Going for an outdoor walk or run in a formidable city like New York as a woman requires a bit of distrust and a lot of attention to detail. Is my phone charged at least half way? How much daylight is left? Do I know which way to look at every intersection I’ll pass? Do these pants have a pocket for my pepper spray?
I’ve heard enough stories to know paying attention to my surroundings isn’t optional. That’s why I usually skip headphones unless my workout will bring me to a dedicated running route in the park or by the waterfront, in which case I’ll stow my earbuds until I reach the secure destination away from most dangers. And even then, the best noise cancelling headphones are usually a no-go, unless they offer a solid transparency mode.
I first tried bone conduction headphones when I replaced my AirPods Pro for running. At the time, the Shokz OpenRun (formerly AfterShokz Aeropex) headphones impressed thanks to a secure fit. As I ran at a track in my parents' quiet suburban neighborhood, I couldn’t shake the OpenRun headset off, or even loose.
My only complaint was audio quality. These bone conduction headphones didn’t sound as good as any of the best wireless earbuds in my collection, since they play music via vibrations into your cheekbones rather than into your ear canals. That’s why, when I traversed my own streets in New York City, I didn’t consider the OpenRun a worthy companion for my hot girl walks (see: definition.) How am I to strut up a sweat without the beat of thumping bass?
Then I started leaving headphones at home altogether after a close friend called to tell me she was chased by a stranger on a run not far from her apartment, but luckily found safety in a security-manned clothing store. She said she had been listening to music loudly with in-ear headphones and believed she hadn’t noticed the bad actor following her for several blocks.
In a survey conducted by Runner’s World, 60% of women reported they had been harassed while running. I’ve never experienced anything as frightening as my friend did, but I’ve heard my share of creepy comments while trying out exercise outside.
I don’t think I’ll ever feel an abundant sense of safety while exercising outside in an urban center solo. Of course, the solution would be for men to stop harassing women — period. But in the interim, while my wellbeing still relies on my alertness, I finally found a pair of headphones that sound great and don’t detract from being aware of what’s around me.
They’re actually a step-up from the OpenRun headset called the Shokz OpenRun Pro. This pair has noticeably improved bass and microphone quality, so my tunes sound powerful and I can actually hold a phone call. For my Shokz OpenRun Pro review, I wore them on a walk to Central Park to see whether I could workout with music while hearing traffic and other ambient noises. I could.
I’m not saying the open-ear design of bone conduction headphones will stop women from feeling threatened while running outside, but I now believe some of the best sport headphones are better for women than others. With the OpenRun Pro, I can enjoy fresh-air exercise with a soundtrack, and the assurance I’ll be able to hear what I need to. Sure, they might not look as sleek as AirPods, but aesthetics don’t matter where my safety is concerned. Although I’ll admit that hasn’t stopped me from carrying pepper spray with a glitter-covered case.