Is budget running kit a worthwhile investment?

The perils of bargain basement running gear

Buying cheap running gear might seem like a good short-term plan, saving you some money in the process. But is bargain basement running kit really effective or will it just let you down on a long run when you need it most? Here's our verdict on whether buying cheap and cheerful running kit is ever a viable option.

When you tot up how much you can spend on your sports kit – from hi-tech shoes for different activities to specialist sports-specific wicking clothing – it can easily run into hundreds of pounds. Because of this, no-one wants to squander their hard-earned cash unnecessarily – so how about cutting costs by snapping up some of the low-budget kit items that are available?

We’ve weighed up the pros and cons of buying low-cost kit in order to produce this essential guide - which includes advice and tips on:

  • Bargain vs budget running kit
  • Budget run clothing options
  • Running footwear
  • Durability and functionality of running gear

Budget or bargain running kit?
There is a big difference between budget and bargain running kit:

  • Budget kit is made from cheaper materials and is less likely to be specific to your sporting needs.
  • Bargain kit is sports-specific kit at a marked-down price.

Any bargain clothing items that you can pick up are likely to be much better value than budget versions because they will be of better construction quality, will use more hi-tech fabrics and will also last longer. So you should snap up bargain items whenever possible – provided you need them and they fit your personal sporting requirements. At a reduced price, bargain kit items invariably represent good value.

You should be cautious when buying bargain footwear, however. One of the most important elements of a training shoe is the cushioning, which is largely in the shoe’s midsole. Over time the midsole will deteriorate – even if the shoe is unused – so old shoes will not have the full cushioning properties of new pairs. You should therefore avoid buying old shoes in the hope of saving money, because the injury protection offered by newer trainers will be more valuable to you in the long term than any short-term financial saving.


Although bargain kit will be of better quality than budget kit, there may be times when it might be better to buy budget items instead – so check out our guide to budget kit below.

Basic budget running clothing
If you’re starting out in a new sport, or if you just participate in a sport occasionally, then splashing out on a completely new wardrobe doesn’t make good sense because you may decide that the sport isn’t really for you – or that your once-a-month game simply doesn’t justify buying new running kit. In these situations, buying basic items is the way to go.

The sort of clothing you need when you are starting out is covered by the following list:

  • Running shorts
  • Running T-shirts
  • Sports socks
  • Running shirts
  • Lightweight cagoule or jacket

The big advantage of these items is that they are cheap and readily available; in fact you won’t even need to seek out a sports shop to get kitted out. Supermarkets, department stores and many high street clothing retailers will all have cheap and cheerful items that pass the basic functionality test.

Budget running kit – what to look out for
With basic sports kit, you’re unlikely to get any bells and whistles such as breathable materials, wicking fabrics or ergonomically designed garments. You may also find that the quality is variable – so to avoid problems, follow the checklist below before you buy:

  • Seams - Cheaper kit may have seams in awkward areas which you may not notice at first when you try the clothing on. However, repeated movements could cause chafing and discomfort, so you should check the insides of garments very closely.
  • Fit - This might seem like an obvious one but low-budget clothing is unlikely to have been designed specifically with regard for sporting use. For example, shorts may be tight when you stride out, or a vest may prove to be a little too revealing for a summer run! When trying kit on, replicate the movements that you expect to make during your activity and see if the clothing is up to the job.
  • Durability - If you’re ‘going low budget’ then you can’t expect a lifetime of use from your clothing – but it should still be suitable for more than a couple of sessions. Look at the stitching to see if it’s likely to fall apart and assess whether the material is going to lose all its shape and shrink after one wash.

What about budget running footwear?
It’s not only clothing that is available at budget prices. Supermarkets and cut-price stores frequently offer training shoes at a fraction of the price of the better-known sports brands. However, with footwear it is inadvisable to skimp on quality, as we discussed earlier. Saving a few pounds on training shoes can easily result in discomfort and injury due to lack of durability and function.

Correctly-fitting sports-specific training shoes are the best investment that you can make in your chosen sport, and it is a false economy to root around in the budget shops for your footwear. A good sports trainer – whether it is at a bargain price or brand new – will provide cushioning and support, can prevent injury and will last the course. Cheap copies are made with inferior materials, will wear out quickly, will seriously inhibit your enjoyment of your sport and may result in injury.

The price of running quality…
There is an old saying – ‘buy cheap, buy twice’ – which can sometimes be the way to go when purchasing sports clothing. However, budget items are suitable for limited use only – and even then should be checked closely to make sure that they are genuinely fit for purpose. Bargain items are much better value because you are more likely to be buying quality products – which just happen to be cheaper than usual because the items are last year’s colours or a less popular size.

With footwear, you should avoid purchasing budget items and instead either buy good bargain pairs or consider buying brand new items. Your focus should always be on fit, functionality, durability and of course quality, because your investment will repay you again and again when you are still able to play your sport without injury or any compromise. Generally, an investment in quality will repay itself in the long term.


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