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The Essential Running Clothes and Best Running Gear for Women

Kelly O’Mara

When you start talking about the best running gear for women, people will often say, "all you need is a pair of shoes." But very quickly, you'll begin to see shoes are just one piece of a much larger puzzle.  There's clothing, packs, watches, food, recovery tools, accessories... the list goes on. It can quickly become overwhelming.

There are also a lot of questions that the men in your run group just can't answer when it comes to what's best for women who run. Don't worry, we've got you covered! This guide will provide the essential gear for women looking to get started in running, or for experienced runners who want to upgrade their gear. 

The most important thing is to nail the basics, not be intimidated, and learn as you go. Even the fanciest-looking runners had to start somewhere.

In this article, you will learn:

  • What should women wear when running
  • What running gear should female beginner runners wear
  • What should women carry for safety when running
  • What shoes should women wear when running
  • What sports bra should women wear when running

All our recommendations come from experienced female runners who know exactly what you need to run comfortably.

MOTTIV athlete finishing a race on the sand

Best Running Shoes for Women

Although it's not only about shoes, the running shoes you wear will be one of your most important piece of gear. That's why you want to make sure you've chosen pair that best suits your body's individual needs.

If you have a running store near you (not a big box sports store, but a shop specializing in running), that's the best place to start your search. Most running-specific stores will have someone who can measure your foot, watch you walk and run (sometimes on a treadmill), and recommend a couple of pairs that are suited to what they see in your body's mechanics. 

So what should you look for? 

Despite what they might tell you at the running shoe store, research has shown that most runners do not need pronation support, control, or stability in their shoes. Instead, your foot should stay in your body's preferred movement path. While the research shows this is best done with a more neutral shoe, some runners find motion codntrol or stability shoes do work better for them. Choose a shoe that feels the easiest for you to run in, no matter what the running store salesperson says they think you need.   

The next thing to consider is the amount of cushioning in the heel and forefoot. The difference between the amount of cushioning in the heel and the toe is called the heel-to-toe drop.  Beginners should focus on neutral shoes with less than 7 millimeters of heel-to-toe drop.

That said, the number one thing to focus on when trying on shoes is whether the shoe fits your foot and feels natural when you walk or run in it. You should absolutely try to run in shoes before you buy them. Many running shoe stores will allow you to do this on a treadmill inside the store. If there's no treadmill, at the very least, jog around the perimeter of the store a couple of times to get a basic sense of what the runners feel like when you're in motion.

MOTTIV athlete finishing stong

Selecting the Best Shoe

  • Fit & size: Many female runners buy shoes that are too small. They assume they’re the same size in a running shoe as they are in boots or casual shoes, but running shoes fit differently. (Just because you’re “usually a size 7” doesn’t guarantee you’ll be a 7 in runners.) Also, a lot of women assume they’ve been the same shoe size their whole adult life, but foot sizes can change, particularly after pregnancy and childbirth. Your foot can also swell later in the day and especially towards the end of a run. That’s why it’s important to get your foot measured later in the day, while wearing the socks and insoles you would run in, so you get the most accurate measurement possible.

It's usually a good idea to purchase a half size up from your regular shoes to make sure you have enough room. There should be about a finger width between the end of your toes and the end of the shoe. There shouldn't be any pinching or hot spots. You shouldn't need to break your sneakers in; they should be comfortable immediately.

  • Shoe Type: Purchase a shoe that matches the type of running you plan to do primarily. If you’re training for a half-marathon or marathon on the road, get road running shoes. Get trail shoes if you’re training for a trail running race. If you’re running mostly on a running track, you should get some fast speed running shoes.
  • Stability and Pronation: Women’s feet have been found to roll or pronate more than men’s (likely because of naturally wider hips in women.) Some shoe models are designed specifically for women, having been created based on female testers and runners, so they’re not simply shrunken down versions of men’s shoes.

That said, regardless of pronation, beginners should focus on getting neutral running shoes with less than 7 millimeters of heel-to-toe drop, weighing 7-9 ounces so your feet can move naturally. 

Finally, don't buy shoes just because they look cool or another runner runs in a certain make/model. Proper fit and purpose must be the first priorities.

Best Running Shoes for Beginners

Here are a few of the most popular and well-loved options in a variety of categofies to get you started. Try them out for yourself, and adjust from there.

Luxury Upgrades

There are some running items you don't need to have but are fun to have. On that note, you could consider a pair of "super shoes." "Super shoe" is the general term given to a type of racing shoe that has become prominent in the last few years after the Nike 4%s were shown to shave approximately 4% off elite runners' times. 

Super shoes are designed for fast running and typically include some proprietary foam and carbon plate, which combine to return more energy from your running stride. Nearly every brand is coming out with a "super shoe" these days, but these are two of the best:

MOTTIV athlete powering down the finishing shute of a race

What Should Women Wear When Running?

Next, you'll need running clothing. While you can run in a cotton t-shirt and basketball jammers, we don't recommend it because clothes not meant for running can cause chafing. 

Women's athletic gear has come a long way in the past 10 years. You can buy pieces that are moisture-wicking to keep you from chaffing, breathable to keep you cool, and in a variety of cuts so you can feel comfortable and look good while you run.

Women's running clothing is all about personal preference and quality. Try some of our picks and see what works for you.

Basic Essential Womens Running Gear

The Best Sports Bra for Running

No matter your cup size, sports bras are almost as important as proper shoes for female athletes. They keep everything in place and keep you focused on logging miles, not on managing your chest. 

You want a bra that fits you properly, provides support, and does not chafe. 

When choosing a jogging bra, you do not want to size up because you don't want extra fabric or a loose fit. That said, you also don't want the garment to be too tight or to pinch anywhere. You want the band to be comfortable across your ribs and the cup size to measure to your widest point. 

You may also want to consider whether you prefer compression or molded cups/underwire; it'll likely depend on your breast tissue and size. 

Word of warning: It's a good idea to take out the removable pads that come in many sports bras before they get sweaty and bacteria grows.

Also, as all spandex-based garments lose elasticity over time, they become less effective. You'll naturally need to replace your running bras on a somewhat regular basis.

Our picks for the Best Running Bras for Women

Female MOTTIV athlete celebrating as she finishes her race in the dark

Best Running Socks for Women

A good pair of running socks can make or break your run. They'll prevent blisters if they're breathable, sweat-wicking, and comfortable. 

Road running socks can be invisible, ankle or calf length. However, if you're going to be on many trails with dirt and rocks, you will probably prefer socks higher up the ankle or calf to keep your feet rock-free. 

If blisters are a big problem for you, try a pair of performance toe socks. But we find that the feet of most people who keep running two or more times per week tend to toughen up on their own (working to avoid blisters actually causes more blisters because your feet never toughen up.)

Best Running Shorts for Women

The key to what you wear on your bottom half is finding items that don't rub or chafe. Bulky or misplaced seams, and a too-thick waistband are a sure recipe for discomfort, which is why you will want to wear athletic clothing developed to keep rubbing at a minimum.

There are two types of women's running shorts: spandex shorts (made of stretchy spandex, they're form-fitting and tight) or polyester running shorts (these fit looser and are typically made of a polyester blend.) 

  • Spandex shorts, also called “bike shorts,” come in various lengths (usually measured in inches from the inseam) and fabrics. Many women find that if they can keep everything wrapped in spandex or compression, it’s the most comfortable way to run chafe-free.
  • Non-spandex bottoms are often more comfortable at the outset, but can present chaffing issues if they get sweaty, worn out, or don’t fit right. The one positive is that most non-spandex bottoms will have an underwear liner built in, so you don’t have to wear underwear with them.

Try both and see what you prefer. Our picks: 

MOTTVI athlete selfie in her MOTTIV running gear

Best Cold Weather Running Apparel for Women

Your gear may be as simple as a light tank top and shorts in summer but in the winter, you're going to need base layers and a running jacket.

A good running jacket will be one that is is water and wind-proof to keep you warm and dry in inclement weather but is vented so it still breathes. If you're going out in extreme cold conditions, then an insulated winter running jacket will be important.

On the bottom, running tights or leggings can be as light or insulated as you need for the climate you live in. As you add to your clothing collection, try a few of these layering options:

Best Run Gear Accessories for Women

There's no end to the run gear you can buy, so it's important to remember that the items listed below are add-ons, items to consider after you've purchased your essentials. Don't let not having any of these hold you back from getting started. 

You'll probably want to grab a pair of sports sunglasses, a running hat, and maybe running gloves if you'll be doing winter running. That said, we've found there are some run accessories that specifically help females enjoy their running more.


When you run, you'll be out in the sun and elements; sunglasses, and a hat can help keep the glare and sweat out of your eyes. If you have long hair and prefer to keep it off your neck in a high ponytail or a bun, you may prefer to simply wear a headband or a visor.

MOTTIV athlete Chrissy finished her triathlon race

Running Heart Rate Monitors for Women

A heart rate monitor can help you hit the right training intensity and improve training. However, many women have trouble making heart rate chest straps work because of the chaffing and fit under their breasts.

Unfortunately, wrist-based heart rate monitors can have reliability problems when running, giving readings off by as much as 40 beats per minute. One solution is heart rate bands that fit around your forearm or bicep instead of a traditional chest strap. Check out our heart rate monitor picks: 

You'll need to pair your heart rate monitor with a running watch to track your pace, heart rate, speed, and other running metrics. Check out our Best Running Watches for Women article.

Safety Gear

Many women runners worry about safety when running alone, especially if they run in early pre-work hours or late evening in the dark. Statistically, running is a safe activity! But, if you are alone (especially in the dark), you should take precautions to stay safe.

For running safety, it's safer to run with other people, stick to well-traveled/well-lit routes, and run without headphones to be alert to your surroundings. If you're running in the dark, consider a headlamp and/or a reflective vest so drivers can see you. If you run with your phone, you can use an app like RunBuddy that will alert selected contacts if you stop moving or move too quickly (for example, you were put into a car) and share real-time location data.

Bonus Gear

As you increase your running volume, you'll probably find sun protection and hair management are a big concern. Remember to wear sunscreen. Coppertone Sport boasts sweat-proof abilities, and Neutrogena Ultra Sheer is known for protection that moisturizes without being greasy. 

And test different hairstyles that work for you: single or double braids, ponytails, buns. This is where a great sports-specific hair tie, like TIY, can be a lifesaver. Sometimes, it's the small things that make all the difference.


The most important thing about getting started running is remembering you don't need all the gear in the world. You just need to get going, so start with a good pair of shoes and an athletic bra that fits, and hit the road. You can always add more later when you know more about your own personal needs.

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Kelly O’Mara
Kelly O’Mara

Kelly O’Mara is the former editor-in-chief of Triathlete Magazine. She left in mid-2022 to launch my own triathlon newsletter, Triathlonish—which aims to cover triathlon and endurance sports with the same news and analysis mainstream sports get, but without the tendency towards douchebaggery.

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