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

Sweat-resistant, Bluetooth wireless 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 also a list of the best headphones for gym, work outs, sports, cross-fit, cycling and fell trekking, as well as running.

Whatever your activities of choice, these buds and headphones will soundtrack your path to fitness. 

What are the best headphones for the gym and running?

My first advice is this: go true wireless. There are several true wireless bud options for the gym – think Apple Earbuds but more robust and sweatproof. I know a lot of you reading this will think, "no way, I'm not an early adopter and they're too expensive." However, you are bang wrong: once you get used to having no wire at all rubbing on the back of your neck and no snagging on things ever, it is bloody hard to go back to the more traditional styles of running/gym headphones.

I also feel that the various limitations of true wireless, which make them irritating to use as full-time buds, just don't apply if you only run, ride or work out in them. The  battery life is short but it’s more than long enough for gym and running, at least for anyone who's not doing ultra-marathons. The usually slightly poorer sound quality is also less important for pumpin' workout-style listening.

True wireless is still in its infancy as a product category but already some clear leaders have emerged: Jabra Elite 65t for runners and gym goers, and Bose SoundSport Free for gymming only – the shape of the Bose and the way they whistle when it’s windy make them less useful for outdoor running, I found.

However, those who prefer the old-fashioned, considerably more affordable route to a sweat-soaked soundtrack should get a pair of NuForce. About 18 months ago, I said the Optoma NuForce BE Sport3 is the best pair of Bluetooth headphones for running and gym. Now, in 2018, they remain comfortable, they still sound excellent and still they're very light and well weighted. The battery life of 8-10 hours is alright, too. Even with the NuForce BE Sport4, which are a little better in several respects, now just about available (though not very widely), the Sport3 are still the best value running and gym headphones you can buy.

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. I know that brand suggests hipster nonsense, but these are impressive.

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 either true wireless or 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 and 4, and Sennheiser's excellent new Sennheiser CX Sport Bluetooth are 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 sweat-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. 

Okay. On your marks, get set, SHOP!

The best headphones for running, gym, sports and fitness, in order

1. Optoma NuForce BE Sport3

The best headphones for running and gym (still)

Specifications
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

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. 

That's a little ironic, as the world of running and workout headphones is a specialist one that has long been 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.

With the possible exception of the vastly more pricey SoundSport Free, the Be Sport3 offer the best sound quality of any of these. They are easily good enough to use as day-to-day headphones, thanks to their fantastic clarity, support for both AAC and Apt-X (giving improved audio quality on Apple and Android devices respectively), well-deployed bass and 8-hour battery life. They also offer a very solid yet comfortable fit

Down sides? 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 Bluetooth pairing is also weirdly slow – this has been fixed with their pricier successor the Be Sport4.

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. 

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.

I also have to acknowledge that some punters on Amazon have encountered technical and/or longevity issues with their BE Sport3. Mine, to be fair, just died, but that was after well over a year of vigorous and sweaty use, and nowadays they cost about 60 quid. I can't grumble at that price.

Jabra Elite 65t

2. Jabra Elite 65t

Best true wireless buds for running

Specifications
Type: Bluetooth true wireless in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 5 hours (plus 10 hours from recharging in its case)
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+The best fit of any true wireless bud+Decent comfort too+Great for the gym and running
Reasons to avoid
-Curiously unmusical audio

If you're after the best true wireless option for running, Jabra's Elite 65t is your new workout bud. It's also great for gym workouts, cross training, cycling, spinning, rope thrashing and anything else where you get sweaty.

The Elite 65t's main rival is Bose's SoundSport. The reason Jabra's effort is higher in this list (yet lower in the list of best true wireless buds for use outside of gyms) is that they fit better – comfortable and yet unshakeable – and do not protrude and get affected by wind in the way that the Bose true wireless do.

For workout audio purposes the 65t are fine, even though they are not the most 'musical' of headphones. At launch they were more like a very good Bluetooth headset for taking calls that also turns its hand to audio playback, rather than a hi-fi product. However I find the sound perfectly okay for running and working out, with the volume up.

It's the comfortable yet unshakeable fit, and complete absence of wires that makes the Jabra Elite 65t so essential for workouts. Once you've tried these or some of their rivals, it's very hard to go back to having that wire joining your buds (and snagging on your neck or running vest).

Bose SoundSport Free

3. Bose SoundSport Free

Best true wireless buds for gym

Specifications
Type: Bluetooth true wireless in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 5 hours (plus 10 hours from recharging in its case)
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Very good sound +Unshakeable connectivity+Incredibly comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-Incredibly susceptible to wind interference-They look stupid even by true wireless standards

The way Bose's buds protrude from your ears gives a look that is somewhat less than icy cool, but if you work out a lot, you probably value performance over appearance, and are well used to looking a tad 'off-beat'. And their is no doubt that at the gym, the SoundSport Free perform.

Sonically, these are a better true wireless option than the slightly artificial sounding Jabra Elite 65t. Like them, they give you five hours of battery life, with 10 more hours provided by recharging in their case. A quick-charge facility gives you 45 minutes use from 15 minutes charging. 

Although perfect for the gym or home, I don't consider these great for running outdoors, or cycling. The fit is brilliantly comfy but less unshakeable than the Jabras, which is off-putting if you hit the ground like a runaway giraffe, as I do. The way they protrude also makes them impossible to wear with your hood up in winter, as they will catch on it. The real problem with the way they protrude, however, is wind noise. They whoosh quite a bit in a breeze and in a high wind, I'd go so far as to say they are unusable.

However, the weird fit is also why they're so comfortable, and with notably better audio and slightly better connectivity than Jabra's Elite 65t, the SoundSport Free are not only the ultimate true wireless buds for the gym and other sports where no wind is likely, but also good enough audio-wise to use as everyday headphones, so long as you don't mind looking just little bit stupid.

4. Monster iSport Victory Wireless

Another great in-ear headphones for running and fitness, often going cheap

Specifications
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 and Sennheiser CX Sport. 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, and what this week's best prices on each happen to be.

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 and Sennheiser rivals, they are arguably 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. 

On the other hand, this is less musically gifted than its rivals, 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, although you still get a good 6-7 hours per charge.

5. Urbanears Stadion

Best running headphones for situational awareness

Specifications
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 hearing the world around me, 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 unusable when you're running.

6. Bose SoundSport Wireless

Yet another strong rival to the Monster, Sennheiser and NuForce wired buds

Specifications
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 is yet another competitor in the 'lightweight buds joined together with a short wire' gym-and-run headphones stakes, and its creation is, again, very good. However, like the Sennheiser offering it's also somewhat more expensive than NuForce and Monster's takes on the style. 

That aside, I don't really have a bad word to say about the SoundSport Wireless. Sound quality is very solid and you could use them outside the gym or after a run quite happily. They also pair and fit very well. 

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

Aftershokz Trekz Air

7. Aftershokz Trekz Air

Best bone conducting headphones for running and cycling

Specifications
Type: Bone conduction
Battery life: 6 hours
Sound isolating: No
Reasons to buy
+Cool bone conduction tech+Comfortable
Reasons to avoid
-By definition, not 'hi-fi' kinda sound

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 Air follow on from the older Titanium model and are 20% lighter, but the way they work remains the same. 

Sound is transmitted 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 makes it somewhat harder to damage your ears from excessive volume.

Early bone conduction headphones were pretty awful, but these ones work, and are a further step up from the – also very good – Trekz Titanium in terms of comfort. 

By definition, sound quality can't compare with the best traditional headphones, but when you aren't being yelled at by taxi drivers, or beeped at by a truck that's about to run you over, you can enjoy audio that's surprisingly punchy and enjoyable. When there is sound around you, you'll be able hear it very easily.

The only slight issue with this is that on a noisy road, or in high wind, you can hear all that sound over your music as well, which is less useful. For those who want tunes but really prize situational awareness, however, this strikes me as a price worth paying.

Connecting to your phone via Bluetooth is simple, and the Trekz Air is sturdy waterproof, sweatproof, dustproof and easily portable. As much as the Aftershokz Trekz Air is not for musical purists, for safely soundtracking your cycling or road runs, it's hard to beat.

8. Sennheiser CX Sport Bluetooth

Excellent (and very similar) alternative to the Be Sport3, Monster Victory, Bose SoundSport

Specifications
Type: Bluetooth in-ear with anchoring hooks
Battery life: 6 hours
Sound isolating: Yes
Reasons to buy
+Exemplary comfort+Capable of excellent audio performance
Reasons to avoid
-Needs quite careful placement in your ears-Relatively short battery life (though fast charging)

These look an awful lot like the NuForce Be Sport3, Monster Victory and Bose SoundSport, but then as TS Elliott once said, 'talent borrows, genius steals'. These are incredibly light and comfortable, even compared to their light and comfortable rivals and offer excellent audio, once you've got them positioned right in your ears.

As they offer an hour's play from just 10 minutes of charging, I can forgive the comparatively brief, six-hour battery life. However, there are two 'issues' here. There's no AAC, so Apple users don't get the very best sound out of it – although even without support for AAC, audio is admittedly excellent.

More problematically, you do need to have the CX Sport Bluetooth positioned quite precisely in your ears to get the optimum sonic results. That's fine if you're sat down or ambling along the road, and the great sound means the Sport Bluetooth are more than capable when you're not doing 'Sport'. However, it can be a bit annoying when you're doing one-armed chin-ups or shuttle sprints.

Android users will be pleased to know that Apt-X and Apt-X Low Latency (for use when watching films, so speech syncs more accurately to lip movements) are both on board. 

Overall, these are excellent buds, but ones that could probably use a minor price cut to properly achieve lift-off.

9. Denon AHC160WWTEM

Excellent audio quality though a bit quirky

Specifications
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.

Aftershokz Trekz Titanium

10. Beats Powerbeats3

Best Beats by Dre headphones for workouts and runs

Specifications
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.

Monster iSport Freedom 2

11. 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 I keep seeing such people at gyms, and they would definitely be best advised to fulfil their bizarre needs with the Monster iSport Freedom headphones.

Yes, they're bulky compared to everything else here, 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 as you may be able to tell, but if you actually prefer old-school, on-ear headphones to in-ears for gym and running, you should plump for these.

12. Jabra Elite Sport

Best running headphones with pulse tracking

Specifications
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.