The best running headphones 2018 for gym, exercise and, obviously, running

Sweat-resistant, Bluetooth headphones will drown out your groaning whilst running and working out

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Although people tend to search for 'running headphones' (or 'headphones for running'), what follows is a list of Bluetooth gym buds suitable for all forms of exercise, from gym to cross-training to running, cycling, fell trekking and pogo sticking. 

Whatever your activity, let these buds and headphones soundtrack your path to fitness. 

So, what are the best headphones for the gym and running?

About a year ago, I said the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is the best pair of Bluetooth headphones for running and gym. They're comfortable, sound excellent, they're very light and well weighted, and the battery life of 8-10 hours is pretty impressive, considering their tiny size. 

Since then, I've tried dozens of newer headphones – both running-friendly ones and general audio headphones. And after all that, I've largely gone back to using the BE Sport 3. There's just something about their comfort and the excellence of the sound that keeps bringing me back to them. 

However, if you prefer something more pumpin', I recommend the bassier, but equally comfy Monster iSport Victory. The best true wireless option by a mile is Jabra Elite Sport.

If you prefer headphones that let through sound from the outside world (for instance, a double decker bus bearing down on you at 30mph), go for the Urbanears Stadion or Aftershokz' bone-conducting Trekz Titanium.

How to choose the best running headphones for you

A decent pair of sports headphones are a very worthy investment. Research has shown that the right type and tempo of tune can keep you in the zone for longer, and we've all ran up park steps to a suitably bombastic soundtrack like we're Rocky. Even if we've then keeled over at the top.

There are four things to look for, really.

1. Waterproofing. Although a 'normal' pair of headphones can work well for exercise, if they fit well enough, they're just not built to stand up to heavy rain when running or, more importantly, sweat when doing any exercise. And sooner or later, sweat or heavy rain will find them. And it will kill them. All the headphones here are sweatproof and rain resistant, but not suitable for immersion (ie: swimming, or running in Manchester).

2. A secure but comfortable fit.  You can get all sorts of fitness-oriented designs that wrap tightly around your head, over and around your ears, and then deep into your cranium. However in my experience, the best types of running headphones are actually lightweight Bluetooth in-ears with tips that go into the ear as usual, but with additional, curved, tapered 'hooks' that sit under the antihelix of your ear. For those of you who aren't ear doctors, that is the crater of cartilage that sits above your earhole.

Of that type, pioneered (I think) by Monster and Bose, the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is the best. As far as possible I've tried to include as many different types of design as possible, though, from wrap-arounds to a pair of seat-proof over-ear headphones.

3. Decent sound quality. I don't want to overly generalise but really this is the least important element in sports headphones. Most people want to be able to hear/feel their tunes as they workout and be motivated by them, whilst blocking out the gym/the world. They don't necessarily want to be picking out hitherto undetected nuances in the string quartets of Brahms or the early works of Fleetwood Mac. So two of the headphones here sound really good and the rest sound good enough, usually with a lot of low-end and mid-range tones.

4. Situational awareness. This is all-important for some people, who feel that effectively deafening themselves leaves them in danger of traffic or muggers when road running. It's of no importance to me, as I prefer to shut out the world entirely when working out, but nonetheless I've included three great pairs of headphones specifically designed to let ambient sound through.

Whatever the sound you want, there is nothing more annoying than ear buds worming their way out when you're trying to stay focussed. The main causes of this are poorly fitting ear-tips, plus the vibrations through your body and movements of your head as you run or work out. Even the best running headphones can become annoying when their cable snags on the back of your neck or your clothing. 

That's why all these headphones are Bluetooth rather than wired. Its also why I think everyone will be using true wireless earbuds for exercise in a few years' time although right now they're more for early adopters only.

Okay, take your marks, get set…

The best running, sports and fitness headphones, in order

1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

The best headphones for running and gym (still)

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 8-10 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Astounding audio for the size+Brilliant fit: secure but comfortable+Really cheap for the quality
Reasons to avoid
-Weirdly slow Bluetooth pairing-Some online haters

The world of running and workout headphones is a specialist world that is dominated by Beats by Dre, whose Powerbeats hook over your ears like a pair of specs, and more obscure headphones that practically clamp themselves to your ears and head.

Prior to the BE Sport3, NuForce was known, if at all, as more of an audiophile-type brand, but nonetheless, these T3-Award-winning in-ear headphones with ear-hugging hooks are the best headphones for exercise that you can get. 

They offer the best sound quality of any of these products and also a very reliable yet comfortable fit. They are easily good enough to use as day-to-day headphones, thanks to their fantastic clarity, well-deployed bass and 8-hour battery life.

Although comfort is exemplary, if you prefer to be able to hear the world around you whilst exercising – I don't – these might not be to your liking, because their noise isolation is very good. See further down this buying guide for some headphones that let more sound filter in. 

The choice of tips includes different size buds (so you don't have to use the slightly horrific-looking 'double-penetrator' pictured above) and in-ear hooks, which strike just the right balance of very good anchoring, without sacrificing comfort. By comparison the Monster iSport Victory fits even better, but are not quite as comfortable.

The price is very reasonable given the quality of the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3, and despite being incredibly light, the tiny battery really does last for the claimed 8-10 hours.

My one major criticism is that the Bluetooth pairing is curiously slow – you have to hold down the power button for six agonising seconds – and even once it announces that your 'primary device is connected', audio can continue to come out of the phone's speaker for a few more seconds.

I also have to acknowledge that some punters on Amazon have encountered technical and/or longevity issues with their BE Sport3. I can only say that apart from the irritatingly slow Bluetooth connectivity, mine are still going after more than a year of vigorous and sweaty use. 

2. Monster iSport Victory Wireless

The second best in-ear headphones for running and fitness

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 6-7 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Unshakeable fit+Reliable connection+Decent enough sound
Reasons to avoid
-Slightly iffy battery life

These are an interesting counterpoint to the NuForce BE Sport3, being slightly stronger where the Sport3 is weak, and vice versa. Overall there's not a great deal to tell between them, and your choice could boil down to whether you value sound quality or firm fit.

Thanks to a wide range of tips and wings, the iSport Victory can be made to sit pretty much unshakeably in your ears. As such, although they are slightly less comfortable than their NuForce rival, they are better suited to really vigorous exercise.

They also pair via Bluetooth more quickly and reliably than the NuForce, with a clear voice announcing the battery level (high, medium or low) as well. Although it's hard to be certain about such things until the earphones actually wear out, Victory also feels more ruggedly constructed than the NuForce.

On the other hand, this is less musically gifted than its rival, with Monster going for a more standard 'pumping' sound. But then, to be fair, most people don't listen to Vivaldi or Andrew Bird at the gym, and they do sound suitably 'motivational' when pumping out bass-laced power tunes. I just wouldn't use them for general, non-exercise-related listening, which I do with the NuForce.

One other thing to note: they actually only sound suitably motivational, pumping (etc) so long as the 'Sport' mode is activated (by pushing down both volume controls for a few seconds). In standard, 'Warm Up' mode they're a bit weedy.

As I felt the need to permanently keep it in Sport mode, battery life also suffers slightly in comparison to the NuForce. I'd say I get about 6-7 hours per charge, to the NuSport's 8-10.

In a nutshell: NuForce = better sound and battery. Monster = better pairing and fit. Your choice could just as easily come down to which happens to be cheaper this week.

3. Jabra Elite Sport

Best true wireless running headphones, with pulse tracking too

Type: Bluetooth in-ear true wireless with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 4.5 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Cutting-edge tech, with accurate pulse tracking+Decent sound+Secure fit
Reasons to avoid
-Not overly comfortable-Short battery life

If you like to be at the cutting edge of audio-based fitness tech, look no further than the Jabra Elite Sport. I've been using these for about six months and they have really grown on me.

The best type of running and gym headphones in recent years has been Bluetooth ones with a cable between them. These are great, but that cable, no matter how securely the earbuds themselves fit, will always snag on the back of your neck if it's a loose fit, or amplify the effects of gravity if it's a tight fit. Either way, having a wire present it irritating. With true wireless buds, that's not a problem: there are no wires. Unlike most true wireless, Jabra's Elite Sport are sealed against sweat and rain but that's only the start of their talents.

They also boast uncannily accurate pulse monitoring via the blood moving through your ears and less accurate movement sensors, used to count reps and estimate run/cycle cadence and the like. An Android/iOS app monitors the sensors and taps into your phone's GPS, to keep you up to date with current and average pulse, speed, distance, and even workout intensity, all via voice cues.

Where the app tries hard but fails is in trying to sort out an exercise programme for you (to hit goals such as maintaining or increasing overall fitness). I found this didn't work very well at all, as it just never seemed to learn or adjust to my fitness level. Apparently every workout I do is of LEVEL 5 INTENSITY, so I can't ever improve. Yeah, right.

But even despite that, I still use these Jabras a lot. Once you get the right size ear  tips and hooks on they are totally unshakeable, without too much booming when your feet hit the ground when running. Audio is really not bad, either. For the type of music you listen to while exercising, they've got all you need. They are about as good as true wireless buds get in terms of battery life too, with about 4.5 hours per charge even with all the sensors beavering away. 

I wouldn't wear them for more than a few hours at a time as they start to get uncomfortable but they're fine for anything short of a marathon. As noted, the pulse tracking is also, surprisingly, pretty accurate.

4. Bose SoundSport Wireless

Strong rival to the Monster and NuForce buds

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 6 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Excellent sound quality+Great comfort and fit
Reasons to avoid
-Pricier than NuForce and Monster

Bose might not the first brand you think of when it comes to sporty audio, but it is actually the official provider of wireless headsets to coaches in the NFL. And now it's the official provider of wireless headsets to you, sir/madam, as well.

I don't really have a bad word to say about the SoundSport Wireless. They're arguably slightly better than the Optoma NuForce in terms of workout-friendly sound quality. You could use them outside the gym or after a run quite happily; in fact, you could buy them and just use them as a quality pair of in-ears. They also pair and fit as beautifully as the Monster iSport Victory, and sound better than it. 

The usual, pleasingly forceful Bose sound quality is present, and the overall package is sweatproof, reasonably rugged and unfailingly comfortable. My only reservation is that the marginal gains over the Monster and NuForce headphones are not sufficient to justify the price, which tends to be considerably higher. 

Traditionalists may want to consider the wired version of the SoundSport. They're very similar, the cable aside, and a fair bit cheaper.

• And there's also the SoundSport Pulse with built in cardio tracking

5. Urbanears Stadion

Best running headphones for situational awareness

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with wrap-around neckband
Battery life: 7 hours
Sound isolating: No
Reasons to buy
+Secure fit but ambient sound does penetrate+Good value for money 
Reasons to avoid
-Controls are on the back of your neck

I didn't necessarily expect much from the Stadion headphones from hipsters' favourite, Stockholm's Urbanears. However, this is actually a great pair of headphones for running.

Because the Stadion has a solid (but not uncomfortable) neck band, and springy, coiled cables, running to hooked earbuds, it pulls off the unlikely feat of an unshakeable fit, without totally blocking out the world around you.

Personally, I don't like that, but I know many runners and cyclists would like to be able to hear large, wheeled objects bearing down on them when on the roads, and some people, more bizarrely, even want to be able to hear the ambience of their local gym.

Well, the Stadion is just the ticket for those people. Add perfectly decent audio (the fact that a dose of ambient sound is allowed in means that by definition it's not amazing), plus 7 hours of battery life per charge and a choice of attractive colourways, and you have a winner. I can even forgive the bizarre design flaw that plants the control buttons, mystifyingly, on the part that sits directly on the back of your neck, thereby rendering them almost entirely useless.

6. Denon AHC160WWTEM

Excellent audio quality though a bit quirky

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with over-ear hooks
Battery life: 7 hours
Sound isolating: No
Reasons to buy
+Excellent audio for running headphones+Very secure fit
Reasons to avoid
-Not hugely comfortable-Bluetooth drop-outs

I think the soft, in-ear anchoring hooks used by Bose, Monster, NuForce and others are the ideal way of holding gym headphones in place. But if you prefer to rock the 'old school hearing aid' look, Denon makes this sterling example.

Here, the big hooks go over and around your ears, channelling the in-ear buds into your earholes. The ever-excellent Comply tips supplied then hold them in place in a manner that would be hard to dislodge by any means short of nuclear war.

This renders the controls all but unusable but that's not a huge problem for me. Occasional Bluetooth drop outs when using a pocketed phone are more frequent than I'd like but not quite rage-inducing. Audio is very odd for a pair of running headphones. It's very pleasant indeed; almost verging on mellow, but if you up the volume it kicks hard enough to power you through the 8-miles-down boredom/pain threshold.

The only problem with the AHC160 is in fact its supposed main USP, the fit: that is just not a comfortable way to attach headphones longer-term, especially if you wear specs. After initially absolutely hating it, I did persevere, because I'm professional like that, and I'd now say that for an hour's running or gymming it's tolerable.

7. Beats Powerbeats3

Best Beats by Dre headphones for workouts and runs

Type: Bluetooth in-ear with over-ear hooks
Battery life: 10-12 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Gym-friendly sound+Great battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Not the snuggest fit-A bit overpriced

A lot of punters moan about headphones from the Apple-owned Beats by Dre being overtly bassy and punchy, but that is no bad thing when you're talking about running/gym headphones.

These offer rapid pairing with Apple devices via the W1 chip (a sort of typically Apple-esque 'Bluetooth with knobs on' concept) and also pair perfectly fine via 'normal' Bluetooth with non-W1-compatible devices.

I enjoyed using the Powerbeats3 a lot; the sound is great, battery lasts a good 10-12 hours and you can also charge them up for 5 minutes and get an hour's play out of them – very handy at times.

On the other hand, I found the ear-hook design didn't give as good a fit as the headphones above it in the list, as it tends to wobble up and down when you run or even when cycling hard. The price maybe feels a bit high, given that.

8. Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

Second best running headphones for situational awareness

Type: Bone conduction
Battery life: 6 hours
Sound isolating: No
Reasons to buy
+Cool bone conduction tech+Comfortable+Safety first!
Reasons to avoid
-Not amazing audio-Looks weird

If you really don't want to block out external sound, you can't get much better than a pair of 'earphones' that don't even sit in your ears. Aftershokz Trekz Titanium transmits sound via bone conduction, from just next to your ear, so as well as enjoying the music, you can hear approaching cars and buses. It also, I think, makes it somewhat harder to damage your ears from excessive volume.

We've heard bone conduction headphones before and been horribly disappointed, but these ones work. Even with the volume cranked up, we were able to hear every bus and angry cabbie while cycling down London's Holloway Road, and the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium is so lightweight and comfortable it's easy to forget you're wearing it.

By definition, you lose some of the sound quality as a result, and so, while the sound is punchy, bass is lacking, and just as with more traditional 'open-backed' headphones, everyone else can hear what you're listening to.

Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth is simple, and of course the Trekz Titanium is waterproof, sweatproof and dustproof. It also scrunches up to fit in a pocket, before pinging back to its normal shape when required, and seems sturdy enough to withstand being buried at the bottom of your bag.

As much as the Aftershokz Trekz Titanium is not for musical purists, but for soundtracking your cycling or road runs, it's hard to beat.

9. Fitbit Flyer

The fitness tracker experts make a solid stab at running headphones

Type: Bluetooth in-ear
Battery life: 4-5 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+They match your Fitbit Ionic!+Competent audio+Quite comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-The fit could be better

Fitbit rules the fitness tracker roost and the Ionic, its latest and arguably best tracker is aimed squarely at runners and gym goers rather than mere step-counting nincompoops. 

No surprise, then, that Fitbit's made a pair of running/gymming headphones in finishes that match its smartwatch. What is slightly surprising is that if you ignore the colours, they are a totally bog-standard pair of Bluetooth, in-ear headphones for running. There's no special buttons to control watch functions, no step counting, just audio.

Not that I'm complaining about that. The Flyer looks and sounds good. Not outstanding or anything, but fine. The fit is not exactly rock solid, so they're more for those who prefer not to totally zone out while working out.

10. Monster iSport Freedom 2

Best on-ear running and gym headphones

Reasons to buy
+Decent sound+Robust build+Long battery life
Reasons to avoid
-On-ear headphones for exercise?-Dodgy touch controls

Who in their right mind wants to have on-ear headphones on when their head is a sweaty mess?

I dunno, but such people could definitely fulfil their bizarre needs in worse ways than with the Monster iSport Freedom headphones.

Yes, they're bulky compared to everything else here, expensive, and the touch controls take considerable work to get used to. 

But on the other hand they're sweat-proof – which of course they need to be, as you will sweat BUCKETS of ear sweat – and, in fact, washable. They also sound great, and due to being huge, can fit a battery that lasts for 24 long, sweaty, hot-eared hours.

I'm not sold on the concept, but if you actually prefer old-school headphones to in-ears for gym and running, you go right ahead and be my guest, now.