There are never enough pockets in the world, especially when you are running. Some leggings have no pockets at all; ditto those traditional split-sided short shorts. So where does your phone go? In a running belt, of course.
What are running belts for, anyway?
Running belts are, simply, a belt you wear when you run. Their main feature is that they have a pocket that is large enough to hold a smartphone. And depending on the brand and style, they may do a lot more.
You may still want to wear a belt even if your clothes already do have pockets. Belts don’t bounce, and they’re often more secure (featuring a zipper or other closures) than the pocket in your shorts or your jacket.
Some belts have room for more than just a phone. Today I’ll look at two belts on opposite ends of the spectrum: the minimalist SPIbelt, and the maximalist Flipbelt. Both companies sent me their belts to road-test, and I’m here to report my results.
The minimalist: SPIbelt
The SPIbelt (“small personal item belt”) is what you want if literally your only care in the world is having a place for your phone. My first attempt at testing the SPIbelt yielded no data: I zipped my phone in, went for my run, and completely forgot I was wearing it until after I had returned. That’s pretty much exactly what you want, so I’d say the test was a success.
The basic SPIbelt is just a thin elastic strap that buckles around your waist, with a stretchy pocket that shrinks to the width of the strap when you’re not using it. (There are other versions of the SPIbelt that have two pockets or that have loops to hold gels. I tested the classic version.)
The pocket is stretchy enough to hold a large phone, or even—as illustrated on the website—a stack of items including your phone, your credit cards, and a house or car key. But if you intend to slip your phone into and out of the belt during your run, you have to make sure you don’t drop any of that other stuff.
The belt pocket’s expandable nature can make it a bit fiddly. On one rainy run, I was wearing my SPIbelt, a shirt, and a jacket. It looked weird to have the belt on top of my shirt, so I wore it underneath, but then every time I wanted to return my phone to its pocket, I had to lift up the jacket, then the shirt, then find the zipper on the belt and stick my fingers in to expand the pocket before I could slip the phone back in.
Overall: great if you don’t need to access your phone often, or if you don’t mind a little fussing when you do.
The maximalist: Flipbelt
Have a lot of stuff? You’ll want to go to the other end of the spectrum and get a belt that will hold more.
The classic Flipbelt is a wide fabric sleeve, basically one big tube, with openings to let you stuff things into it. A phone slides in, no problem. If you’re carrying gels or a trail map or a wallet or a tube of Bodyglide or a baggie of trail mix, there’s room for all of that, too. I was worried about losing my car key—what if it works its way out of the opening?—until I realized the belt also includes a little tether with a clip on it. Attach your key ring, then stuff it inside.
There are four openings on the classic Flipbelt, each of them along the centerline of the belt: two in front and two in back. The name comes from the fact you can flip the belt inside-out, so the openings are facing your body, if you want to be very sure that absolutely nothing will fall out. (There is also a version with a zippered pocket for further security.)
That said…nothing will fall out. The belt is stretchy, which keeps items in, and also keeps the belt snug enough that it doesn’t bounce. As with the SPIbelt, if you wear it empty, it can be a little annoying; I found that it wanted to scrunch up a bit. But with a phone or any other cargo inside, it stayed in place beautifully.
There are two downsides to the Flipbelt. One is that it’s not adjustable; you have to buy your size, just as if you were picking out a pair of pants. (The XS fits kids with an 18″ waist, and the XL goes up to 48″.) The other annoyance, admittedly minor, is that since it’s made of fabric, it will get sweaty. I found myself rinsing it out alongside my clothes at the end of each run. The classic Flipbelt is made out of a wicking fabric; there is also a Flipbelt Air made of mesh.
But, oh man, how nice it is to have all that room when you go for a long run. I was pleasantly surprised to realize I could fit a standard 16.9-ounce disposable water bottle into the belt, carrying it bounce-free across the small of my back. (Flipbelt sells curved 6-ounce and 11-ounce water bottles that you can slip in a little more easily.) And if you need even more cargo space, they also sell high-waisted leggings. The waistband has Flipbelt-style pockets (two openings on the front, a zipper pocket in back) and there are generously-sized side pockets on both legs.
How to pick the right style of running belt for you
If you just want to carry your phone with minimum fuss: Get a SPIbelt. Other brands that make a similar style: Nike, Back Bay.
If you want to carry your phone and maybe one or two other little things (like a key): Get the 2-pocket SPIbelt.
If you’re training for a marathon and need to carry a bunch of snacks and miscellaneous gear: Get a Flipbelt. (Or, better yet, the leggings.) Other brands that make a similar style: Lululemon, Naked.
If you need to carry water: Get a Flipbelt with either the custom bottles (they sell singles or a three-bottle kit), or do like me and stuff in a bottle from the grocery store.
If you need water that’s a bit easier to access: Go with a hydration belt that has little bottles, like this one from Nathan. You can even fill one with water and one with electrolytes or sports drink. Or go with this clip-on bottle from SPIbelt that can hook onto any of their belts, or any other belt, or just the waistband of your shorts. You are wearing some kind of clothing, right?