Gear test: Arm band vs. race belt for runners

NOTE: The products mentioned here were bought with my own money and no manufacturer approached me about a review. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

No one likes to be weighed down by a bunch of stuff when they’re pounding out some miles. But it’s pretty rare that you can actually go run without having to carry something with you.

At a minimum, it might be car keys. For safety, you might have a phone. And on long runs, maybe a packet of Gu or some small snack to help you power through those last few miles on the trail.

I’ve been fine with carrying my keys in my hand and leaving everything else in the car. But truthfully, I prefer being hands-free.

I’ve run into two options that I’ve tried, and you may have as well. Both offer a means to carry the bare essentials, keep you hands-free and not weigh you down. And both have their strengths and weaknesses.



I’ve seen people wear some sort of armband for lifting weights, hitting cardio machines or running. For the indoor crowd, it’s mostly been a place to stow an iPod or similar device so they can listen to their own tunes while exercising. Same goes for runners.

I’m not the kind of person who likes headphones while I lift or run, though I will use them when I’m on an elliptical or similar machine (which is not common for me).

Instead, I’ll use the armband as a place to stow a phone and/or keys.

I destroyed my first armband – it was cheap, and I don’t remember the manufacturer. Currently, I use a neoprene armband with a Velcro-sealed pocket made by Igadgitz. It seems to be more robust than my last one, and certainly allows quicker access to my stuff.

It does the job. I can run hands-free and stuff a phone, keys and an access card inside. It doesn’t feel laborious to have that weight on one side since it’s on my upper arm and not moving much. It’s also inexpensive, retailing for about $11.

The downside is that I felt compelled to keep it on tight to keep it from slipping. If it’s constantly sliding down, it’s a pain. Too tight, however, and my forearm and hand begins to get a little numb. For short runs, it’s not a problem, but on long runs it’s a nuisance. Having to fidget with it makes it almost worth just holding my keys in my hand and stowing the phone in my car.



This got me thinking about an alternative, and while at a fitness expo this fall I saw a product by SPI, the SPIbelt, that seemed to offer a solution.

The SPIbelt is pretty simple, an elastic belt with a small snap-in buckle. In the middle is a slim zippered pouch made of a material that can stretch considerably to increase its volume, thus giving you the ability to carry a good amount of stuff – potentially more than the arm band.

A lot of runners use SPIbelts or similar products during races so they can carry a few things with them and have a spot to clip their bib numbers (nice to do, as those pesky safety pins that often come with the bibs can wear holes in your clothes).

I took mine out for a spin on a 15k run. Inside I stuffed my phone, house key and a single Snickers mini.

I cinched it in tight enough so it wouldn’t move (don’t want to have something bouncing around at your waist while you run), but not so tight as to cut into my midsection.

I barely noticed it was there, which is saying something as the miles piled up. This was true even though it was weighed down by the phone.

I’ve since taken it on shorter runs around town and longer runs on the trail. It’s not so unobtrusive that I feel like taking my phone with me every time. But I think that’s a peculiarity directly related to me, not the product. It’s easy enough for me to stow my keys in the pouch and go, and I barely feel its presence.

The SPIbelt retails for about $20, though clips for racing bibs are extra.


Both products are decent enough for what they do. The armband solution has some versatility – in the gym, it’s much more practical than the belt, particularly when you’re lifting weights (though wearing anything when I lift, including headphones, just bugs the crap out of me; again, that’s a personal thing). And it’s fine for shorter runs.

The belt is not built to be an all-around personal storage product for fitness activities. Instead, it’s made primarily for runners. And in that vein, it does its job well. Some may be put off about having something around their waist when they’re out there, but I didn’t have that problem. It’s also a more expensive product than my armband, but not excessively so. And I like the idea of having it on race day.

What are your experiences with products like these? Do you have a preference? Or some other product you use? Feel free to share in the comments below.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088


11 thoughts on “Gear test: Arm band vs. race belt for runners

  1. I use a SPIbelt but only when not carrying a water bottle. If I carry a water bottle (6+ miles), I stick the necessary Gu, car key and napkin in the zippered pouch of the hand held water bottle holder. That way there is nothing around my waist. If I don’t take water but am wearing my compression arm sleeves, I can stick a key in the pouch attached. So many options. 🙂

  2. I just want to know how you kept that snickers bar in the belt from becoming a gooey mess before you needed to eat it! But thanks for the info. Going over this gear debate myself as I’ll finally be running without a stroller (heavy, but plenty of room for goodies) for the first time in a while.

    • Many times, at least during races, it was during cooler temps. But that would be a problem in the heat! Still, messy or not, food is food, right? Best of luck on your stroller-free running!

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