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Best Action Cameras For Trail Running in 2021

 

Action cameras are a great way to capture your running footage in a variety of situations.

They are an awesome way to take photos and videos to post on YouTube and social media! Plus, being small, action cameras are the perfect photo/video solution for when you need something small, but want something better than a phone pic.

If you’re in the market, we recommend the GoPro HERO9. GoPro is the biggest name in the action cam biz, and the HERO9 features superb 5K resolution video with advanced video stabilization. It has a front and rear screen, and also captures high-quality 20MP photos.

Although it’s our top pick, it’s by no means the only excellent option out there. Read through our full list to find one that suits you!

Top 3 Best and Favorites

 

GoPro HERO9

 

  • Up to 5K resolution
  • Live streaming features
  • Waterproof up to 33 feet
Check Price

 

Insta360 ONE R TWIN EDITION

 

  • 5.7K resolution + 4K wide angle
  • Invisible selfie stick
  • 6-axis stabilization
Check Price

 

Kodak PIXPRO SP1

 

  • Wide-angle lens
  • 14MP CMOS sensor
  • Multi-burst shooting
Check Price

Best Overall

1. GoPro HERO9

GoPro is the biggest name in action cameras, and for good reason! Their products are of the highest quality, and if you can afford a GoPro, we highly recommend that you go for one.

The HERO9 is the perfect action camera for adventurers of all kinds, including trail or ultra runners.

On the rear of the camera, a touch screen includes a touch zoom feature that helps you frame your shot perfectly. The front screen helps with selfie footage.

Resolution can be adjusted from 1080p to 5k. The 24 MP sensor provides sharp detail even if you crop in. Still photos are 20MP – high-enough resolution for stunning prints at any size.

Hindsight is a superb new feature that records an extra 30 seconds of video – before you even hit the record button. How it does it is a technical mystery and not necessary to know. But you’ll never miss a moment again due to slow fingers!

Hypersmooth 3.0 is GoPro’s latest, greatest stabilization function that eliminates bumps and jolts in your footage. TimeWarp 3.0 allows you to record time-lapse scenes, creating a unique time-compressed effect that you had to create in post-production before. You can also use Speed Ramp to choose between recording at real speed or half speed.

Use Slo-Mo to record up to 8x slower than real speed (with HyperSmooth to make it look smooth and epic). LiveBurst records a second or two before and after your shot, so you can pick the best shot of the lot or use the short video.

You can also live stream in 1080p while you’re on the trail (or whatever else you’re doing at the time) using the GoPro app. View the footage later on your SD card and make edits if you wish. You can also use the GoPro HERO9 as a webcam if you need that function.

PROS:

  • Up to 5K resolution
  • Variety of new, exciting functions
  • Live streaming features
  • Waterproof up to 33 feet

CONS:

  • No live preview in the app while recording
 

Top Runner-Up

2. Garmin VIRB Ultra 30

Garmin is a big name in the GPS and smartwatch industry. They’ve taken their technological knowledge and created a great action camera with it, too! The Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 shoots in up to 4K and 30fps, capturing every moment of your experience in striking clarity.

One of the most unique and convenient features of the VIRB is that it’s voice-activated. No more fiddling with it when it’s mounted on your head or belt! Garmin’s Sensory TrulyHandsFree technology allows you to start recording video, take a photo, or perform other functions upon vocal command.

Other features include advanced 3-axis video stabilization, live streaming to YouTube, and the ability to control multiple cameras or edit footage in the VIRB app. The VIRB Edit desktop software offers a more in-depth editing experience.

The camera itself isn’t waterproof, but comes with a waterproof case. It’s still just as easy to operate inside or outside of the case. This isn’t inherently a problem, but it does mean you’ll need to be extra careful with the camera if it’s not in the case. Watch out for those puddles on the trail!

Another super fun feature this camera has is the ability to capture and overlay performance data while you’re recording. Garmin’s famous GPS and sensor technology combine into their G-Metrix technology and measure speed, heart rate, altitude, and even G-force. You can buy other Garmin accessories to provide even more data.

PROS:

  • 3-axis image stabilization
  • Voice-activated
  • G-Metrix data overlays
  • VIRB mobile and desktop apps

CONS:

  • The camera itself isn’t waterproof
 

Best Video Resolution

3. Insta360 One R Twin Edition

This funky little camera may not look like much at first glance, but it’s quite a unique design. As its name suggests, it’s a 2-in-1 camera that can switch easily and quickly between configurations. Go from a 360 action cam to a 4K wide angle in a matter of seconds.

Insta360 teamed up with camera giant Leica to create a 1-inch sensor that delivers a stunning dynamic range that’s yet unseen in action cams. You may be surprised at how crisp and detailed your footage is, whether you’re sprinting down the street or hitting a beautiful trail. It also makes low-light shooting a breeze!

The Dual-Lens 360 mod uses an advanced algorithm to produce superior quality 5.3K resolution video. It utilizes Insta360’s highly effective FlowState stabilization for a smoother, sleeker feel.

There are three pieces to this camera: the base section, the One R Core module, and the lens. The Core mod features a live display on a sizable touchscreen, and it can be set up to face the front or rear when used with the 4K Wide mod. It makes it a versatile choice for vlogging, as it’s super easy to do selfie-style vids with.

An awesome feature is the ability to edit your footage on the ONE R app without removing the footage from the ONE R unit.

The app is free for both Android and iPhone. Something we also love is the “invisible selfie stick”, which conveniently removes the intrusive stick from your footage (although you may look strange with your hand sticking out for no apparent reason)!

PROS:

  • 5.7K resolution + 4K wide angle
  • Invisible selfie stick
  • Point to track
  • 6-axis stabilization

CONS:

  • Doesn’t record in generic format, so it can be hard to edit if not using their app
 

Top Waterproof

4. DJI Osmo Action Cam

Even if you’re only planning on using your action cam to record your trail runs and not doing any crazy action sports with it, it’s worth getting a waterproof one. You never know when you might fall during a creek crossing, or even just end up being rained on!

The DJI Osmo is waterproof up to a depth of 36 feet (11 meters), with a hydrophobic coating on the screen and a watertight seal. That will certainly stand up to rain and accidental puddles on the trail, but also means you can take this with you if you decide to go snorkeling or something similar.

Another great feature of this cam is that it can work quite well in temperatures as low as 14℉. If you live somewhere cold, this could be a handy function that will keep your camera going even when others may have given up.

The triple-layered aspherical lens reduces glare and also features an anti-fingerprint layer to protect the lens from dirt and oil. Other features specific to this camera include RockSteady stabilizing in all conditions, 8x Slow Motion at 1080p and 240fps, and five specific voice control commands that make hands-free operating easy.

Flip between modes using the QS (QuickSwitch) button, and save your most frequently used settings so you can come back to them time and again.

PROS:

  • Waterproof up to 36 feet (11 meters)
  • Quick Switch button
  • Three-layered aspherical lens
  • Will work at a temperature of 4℉

CONS:

  • The built-in mic’s wind noise reduction quality isn’t great
 

Best Value

5. Kodak PIXPRO SP1

This rugged-looking little camera is a bit chunkier than some others, but it wins our Best Value spot for its quality and price.

In a world of high-priced, high-tech products, the Kodak PIXPRO SP1 offers a wallet-friendly alternative for trail runners who may not need all the fancy gizmos that the higher-end options offer.

The resolution isn’t quite the same quality as the ones we’ve already reviewed, but full HD 1080p is perfectly decent if you’re going to video your trail runs. A CMOS sensor delivers crisp picture quality that may surprise you for this price point.

It’s tough, too. The SP1 is waterproof up to 32 feet, shockproof for drops up to 6.5 feet, freezeproof in temperatures as low as 14°F, and dustproof on top of that.

It also features multi-burst shooting, electronic image stabilization, and has a High-Speed Movie setting for time-lapse videos. Wireless connectivity is another nice feature that isn’t typically seen on lower-priced cameras.

The only downside is that there’s no way to save your preferred settings, so the camera will revert back to the default settings every time you switch it off.

PROS:

  • Wide-angle lens
  • Shockproof up to 6.5 feet
  • 14MP CMOS sensor
  • Multi-burst shooting

CONS:

  • Reverts to default settings every time you use it
 

Best Gimbal Camera

6. DJI OSMO Pocket

This little camera uses gimbal stabilization instead of electronic. If you aren’t familiar with what that is, a gimbal is a mechanical stabilization feature that works on a 3-axis movement system to counter bouncy or jerky footage.

In terms of performance, a 1/2.3-inch sensor and f2.0 aperture give the footage and photos impressive clarity and sharpness. It shoots up to 4K, 60fps, and there’s an option to shoot 1080p, 120fps slow-motion video too.

The OSMO Pocket comes with a universal port, allowing you to connect it directly to your smartphone for extra shooting and editing options. A variety of other accessories can be purchased separately to enhance your filming experience, although none of them are likely to be necessary if filming your runs is your main objective.

Other features include ActiveTrack, FaceTrack, MotionLapse, TimeLapse, Panorama, and NightShot. Download the DJI Mimo app for editing freedom.

PROS:

  • Gimbal stabilization
  • Variety of built-in functions
  • 4K, 60fps video footage
  • Universal port for accessories

CONS:

  • May be difficult to run long races with this in your hand
 

Top With Remote

7. SONY AZ1

This is Sony’s smallest action camera offering. You can buy it with just the camera, but it’s worth going for the camera with a live view remote for ease and convenience. The remote straps easily to the wrist like a watch, so you can check things out at a glance.

If you don’t want to buy the live-view remote, you can control the camera remotely using your smartphone. Although you’re not likely to use this feature when you’re on the trails, it’s useful to have if you need it in other situations. You can also live stream if the camera is connected to a phone with an internet connection.

The action cam has a pro-quality ultra-wide ZEISS lens with a viewing angle of up to 170 degrees. 5 different video modes and a built-in stereo microphone give you plenty of recording options.

Sony’s Exmor R CMOS sensor drastically improves the quality of low-light shots, and SteadyShot stabilization makes everything look smooth and stunning.

PROS:

  • SteadyShot image stabilization
  • Live-View Remote
  • Back-illuminated Exmor R CMOS sensor
  • Real-time sharing

CONS:

  • Camera isn’t waterproof
 

Best With Screen

8. DRIFT HD Ghost

The Drift HD Ghost-S features a 2-inch HD LCD screen that makes it easy to play back your video on the go. It may take some getting used to, as the screen is not behind the lens, like most others. Instead, it is on the side, so watching the screen and aiming the camera at the same time may take a while to get the hang of. If you’re only going to be checking the screen after you’ve recorded, it’s great for playback.

This action cam is affordable and features an interesting rotating lens that allows you to mount your camera wherever you need to and still get the shot.

It’s one of the best waterproof cameras around, able to be submerged up to 130 feet! With 5 hours of battery life and a two-way remote control function, you’ll be covered in all situations with this little action cam.

Download the Drift app to edit on the go, but be aware that the camera can’t take SD cards bigger than 64GB.

PROS:

  • Two-way remote control
  • Rotatable lens
  • 2-inch LCD HD screen
  • Drift app for Android and iOS

CONS:

  • Can only take SD cards up to 64GB
 

Best With Wi-Fi

9. DRIFT Stealth 2

If live-streaming is something you’re interested in doing on your trail runs, this camera has great Wi-Fi capabilities. It’s small, lightweight, and inconspicuous, being just half the size and weight of our previous product (the Ghost).

It records in full HD 1080p format, and the batteries last up to 3 hours. You can also take photos up to 12MP, or take sweeping slow-motion videos at 720p. The screen is color-coded, so you know at a glance which camera mode you’re in at the time.

Download your footage straight to your phone using the Drift app, and share as soon as you want to!

PROS:

  • Wi-Fi streaming
  • Color-coded LED screen
  • 3 hours of recording time
  • Weather-resistant

CONS:

  • Low-light and nighttime image quality is poor
  • The battery is not removable
 

Most Frames Per Second

10. Contour ROAM2

This action cam looks sleeker and simpler than most others, but it does the job very well. The frame rate has been improved from previous versions and is now 60 frames per second, which makes for more impressive quality video footage.

It features a 270-degree rotating lens, to make it easier for you to get exactly what you want in the frame, no matter what angle you’re at. It’s also waterproof up to 3 feet, so you can shoot in any condition without worrying about it being damaged.

There’s no viewfinder on this camera, which won’t be an issue if it’s mounted while you’re running. It is something to consider if you want a camera that can also record personal experiences without being mounted.

Download Contour’s Storyteller app for free, where you can control camera settings, download footage, and edit it. While there are 5 options for shooting video and 6 for taking photos, you won’t be able to change settings while you’re recording, due to the lack of a screen.

PROS:

  • 60 frames per second
  • 270° rotating lens
  • Record up to 3.5 hours of footage
  • Instant On-Record switch

CONS:

  • No viewfinder or screen, which could make shooting difficult depending on the situation
 

FAQs

Wondering if investing in one of the best action cameras for running would be worth it? Here are some questions and answers to help you decide.

What Is The Purpose Of An Action Camera?

An action camera is a type of video camera that’s specifically designed to record action and excitement from an inside perspective. Viewers get a look at what it’s like to be immersed in the experience, rather than watching from the outside.

They’re usually rugged, waterproof, and compact in size so they can fit comfortably in the middle of any action.

Why Are Action Cameras Great For Runners?

Have you ever considered videoing your run before? If so, can you imagine carrying around a bulky digital camera with you? It wouldn’t be too comfortable, especially if you’re taking a brisk run and not a leisurely one.

Action cameras are compact, lightweight, and easy to carry without them getting in your way. They can be mounted almost anywhere, so they really aren’t invasive. Runners won’t need to worry about carting a bulky piece of equipment with them that could slow them down.

Generally, they’re pretty tough too. They can handle a bit of splashing, a tumble or two even on hard surfaces, and they have smaller screens than the average camera, which makes them harder to crack.

Is An Action Camera Good For Photography?

Yes! Modern action cameras are of good enough quality to get some great still images out of them. It’s also much easier to go through your footage later and snap a few stills rather than trying to snap the picture in the middle of whatever activity you’re doing.

Other Benefits

Action cams are not only great for running! You can mount them on almost anything, including handlebars, wheels, surfboards, car dashboards, sporting equipment, musical instruments, and anything else you can think of!

They also make it pretty easy to record from unique angles, depending on what they’re mounted on. Most action cams are also wide-angle, which allows for a good range of vision.

Is The Video Quality Of Action Cameras Good?

The latest cameras offer premium quality 4k video – high-enough resolution to look great even on big-screen TVs. Many of them also offer image stabilization, which turns a bumpy, jarred run or bike ride into lovely smooth footage.

The Wired Runner