A pair of headphones can make or break a run. If they’re fiddly, uncomfortable, don’t fit or run out of juice before you’ve broken sweat, they can send your stress hormones skyrocketing and bring your outing to an abrupt, angry halt. But get them right, equipped to provide the feedback and beats you need to power your runs and they can be a core instrument in keeping you motivated. Here are Coach’s top earphones for running and, below, what to look, listen and “feel” out for when buying yours.
Best All-Rounder: Jaybird Run
We called the Jaybird Run the best headphones a runner can get in our review, and the main reason behind that glowing appraisal was the secure, comfortable fit of the lightweight truly wireless earbuds. The sound quality is also impressive, and you can set up the Jaybird Run buds with a partner app, so the sound profile is ideal for your favourite kind of music. They’re pricy, but there’s no doubt Jaybird nailed it with these running headphones. £170, buy on jaybirdsport.com, check price on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Jaybird Run Review
Best For Battery Life: Apple AirPods
If you are looking for a truly wireless set of headphones for running, don’t discount the Apple AirPods. Their odd shape doesn’t work for everyone, but we found them ideal for running – the pods are lightweight enough to stay in the ear and aren’t so noise-isolating that you can’t hear the world around you. Battery life is also exceptional for wireless buds – five hours – and the carry case doubles as portable battery that will recharge the AirPods four to five times. Furthermore, a mere 15 minutes in the case yields three hours of use. Finally, as you might expect, the AirPods connect faster and more reliably with Apple devices than any other headphones. £160, buy on apple.com
RECOMMENDED: Apple AirPods Review
Best For Awareness: Aftershokz Trekz Air
The bone-conducting tech in these headphones allows them to deliver music, podcasts or whatever else you listen to through your cheekbones, leaving your ears completely open to take in ambient noise. This makes the Trekz Air useful both for people who run around busy city streets regularly and for those who want to actually hear instructions from marshals during races. In fact, Aftershokz’s bone-conducting earphones are the only ones allowed in all UK Athletics races due to a partnership the company has with England Athletics. £150, buy on aftershocks.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Aftershokz Trekz Air Review
Best Budget Pair: Avanca D1 Sports Headphones
As a budget option the Avanca D1 headphones don’t match the sound quality of the others on this list, but for just £39 they do offer a secure fit, a reliable Bluetooth connection and a decent eight-hour battery life. If you’re bargain-hunting, fix your sights firmly on these. £39, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Avanca D1 Sports Review
Best Under £100: Plantronics Backbeat FIT
If a secure fit is your main concern for sporty headphones, you can’t do better than the Backbeat FIT. Once you’ve wriggled your ears through the hooks, the headset simply isn’t going anywhere for the duration of your run. The sound quality is good – not as impressive as fully isolating earbuds but loud enough for the gym – and the battery life is up to eight hours. The Backbeat FIT will also tell you how many hours of juice you have left when you turn them on, to reduce the risk of them dying as you sprint for the finish line. £79.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Plantronics BackBeat FIT Review
Best On-Ear Pair: Urbanears Hellas
On-ear headphones are generally a little uncomfortable to wear when running because they get hot and sweaty, but there are exceptions to every rule and the Urbanears Hellas have a couple of tricks up their sleeves that make them a great option for runners. The removable pads on the ears and headband are lightweight, and can be washed when they do get sweaty. Plus, you can control playback by swiping on the sides of the headphones themselves rather than fiddling with a small remote. The fit is secure enough for running but not unpleasantly tight and you get an excellent 14 hours of battery life. £78.99, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Urbanears Hellas Review
Best Fit: Snugs
Snugs are not actually headphones, but custom-moulded eartips which fit your ear exactly and attach to whatever your favourite set of headphones are. You can get headphones with tips from Snugs, but we think it’s better to just get the tips, especially if you already have a set of headphones you love but that won’t stay in your ears when running. The moulded tips are created after Snugs scans your ear and trust us, they will not budge one millimetre once they’re in. If you’ve never had any luck with headphones staying put while running, Snugs will be a game-changer for your training. Snugs only from £169.95, buy on snugs.com
RECOMMENDED: Snugs Review
Best Sound Quality: Bose SoundSport Free
The slightly sticky-out design of the Soundsport Free truly wireless buds means that some people might find the fit isn’t secure enough, especially on faster runs, but if you have no such problems with Bose’s buds then they are a strong contender for the title of best running headphones with the stand-out feature being the excellent sound quality. The SoundSport Free buds also pack a hefty five hours of battery life, with a 15-minute charge enough to net you 45 minutes of playback in an emergency. £169.95, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Bose SoundSport Free Review
Best For Extras: Jabra Elite Sport
Jabra has packed in all kinds of innovations with these premium headphones, including heart rate monitoring, the ability to estimate your VO2 max and live coaching during your runs. Those extras come on top of an excellent fit, good sound quality and 4½-hour battery life, making the Elite Sport a very attractive all-round package for runners. £147.54, buy on amazon.co.uk
RECOMMENDED: Jabra Elite Sport Review
Running Headphones Buyer’s Guide
One thing that doesn’t change from regular headphones is that you want them to sound as good as possible – it’s just that you might be more limited in your options. While over-ear cans might sound amazing, they’re likely to be too hot to run in, whereas buds that sit deep in your earholes can block out ambient noise entirely, which means a bus might sneak up on you while running. Don’t fret, though: there are plenty of options that sound amazing while being suitable for running, even if they might not match up to the quality of your top-end non-sports headphones.
A secure fit is crucial to stop your headphones becoming a huge annoyance when running. If they’re dropping out of your ears or require frequent adjusting, they’re more trouble than they’re worth. Ear hooks usually provide a fit that won’t slip, and if you’re opting for in-ear buds then ensure they come with a variety of wings and buds so you can pick the combo that keeps them in your ear when running.
The headline figure is the total battery life, and obviously that’s a key consideration, but it’s also worth checking out if the headphones you’re looking at have a quick-charge option. This will usually net you an hour of power for just ten to 15 minutes of charging, which is perfect if you only realise you’ve run out of juice just as you’re getting ready to run. Generally you’ll get at least six to eight hours of battery life from most Bluetooth headphones, but expect more like three to five from truly wireless earbuds.
Naturally you want to be able to control your music without having to get your phone or MP3 player out while running, so check out the remote on any running headphones – it’ll either be on the strap between the earbuds, or built into the buds themselves. The main factor here is how fiddly it is. They can be very fiddly, and fiddly is annoying.
Many cheaper sets of Bluetooth headphones match the stats of far more expensive pairs – on paper. When you try them and discover their connection drops the moment they are more than 10cm from your phone, you’ll realise where the money was saved. If you keep your phone in your pocket or in a bumbag when running, you need a strong Bluetooth connection or your tunes will never make it to your ears.
There are several pairs of headphones on the market that will monitor your heart rate while you run, and some even use that info to coach you through a session. They use light to detect your pulse from within the ear, a place used by doctors because of its accuracy, so you can expect good results.
There are some fully waterproof headphones available, but for running you just need to ensure they can withstand a sudden storm or an especially sweaty session without packing up. Look for a minimum rating of IPX4 for running headphones that won’t let you down when wet.