Running Fashion Police: Wait on the Running Tights

English: Running
Running in these kind of tights is never necessary, although when they’re paired with matching school uniforms on a matching track they’re pretty darn cute! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast.”

-Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Ah, fall. The beautiful colored leaves and the crunches they make as you run over them. The pumpkin breads, apple crumbles, and roasted butternut squash casseroles. Fall is my favorite time of year. Fall brings cold weather, faster times and my favorite holiday, my birthday on Halloween. And I also love my running tights.

Yes, tights can be super cute and comfortable and I know how excited you are to wear them. And trust me, when it’s freezing and I’m just standing around at track meets, you can be sure that I have tights on underneath my pants (I’m really affected by weather: I’m also the first person to take my shirt off when it’s hot outside, regardless of how self-conscious I’m feeling that day). But I’m here to tell you: Running tights are not necessary until it’s absolutely freezing outside! 

I get it. You’re a freeze baby. You want to be warm. But remember the 20 degree rule: dress like it’s 20 degrees warmer outside and you’ll probably warm up within the first few miles. That means that if it’s 50 degrees outside, it’ll probably feel around 70 when you begin to warm up. You should feel cold when you start, which means you can get away without tights when the temperature dips below freezing. Really! I have run a race in boy shorts in the snow. Almost 10 inches of snow, to be exact, and I survived!

Still don’t believe me? Well, here’s a few more facts (it’s up to you to debate their truthfulness!)

If you can sit in an ice bath, you can forgo running tights!
If you can sit in an ice bath, you can forgo running tights!

Running tights are uncomfortable while running. I wear leggings as pants and often will wear running tights as pants. Trust me, I love being comfortable. But running in tights, especially doing workouts in tights? No. The crotch falls down, they’ll pinch your stomach in weird ways, usually they’re too long and get bunchy at the ankles, or they’re too short and don’t keep my ankles warm.

Running tights make you slower.  The more clothes you’re wearing, the more constricted you are, at least that’s how I’ve felt when I’ve raced in tights. Tights also add weight. Any additional weight carried on your body is going to slow you down. Plus, when you’re running fast your burning more energy and will generate more heat. Maybe for hard workouts and races we should make a 40 degree rule?

There are some smarter alternatives. I know that running tights have gotten fancier and there are now even compression running tights, but compression socks, for me, are much less confining and since they’re helping my calves, I don’t feel as constricted wearing them. They are nearly as warm as full tights and depending on the length of your shorts, can cover a lot of your legs.

ING NYC Marathon 2010- Shalane Flanagan
Consider Shalane’s shorts with compression socks in lieu of full tights. (Photo credit: elpresidente408)

You’ll save money. On average, I’ve found that running tights can be far more expensive than shorts. My cheapest pair of tights are from Old Navy and cost around $25, and I have two pairs of more expensive Under Armour tights that have some kind of insulation, and bought them on sale for around $45-50. On the contrary, I’ve found a pair of shorts for less than ten dollars. While you don’t need to wash your tights as often as your shorts (also taking into account that you don’t sweat as much at cooler temperatures), if you’re doing two-a-days or wear your tights outside of running, it’s inevitable that they will get dirtier more quickly. And if you hate doing laundry like me … well, you get the picture.

You’ll feel cool. Both literally and figuratively. Though you may think you’re an idiot for not bundling up in a thousand layers at 35 degrees, there’s something about wearing shorts and seeing other people too warm that’s just a little empowering. Plus, how can you not look like a badass running in shorts when it’s snowing?!

You’ll feel amazing when you get inside. You’ve just finished your run. Your nose is a little red and maybe you have some goosebumps, so you pull on your comfiest sweatpants, fuzzy socks, a robe, and a big sweater, light a candle, turn on the coffee pot and have never felt more cozy and satisfied. Just like Melville said, you never know how amazing warmth is until you’ve felt cold.

So how about you? Do you like your tights? How cold does it have to be for you to dig them out of your running drawer?


For more on this topic check out Running Fashion Police, Weather Edition: Pants, Tights or Shorts?

Former collegiate coffee-fueled distance runner who loves track workouts.

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  1. Agreed on the tights issue. I love them but am fighting the impulse to put them on. My hard line is sub-40 with rain, sub-30 no precip. If I’m racing, it’s more sub-25. I’m getting pretty pumped, though.

    1. These are right around my temp parameters too. When it is chilly, but not yet freezing, I do like wearing knee socks with my shorts. They are warm and fun (I usually wear fun ones)! I must say though that running tights can be very comfortable to run in. Unfortunately, the 2 UA pair I had are on their last legs and I haven’t had success in finding comfortable replacement pairs. Maybe we need a post on that!

  2. I wear them when it’s in the low 40s or upper 30s. I warm up slowly, especially when it’s windy or I’m doing a slower run. Sometimes I wear shorts, though, but make sure my core is warm with a vest or jacket.

  3. I love this! I am always the last in my group to give into tights. I even have a rule for myself–no full length tights until Jan. Most years I make it just fine. Knickers/capris fit the bill for those in between temps and I don’t overheat.

  4. i may be opting for tights for my race next weekend that I am assuming will be like 45 degrees… only because I will probably have to deal with chafing issues. Last time I used like vaseline or body glide it didn’t help… maybe i will try and figure out something…

    1. Have you tried looking for different materials of shorts? One of my friends used to get really bad chafing, found different shorts’ material, and it has disappeared a lot.

    2. I second eucalyptus. Also try putting body glide on your shorts. Or maybe do short tights/bike length spandex or capris rather than full tights.

  5. I don’t know…I like my capris, bought some new ones today in fact! I probably don’t need them in the Bay Area but I like them. When I ran in the UK in the snow last winter, I definitely needed them!

  6. Shorts with compression sleeves as long as I can stand it, usually down to about 30 degrees. Last winter, I even tried running in shorts with cycling legwarmers (which reach from mid thigh to mid calf), but they felt like they were trying to fall down.

    My favorite tights are a no-name pair I picked up at a marathon expo. If it’s below zero windchill, I’ll sometimes wear them OVER wool long underwear capris. Cause I’m cool like that.

  7. I hate running in shorts, they always ride up and leave me chaffed on my inner thighs. So I usually run in capris that end just below my knees. Maybe if I found some longer shorts that are fitted it would be ok. But I usually wait to do fleece lined tights until it is really cold, I started running in Madison Wi and it gets hella cold there during the winter.

    1. Hey AmoraLynn! Have you tried using an anti-chafing cream? I recently found out a friend of mine wasn’t ever wearing shorts because of chafing and so I gave her a tube of Aquaphor (readily available at most drug stores) and she told me it changed her running life! There are lots of options out there – Body Glide is very popular and comes in a nice roll-on stick. My aunt (a cyclist) swears by a chamois cream called “Hoo Ha Ride Glide,” which I just love because of its funny name! But give it a shot and you might find yourself letting your legs breathe a little more often!

      1. 😀 Hoo Ha Ride Glide sounds amazing.

        I’ve used a body glide stick for bra chafing(before I found one that fit properly) but I haven’t used one for my legs. I think my biggest problem is when wearing swishy shorts(the ones that don’t hug your legs, I’m not sure if they have a real name (: ) they tend to ride up and make me super self conscious about my bits being visible.

      2. Though I did find a super fun funning skirt with longer shorts that I think might help with the self conscious part.

  8. Like AmoraLynn, I get horrific chafe when running in shorts, so I just don’t. Ever. It’s mid-thigh bike shorts under a running dress or capris and a short-sleeved shirt all the way (as a side note, I prefer dresses for racing because the bib placement is much more convenient!). I also find that tights reduce movement of my soft tissue bulk over my bones, which if I’m wearing shorts can get quite painful some days. I love my running tights and wouldn’t change to shorts now!