Paul and Ben finishing 2016 TCS New York City Marathon

Minimalist Travel Running Gear: An Essential Guide

Paul RYKENFirst Published: Last Updated: Take the right gear

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Do you travel a lot for work but still like to go for a run while away on business? Are you a digital nomad who loves to run wherever you live in the world? You may have your running gear packing list down pat. But chances are you’re reading this because you haven’t (or you’re not quite sure). Well, let’s give you some reassurance. This is the best minimalist running gear list for 2022.

I run five or six days a week – all year round, in any climate and any weather. As a digital nomad with carry-on luggage only, my running gear only contains what I (and I believe you) really need.

Who doesn't love a run across Brooklyn Bridge when visiting the Big Apple? | Photo by Curtis Macnewton on Unsplash
Who doesn't love a run across Brooklyn Bridge when visiting the Big Apple? | Photo by Curtis Macnewton on Unsplash

As part of our focus on our values-based lifestyle, I will not only look for the most suitable gear that meets my needs and stands the test of time, but I will also consider how eco-friendly and ethically a product was made. If I do not replace an item with a more eco-friendly or ethically sourced one, I will state the reason/s. I will also link to organisations that have reviewed the sourcing practices of the manufacturers of my gear.

Before I talk about the different items you need, let’s start with some basics.

What to look for when buying running clothes, shoes and gear

These features are important for any sports clothing but especially so when buying running clothes. Use it when you purchase new/replace old running gear.

Moisture-wicking fabrics

Moisture-wicking fabrics are designed to move water away from the skin to keep you comfortable when you sweat.

Quick-drying garments

If you don’t carry much gear, being able to wash what you have and wear it again the next day becomes important. Select fabrics such as polyester and nylon that are known for their quick-dry properties.

Sun protection

You can buy fabrics specifically treated to provide sun protection. However, even just looking for tighter knits with smaller holes, especially fabrics with elastic threads that keep the fibres tightly together, will help you protect your skin against harmful UV rays.

Chafe-free seams

Stay away from garments that have seams in inappropriate places. Instead, look for flat or welded seams placed away from areas that could impede your natural running motion.

Pockets

These can unobtrusively hold your ID card, debit/credit cards and keys. Common on shorts, concealed pockets are sometimes offered on shirts as well.

Reflective properties

High-visibility clothing is any clothing that has highly reflective properties or a colour that is easily discernible from any background. Being visible is especially important if you are running at dusk/dawn and on roads without footpaths.

Make sure your running clothes have reflective properties so that you can be seen in the dark  | Photo by Nourdine Diouane on Unsplash
Make sure your running clothes have reflective properties so that you can be seen in the dark | Photo by Nourdine Diouane on Unsplash

What fabrics to consider for which qualities

Bamboo

Bamboo is a great eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fibres and is naturally sweat-wicking, anti-bacterial and incredibly soft.

Merino wool

Merino is ideal for both hot and cold weather running, as it is extremely breathable, moisture-wicking and quick drying. Its anti-bacterial properties make it naturally odour-resistant. It is often combined with synthetic fibres such as spandex to give it a more fitted shape. It is also incredibly lightweight and allows you to stay cool in hot temperatures.

Nylon

Quick-drying, super-stretchy, breathable, moisture-wicking nylon is frequently used alone or blended with other fabrics and offers excellent durability in running shorts, pants and lightweight jackets.

Polyester

Moisture-wicking, quick-drying polyester is marketed under a variety of names. Each has proprietary characteristics to enhance performance. On the negative side, it smells after a while. It is important to only wash polyester in warm water (no greater than 30 degrees Celsius) and not add bleach. Although you aren’t meant to put polyester into a dryer, I do when I am in travel mode, especially if I don’t have an opportunity to dry it outside. That said, my polyester items do dry quite quickly in the bathroom overnight.

Polypropylene

An excellent choice for the base layer as it is water-resistant.

Spandex

Commonly referred to by its brand name Lycra, spandex is used to make your running gear stretch, offering you unrestricted movement while retaining its shape.

The downside of owning only one pair of running shoes is you may have to wear them wet | Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash
The downside of owning only one pair of running shoes is you may have to wear them wet | Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

Shoes

Without proper running shoes, you can’t run. Simple, right? Unless you are a barefoot runner.

So, always keep your shoes in your carry-on luggage. Don’t ever think about checking them in. Trust me on this one: I once travelled halfway around the world for a half-marathon only to almost not start the race thanks to a luggage delay.

I only own one pair of running shoes at a time. Since I use Strava, I’m able to keep track of the kilometres I run in them. And given the fact that I wear Xero Shoes HFS, I don’t have to replace them until after running 1,500km or so. Given I run on average about 50 kilometres a week, I replace my running shoes every nine months.

My two main problems with having only one pair of running shoes are:

  • They get smelly quicker as I’m wearing the same pair all the time.
  • When it rains, I may have to wear them wet the next day, as they don’t always dry overnight – especially during the colder months.

So, if you don’t live out of a carry-on backpack, alternate between two pairs.

What to look out for

  • Size – Make sure there is a thumb’s width of space between your longest toe (which isn’t always the big toe) and the tip of the shoe.
  • Width – Your foot should be able to move side-to-side in the shoe’s forefoot without crossing over the edge of the insole.
  • Fit – The shoe upper should feel snug and secure around your instep. Your heel should feel snug, but not too tight.
  • Flex – The shoe should bend and crease along the same line your foot flexes. Go for a run or walk in them to ensure they feel comfortable.

Running Shoes

I acknowledge that running shoes are a very personal choice because everyone is different. And prior to 2019, I used to be brand-loyal to Nike. However, with their ethical and sustainable practices now influencing my purchasing decision, I started to research alternative brands to replace my Nike running shoes.

My recommendation

The best minimalist running shoes for 2022, for someone who travels as I do, prefers zero-drop shoes and has a similar style, gait and trains for half marathons or longer, are the Xero Shoes HFS – Lightweight Road Running Shoe.

So why did I select Xero Shoes HFS over the rest? I still want road running shoes despite the fact that I run the occasional trails so several on my shortlist were out. If I had the option of having two pairs of running shoes, for sure, I would have one road shoe and one trail shoe.

The features of the Xero  Shoes HFS and on the company that sold me on this shoe are:

  • Zero-drop between the heel and the ball of the foot
  • Extremely lightweight
  • Wide toebox (allowing my toes to spread out)
  • The rubber sole allows my feet to really feel the road surface

Initially, I had an issue with the left inner sole so I removed both inner soles and ran without. It took a few days to get used to them, but really enjoy the feeling of the road or footpath surface.

Sick of shin pain and injuries while running? Swapping to minimalist running shoes could be the solution. Here is my review of the Xero Shoes HFS.

Socks

A pair of socks can make or break a run. So, don’t buy a great pair of shoes and then skimp on your socks.

What to look out for

  • Synthetic fabrics such as polyester or acrylic
  • Moisture-wicking material
  • Dri-FIT Technology or equivalent
  • Left and right designed socks for a better anatomical fit
  • Specific arch compression
  • Reinforced heel and toes area for durability

My recommendation

My Rockay Accelerate Anti-Blister Running Socks are really comfortable and have a snug fit. They are made from Merino, polyamide, and elastane. The friction-reducing design means, for me, fewer blisters and rubbing. Best of all, they come with a lifetime warranty and are produced from 100% recycled materials. If my sock tears or lack basic functionality, they will send me a new pair of socks. Those two features along make these Rockay socks worth the higher than average price.

Running shoes in general had received a bad rap for their non-sustainable practices in the past, and some continue to lack transparency in favour of profit. From my limited research, Xero Shoes has good policies to audit suppliers.

Shoe bag

As my one pair of running shoes get smelly, it is important I have them in a bag that separates them from the rest of the items in my backpack.

My running shoes get smelly, so I wanted to have a bag that separates them from the other items in my backpack.

I use a Nike Shoe Bag, bought from a running sports expo years ago. It is made of tough, water-resistant fabric to keep the shoes dry and protected in any weather. If and when this dies, I’ll probably just use another compression sack such as the Exped Folding Drybag, but a smaller size.

Don't let your travels stop you from running | Photo by Hannes Egler on Unsplash
Don't let your travels stop you from running | Photo by Hannes Egler on Unsplash

Running underwear

How many pairs of running underwear do you travel with? I have two. Performance underwear or performance boxers are starting to become more technical and specialised. Though there seems to be a lack of retail stores in New Zealand that stock them – an opportunity, perhaps?

What you should look out for

  • Comfort with little chance of chaffing
  • No chafing
  • Material designed to pull the moisture away from the skin
  • Breathable mesh panels
  • Tagless
  • Flat-lock seams
  • Quick drying

Cotton, nylon and spandex combinations seem to work best. Some newer brands are experimenting with a blend of polyamide and elastane (short for elastic polyurethane). Brands to consider include:

My recommendation

I have used Jockey Performer, Underun underwear and now Runderwear underwear. It seems, running underwear (at least for me) lasts about a year.

The Runderwear is the best running underwear for men. It covers more skin, but they are very lightweight and dry quickly. They hold all my bits in place and don’t cause any chaffing at all. Of the three different brands, I have worn in the past 4 years, these have been the most comfortable and have lasted the longest without the elastic degrading or losing their shape.

Running shorts

I have experimented with different shorts over the years – from skimpy shorts to separate compression tights under shorts through to what I own now: running shorts with integrated compression tights.

In 2015, I ran the Florence Marathon in a pair of shorts that I used to wear regularly with separate compression tights. Only this time, I didn’t wear tights. During the race, my inner thighs got more and more raw from chafing. It was not a pretty sight at the finish. I had broken a cardinal rule: Wear the clothes you are used to and know are comfortable; don’t experiment on race day. Needless to say, the lesson was learnt.

What to look out for

  • Compression shorts
  • Moisture-wicking inner fabric, ideally with mesh along inseam and gusset on inner shorts to let heat escape
  • Supportive inner shorts or gusset that conforms to your shape while letting you move freely
  • Outer fabric that stretches with your stride
  • Single waistband to eliminate bulk, reduce sweat build-up and enhance comfort
  • Dri-FIT Technology or equivalent
  • Convenient zippered pocket(s) big enough to hold your smartphone, card/s or cash.

My recommendation

After years of being loyal to the Nike brand and their very functional 2-in-1 running shorts, in 2021 I swapped over to the Ron Hill Life 7-inch Twin Short. They are so lightweight, that I always have to check that I have them on. As a sustainably conscious company, Ron Hill has created these shorts with at least 30% recycled polyester. They are a Fair Wear Leader, adhering to specific ethical manufacturing practices. The shorts are very comfortable,  with reflective stripes, a zipped back pocket and a long thigh-compression material that is both warm and smooth to touch.  The only negative is that the zipped pocket is not big enough for my Samsung S10 smartphone, but I always use my SPIbelt® anyway so it wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. Like most clothing items around the world, they are made in China.

Running tights

I have a comfession to make. In the late 70s and 80s, when the sports industry hadn’t caught up with the needs of the runners, I wore women’s pantyhose and more specifically my mother’s old pairs when the weather was so cold, but I still needed to go out training.

Luckily for me and my mother, running tights, even on rugby players, is totally accepted nowadays.

What to look out for

  • Moisture-wicking inner fabric, ideally with mesh along inseam and gusset on inner shorts to let heat escape
  • Supportive inner shorts or gusset that conforms to your shape while letting you move freely
  • Outer fabric that stretches with your stride
  • Single waistband to eliminate bulk, reduce sweat build-up and enhance comfort
  • Dri-FIT Technology or equivalent
  • Convenient zippered pocket(s) big enough to hold your smartphone, card/s or cash.

My recommendation

I use full length Nike Pro Compression Tights.

Sleeveless or short sleeve - Wear whatever is most comfortable in your destination's climate | Photo by Skeeze on Pixabay
Sleeveless or short sleeve - Wear whatever is most comfortable in your destination's climate | Photo by Skeeze on Pixabay

Short sleeve shirt

I only own one running technical t-shirt at a time, and given that I am exercising 6 – 7 days a week in it, it can get a little smelly. If I know that I’ll be in hot and humid conditions for several months, I will swap one short sleeve top for one sleeveless top.

What to look out for

As well as the features discussed above:

  • Size – Make sure it fits: too tight or too loose, and you have the problem of nipple chaffing
  • Lightweight
  • Reflective properties back and front to help your visibility
  • Dri-FIT Technology or equivalent

My recommendation

My preference is the Ron Hill Men’s Tech Short-Sleeved Shirt. It is made of 95% polyester and 5% elastane. And like the shorts above, because it is manufactured by Run Hill, it fulfils the Fair Wear ethical clothing policies. According to the label instructions, you aren’t meant to tumble dry it, but unfortunately due to our location independent lifestyle, I have to occasionally.

Singlet / Vest

They are called vests in the United Kingdom and singlets in New Zealand and Australia. Ideal for warm to hot conditions to allow more ventilation flow onto your body, the singlet/vest is also typically used in a race situation. Like my running t-shirt, I only own one of these, so it needs to meet a number of requirements.

What to look out for

As well as the features discussed above:

  • Not too loose so that the shoulder straps fall down your arm and not too tight that there is a lack of airflow across your chest as well as under your arms.

My recommendation

My preference is the Proviz Classic Singlet. It is made of 100% polyester (not my best option for material), although it is quick stretchy. What I really like about it is that it is bright yellow, making me easier to spot as I step out at dawn for my daily run. The medium size is on the large size, but that works for me.

Proviz Classic Mens Running Singlet is recommended by Minimalist Journeys

Long sleeve shirt

I have trained in temperatures where it is 35 degrees celsius and in sub-zero temperatures over the past few years. After nearly 40 years of running marathons, I know when I need to put what layer of clothing on to ensure I have a pleasant run. When the temperature is below 6 degrees, it is time to reach for my long sleeve shirt.

My recommendation

I recommend the Ron Hill Fluro Yellow Core Long Sleeve Tee. It’s bright so you can be seen on cold foggy mornings when you run on rural roads.

Outer Layer

For years, I owned a Nike half zip long sleeve running top, but I found I got too hot in it even on really cold (under 2 degrees celsius) days. After years of research, I stumbled on the very French idea of a Gilet – literally meaning waistcoat. Nowadays, it means a sleeveless top, normally padded.

Combine the Gilet with either a short sleeve shirt or a long sleeve shirt and you have two great layers to protect you from the wind and the cold. It’s definitely not designed to stop the rain from getting through, however.

What to look out for

  • Lightweight
  • Slightly padded
  • Bright colour – you’ll be wearing this during the colder darker months of the year. You need to be seen. Ensure it has some reflective elements.
  • Wide armholes that don’t restrict your natural arm swing
  • Breathable – it has a full front zip so you can regulate the temperature by moving the zip south if you want.
  • Ensure you get a Gilet that is the right size. It should be baggy enough to create an air pocket between it and your shirt.

My recommendation

I purchased the Proviz Classic Men’s Running Gilet and I am very happy with it. The product website states that it is waterproof, but even zipped all the way up, I get a slightly wet shirt. The neck and armholes obviously let in the rainwater, but it is windproof.

While designed in the United Kingdom, it is made in China from 100% polyester material.

To clean it, you can machine wash it in warm water without bleach. After all, that would take away some of the bright colourings. You can’t tumble dry it or iron it either. The material feels quite shiny and the inside joins have a tape membrane across them to protect the stretching from allowing water to seep through. There is reflective tape across the chest and back as well as around the armholes and waistband.

Paul wears a Ron Hill long sleeve shirt and a Proviz Gilet for runs where the temperature is under 4 degrees.
Paul wears a Ron Hill long sleeve shirt and a Proviz Gilet for runs where the temperature is under 4 degrees.

Head protection

I’m not one to cover up my head unless it is either very sunny or very cold.

What to look out for

Whatever you own/travel with needs to provide protection from harmful UV rays (in sunny weather), and thermal insulation/wind protection for your head (in cold weather). It also needs to let the moisture out.

My recommendation

Whether you are exercising and just travelling to a colder country, my go-to items are included in my day to day packing list for male travellers.

Gloves

Again, this is only needed if you train in conditions where the temperature drops below 5 degrees Celsius / 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

What to look out for

  • Warm and comfortable
  • Ideally, thermal and wind-blocking properties
  • Moisture-wicking fabric
  • Lightweight
  • Touchscreen friendly – If you’re running in unfamiliar territory, you won’t want to have to remove your gloves to check your phone’s map. Trust me.

My recommendation

I use the Icebreaker Quantum Gloves. Being 98% merino and 2% LYCRA, they stretch really well and keep my hands and fingers nice and warm. They are also touchscreen friendly.

Female Racer
A running watch helps you keep track of your progress | Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Running watch

I can hear you ask: Do I really need one? Well, let’s put it that way: If you are interested in tracking and improving your running – whatever level or distance – you may benefit from a running watch.

Couldn’t I just use my smartphone? might be your next question. In a lot of instances, yes. However, your smartphone will only work if you are on a mobile data plan. So, if you’re travelling somewhere without, your smartphone won’t be able to track your runs.

I’d recommend a GPS watch that keeps you informed by providing specific information about your run. Pending make and model, and whether you export the data to Strava, it can make it easier to keep track of your progress and plan workouts and routes. Some even include free training plans. Whatever you choose, ultimately, the decision is yours.

What to look out for

  • Battery life
  • Accurate GPS and GLONASS
  • Heart rate monitor or optical heart-rate sensor
  • Plastic lightweight strap
  • Sunlight visible and night light
  • Data memory
  • Customisable data pages

My recommendation

After having experimented with various Garmin models over the years, I am now using the Garmin Forerunner 245. Prior Garmin models required a separate heart rate monitor strap, but this watch has the heart rate monitor in-built, and I prefer it this way.

This Garmin model also has a better charging dock. Prior models sometimes didn’t charge properly because dry sweat would collect around the pins, impeding the charging process.

Sunglasses

While not a mandatory item, good sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays, keep flying bugs out of your eyes, and prevent squinting.

What to look out for

  • Fit – The temple arms should not be too tight (to cause you headaches) or too loose (to fall off your head when you tip it forward)
  • Adjustable nose piece – You should be able to adjust your sunglasses two-dimensionally: (1) to the width of your nose and (2) closer or further away from your face
  • Soft edges – This is especially important for the parts that actually touch your face/head, such as the temple arms and nose piece
  • Wrap around style – Sports sunglasses, by their very nature, wrap around the head more than conventional glasses to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays entering from the sides
  • Frame material – Needs to be flexible yet strong to handle the knocks and not break easily
  • Lightweight – Look for the lightest glasses you can find (ideally under 30 grams).
  • Safe lenses – The better sports sunglasses have thicker lenses that offer impact resistance against anything that may hit the lens (branches, stones, etc), with the best sports sunglass lenses being made of 2mm thick polycarbonate
  • Lens coating – Good lenses have options such as hydrophobic coatings (which shed sweat and water) or anti-fog coatings

My recommendation

I use Rudy Project Rydon Sunglasses. These glasses have transition lenses with my prescription. Admittedly, they are not cheap but have had them now for two years, I can not recommend them highly enough.

ID band

Given that I run in different locations all the time, Sandra insisted I wear or carry some form of identification on me – for my own safety and her peace of mind.

Why not run with my ID card? you may ask. If you run as much as I do, your ID card will suffer. And the last thing I’d want to do is to have to replace my driver’s licence when I’m somewhere overseas.

What to look out for

If you trip up and get knocked unconscious or get run over by a car while out running, an ID that carries your name, your emergency contact and some other vital information (such as your blood group and allergies) not only helps emergency services but also allows them to notify your loved ones.

Choose a wristband ID over a shoe tag as shoes can fall off in an accident and are more likely to be removed if someone is more interested in your shoes than in rescuing you.

My recommendation

I have owned some form of ROAD ID for many years. I started with shoe tags but have since moved away from them for the above reasons.

Nowadays, I wear a Road ID Sports Stainless Nylon ID Bracelet. It’s made from canvas with a metal plate that has my personal details – my full name, country and year of birth, and my emergency contact details – laser-engraved for quick reference.

As I wear it around my wrist, it gets sweaty. I wash it regularly, keeping it in my running belt (refer below) during the wash and when I’m not wearing it.

Running belt

For some of you, your shorts’ pockets might be sufficient to store items such as your phone, keys, card/s. I run long distances, which means I need extra nutrition. It wouldn’t make for a comfortable run if I tried to squeeze a banana or energy balls into my shorts’ pockets, would it? That’s when a running belt comes in handy.

I’m actually so used to using it, I use it on all my runs these days, even if only for my phone on shorter runs.

What to look out for

  • Adjustable belt
  • Zip pocket
  • Able to hold your mobile device securely
  • Designed to move with you without bouncing around

My recommendation

I have used different running belts over the years. I really liked my Original SPIbelt but eventually, its zipper broke and had to be replaced. At the time, the only one available where we were was a Nike Lean Waistpack. This only lasted 11 months before the zipper also broke. I’ve now changed back to the SPIbelt.

I like the fact that it was created by a runner with a problem. Did you know that Kim Overton chose the company and brand name to stand for small personal item belt? The headquarters remain in Austin, TX where the Original SPIbelts are still handmade.

Female runner with headphones and water bottle
Choose whichever headphones work best for you | Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Headphones

I run in unfamiliar places all the time, but 99% of the time, I wear headphones to listen to podcasts during my runs. I don’t have the sound too loud so that I can still hear any noise around me.

So if you are one of the 61% of runners listening to something during your run (according to a Runner’s World survey) you will also need to include headphones or earbuds in your packing list.

What to look out for

  • Fit on, over or in your ear
  • Connection
  • Water-resistant
  • Lightweight
  • Sound quality
  • Easy to control the sound or track

My recommendation

Music and listening to podcasts while we travel around are critical to me. After years of using the standard corded Apple EarPods with a 3.5 mm Headphone Plug, I researched the best exercise-based, waterproof, long life earbuds I could find.

In the end, only one stood out: the Jabra Elite 7 Pro.

They are quite pricey, but included a number of features I was looking for:

  • Good quality sound
  • Easy option to swap from noise cancellation to hearing traffic noise and conversations without having to take the earbuds out
  • Dusty and waterproof to IP57 standard. I run in all weathers so this was critical.
  • Long-lasting battery – I get up to 8 hours on a single charge, although when I return from my runs, I always pop the earbuds straight back into the charging dock.
  • Microphone – there are three microphones in each earbud, apparently designed to ensure only my voice is heard clearly and that there is no distraction from my environment.
  • Don’t fall out of my ears while I run. This is the first pair of non-over the ear headphones/earbuds so have been apprehensive about them falling out while I run. Luckily they come with 4 different sized covers to test out in my ears. This ensures a snug fit but also the removal of outside noise.

Complete all-seasons running gear packing list

This does not include my day to day Carry-On Packing List for Men that I have listed elsewhere.

Are you a traveler who loves running or a runner who loves traveling? What running gear do you travel with? Please leave a comment below or send us an email.

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Running gear for travelers: What do you really need?
Running gear for travelers: What do you really need?
Running gear for travelers: What do you really need?
Minimalist Travel Running Gear: An Essential Guide