The task of shopping for runners can be daunting. They’re tough to pin down, not because they’re fast, but because runners have specific tastes. They have preferred routes, music, and clothes. Buying something that your favorite runner will love can be a gamble.
To help you, we looked back over 2016 to find the best in wearable tech for runners. There have been many new wearables aimed at the running crowd, but only a handful rose to the top for me as solid gift ideas. Few runners would turn their nose up any of these delightful wearables.
To make the right decision, you’ll need to know what sort of operating system your runner prefers; not all of these devices work nicely across all platforms. You’ll also need a decent income. These are not cheap buys.
Best Fitness Tracker – Garmin Vivosmart HR+
Contrary to popular belief, not every runner wants a smartwatch. They do, however, need a device that will measure distance and track global movement. Prior to 2016, GPS was rare in such a small wearable, but this past year delivered a landslide of GPS-enabled devices.
The Garmin HR+ does so much for runners, all wrapped in a waterproof package. By that fact, it works also a triathlete wearable.
At nearly $200, this is a steep purchase, but from a reputable company. The HR+ also works with any smartphone platform, iOS, Android or Windows.
Best Running Companion – TomTom Spark 3
For the runner who prefers a little more in a device, the Spark 3 comes in cheaper than the Garmin device and offers so much.
It’s bigger that the HR+, and not well suited for the boardroom, but it will wear as a watch when the user is not running. The Spark 3 carries around 500 songs, which is a must for many users.
The addition of the MP3 feature, along with TomTom’s GPS means runners can log miles without their phones. They’ve got everything they need in their wearable.
TomTom’s GPS adds a unique feature not found in other GPS wearables They call it route exploration, where the Spark 3 will make sure you get home no matter where you go.
Best Smartwatch – Apple Watch Series 2
Whereas the Spark 3 is not suitable for most office settings, the Apple Watch goes great with a suit and a good pen.
It’s a lot cheaper than many executive dumb watches but can stay on that executive’s wrist long after the board meeting. It will go the gym, but it will also go surfing.
The Series 2 Watch from Apple is waterproof enough for surfing. It also houses a GPS chip, but the fun doesn’t stop there. The Series 2 pairs better than any other wearable with your existing Apple ecosystem.
It does not play nice with others. Android and Window’s users will not be able to use the full features of this device, not connected with their smartphones.
Gosh, it’s good-looking, though.
Best Running Shoes – Under Armour Gemini 2 RE
This one’s a gamble unless you’re sure about your favorite runner’s footwear preferences. People get funny about shoes, but if you know the right size, and you know that Under Armour fits the bill, these are the way to go.
For almost-150-USD, your friend receives a Christmas gift that not only tracks where he runs but gives him coaching. There is a Bluetooth chip embedded in the shoe that communicates with any Bluetooth headphones.
The great thing about UA’s running tech in this shoe is that it doesn’t sit on the wrist. That also means it can better track stride and step data, something other devices can only approximate.
The battery never needs changing for the life of the shoes even though they are always on.
Best AI Coach – Vi Headphones
The bad part, they won’t ship until Feb 2017, so you’ll be gifting a receipt for the purchase. The good part is you’ll be buying your friend the most advanced machine learning technology to date.
Vi has the ability to not only coach runners, but track their data, then use it to better advise users during runs. The feedback pipes into runners ears via Harmon Kardon Bluetooth buds.
The creators of VI, have assured me that there is no risk of AI overthrow of humanity with their product (they messaged on Twitter regarding this blog to inform me that Vi was harmless.), but I remain skeptical. You never want to be wrong about that one.
You have your list, now you have to decide which is the right pick for your gift receiver. If I had to pick one device from this list that lets me have my case and eat to too, it’s the Series 2 Watch from Apple.
That won’t work for non-Apple users, but for this runner, that Watch would only leave my wrist to charge. Sadly, that would be often. The Watch still suffers from weak battery life, about one day on a charge, less if you use GPS.
The TomTom comes in a close second in case you’re (my wife and) thinking about buying me something… Ahem.