The Christmas gifts runners don't want this year (and what to get instead)

Disappointed woman opening Christmas gift
(Image credit: Getty)

Runners can be tricky to buy gifts for, and in my experience there are generally two types: those who love shiny new gear, and those who are extremely picky. I'm in the latter camp, and unless you know they have a passion for a particular brand or you've seen holes in their favorite sports socks, it's safest to assume your loved one is as well.

That's why I've put together this guide, which will help you steer clear of the common pitfalls when buying gifts for runners, and ensure you give them something they genuinely love.

Of course, if they've expressed a sincere desire for a mug declaring their love of jogging then you can ignore all of the below, but the odds are fairly slim.

Man drinking from water bottle

(Image credit: Getty)

Water bottles

Water bottles are an affordable gift, and there's masses of choice out there, but I can't think of a single runner who doesn't already have a huge stash of different ones taking up space in their kitchen. Once you've got a few, you really don't need any more – no matter how pretty or sustainably made they are, and every runner in my club is up to their eyeballs in them.

Hydration is also quite a personal thing. The runner in your life may also prefer to run with a hydration pack rather than a backpack, or use a running backpack that only fits bottles of a particular size.

It's not as exciting as a shiny water bottle, but a well made bottle cleaning brush might actually be more useful. Alternatively, you could make a donation on their behalf to WaterAid, which helps give people around the world access to clean water near their homes.

Drawer full of T-shirts

(Image credit: Getty)


Running tops seem like an easy win, but again, the runner in your life probably has a huge drawer full of them already – particularly if they enjoy races. It's a somewhat frustrating fact that most race organizers give all entrants a goodie bag once they cross the finish line containing a medal, T-shirt, some strange samples of food and toiletries (my personal favorite was a jar of cranberry sauce in July), and a bunch of flyers.

It can be fun to have a memento from a race, but they have very little monetary value so you can't really sell them or donate them to a thrift store. And they're made from synthetic technical fabric, so they don't make very good cleaning rags, and refuse to wear out, even if you keep wearing them for years on end. After the apocalypse there will be two things left: cockroaches and race finisher T-shirts.

It's not very glamorous, but instead of yet another top, you could get your runner friend some Nikwax Basefresh to keep all their sweaty gear smelling fresh (though not perfumed), while renewing its wicking properties. Runners tend to be quite pragmatic, so hopefully they won't take it as an insult.

Alternatively, Trees Not Tees is an initiative that's encouraging race organizers to plant trees rather than handing out yet more synthetic tops, and has a gift option that lets someone buy a tree or five on your behalf.

If your loved one has some nice technical tops. they probably resent having to stab safety pins through them, which is the standard way of attaching race numbers. They might appreciate some magnetic race number holders like RaceDots, which will hold their number securely without damaging their expensive sportswear.

Female rock climber checking her smartwatch

(Image credit: Getty)

GPS watches

If you were thinking of getting your loved one a GPS watch, you're an extremely kind and generous person, but unless they've specifically asked for one then I wouldn't recommend it. The best GPS watches aren't just costly, they also tie the wearer into a particular set of devices and apps, They're all quite different as well, and some will likely offer more features than your friend needs, while others may lack something that's important to them.

If they already have a watch, and have been complaining that it's too old/scratched/broken, they'll likely want a replacement from the same brand so they can keep using the same app and won't lose all their workout data.

If you'd like to get them something techy, a subscription to Strava or TrainingPeaks might go down well.

They probably already have a headlamp for running at night, but little clip-on lights can be very useful for making runners more visible at night, and  can be attached to pretty much any piece of clothing. You could even get them two, so they have one for the front and another for the back. I have one from Ronhill that cost £10 and works perfectly, and have put a second on my Christmas wish lift.

Marathon runners

(Image credit: Getty)

Race entries

A race entry is a lovely idea, particularly if you manage to snag one to an event that's about to sell out, but I wouldn't recommend it for Christmas. If your gift recipient isn't available on the day of the event, they may be stuck with something they can't use; race organizers don't usually offers refunds or transfers.

The event might also not fit with their training plan. If they're building up to a half marathon by fall 2023, they might not be ready to run a 10km race in January. At the other end of the scale, a person training for a full marathon may prefer to go for a longer training run than a short race that doesn't fit with their carefully constructed plan.

Instead, you could give them an IOU offering to pay for their next race entry. You could also get them a voucher for a nice sports massage that they can redeem after an event, at a time and date that suits them.

Cat Ellis

Cat is Homes Editor at TechRadar and former editor of Advnture. She's been a journalist for 15 years, and cut her teeth on magazines before moving online. She helps readers choose the right tech for their home, get the best deals, and do more with their new devices.