Gear Covered: Hydration systems, shoes, clothing and nutrition.
Goal: Provide tips, tricks and brand suggestions to fit a tighter budget.
In a world where the internet is constantly pushing brands towards you and convincing you that this specific product is the one, that you need all these fancy bits of gear to make your running kit complete, it’s easy to overspend. If you’re just getting started in the world of running the sheer volume of gear on the market is entirely overwhelming. Where do you even start? What’s good? What isn’t good? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? This can even be a problem if you’ve been running a while and just need to replace an older bit of kit. Well, I’m here to provide a starting point. To strip away the complexity and offer a simple framework of ideas to make gear shopping cheaper and less confusing.
What to Look For in Your Gear
Hydration Systems: There are plenty of options for cheap hydration systems. The first thing you need to consider is the distances you’re running and how complex your system needs to be. If you just need water with you, then picking up a water bottle with a handle, or a handle that straps to a bottle and allows you to carry it in your hand is really easy to do. This option is also an inexpensive one as it is a compact system.
If you’re running a bit futher and want to be able to carry a couple of water bottles with a little bit of space for a snack or a gel, then a running belt is the next step up. These do range from belts that just hold a phone and keys, to belts that specifically hold gels, to belts that have bottle holsters and space for all of the above. Generally this is also an inexpensive option but once you start getting sucked into the bigger brands the prices do go up. Perfectly good running belts can be found for under £20.
If you’re out for much longer in your training and need a system for ultra marathon races, then you’re likely going to need a hydration vest. These are generally more expensive, but packs can be found over a large range of prices. The hydration vest will need to be robust, have plenty of space for water storage and some space for food due to the importance of intaking calories over longer distance.
Pin point what you need for the distance you are running and then start looking at more specific products.
Shoes: are a very personal choice and the choice available is colossal. Again, it’s worth spending some time looking at what might be best for the distance you’re running and the type of running you’re doing. Road shoes, trail shoes, zero drop, neutral, low or high arch, minimalist, these are all things that you need to consider if you’re running more seriously. To get started you likely just need to look at the terrarin you’re running on, then pick up a pair of shoes to get some runs in. There are a lot of things about running that you likely won’t figure out immediately. The perfect shoe may take time to track down, so shoes are an area that can take time to diall in. Pick up some shoes that are suitable for the terrain you run on and avoid splashing out on anything super fancy, because you don’t know what’s going to work for you just yet. Get some running done and find out where your initial pair of shoes are working well and where they’re not working so well. Once you’ve started to figure out what you personally need, then it’s a lot easier to track down the shoes that will suit you best.
Clothing: In the beginning, clothing is not a huge concern. The beauty of running is that it is really accessible to just get started with. You can just throw on whatever shorts and a t-shirt you happen to have and ignore the high tech fabrics for the time being.
Once you’ve been running for a while and you’ve started to maybe decide what distance you want to work on, or you’ve started looking at races, then that’s the time to start looking into your clothing more seriously. Wicking t-shirts and vests are great for maintaining comfort during runs. Many of these are lightweight and quick drying, so it’s difficult to go wrong. Shorts can be a more personal choice. Some people like running in longer, looser basketball style shorts and some prefer the classic short shorts. Any option can be found for reasonable prices.
Hats will depend on the weather. Make sure you’re using a cap of some description to keep the sun off your face and neck in the summer. There are standard caps, through to hats that have a flap that comes down over your neck. Having some form of warm hat for the winter is a good idea and a basic beanie can be found in a variety of places.
Other weather specific gear like gloves, fleeces, arm warmers and rain jackets are again, all simple enough to pick up on the cheap to get started with and even when you’ve been running a while, there’s no need to spend a lot if you don’t have cash to throw around.
Nutrition: This applies more to longer distance runners as nutrition during a run or race will become neccessary past a certain run distance. Nutrition is important for a runner day to day, but for this I will just go over the different forms of ‘on the go’ nutrition.
Over longer distances the food a runner wants or needs will be very different person to person. Gels are a very popular item to have in the nutrition arsenal and the prices on these can vary hugely, so pick up lower cost gels first to check that you actually get on with the way gels feel to use. Not everyone likes them and some people find the texture strange, but other find them really easy to get down.
Some people like to have solid food options for long runs and races, particularly ultra marathons. Solid food options can range from foods that have been designed specifically for running to things you just personally like and that happen to work really well for you specifically during a run or race.
Liquid nutrition is a great way to get the calories you need if you struggle with stomach issues during long runs and races. There are companies that produce powders that you just add to water and provide you with the electrolytes and calories to keep you fueled.
The nutrition you use in long runs and races will be very personal to you and it will take time to figure what works best, be sure to try out different things during training and find out what works nicely before race day!
Where To Buy Your Gear
This will vary a bit depending on where you are in the world and what you have avilable to you. There are many, many places you can start with for budget gear.
Look at What You Already Own
The best starting place, your own home! Check what you already have in your wardrobes and shoe racks before buying anything new. Have you already got a pair of trainers that will hold up for a few runs while you figure out what you want? Do you have a pair of shorts and t-shirt that will do just fine to get started in? There’s no need to rush out and buy brand new stuff if you’ve got some stuff at home already that can get you started. This gives you time to get some running in, decide how you want to approach your running and then make more informed gear decisions once you know what you actually want. There’s nothing worse than forking out for a pair of trainers that were advertised to you as being amazing, only to find that actually, they’re not right for you personally.
Hand Me Downs
Keeping with the theme of using the old before buying the new, see what gear your friends and family have lying around that they’re not using. Maybe they have an old pair of shoes that they’re about to throw out that you might be able to get a few runs out of. Spare water bottles, surplus hats or gloves, an old gel belt they bought for a marathon they did and then they stopped marathon training. It’s always worth asking, the worst that can happen is that people don’t have any old gear to spare.
Charity Shops/Thrift Stores
Never under-estimate the charity shops. It requires some extra rummaging, but you can pick up some absolute steals often enough. It’s good for the environment because you’re re-using and re-cycling rather than buying new, a lot of the gear you pick up in charity shops will be great quality for the price you pay, you can often pick up well known brands for a fraction of the usual retail price and you’re helping a charity. What’s not to love! I’ve had some great pieces of gera from charity shops that are still serving me well.
This shop isn’t available worldwide, but they are present in a lot of countries and will be accessible for a lot of people. Decathlon are extremely difficult to beat on a quality-price ratio. They have a full range of running gear for all needs and weather conditions and are a great resource if you want to try out a new piece of gear but don’t want to spend loads on your first purchase. They do sell bigger brands but they have a selection of inhouse ‘passion brands’ that they own. Their main running brand is Kalenji and so far I’ve found Kalenji to be a great brand for both getting started with a new piece of running equipment and for more serious gear later down the line. I picked up my first Kalenji hydration vest from Decathlon relatively recently and it’s been an excellent piece of kit for introducing me to the complicated world of hydration vests. It’s also been a good place for me to pick up some smaller weather specific clothing items to try out over the next few months.
Another company that aren’t in every country, but they can be found across Europe and the US. The selection in T.K.Maxx will vary from week to week and will generally be quite haphazrd as the shop sells end of line and surplus items from other companies. This makes it another good option from an environmental standpoint as they are essentially preventing clothing from going to waste. It is a good place for picking up bigger brands at lower prices, although you will likely have to check in regularly as they might not always have quite what you’re after. Good if you’ve got some time to spare and aren’t in a hurry, or just enjoy hunting for those bargains!
If you are some who is able to hold fire on purchases and wait, then keeping an eye out for sales is worth doing. There is usually a sale going on somewhere, whether it’s instore or online, and you can end up finding some high quality gear for significantly reduced prices. Worth it if you have the patience to keep checking multiple shops and websites regularly over a period of time. End of line items can often be found for 50% or more, embrace those out of season goods!
I’m not personally keen on Amazon as a company. They serve a purpose and they can be an option for finding lower cost gear. In some cases it’s the only place I’ve been able to find certain gear items. Amazon is very convienient so it’s probably the best option if you do just want your gear as quickly as possible, and you can usually find items on there for very good prices. It is more overwhelming that going somewhere like Decathlon because Amazon has literally everything on there, but if you’ve got a clear idea of what you’re after then it’s easier to find what you want.
Buying in Bulk
This primarily applies to running nutrition, but it can apply to other items. For example, If you happen to find a pair of shoes you really like at a reduced price, then it’s worth getting two or three pairs if you can afford to, as it’ll save money in the long run. Nutrition websites generally sell multipacks of their various products and these will be slightly cheaper than trying to buy them individually. I have also found that the supermarket I use (Sainsburys in the UK) has a health and fitness section with a selection of powders and gels. The gels I use are on offer for a good price fairly regularly (£4 for a box instead of £9 on a good day) so I grab a couple of boxes whenever they are on offer. Check your local supermarkets to see if any of them have a similar health and fitness section.
Join the Parkrun!
At the time of writing the world is still very much experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic and the Parkrun is currently not going ahead in the UK, but when it starts to gradually open back up it is a wonderful initiative to get involved with and you get free t-shirts for hitting milestones! Volunteering 25 times and running 50, 100, 250 and 500 parks runs earns you t-shirts. They are very good quality fabric and great to run in. Some work involved in this one but you can get a wonderful bit of kit out of it, which makes it even more worthwhile than it already is to start with and you get to represent a great cause.
Good Brands to Look out For
I have been able to pick up some really great gear over the years and some of the brands that I’ve come across are worth shouting out. These are brands that make good quality, durable products that are well worth their money at full price, let alone off the charity shop or sale rack.
I continue to be impressed by Berghaus. I own three pieces of their clothing at the moment, one was a gift, one was from a charity shop for about £4 and the other was form a sale rack for under £17. Each piece is well thought out and functions superbly in its role. If you need midlayers for colder weather or rucksacks for run commuting, then this brand are worth keeping an eye out for in the sale racks and charity shops/thrift stores.
If you like fairly minimalist shoes then this brand are a solid option on a budget. Most minimalist shoes are really expensive but you can pick a pair of Whitins up for under £35. They seem to only be available on Amazon, but they arrive quickly and are a well performing trail shoe.
A fantastic footwear brand that can sometimes be picked up for lower prices if you keep your eyes peeled. Generally they are not the most expensive footwear brand out there and they are extremely durable, so you definitely get your monies worth out of them.
I have already mention Kalenji but they deserve another mention. Great range of kit available and good quality, weather you’re starting out or have been running for ages. Good quality materials and well designed products that can take a battering. I have zero complaints about Kalenji.
I’ve owned a pair of Under Armour shorts for over 10 years now, so I have to give them a mention. These shorts are barely showing signs of wear and they have remained the same shade of bright pink all this time. Wonderful bit of kit.
There are many, many other good brands out there, these are just a handful that have made a big impression on me through my personal experience in nearly 15 years of running.
Hopefully some of these ideas where useful for you! It can be difficult wading through the storm of brands and advertisements so just take it slow, take time to work out what you personally want and need from your gear and it’ll save you time and money over the years. Happy running!
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