Sports Gear

Regardless of the activities you enjoy participating in, you should know one thing: clothing and equipment is more specialized than ever. Manufacturers consider the movements and positions of specific sports when designing gear for a particular activity.

Shoes

Shoes are one of the most important pieces of gear you'll need, unless, of course, you're swimming or participating in sports that don't require you to move on your feet. Shoes can be made to give you support where you need it most (a basketball player who needs lateral support would spend all her time sidelined with injuries if she tried to play in a walking shoes. Shop around and ask a salesperson at a store that specializes in your sport for advice.

Running shoes don't always do so well when wet. After a damp exercise session outdoors, or a long sweaty workout, loosen the shoelaces and allow the shoes to air dry by a window or in an open space. Do not place shoes in a drier or near a direct heat source: Heat can break down or melt components of the shoe. If shoes are extremely wet, stuff them with tissue paper or newspaper and leave to air dry. Your running shoes will last longer if you take proper care of them.

Socks

It may be tempting to start running without the proper gear, like socks, but to avoid common foot aggravations and smelly shoes, you should wear socks. Tube socks were a great option in the '70s, but there are better options out there now. (In fact, tube socks aren't a good option at all because anything made of cotton holds sweat against your body, which can make you uncomfortable and can result in preventable injuries and inconveniences.)

There are some fabulous sport-specific socks on the market. These socks also cut down on foot odor because they absorb moisture from excessively sweaty feet. They will help cut down on blisters, athlete's foot, hot spots and rubbing. Moisture-wicking and thermal fabrics will help keep your feet warmer in the cold and cooler in warmer temperatures.

Some athletic socks are made with thicker material to add cushioning. Make sure that your socks fit you as well as your shoe: Socks that are too large can double over and cause more friction, which can lead to hot spots and blisters.

The Layering System

As beloved as cotton is, it may not be the best option for your exercise clothes and apparel. Cotton is breathable, soft and comfortable, but it tends to absorb sweat and moisture and hold it against your body. While this is not a problem for temperate weather, it can cause discomfort and chaffing in warmer or colder temperatures. Synthetic "moisture management" fabrics are designed to pull sweat away from your body and evaporate it into the air. You can find socks, T-shirts, singlets, shorts, athletic tights and underwear made out of these revolutionary products.

You should always keep a moisture management layer closest to your skin before layering other pieces of clothing on top. Sweatshirts and fleece are great second layers, and keep your eyes out for the waterproof breathable fabrics many shells are made of these days. You will thank yourself later for buying a nice set of sports rainwear.

If you're a nocturnal or early-morning exerciser, keep an eye out for glow-in-the-dark fabrics. Whether jogging at dawn, walking at dusk or playing basketball at night, these clothes may make it easier for vehicles and pedestrians to see you.

Heart Rate Monitors

With all the talk about heart rate and pulse, one piece of equipment worth your while is a heart rate monitor. More accurate than taking your own pulse, these mini-machines come with a variety of functions and do most of the work for you. Many of them come with a band that you affix around your chest or slip into an athletic sports bra to count your heartbeats. That band then transmits the information to a display face on your wrist. Not only do the heart rate monitors do a good job of letting you know when you're in (or out of) your target heart rate.