By Brian Metzler
If you’re like me, you’re probably scrambling to complete your holiday gift shopping over the next few days so you can make sure you have time to relax as the year winds down. Because I have a few runners on my list, I often try to buy friends and running buddies some of the high-performing gear I’ve actually wear-tested during the year.
For example, here are three of my favorite running accessories that launched this year that I will be giving as gifts. They are not only great items on their own, but each one also has a strong sustainability story. What’s good for the earth and the environment, is certainly good for my running family and friends. (And, if you’re shopping for yourself, they’ll be good for you, too!) Even if those gift recipients never realize the full back story, they’ll be getting a high-quality product that will perform well and last for a long time.
Bambū Werx Performance Socks ($14)
Bambū Werx Performance Socks are made primarily from bamboo, which is a very sustainably produced material that is naturally antimicrobial, hypoallergenic and highly absorbent. Plus, bamboo has been shown to minimize skin irritation and offers far greater breathability than most human made materials. The Performance socks are thin, light and soft, highly breathable, and less prone to heat retention, which makes them ideal for running long distances. They’re enhanced with recycled nylon, too, which seems to make them very durable. I’ve run several long runs in hot, humid conditions and loved how they wicked away moisture from my feet, but I also appreciate how comfortable they feel on cold-weather runs too.
Bambū Werx makes a variety of other sporty and lifestyle gear — beanies, caps, buffs, headbands, etc. — with bamboo and a variety of recycled materials as the primary components. The company says it considers several aspects when thinking about packaging: how it’s made, from what materials, how it is used, and how its customers can ultimately recycle and/or dispose of it responsibly. Its primary goals are to utilize recycled (50% minimum) and/or recyclable paper or cardboard, use earth-friendly inks and minimize waste. No product company can be 100% green, but Bambū Werx is one making earnest efforts to be as good as possible. (It also partners with One Tree Planted, which plants a tree for every $50 in Bambū Werx purchases.)
Stuart Jenkins has been around the footwear industry long enough to know that there’s a lot of waste and a lot of manufacturing practices that are anything but green and sustainable. As an executive at Deckers Brands, Jenkins helped take Hoka from start-up phase to one of the world’s leading running shoe brands. But he’s also helped other entrepreneurial shoe companies and innovative cushioning brands come to life in lifestyle, culinary and other kinds of athletic footwear. His latest project — Blumaka Konnect Insoles — might be his best yet, but only partly because the insoles are created with a very smart sustainability backstory.
Blumaka Konnect Insoles are performance-oriented, after-market footbeds made with foam scraps collected in shoe factories. Those reclaimed scraps are chopped up and reformed into insoles that are moderately light, springy and stability-enhancing. (In 2021, the start-up company diverted more than 40 tons of material from landfills and used it to develop upcycled insoles made from 85 percent recycled material.) Not only are the insoles softer and cushier than the standard sock liners found in most running shoes, but they’ve also been designed to provide more internal grip (reducing foot slippage and fatigue) and thus allowing a runner to experience greater stability, agility and push-off power. I’ve wear-tested the Blumaka insoles for about a year in my trail running shoes, Nordic ski boots and hockey skates. I absolutely swear by them. They provide a bit of energy-returning bounce in every stride, but my feet don’t slip and therefore provide greater power and precision in the dynamic movements each of my sports demand.
Training through the winter will often mean running in the dark or at least low-light conditions. With later sunrises and earlier sunsets, you need a good headlamp to safely guide your way through the urban matrix, suburban pathways and wooded trails. The comfortable and lightweight BioLite HeadLamp 425 pumps out an enormous amount of illumination — up to 425 lumens — in seven different lighting modes, allowing you to see everything several strides ahead of you and also be seen by oncoming pedestrians, cyclists or traffic. It weighs less than 3 ounces, has a slim USB-C rechargeable battery that can burn for 4 hours (on high beam) to 60 hours (low beam) and a comfortable, no-bounce headband design that’s ideal for running at any pace.
The cool backstory about BioLite is that it got started a few years ago with the intent of bringing more light to people around the world who don’t have consistent access to electricity. The company also makes affordable cooking, lighting and charging products that harness surrounding energy to enhance daily life for off-grid households. Ultimately the company’s vision is to provide 20 million people with access to clean renewable energy and to avoid 3 million tons of CO2e by the year 2025. Headquartered in Nairobi Kenya, the BioLite Emerging Markets Team works closely with key partners across 23 countries to provide last-mile distribution, training, and financing to remote customers. While you might just use a BioLite 425 headlamp for your daily runs or trail running races in the modern world, proceeds from your purchase will help the company invest in operations, engineering and programs that will benefit those burdened by energy poverty.