Which Workout Clothes Are Worth Splurging On (And Which Aren't)
Running is my preferred sport. Putting one foot in front of the other is both invigorating and relaxing to me, somehow all at the same time. Better yet? It doesn't require much in way of gear — at least not in theory. But over the 12 years I've been a serious runner, where I started with just some clothes and shoes, I've discovered the wide world of enticing sports gear. (See also: How to Run Your First 5K)
Some of these items are incredibly helpful for comfort and safety. Spending on these things can be in your favor because they'll last for years. Others are brightly colored extras that can be leaned out of your budget so you can save more money for race fees (or just to pocket).
Here are my picks on what to splurge on and what not to bother buying.
Some equipment and supplies can help you run farther, faster, and with less risk of injury. Go ahead and spend what you can on these.
As a rather flat-chested female, I've never given much thought to my sports bras. However, many of my friends have told me that this is an area not to play around with when it comes to budget. When picking out a proper bra, it's all about comfort, support, and sweat-wicking capability.
Many of those cheaper options don't have all these criteria working in their favor. An estimated "5 out of 6 women are wearing the wrong size bra." So, first and foremost, if you're going to drop dollars on a good sports bra, get yourself fitted for the best return on your investment.
I remember when I bought my first pair of cold weather running tights. The $75 price tag made me lightheaded as a frugal college coed. However, if I had known I'd wear that exact pair at least three times a week for the bulk of 10 winter training seasons, I would have gladly ponied up. (See also: Be Fit and Frugal in Winter)
Items like running tights — when made from high-quality, performance fabrics — can last if they are treated well. So, spend the money now and, at least if you live in a cold climate, that $75 initial investment might figure to be more like 13 cents per wear (20 weeks with 3 wears per week over 10 years). To keep my pair lasting long, I never dry them in the dryer, which helps keep their unique fabrics functioning well.
It's important to treat your feet right, especially when you're asking them to do the tough job of carrying your body over miles and miles. Take the time to go to a proper shoe store and have your feet evaluated for fit and function of certain athletic shoes. From there, it's a matter of matching your needs with your budget.
Although I have this item in the splurge category, you can still save your pennies by shopping around online for the best prices or taking advantage of store coupons or sales. But buyer beware: Different year models of the same shoe can be cheaper, but they also often fit drastically differently. It's always best to try before you buy (and some stores will allow you to jog on an indoor track or treadmill before purchase).
I never used to bring ID with me on the run. When I was pregnant, though, the mom instinct must have kicked in, and I discovered that for a variety of reasons, it's smart to invest in some type of wearable ID. You never know when you might find yourself injured, sick, or in some other kind of trouble.
I've placed this item in the splurge category because it isn't something you'd necessarily think of spending money on at all. In fact, I only recently snagged my own bracelet this past fall. Thankfully, you can get a sleek model from a popular online shop for around $20.
If you're logging lots of miles outdoors, you're bound to be in the sun for hours upon hours each week. Although we often think of our skin taking the brunt of the damage, our eyes are just as important to protect. I made my way through many seasons with a cheap pair of drugstore sunglasses; however, when I finally took the plunge and bought a sports set — my eyes thanked me.
Cheap sunglasses often don't block the full spectrum of UVA and UVB rays. Furthermore, when you're huffing and puffing, you can get some annoying fog and sweat all up in your field of vision that is beyond distracting (and even dangerous if you're — say — cycling fast down a hill). Here's a handy guide for picking the right sunglasses for your activities.
Whether it's a hydration backpack or belt, if you're going to be logging long distances on foot or on your bike, you'll need fuel. We used to live out in the country, and when I would run longer than six miles — especially in the heat — I'd be sorry if I didn't have ready access to some H2O. I would also use my pack to go on long hikes versus carrying heavy water bottles. However you choose to use it, a fuel belt is worth some extra cash to avoid dehydration-related issues like fainting, especially when you're away from home.
That being said, I currently live in an area where I can sneak water breaks into my runs by stopping back at home on a few loops. Sometimes I also grab a drink at a local park, fast food restaurant, or even hospital bathroom (we live close by!). So, if you have a convenient setup like this, you don't necessarily need a belt. Plot out a creative loop through your neighborhood and you can save on this essential. (See also: 50 Ways to Make Exercise More Fun)
After splurging on the essentials you may not have a lot left over. That's okay; you should shop based on price for the rest of this stuff.
In my experience, the t-shirts and singlets I see at high-end sports stores versus discount establishments really don't differ too much. So long as the fabric gives some stretch and breathability, you should be set. I like to keep 3-5 inexpensive running tops on hand for warm and cold weather.
The same goes with shorts. I have found a lot of the top brands at stores like Marshall's and TJ Maxx, and all that's "wrong" with them is they're made in last season's colors. I also like the options popping up at big box stores like Target. They are attractive alternatives, comfortable to boot, and get the job done just as well as their pricier counterparts.
If you regularly run in low lighting, it's important to have a few safety items in your collection. But you need not go overboard to keep visible to motorists and other pedestrians you might encounter. I've seen people overdo the reflective gear by wearing a vest and headlamps and neon colors and flashing clip-on lights — all at once. I say pick one good item (I recommend a lightweight reflective vest) and pay better attention. The person wearing all that gear was also listening to music on headphones in the dark, taking her sense of hearing away entirely, which is never a good idea.
A couple years ago, everyone — myself included — bought into the toe shoes craze. And at a premium because those minimalist shoes weren't cheap! I'm not saying they are good or bad or ugly (well, they are kind of ugly), but the interest has definitely waned at this point. This is just one example among many, though. Stick to classic, tried-and-true items and avoid those popular temptations or save them for gift lists. All you really need to run, for example, is a pair of shoes, some basic clothing, and motivation.
What are your sports gear splurges and saves? Run down to comments and share your choices!