A woman running with a cityscape and river behind her

How To Choose the Best Running Tights

Here’s how to get running tights with the right balance of warmth, fit, and features.

Shopping for running tights might seem like a simple endeavor—grab any pair of black leggings off the rack and make sure they fit. No so fast. Selecting the ideal pair of running tights has to do with what type of conditions you’ll most often be facing, how you like your tights to fit, and features, like if you need pockets (and where you want them).

In this article, we’ll break down options for tights based on weather conditions, then discuss fit and features to help you zero-in on the best pair for your three-season running needs.

Weather Conditions

Cool

When the temperature is cool and not cold, capri-length tights that extend below the knee (but stop above the ankle) offer great versatility. These provide more coverage than shorts while leaving lower legs free to breathe.

This length tight is most common in women’s styles, but men’s options exist; they’re often called “¾ Tights” or “¾-Length Tights” in men’s styles.

Capris and ¾-Length Tights are most frequently made out of a thin, stretchy, body-hugging polyester-blend fabric that’s breathable and wicks sweat. Variations in blends offer different benefits.

Thin fabrics with a sleek and smooth, shiny finish perform better when wet from heavy sweat or rain.

Knit fabrics with a soft, brushed finish and feel are warmer, but don’t shed moisture as well and are slower to dry.

Cold/Snow

Cold weather calls for full-length tights, and you’ll want to choose fabric options based on conditions.

Cold and rainy: Thin, sleek tights are the best option. As with capris, these shed moisture and dry quickly, while the thicker/heavier options can start to sag when wet.

Cold and dry: A thicker, brushed finish works well, and, depending on the temperature and the heat you generate, won’t be overkill like insulated tights could be.  

Cold and snowy: Tights that combine a brushed interior with a smooth exterior are often referred to as “insulated” tights. They’re a good choice for snowy conditions, as the smooth exterior sheds snow while the interior boosts warmth.

Windy/Frigid

If you’re one of those all-conditions runners who heads out in even the most bone-chilling wind, invest in a pair of insulated tights with windblocking material on the front side. These designs often feature windblocking panels that cover your quadriceps and sometimes your shins, with more breathable fabric on the backside to let heat escape. These types of tights are often insulated as well, with a brushed, fleece-like interior helping.

An alternative option is wearing a pair of thin wind pants over insulated, brushed, or thin tights. This works well to block wind, but the temperature-regulation might not be as good as you get with windblocking tights meant to breathe well.

 A woman standing with the woods behind her

Fit

Nothing matters more than comfort. Try on tights to check these issues when it comes to fit. 

Low-rise: These tights are meant to sit on the hip bones or just above the hipbones. Benefits to a low-rise cut include unencumbered belly breathing; there’s no waistband, or material, potentially constricting your belly.

Midrise: These sit around the waist, usually hitting just below the belly button. 

High-rise: Also called “high-waisted” tights, these are cut to cover the belly button. Benefits to high-rise tights include a feeling of abdominal support, comfort of not having a waistband hit across the center of the belly, and increased coverage for modesty (or style).

Waistband: Some are wide and flat. Others are elastic. (Try each style on to check comfort.) Most waistbands have a drawstring, which is critical in rainy conditions to help tights stay up when wet.

Tight versus loose: Although the word “tight” means tight, some runners prefer a looser fit to a tighter fit, and vice versa. If you prefer very loose-fitting tights, consider looking at options in running pants, which are loose-fitting trackpant-style silhouettes meant for running.

Compression

If you prefer the feeling of really tight tights, or, are seeking the benefits of true compression tights, make sure the tights you’re eying are just that: true compression tights. These will say “clinically proven” or “proven by scientific research” in the product information claims. These have to fit tightly and specifically enough around certain muscle groups in order to claim the benefits of compression: increased circulation, muscle support, recovery, etc.

Features

Pocketing

The main differentiation in features among tights has to do with pockets. Some have a single interior pocket meant for a car or house key, while others have multiple pockets on the exterior (and often still at least one on the interior). Exterior pockets range from a single zippered pocket on the small of the back to open side pockets meant to hold fuel or even a phone. 

Ankle Zippers

These small zippers make getting tights on and off easier (sometimes over shoes). Tip: Tights without zippered ankles do best in rainy conditions, as the material around zippers can begin to sag under the weight of the zippers.

Reflectivity

If you plan on running roads or bike paths during low-light hours or after dark, shop for tights with ample reflective details to increase safety. Reflective details might be disguised by brand logos or other designs becoming reflective when illuminated by car or bike lights. 

Perforations

These are tiny cut-out holes in the fabric, most often found at the back of the knee or lower leg. These can provide added ventilation, but are often a design element as well.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.

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