Health Gear Awards 2011: The Best Fitness Products of the Year
And the winners are ...
Meet our judges
• Su Reid-St. John is Health’s senior fitness editor; she writes frequent product reviews for Health.com.
• Lisa Halbower-Fenton is a footwear product development consultant specializing in fit-and-performance analysis and structure.
• Jessica Matthews is a personal trainer, plus the certification director and a gear reviewer for the American Council on Exercise.
• Kristin McGee is a yoga and Pilates instructor and personal trainer, as well as a regular Health columnist.
• Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RD is a physician and registered dietician, as well as a personal trainer and spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise.
Top workout wear
Best workout jacket
Light-weight and breathable (not what we usually associate with waterproof fabric!), this jewel-toned jacket is just the thing for damp hikes, power walks, and rides. What’s more, it looks great on virtually any body type.
Best running jacket
Stay cool (and visible) on your run in this featherweight, fast-drying coverup—then store it in its own back vent when you’re through. One more thing judge Kristin McGee loves: the iPod holder hidden in the front pocket.
Best post-workout jacket
Cute, comfy and organic! This eco-friendly, slimming jacket will take from the gym to your final destination in style. One touch of the buttery soft cotton and we’re betting you won’t want to take this jacket off.
Best workout top
This wool top (you read that right) is itch-free, surprisingly light, and so comfy. The fabric wicks sweat pronto and nixes stink, too. Add the iPod stash pocket on the back and you’re ready to run. Or walk. Or skate.
Best workout skort
Whether your exercise agenda includes hitting the tennis court, pounding the pavement, or just sauntering about on a Sunday, this saucy, figure-smoothing skort deserves a prime spot in your workout wardrobe—and beyond. "This is great for working out and wearing around town," McGee notes.
Best workout short
Flattering yet so comfy (hello, drawstring waist), you’ll be loathe to take these shorts off. Made of Merino wool, they’re naturally wicking, breathable, and antimicrobial—which is a good thing, since you may be tempted to sneak in a second wearing instead of tossing ‘em in the laundry.
Best sports bra
With two layers of lightweight support fabric and adjustable cross-back straps, this stylish (but comfy!) bra will hold you in place whether you’re Piloxing or doing Pilates. "It gives full coverage and support, yet still makes me feel sexy!" McGee says.
Best supportive tank
Sweat your heart out in this layered-look tank (we love the shirred back). There’s a mesh-backed shelf bra to keep you cool and supported, then the tank itself skims over your body, hiding those jiggly bits. "It’s so forgiving!" says judge Su Reid-St. John.
Best yoga top
From lotus to lunge, this buttery soft, eye-catching racerback tank is the perfect pose partner—and just the thing to pair with jeans for an outing with the girls afterward. And talk about a bargain! "Can I just live in this?" McGee asks.
Best yoga pant
Got curves—and lots of ‘em? Doesn’t matter: These soft, stretchy pants are almost universally flattering, giving legs a long, lean look. Bonus: "I love the shirred waist and front side tie—so cute!" McGee says.
Best active swimsuit (one-piece)
This quick-drying suit stays put without making you feel like you’re stuffed into a sausage casing. "It’s supportive and comfortable—like a second skin," McGee says. Bonus: It’s reversible, so you can wear beautiful blue one day, then wow ‘em with a jazzy print the next.
Best two-piece swimsuit
($64 top, $54 bottom; Nautica.com)
Who says two-pieces are for just for sunbathers? This suit looks great, sure, but it also stands up to (and stays in place during!) both butterflies and beach volleyball. With a super-cute v-neck top and moderate coverage bottoms, you’re covered in all the right places.
Best cycling skort
Chic and figure-flattering, this skort offers ample padding to make longs rides comfy. We love the reflective details and hidden zipper (hello, unemcumbered leg movement), plus the fact the shorts are separate from the upper skirt, so you can wear them with other bottoms.
Best cycling short
The silicon grips inside the leg bands help keep these moisture-wicking shorts from riding up—plus the padding keeps you comfy while you’re in the saddle. Style bonus: We’re wild about the sky blue with leopard-print jacquard pattern.
Best workout hat
Say hello to the lightest, coolest hat we’ve ever worn, thanks to mesh venting on the top and perforated bill to let the breeze in. Plus, it has a sweat-wicking inner band and reflective edging—nice touches.
Best workout socks
The perfect sweat session sock: thin, light, and breathable with a flat seam that won’t kill your toes. The anti-friction fiber underfoot means you can wave buh-bye to blisters. "They feel like silk going on," Reid-St. John says.
"Super-light plus super-supportive—that’s rare," judge Lisa Halbower-Fenton says. These shoes are both—and more: The angled treads help you gain traction during fast runs, then soften up to act as cushioning as you slow down. Plus, the seamless upper part of the shoe means no pinching.
These have just the right balance of cushioning and support, plus a mesh upper that acts like an air conditioner for your feet and a flexible forefoot to speed you on your way. Walk on!
Best cross training
Basketball with the girls? BodyPump class followed by a few power-walking laps around the track? This shoe can handle it. Halbower-Fenton raves that it’s "so snug and comfy from heel to toe that it’s almost glove-like." She adds, "This is a good-for-everything, multi-purpose shoe."
Best trail running
Grippy tread? Check. Toe bumper to protect your piggies? Check. Just the right amount of cushioning? Check! This feather-light shoe is just the thing to help you stay firm-footed on even the rockiest trail, Halbower-Fenton says. We heart the vibrant colors, too—so sleek.
Best light hiking
This stable shoe will help keep you from turning an ankle on the gnarliest trails, thanks to an outsole that wraps around your foot from heel to toe. Other things we love: they’re waterproof yet breathable (a hard-to-find combo), super-comfy, and made of partially-recycled material.
Best barefoot running
"These feel like a second skin with a layer of toughness on the bottom," Halbower-Fenton says. Your toes act independently, giving you the closest-to-barefoot feeling of everything we tested. (Just be sure to ease into wearing them if you’re used to pavement pounding in regular running shoes.)
Move effortlessly from trail to kayak and back again with this hybrid shoe. It’s quick drying and sturdy—yet flexible—so your feet will feel equally comfy wading through the drink and tackling rocks and roots on land.
We can’t think of anything more pampering to slip into after a sweat session. While the lower heel position gives you a great leg stretch and terrific arch support, the thick cushioning inside molds luxuriously to your foot. Plus the outside leather is soft and beautiful.
"Of all the toning shoes out there, the pods on these make you feel most in control," Halbower-Fenton notes. With soft, cushy bottoms, this lightweight, breathable shoe makes you feel like you’re walking on a sponge, challenging your muscles in a good way. Just the thing for a day spent on your feet.
This sleek cycling shoe’s internal cleat and non-slip sole lets you clip in for a more efficient pedal stroke, then clip out and walk around without slipping or teetering—ingenious! The mesh venting on top is a nice, cooling touch.
Best sports watch
This is one user-friendly watch—you can start and stop the interval timers, turn on the light, and record splits by just tapping on the screen. Plus, it's too cute to save for workouts.
Best heart rate monitor
Though it’s sleek and slim, we didn’t just pick this monitor for its good looks. "Both the watch and chest strap are very comfortable to wear," judge Jessica Matthews says, "plus it’s really easy to use." For added motivation, it also calculates calories and fat burned.
Best pedometer/activity monitor
Forget waist-clip gadgets that make you twist and squint to get a reading. A single glance at this bright blue watch-style pedometer tells you just how many times you’ve put one foot in front of the other. Bonus: It also measures heart rate and tells how many calories you’ve burned.
Best gym bag
There are pockets for everything in this bag—mesh ones for sweaty clothes, big ones for shoes, smaller ones for toiletries and a snack. Yep, it’s spacious—but it’ll still fit in your gym locker. Love the fun prints, too.
Bye-bye, mid-hike backache! This pack’s mesh panel conforms to your back (so comfy) without causing you to overheat. What’s more, it has pockets for everything from iPod to waterbottle, plus a built-in rain cover. "It’s a really well thought-out design," Matthews notes.
Best yoga mat
Yes, it’s pricey, but this thick mat is worth every penny. It’s dense and amazingly cushy (a boon for achy knees during low lunges), but your hands and feet won’t slip an inch. And that deep blue color? Gorgeous!
Most innovative yoga product
Plug your iPod into the built-in speaker and pose you way through your favorite playlist, or let top yogi Rodney Yee guide you through a private yoga session (via a free download). The mat itself offers ample cushioning, with a pretty koi print—and it’s latex-free, too.
"Extremely comfortable," Matthews enthuses. With flexible arms to hug your face and keep them in place, plus polarized lenses to nix glare, you won’t want to take them off. And that’s okay: Looks-wise, these specs move seamlessly from workout to sightseeing trip.
Best swim goggles
Whether you’re just splashing around or powering down the lanes, these goggles won’t fog up or let a drop of water sneak in. Plus, they’re lightweight and soft, and come in a range of great colors.
Best tennis racquet
This slightly larger yet lightweight racquet works beautifully for both beginners and more advanced court divas. "The comfortable grip makes it easy to handle," Matthews notes. "I feel like I always have control over the ball." And really, isn’t that what it’s all about?