Runners naturally lust for high-tech GPS wristwatches that measure heart rate, altitude and dozens of other metrics and record way-points of your route (which is why I'll review one in this column soon). But the stuff that can make more of a day-to-day practical difference for runners often proves to be lower-tech, more affordable fare that, in its own way, is no less innovative. Below are four good examples.
No-bounce fanny pack
Hippie Runner Go Belt: Elastic race belt and Lycra pouch with two small zippered compartments that can hold a cellphone and/or an energy bar and keys. The belt includes four utility loops for gel packs and bars, and two reusable ties to attach race numbers.
Likes: Holds a small number of items comfortably without bouncing. We stuffed a Samsung Epic 4G (2.5 inches by 5 inches with case) in the large pocket and car keys in the other; no bouncing. The two separate pockets keep items from scratching one another. A wide variety of colors is available.
Dislikes: It may bounce if you have a small waist; even when tightened snugly; it bounced around on my son, who has a 29-inch waist.
Price: $19.99. www.hippierunner.com
Knuckle Lights: Small, powerful flashlights (two per pack) that strap to the backs of your hands across the knuckles. Each light uses two AAA batteries.
Likes: Very convenient, effective and safe for night running. You see the road, and drivers see you. You avoid the mild headache often associated with a head lamp and keep your hands free to catch yourself if you trip. The product is so light and compact (3 ounces; 3.5 inches long by 2 inches wide ) that you forget it's there, and you can't drop it. It works for night activities, such as camping. It includes a flashing mode.
Dislikes: The battery compartment door does not latch tightly, so lights can indiscriminately shut off if you hold the unit in your hand or don't have the rubber band pulled tight. The rubber strap is a bit irritating; a Velcro nylon or fabric strap would improve the comfort.
Price: $39.99 for two units. knucklelights.com. (800) 735-9715
RooSport: A nylon wallet held in place at your waist with magnets. It holds small items such as cash, credit cards and keys in two pockets.
Likes: It stays secure with belt-less comfort. You place the back side of the 5.5-by-4-inch RooSport inside your pant waist and fold the top over; magnets on each side clasp it tightly so that it can't fall off or move around as you run or walk. Includes a zippered pocket and a Velcro-closure pocket.
Dislikes: Since both cargo pockets must be placed on the inside of your pants, you can carry only very flat, light items (i.e. paper money, credit card, a key). Bulkier items, such as a set of keys or a cellphone, seemed to rub against my skin too much for comfort in highly athletic activities, although it was OK for walking around.
Price: $19.99. www.theroosport.com
Tiger Ball Massage-on-a-Rope: Dense, 2.6-inch-diameter rubber ball attached to a 30-inch rope that is designed for self-massage.
Likes: Simple and effective. Standing with your back near a wall, throw the ball over your shoulder, line it up with sore muscles, then lean your body weight into it and start giving your back, butt and legs some major-league myofascial release. The rope allows you to keep the ball in the right place. Of course, you can also use it lying on the ground or step on it to work on foot issues. Weight: 8 ounces.
Dislikes: It's a lot pricier than a tennis ball.
Price: $25. tigertailusa.com, (206) 779-5238