Vision LED safety lights
Even if your giftee isn’t likely to run in the snow, chances are they’ll find themselves running in dim light this season, with the sun setting as early as 4:30pm. It’d be overkill to give someone a headlamp, so how about small, inexpensive clip-on lights to help them stay visible in the dark? My colleague Valentina Palladino (also a runner) is a fan of Apace Vision’s clip-on LED lights, which have a lightweight, weather-resistant design and offer three usage modes: a steady glow, a slow flash and a faster strobe. For $18 you get a two-pack, and they can be clipped to a pet’s collar, making them equally useful for nighttime dog walks and after-work jogs.
Nathan Hydration packs
I originally bought myself a Nathan hydration backpack right before the 2015 Paris Marathon, because I was told there were few water stops and, uh, that the water there “tasted funny.” (Only one of these things was true.) Now I use it for almost every run, especially as the weather gets colder and most of the public drinking fountains in New York City shut off for the winter. Plus, not having to stop at crowded water stations helps me shave at least a few minutes off race time.
Nathan offers different capacity options with silhouettes for both men and women. The one I own has a two-liter removable water pouch — enough to get me through nearly a whole marathon. Although schlepping two liters of water on your back takes some getting used to, the pack is comfortable to wear thanks to adjustable shoulder straps and a supportive chest strap. Plus, that chest strap has a groove where you can store the attached straw when you’re not using it.
Other than having easy access to all the water you could need, the other benefit of wearing a hydration vest are all the storage options. Nathan’s bags offer a mix of front pockets and back-facing pockets, which I use to carry my phone, keys, Gu packets, salt pills and sometimes even a mobile power bank.
If you’re shopping for a sporty person, chances are they have an account on Strava, a social network where athletes can upload their workouts and cheer on each other’s efforts. And it’s not just running either: The app also celebrates biking, hiking, walking, elliptical workouts and more. As a marathoner, I’ve often been tempted to spring for Strava Premium, which adds features like heart rate data, route planning and being able to set weekly mileage goals — an important metric for those of us following training calendars. You’ll want to slyly figure out if your giftee already uses Strava, but if they do I bet they’d appreciate the additional features.
Though various brands now make WiFi scales, it was Withings that started the trend back in 2009. I own the Body+ and appreciate its modern design, slick companion app and ability to log not just my weight, but my body fat, muscle mass, bone mass and hydration. The scale can recognize up to eight users, which is helpful when there’s more than one person in the house, and there’s also a pregnancy mode for women who might otherwise dread a smart device judging their weight gain. Withings also plays nice with loads of third-party apps, allowing you to sync your weight to calorie counters like MyFitnessPal, for example. As a bonus, you’ll see the local weather forecast flash on the screen when you step on the scale, meaning one less app to open while you’re getting ready in the morning.