The best running headphones can mean different things to different people setting out on different types of adventure. Some runners wanting to block out everything around them, filling their ears with energising music and focusing on pedal-to-the-metal performance. However for most outdoor-active people, headphones for running need to provide that inspiring lift – through a podcast or music – but still allow them to hear the sounds of nature or other trail users. Headphones vs the sounds of nature is an ongoing debate
There are many different designs too, including single earbuds that lock into your lugholes, earbuds that connect with wires, earbuds that loop over the ear, and one interesting pair that don’t enter the earholes at all.
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Whichever design suits you, the best running headphones will definitely need to connect wirelessly to your smartphone, produce good quality sound and have a decent level of water and dirt resistance – especially for trail running in all weathers.
We have included some at the super budget end of the spectrum, like the Lypertek Tevi and JBL Reflect Flow, one with touchpad-style buttons (the Bose Sport Earbuds), and some with personalised EQ customisation like the Jaybird Vista and Jabra Active Elite 75t. There are earbuds with loops like the Beats Powerbeats Pro and Poly (Plantronics) BackBeat Fit 3200, and a couple of earbuds connected by wires like the Adidas Sport Rapid RPD-01 and Sennheiser CX Sport. Finally there’s the Aftershokz Aeropex with its unique bone-conducting technology that allows the earhole to be completely open to hear ambient sound.
The 10 best headphones for runners available right now
Beats Powerbeats Pro
An earbud design that loops over the ear for a secure fit over rugged ground
Price: $249.95 (US)/£219.95 (UK) | Weight (excl. case): 21g/0.74oz | Weight case: 109g/3.85oz | Battery life: 9 hours | Case battery life: 18+ hours | Quick recharge: 5 minutes gives you 1.5 hours | Protection level: IPX4 (sweat & water resistant) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
The best thing about the Beats Powerbeats Pro ear buds for adventurous runners is that the hoop over the top of your ear pretty much guarantees they will stay in place however gnarly the terrain. This, combined with four different eartip sizes, ensures a great fit for all. Battery life is excellent at nine hours, plus double that from the somewhat large charging case, and handily you can adjust volume and change track from either ear. Being an Apple product they pair faster with other Apple tech, and you can use Siri with them. Many trail runners will like the fact that they don’t totally cancel all ambient noise, so you can hear some surround sounds from the landscape you’re running across. The splash-proof IPX4 rating is good enough for most adventure situations, but don’t drop them in a deep puddle, as they are not completely waterproof. The sound quality is good – not overly bass-heavy – but there is no option to alter the EQ to your personal tastes.
JBL Reflect Flow
Light, extra-secure waterproof earbuds with a long battery life
Price: $179.99 (US)/£129.99 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 18g/0.63oz | Weight (case): 73g/2.56oz | Battery life: 10+ hours | Case battery life: 20+ hours | Quick recharge: 10 minutes gives you 1 hour | Protection level: IPX7 (waterproof) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
These waterproof running headphones are great value and a real top contender for adventurous outdoor use. First up, there’s a good chance they’ll fit well with three sizes of eartip, each with a small wing that hooks on for added security. The battery life is a minimum of 10 hours from the buds, and 20 hours from the charging case, which could be more streamlined but doesn’t weigh much at 73g. The volume adjustment is interesting with Ambient Aware and TalkThru modes at the press of the left earbud. The former allows you to hear surrounding noises which is good for both urban and trail running, while the later reduces playback even further so you can talk on the phone, ask Siri a question or hear announcements. You can’t personalise the EQ but the well-balanced sound quality works well for a wide range of music styles.
Jabra Elite Active 75t
Superlight, dirt-resistant and waterproof earbuds with personalised sound
Price: $249.99 (US)/£189.99 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 11g/0.38oz | Weight (case): 35g/1.24oz | Battery life: 7.5 hours | Case battery life: 20.5 hours | Quick recharge: 15 minutes gives you 1 hour | Protection level: IP57 (dust-resistant & waterproof) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
These superlight, dust-resistant and waterproof running headphones are brilliant for exploring. There are three sizes of grippy eartip to ensure a good fit for most ear-shapes and they fit very close to the head. The quick recharge function is longer and the battery life is on the shorter side compared to others in this test, but 7.5 hours from the headphones is still good, and with the streamlined case only weighing 35g it’s very easy to take that extra 20+ hours of charge with you. Very attractively, the Jabra Elite Active 75t has fully personalised sound levels through the Jabra Sound+ app, and you can use Siri and Alexa too. Trail runners will enjoy the HearThrough mode which allows ambient sound through, however ultra runners can’t use one bud at a time to extend battery life on long races as removing and re-inserting one earbud automatically pauses and resumes playback.
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Fantastic for hearing surrounding sounds with next-to-ear bone-conducting technology
Price: $159.95 (US)/£149.95 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 26g/0.91oz | Weight (case): N/A | Battery life: 8 hours | Case battery life: N/A | Quick recharge: N/A | Protection level: IP67 (dust-proof & waterproof) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
The super dirt-proof, waterproof Aeropex are completely different to the others on this best running headphones test, because they don’t go in your earholes at all. The next-to-ear bone-conducting technology leaves the ear completely open to hear ambient sound, which is fantastic for those who find in-ear buds uncomfortable and/or want to clearly hear the sounds of nature, traffic or others running up behind them. Aftershokz also supply foam earplugs to block out any excessive sound like strong wind or traffic splashing past. The flexible, wraparound design fits all head sizes securely and works fine with sunglasses and headlamps. There is no charging case to boost the very reasonable 8-hour battery life and the charger is unique not USB-C like all the others here. For music connoisseurs the sound is definitely not as lush, but podcasts are as good. There are only two EQ levels, but you can adjust the volume easily, take calls and hook up to Siri or Alexa.
Astounding, personalised sound quality in a super light design
Price: $179.95 (US)/£139.95 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 12g/0.42oz | Weight (case): 23g/0.81oz | Battery life: 6 hours | Case battery life: 10 hours | Quick recharge: 5 minutes gives you 1 hour | Protection level: IPX7 (waterproof) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
If you’re after excellent sound quality these waterproof earbuds may well be the best running headphones for you. There are three eartip sizes, but only the smallest lacks a wing for extra in-ear security, so runners with smaller earholes may not get on with the fit. Although they only have six hours of battery life, ultra runners can use one at a time, recharging the other in the super light 23g case for 32 hours total use. The quick recharge time is very fast with five minutes for an hour of playback. The Jaybird app has presets from elite trail runners or you can create your own for the best possible sound quality whatever your music tastes. You can use either bud to pause, skip tracks and receive calls, and you can set up a volume control here too in the app, but there’s no access to Siri or Alexa functions. There is no ambient sound function so even when playback is paused, surrounding sounds are muffled.
Adidas Sport Rapid RPD-01
Great value, customizable headphones with super secure fit and long battery life
Price: $115.95 (US)/£84.95 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 23g/0.81oz | Weight (case): N/A | Battery life: 12+ hours | Case battery life: N/A | Quick recharge: 15 minutes gives you 2 hours | Protection level: IPX4 (sweat & water-resistant) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
For great quality at a more affordable price, consider the Adidas Sport Rapid RPD-01 running headphones. The choice of four eartips and security wing hopefully ensures a secure fit for all earhole sizes, while the attachment wire around the back of the neck guarantees you’ll never lose these. The only downside is that the wire does dangle either side of the face, which can flap when running downhill or get caught when you’re fighting through overgrown woodland. The headphones are also not waterproof, just sweat- and water-resistant. The 12+ hours battery life is more than all the others here without their case and a quick 15 minute recharge gives a very good two hours power. You can customise the EQ and function buttons within the app, and connect to smartphone assistants like Siri and Alexa. There is no ambient sound function so surrounding sounds are always muffled which may not be preferable for outdoor use.
Sennheiser CX Sport
Very light, very secure, bluetooth earbud-with-wire headphones
Price: $159 (US)/£119 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 15g/0.53oz | Weight (case): N/A | Battery life: 6 hours | Case battery life: N/A | Quick recharge: 10 minutes gives you 1 hour | Protection level: IPX4 - waterproof | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
A lightweight earbud-style option with connecting wires to ensure they never fall off. There’s a choice of four eartips and a security wing for a secure fit, and the attachment wire round the back or front of the neck adds extra security but also creates a dangling wire that off-road runners may not appreciate when ducking under brambles or flying fast down steep hills. The headphones are also not waterproof, just sweat and water-resistant. The 6-hour battery life is poor considering the others here, but a quick 10-minute recharge gives a good hour of playback at least. These headphones are best for runners who like simple tech as there is no customisable EQ or app, but the pre-programmed sound is the usual excellent Sennheiser quality. For outdoor adventures there is no ambient sound function to hear trail or traffic noise, so it’s not be the best choice considering the price and battery life.
Poly Backbeat Fit 3200
A waterproof earbud with ear loop for secure fit, plus ambient noise function
Price: $150 (US)/£130 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 26g/0.92oz | Weight (case): 89g/3.14oz | Battery life: 8 hours | Case battery life: 16 hours | Quick recharge: 15 minutes gives you 1.5 hours | Protection level: IP57 - dust and waterproof | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
A budget, waterproof version of the Beats Powerbeats Pro here from Poly (formerly Plantronics). They’re secure in your ear due to that grippy over-the-top loop but you only get two eartip sizes. The battery life is fantastic – especially if you wear one at a time. You get 8 hours, plus a further 16 for each from the case, so the ability to use one earbud at a time further extends this to an incredible 48 hours – ideal for ultra runners. A big thing is how much surrounding sound you want to hear; the earlier 3100 version fits less tightly in-ear, allowing real life noise in, whereas the newer 3200 creates a seal and uses Awareness Mode and Sound Mix functions to blend ambient noise in with playback, which is useful, but not as good for hearing external sounds. The customisable controls are great, including those for using Siri and Alexa, and the three EQ options sound good for different music styles.
Fantastic value wireless earbuds with good sound quality and battery life
Price: $69 (US)/£69 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 17g/0.60oz | Weight (case): 100g/3.52oz | Battery life: 8 hours | Case battery life: 40 hours | Quick recharge: 15 minutes gives you 2 hours | Protection level: IPX5 (sweat-resistant) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
The perfect choice for runners on a budget, these sweat-resistant in-ear headphones also have an incredible battery life. There are three eartip sizes for a good fit for all, and the battery life of the buds themselves is a very reasonable eight hours, but the case is unmatched here, with a massive 40 hours. The quick recharge time is great too with just 15 minutes providing two hours of playback. There’s no app for customising the sound or function buttons, but these buttons are (uniquely) to the side so they aren’t pressed accidentally or pushed painfully into your lughole. The buttons do all the usual music controls, receive calls and connect with voice assistants like Siri and Alexa. You can’t customise the EQ but the sound is great for the price, and there’s also an ambient sound mode that can be activated to hear more of your surroundings, which outdoorsy types will like.
Bose Sport Earbuds
Great quality sound, but battery life and waterproofing level not as good as others
Price: $179.95 (US)/£179.95 (UK) | Weight (headphones): 13.5g/0.48oz | Weight (case): 19.5g/0.69oz | Battery life: 5 hours | Case battery life: 10 hours | Quick recharge: 15 minutes gives you 2 hours | Protection level: IPX4 (sweat-resistant) | Uses: Trail running, road running, gym workouts, outdoor workouts
Another pair of earbud-style running headphones with excellent sound quality, as should be expected from Bose, but these offer no option to personalise the EQ. As usual there are three eartip sizes with wings for a secure fit for most lugholes. The battery life of five hours for earbuds and 10 hours for the charging case is definitely on the low side compared to others here, but the quick recharge time is good with 15 minutes for two hours of playback. Rather than buttons you just touch the outer surface like a touchpad, which works well even with sweaty fingers and means you’re more comfortable not pressing the bud into your ear. You can customise functions within the app and receive calls, but the EQ cannot be personalised. Surrounding sound is actively blocked out with tight seal of the StayHear Max tips so trail and traffic noise ceases to exist – not necessarily a plus for outdoor runners and adventurers.
What to look for when buying running headphones
The best running headphones first and foremost need to be secure and not drop out as you hammer around the trails, twisting your body in all different directions and fighting your way through various patches of undergrowth. For some, the in-ear earbud design will fit perfectly (look for different sizes of eartip to get the most accurate fit) but others will welcome the more secure styles that hook over the ear.
Some running headphones have an earbud that inserts directly into the ear hole, whereas a bone-conducting headphone sits just outside. Some might find the in-ear buds can be tiring after a few hours, so if you can’t bear something being inside your ear for too long, bone-conducting headphones might be for you. Lighter is better too, but with most of the best running headphones on the market right now there is not much to choose between them here.
3. Battery life
No matter how long your runs are, the longer the battery life the better, so you can reduce the faff of charging. Many of the earbud designs charge within their case, which is a super nice feature – simply take the fully charged case with you for an extra power boost on the go. If you run longer distances like ultras, how you charge the headphones will be an important factor for you – look for earbuds you can use one at a time to extend battery life even further.
At the most basic level a pair of running headphones should give you the option to pause and skip tracks and adjust the volume, but some can also take calls and pair with smartphone features like Siri, so decide how whizzy you need your headphone tech to be before you buy.
Sound is very subjective – one person might love a heavy base while another prefers a different balance entirely, and different music suits different EQ levels too. Some headphones give you the ability to completely personalise the sound through an app, or there might be a choice of a few EQ levels, and others just dole out a set sound. If sound quality is of the utmost importance to you, choose a pair of headphones with the ability to fully personalise EQ.
6. Protection level
Each headphone will have an IP rating to show how dirt, dust and water-resistant they are. Usually sports headphones designed for outdoor activities like running will have a good level of protection against sweat, grit and light showers or splashes, but not many are fully waterproof enough to take swimming with you or survive complete emersion dropped in a lake, so check the IP rating carefully if this is one of your requirements. There are two numbers after the letters IP (which stand for Ingress Protection), the first relates to how dustproof the headphones are (often you just see an ‘X’ here, because it’s not a major factor for headphones) and the second number tells you how waterproof there are. The higher the numbers the better: IPX4 means a pair of headphones are merely splash-proof, while IP67 mean they are fully dust-proof and totally waterproof.
Price varies wildly with running headphones. You can wing it with a cheap knock-off on Amazon from little-known companies for about $30, but if you want the security of excellent sound quality, durability and good customer service if anything goes wrong, you might prefer to invest in a more expensive pair from a well-known brand.
The co-founder and former editor of Trail Running magazine, Claire now runs the YouTube channel Wild Ginger Running, creating films packed with trail- and ultra-running content. An award-winning journalist, writing for outdoor and adventure sports magazines and websites, her first book The Ultimate Guide to Trail Running 5k to 50k is out in January 2021. Claire also speaks and presents at events and races.
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