Running. It’s possibly the simplest and cheapest form of exercise known to man. All you need is a half-decent pair of running shoes and a route, and off you go.
But if you want to add music and excellent audio to your runs, you need a good pair of running headphones. There are plenty of pairs on the market, so knowing where to start can be a bit daunting.
Don’t worry, we’re here to help. We’ll run (ahem) you through what you need to consider, so you can be sure they’ll suit you before you hand over any money.
Then you can then head over to our buying guide dedicated to the best headphones for running and seal a deal.
So lace up, and let’s get going.
First things first: what style of headphone do you want? Running headphones come in all shapes and sizes. You could go the wired route, and pick an in-ear, on-ear or over-ear model. Or for the ultimate in convenience, you could go with a wireless pair. In-ear running headphones can even be split into traditional wireless and true wireless models. Confused? Allow us to explain.
Wired headphones are as the name suggests: they have a cable connecting the headphones to the device playing the music (i.e. your phone or music player). These have become less popular in recent years as wireless headphones can offer convenience and great sound quality at affordable prices.
Examples include the wallet-friendly Sony MDR-XB510AS and the Bose SoundSport in-ear headphones or the Lindy BNX-60 over-ear headphones. On- and over-ear designs are bigger and bulkier than in-ears and you’ll need a solid grip from the earpads so they don’t slide around while you’re pounding the pavement.
Traditional wireless in-ear headphones have a cable running along the back of your neck which connects the two earbuds. This style can divide opinion somewhat: some people don’t like the feeling of a cable bouncing up and down on their neck as they run. But a decent pair should be so comfy you barely notice it. A couple of examples of our favourite wireless in-ears include the Bose SoundSport Wireless and Sennheiser CX Sport.
True wireless is the headphone style du jour, though. These in-ear headphones remove the cables completely, leaving just two earbuds to pop in your ears and into a carry case which doubles as a charger. Even if you’re not up on current models, you will have invariably seen Apple’s AirPods while you’ve been out and about. But they’re not built for running. We would recommend the JBL Reflect Flow, Sony WF-1000XM3, Cambridge Audio Melomania 1 or Apple AirPods Pro instead.
Running makes you sweaty. Fact. While you can toss your running clothes in the wash, you can’t do the same with your headphones. But some are more resistant to sweat and water than others.
For most, simple sweat resistance will do. But if you want to run in the rain without worrying about your headphones packing up, you should look for splash resistance. And if you want to rinse yours under the tap after a workout, you’ll want full waterproofing.
The amount of waterproofing is indicated by something called an IP rating. You’ll see something like IP67. The first digit (in this case the 6) indicates solid particle protection – i.e. things like sand and dust. The second digit (here the 7) indicates liquid ingress protection – i.e. water. A rating of 3 is spray-proof, 4 splash-proof, 5 and 6 cover water jets, while 7 gives you full immersion in water up to 1m deep for up to 30 minutes. Handy if you’re thinking of swimming too.
Long battery life is a must on a pair of running headphones. When fully juiced, they’ll all last you a decent session on the track (unless you’re doing an Ironman, that is), but some go longer between charges than others.
The current leader of the pack is the Cambridge Audio Melomania 1. These wireless earbuds give you nine hours of battery life from the earbuds, plus an additional four charges from the carry case, giving you a total of 45 hours of playing time before they pack it in. Phenomenal.
Size and fit
When picking a pair of running headphones, a secure fit is essential. After all, they need to stay put while you’re notching up the miles. And the last thing you want to do is stop and scrabble around in the mud for a fallen earbud.
Most running headphones come with different sizes of ear tips. You can mix and match these (wearing a different size in each ear) depending on your ear size. Most come with three sizes (small, medium and large), though the Sony WF-1000XM3 come with seven different sizes. Everyone’s ears are different, so don’t expect them to fit straight out of the box.
Some pairs, such as the Bose SoundSport Free, also come with wing tips for holding them in place in your ear. This added support can come in handy if you’re doing particularly intense sprints.
Touch controls are in vogue at the moment, but these can be a bit of a mixed blessing. While undoubtedly cool, they differ quite largely in terms of responsiveness and sensitivity. They can also be customised so different combinations of tapping can operate different features, from noise-cancelling to volume levels. Some designs use physical buttons, so again, try them if you can before you buy.
Some running headphones support the voice assistants that live on your voice (Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa, Bixby) so you can control them just by speaking. This will save you fiddling about with controls when working up a sweat. Just don’t be so out of breath that you can’t speak.
So there you have it. Don’t forget, it can also pay to track down user feedback to see how certain models fare while running, and you can obviously take advantage of our extensive catalogue of headphone reviews for extra guidance. Happy running!