How to Choose the Right Clothes for a Run

Your friend asked you to join them on a run tomorrow. This will be your first time running, so you’re not sure what to wear. You do a bit of digging in your wardrobe and pull out some sweatpants and a gym shirt. Will this suffice or do you need better clothes? How do you choose what to wear for a run?

When running, your clothes should meet the following criteria:

  • Moisture wicking
  • Reflectivity
  • Mesh or aeration panels/openings
  • Lined but seamless 
  • Compression
  • UPF sun protection

If you need even more pointers on what to wear when running, you’ve come to the right place. In this in-depth guide, we’ll cover the types of running clothes you should buy as well as recommend runner-friendly fabrics and features. 

Let’s get right into it! 

What Running Clothes Do You Need?

We’ll begin with the basics. Before you go on your run, you need to cover yourself from head to toe. The following clothing is essential for comfortable, easy running. 

Running Hat

Often overlooked or simply regarded as an accessory, going without a hat on a run is to the detriment of your scalp. The hot sun overhead can burn your noggin, leaving you with red, inflamed skin. Make sure that you always cover your head with a hat, be that a visor or a cap.

Two words of caution on your headgear choice. If you do wear a visor, make sure it’s not a wraparound one, but instead, a visor that goes over your whole head. Otherwise, it’s practically pointless. 

As for the cap, buy a moisture-wicking hat such as this one from Nike on Amazon. We’ll talk later about why moisture-wicking fabrics are so important, but you won’t want to wear anything but when running. 

Hats are convenient not only in protecting your head from the sun, but also in keeping the glare out of your eyes and tucking in your hair so it stays neat. We have a writeup of the benefits of wearing a running hat that will definitely convince you to add one to your gear list ASAP! 

Running Shirt

Throughout the seasons, you’ll run in some sort of shirt. It may be sleeveless, short-sleeved, or long-sleeved, but all your running shirts should have one common thread (pun intended). They must be made of suitable fabric for athletic activity. We’ll talk more about running gear fabric in the next section, so keep reading.

The style of the shirt will determine how loosely or tightly it fits. Tank tops, especially for women, tend to be a little flowy and roomy. Technical t-shirts, like this one, or long-sleeved shirts are often designed to fight tighter to your body. This makes technical shirts ideal for layering. 

Although it sounds like a tight-fitting shirt would stick to you, since technical gear tends to be lightweight and made of moisture-wicking fabric, you feel cooler even on a strenuous run. 

Running shirts are available in all styles, colors, and price points. Here is another option we like as well.

Sports Bra

Women also need a sports bra for breast support, even if you have a smaller cup size. We have a great post on choosing the best running sports bra, so here are a few pointers from that article. 

First, ensure that your bra is high-support, as support in sports bras is dictated by the intensity of your activity. Running is certainly a more intense exercise, with potentially a lot of chest movement, so make sure your bra keeps your breasts in one place.

You need to measure yourself before buying a sports bra just as you would lingerie or an everyday bra. If you don’t already have your numbers, then calculate your band size and cup size. You might opt to buy a sports bra with an underwire, but that’s optional. For bigger busts, the underwire augments support, but it should always be completely covered in fabric.

Our last tip is this: avoid sports bras with unrolled seams or edges. Otherwise, you could end up chafing in one of the most sensitive parts of your body, around or underneath your breasts.  

Running Jacket

Since you’re new to running, you might assume you need a winter coat when outside in the cold. Sure, if you were just taking a leisurely stroll, a coat would maintain your body temperature, but it’s not necessary when running. You’ll quickly work up a sweat and the coat will be too warm. 

A jacket is a much better option since it’s lighter. The best running jackets feature ventilation, insulation, and weatherproofing. Here’s a great running jacket on Amazon in a windbreaker style. This men’s jacket is made of polyester and PVC and features windproof and water-resistant qualities.

This seems like a good time to talk about the differences between water resistance and waterproof clothes. A water-resistant jacket has a coating so water sloughs right off. The coating will wear away the more you use the jacket, eventually rendering the jacket non-weatherproof. A waterproof jacket is weaved or stitched that way so it can always protect you from downpours.  

Running Shorts or Pants

Depending on the weather, you’ll wear either shorts or pants on your run. This goes for men and women alike. Some runners opt for tights instead of baggy bottoms, even men. Running tights are not the same as leggings, even though they fit similarly. You can shop these tights in longer lengths such as pants, at mid-lengths like capris, or even shorter lengths like shorts. 

The thickness variety of running tights is another selling point. You can wear thinner running tights in the summer, then get heavier ones for winter. 

If you’re feeling a bit self-conscious about hitting your favorite running trail in a pair of form-fitting pants, don’t be. Many runners report that running tights actually make them look slimmer. Plus, you can always buy a dark pair of tights that obscure more details. 

If tight fitting pants or shorts aren’t your thing, check out these pants from BALEAF.

Running Socks

Running socks are one of the most important pieces of clothing you’ll wear. If your socks are uncomfortable or made of the wrong material, you won’t get very far on your run before pain sidelines you. That’s why it’s always worthwhile to have plenty of running socks, which we’ve written about before. 

What are running socks, you ask? They feature compression so your socks move less and you have more circulation across your feet. Running socks also include cushioning in the toe and heel, ventilation, arch support, and no seams so your socks are less prone to bunching up. With these ROCKAY running socks, blisters will be a thing of the past!  

Running Shoes

You had to expect that if we suggested running socks that we would also do the same for running shoes. Indeed, buying running shoes is a much smarter idea than trying to run in a pair of sneakers, especially if you care about your feet. Even if you have running socks, jogging in the wrong shoes will still lead to pain, and possibly lots of it. 

We’ve written a very detailed guide on how to choose the right running shoes. From that article, here are a few tips.

It’s worth seeing a shoe pro to get your feet measured, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve last taken any measurements. 

Your shoes shouldn’t be too roomy at the heel, as that could cause your feet to fall out of your shoes once you gain some momentum on the running trail. Check your instep too, or the fit of the shoe from bottom to top. It shouldn’t be too loose nor too tight.

When shopping for running shoes, especially for the first time, it’s better if you go to a store rather than browse online. Plan your shopping for later in the day, around 4 p.m., after you’ve done some walking. By then, your feet are swollen. Since running causes your feet to balloon up, you want to try on shoes when your feet are swollen rather than first thing in the morning before that happens. This will help you get a more accurate fit. 

Running Accessories

With the basics out of the way, you may pick up a few running gear accessories. A running watch is one such accessory. You’ll get more out of your runs with a running watch, as the watch can gauge your speed, distance, altitude, heart rate, and even calories burned. 

Phone armbands or waistbands, as we wrote about here, allow you to carry your smartphone hands-free on your run. This benefits you in several ways. For one, like we discussed in that post, when you carry your phone, it affects how your arms swing and thus your running gait. On top of that, you could drop your phone as your hands sweat, leading to a cracked screen. 

You might also consider adding weights to your runs. You may be able to increase your speed, endurance, calorie-burning, and musculature by running with weights. You have your pick of holding hand weights, wearing ankle weights, or donning a weighted running vest. You’ll certainly experience a unique challenge no matter what! 

Running Clothes Fabric: Which Ones Are Best?

Whether it’s running socks, a sports bra, or a shirt, always avoid cotton. Although it’s inexpensive, comfortable, and popular, cotton has no moisture-wicking capabilities. That means when you sweat, the perspiration stays on your skin. Your clothes also remain wet. Especially as a base layer then, cotton is a poor choice.

What should you wear instead? Try these materials. 


The synthetic polymers and thermoplastic that comprise nylon give it a stretchy, sometimes silky feel. Most nylon garments feature other materials as well. You can rely on nylon to wick away moisture and dry quickly. You’ll see it in all sorts of running clothes, from jackets to pants, shorts, and more. 

Merino Wool

Wool might sound like the last thing you want to wear when you get sweaty on a run, but you’d be surprised. Merino wool, which is sourced from a sheep species of the same name, also dries surprisingly fast. Even better is that it’s moisture-wicking as well. 

Beloved for its temperature-regulating abilities, merino wool can even maintain your cool body temperature in the heat, so there’s no need to retire it in the summer. On top of all that, the wool fights off odors due to its antimicrobial qualities. 


More and more activewear brands have begun embracing bamboo, as it’s sustainable and smart. Like merino wool, bamboo can appropriately regulate your temperature all year long, trapping in warmth in the winter and keeping you cooler in the summer. It’s moisture-wicking as well. 


Some people shy away from spandex because it’s so form-fitting, but this synthetic fiber is featured in the bulk of athleticwear for a reason. Spandex is stretchable so it moves with your body, and it’s lightweight to boot. 


The last running gear material to have on your radar is polyester. The fibers used to make polyester garments are quite durable, promoting a longer life so you don’t have to replace your gear as often. Polyester also boasts some of the quickest drying abilities of the fabrics we’ve talked about. 

What Are the Top Features of Running Clothes?

The materials above should encompass the majority of the following features. That said, always do some research to confirm that your running clothes check off these boxes. 

Moisture Wicking

This is a big one, which is why it’s come up so many times prior to this. When you run, it’s only natural that you’ll begin sweating. That sweat needs somewhere to go, and this is where the moisture-wicking fabric comes into play.

The capillary action of the fabric allows the small conduits throughout to pull the sweat from your skin. The capillaries then draw the sweat to the surface of the fabric. There, it evaporates. As you continue to sweat, the process repeats so you feel drier even if you’re sweating buckets on your run. 

You only need to go back to the top of the last section, where we talked about cotton, to see why moisture-wicking is so important in running clothes. Without it, the sweat just sits there on your body, making you cold and uncomfortable.  


Here on this blog, we recommend you run in well-lit conditions, but we know that’s not always possible. Running gear with reflectivity will increase your visibility, especially if it’s dark out. As light hits the surface of your clothes, the reflective strips or patches will bounce that light back. Motorists will steer clear of you so you can get home safely. 

Mesh or Aeration Panels/Openings

Moisture-wicking is awesome, but it alone might not be enough to keep you cool. That’s why you’ll so often find aeration panels or mesh openings in running clothes. These areas give the sweat another place to exit as well as let the cool air in. Mesh openings are strategically featured at the sides, under your arms, or at the back where you sweat most. 

Lined but Seamless 

We didn’t talk about running underwear earlier, and that’s because you don’t always need it. Running pants and shorts may have an interior liner that allows you to go without underwear, as the liner doubles as undergarments. If your shorts do have an inner liner, it will wick moisture too so you don’t have to worry about chafing. 

All seams in your running gear should be welded, flat, or rolled to maximize movement and minimize chafing and blistering. 


The compressed fit of running gear such as socks, shirts, and pants will keep your clothes nearer to your body. This requires less adjustability on your part so you can focus more on your runs and less on your clothes. 


You’re probably familiar with SPF, or sun protection factor, which refers to how well sunscreen works. In clothing, UPF or ultraviolet protection factor is a similar metric. Rather than an SPF 15 or so, a good UPF is much higher, around 50. That protection factor will limit your sun exposure by around 98 percent. All your running clothes should ideally have some UPF protection.

Final Thoughts 

Wearing the right running gear will keep your run smooth, easy, and seamless. 

Compression fits prevent you from having to pull up your running pants or adjust your socks every two miles. Moisture-wicking and mesh panels are crucial in staying comfortable so you can log more mileage. Rolled or welded seams or even seamless clothing won’t rub against your skin so the only pain you feel after a run is that of muscle growth. 

It’s time to update your running wardrobe, don’t you think? 

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Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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