The headphone market is huge which can make it hard to choose the right pair. Many people like to listen to music when running or working out and that means there are headphones designed for fitness.
Lots of choice for consumers is a good thing but it can make the buying decision a bit overwhelming. Well, that’s where we come in as we’ve tested some of the best running headphones you can buy.
Of course, we can never test every pair that’s available, but here are the best headphones for running and fitness that we’ve tested and can recommend. They are either designed for the purpose or are perfectly suitable even if they’re not marketed for sport.
We’ve got headphones in a range of styles and prices, with various different features depending on what you’re looking for.
Best running headphones 2021
1. Adidas RPD-01 – Best Overall
As you might expect from a brand like Adidas, these headphones are made for sport and exercise. They’re also really affordable so you’re not paying for a logo here.
The design is excellent with lightweight construction and different sizes of tips and fins to keep the earbuds nice and secure. There’s also IPX4 water resistance.
Charging is a little slow for a full charge and battery life isn’t a long as more expensive Adidas pairs but sound quality is good and again, the RPD-01 are very cheap.
Read our full Adidas RPD-01 review
2. Jabra Elite Active 75t – Best Wireless Earbuds
These aren’t the most recent model from Jabra but remain our favourite. In part because the firm has retrospectively added active noise cancelling and we didn’t find the 85t to fit very well.
Being older, the 75t are now reduced in price and offer a well-rounded experience for a pair of true wireless earbuds.
ANC aside, there’s strong 28-hour total battery life, a decent fit with ‘active grip’ surface, reliable touch controls and high IP57 rating. They don’t have the best sound quality we’ve ever heard but we’ve tested a lot of headphones.
Read our full Jabra Elite Active 75t review
3. Adidas FWD-01 – Best Lightweight Neckbuds
The backs of the earbuds are a little bulky but the FWD-01 are lightweight and secure headphones from Adidas with a secure fit thanks to integrated fins.
IPX4 water resistance, playback controls and an unusual braided design all add value but aren’t the main pros here.
You’re mainly getting great sound quality with booming bass and long battery life at 16 hours. Plus there’s fast charging via USB-C, too, getting you to 60% in just 15-minutes.
Read our full Adidas FWD-01 review
4. Beats Powerbeats – Best Ear Hook Design
If you’re looking for neckbuds, then the Powerbeats pretty much nail it when it comes to running and fitness.
Importantly, the ear hook design ensures a very comfortable and secure fit so you won’t have to worry much about them falling out. And if they do, the wire around your neck will catch them.
There’s decent battery life, excellent sound quality and they’re also sweat and water resistant. About the only thing missing here is noise cancelling.
Read our full Powerbeats (2020) review
5. Huawei FreeLace Pro – Best Battery Life on a Single Charge
They’re not really pitched as fitness headphones but the FreeLace Pro have many of the things runners and gym bunnies will be looking for.
There’s IP55 waterproofing and last a whopping 24 hours on a single charge if you don’t use ANC, which is decent even if you can’t adjust it. Sound and build quality are very good, too, and the design is suitable for use other than fitness if you prefer not to have neon rubber headphones.
We didn’t find the best fit as the wings are integrated into the tips but there’s still so much to like here and they’re already at a much-reduced price.
Read our full Huawei FreeLace Pro review
6. Bowers & Wilkins PI3 – Best Sound Quality
They’re not the cheapest neckbuds around and despite the largely rubber silicone design don’t have an official IP waterproof rating.
However, they should withstand splashes and are very lightweight. They also feature fins ensuring a comfortable and stable fit. When not in use, they attach together with magnets and there’s an included storage pouch.
There’s decent wireless codec support and useful controls but the main standout here is excellent sound quality. This is largely thanks to B&W’s Hybrid Dynamic-Balanced Armature dual-driver technology.
Read our full Bowers & Wilkins PI3 review
7. Apple AirPods Pro – Best for Everyday Use
Perhaps not an obvious choice for running and sport, but the AirPods Pro are more suitable than you might think. So long as you find them to offer a secure fit, they have a lot to offer if you can afford the pretty high price tag.
They’re sweat-resistant, can read out texts while you’re running and have excellent noise cancelling with a transparency mode.
Apple users will find them very easy to set up and use, plus they’re more than suitable for various other times when you’re not out on a run.
Read our full AirPods Pro review
8. Sony WF-XB700 – Best Budget Wireless Earbuds
If you’re looking for true wireless earbuds without breaking the bank then consider this pair from Sony.
The earbuds are a little bulky but they are light enough and offer a secure fit even without the addition of fins. They also have IPX4 water resistance.
Sony offers a total of 18 hours battery life and the XB in the model stands for extra bass and true to form, these will suit those who workout to thumping electronic tunes.
Read our full Sony WF-XB700 review
9. NuraLoop – Most Immersive Sound
Nura might not spring to mind when you think fitness headphones but the NuraLoop. They manage to squeeze the firm’s astounding custom audio tech into a pair of neckbuds and without a ridiculous price, either.
While they don’t look particularly sporty and are heavier than some, the ear hook design and proprietary ear tips keep things secure and they’re sweat resistant, too.
Battery life isn’t bad at 16 hours and personal tech aside, there’s decent active noise cancelling with a Social Mode.
Read our full NuraLoop review
10. Jabra Elite Sport – Best Heart & Activity Tracking
They’re a little old now but the Jabra Elite Sport still have plenty to offer and their ages means a more affordable price than when first launched.
Battery life is nothing special and the buttons are tricky to use without pushing the earbud into your ear canal, but if you have a playlist ready to go you shouldn’t need them much.
On the plus side is a high IP67 rating as well as three sizes of tips and fins. The main reasons to buy the Elite Sport are the accurate heart rate tracking, activity tracking and Hear Through mode.
Read our full Jabra Elite Sport review
11. Plantronics BackBeat Fit 6100 – Best Headband Design
A traditional style of headphones designed for fitness is unusual but we’re glad Plantronics made these as earbuds aren’t the best choice for everyone.
You might be surprised to hear that they are breathable and offer IPX5 water resistance. There’s also a pull cord to tighten the headband fit and keep things more secure.
Charging is the older micro-USB port but you get 24 hours of battery life, decent sound quality and the accompanying app allows you to tweak with an EQ.
Read our full Plantronics BackBeat Fit 6100 review
How to choose running headphones
There are lots of things to think about when buying headphones but the frequency range and sensitivity are not so important here.
Whether you’re going running or doing other sporting activities, you should focus on fit and design – fit and fitness go together because, after all, what good are headphones that fall out onto the floor every few minutes.
It’s perhaps not the end of the world if you’re working out in the gym, but running outdoors is not a good time to lose an earbud.
The problem is that fit is a personal thing, depending on the size and shape of your ears and ear canals. That’s why any earbuds come with different sizes of tips. However, fitness-focused headphones often come with additional design points such as hooks to go over the ear, or wings/fins that sit in the pinna to add support.
The good news is that there are different types to choose from. While wireless earbuds are all the rage, the neckbud design is well suited to running fitness. This is where the earbuds are connected via a band that sits around your neck – it means you can’t lose them, for some the weight isn’t on your ears and there’s more space for a bigger battery.
Most will be made of plastic or silicone to help with durability and keep weight down. So, don’t expect materials like leather or metal here.
While most headphones designed for exercise are some form of earbud-style, not everyone wants those so you might be better off choosing a more traditional design with a headband. They are rare but we’ll include any worth considering.
At the end of the day, choose the best design for your usage and click through to our full reviews for details on how we found the fit.
Another thing to look out for is the IP rating, which stands for Ingress Protection. It’s a system to indicate how durable a device is where the first number is related to dust and the second number is for water.
An ‘X’ means it’s not been tested for that part so you’ll often see IPX4, for example. The higher the numbers, the better the protection with this example being sweat and splash resistant only and full immersion when you get to IPX7.
With the key design and fit elements covered you can also consider whether to buy a pair with additional features. Some, although it’s still rare, have tracking such as a heart rate monitor giving you a more detailed picture of how your session went.
Battery life should also be high up your list, especially if you need headphones to last a long run or gym session. Most modern pairs will at least a few hours but check our reviews for figures if you need them to last multiple marathons before needing a charge.
We’ll of course let you know in our full reviews what sound quality is like and what kind of music the headphones are suited to.
What you’ll also need to consider is whether noise cancelling is a must. And we’re talking about active noise cancelling (or ANC) which digitally cuts out the noise around you – not to be confused with passive, which is just the physical nature of having headphones blocking your eardrum.
Not all ANC is created equal and going for a run near busy roads or just out in public with noise cancelling can be dangerous so you’ll want to look out for pairs that also offer control over the level or some kind of ambient mode that allows you to still hear your surroundings. These go by many names such as ‘transparency’, ‘aware’ and ‘social’.
Find out how we test audio.
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