Running Tights Vs Compression Tights: What’s The Difference?


A good pair of tights is a must-have in your running gear wardrobe. Yes, they are a go-to option for cold-weather running. But they can provide other benefits, depending on how they are designed. Some basic versions are running tights and not much more. Other more advanced options are labelled as “compression tights.” If you’ve been shopping for running clothes, you’ve probably seen this distinction and might be wondering whether there is an actual difference. If so, which one is the best type of tights to run in?

Running tights are designed to keep you warm and covered while running. They are made of stretchy material that’s easy to get on and off. They don’t restrict your movement or get in the way, for example, if there’s a lot of wind.

Compression tights are designed to provide compression to the muscles and increase blood flow to the compressed areas. In order to do this, they have to be less flexible than running tights. They provide benefits during the ran, as well as afterward in recovery.

Let’s look at the differences and similarities, and which might be be best for you.

Why Wear Compression Tights?

Wearing compression tights during your exercise routine has many benefits. Compression tights’ material is often graduated, which means the tightness changes in certain areas.

It provides more muscle support to the quads, hamstrings, knees, and calves. The extra support around these muscles can help reduce the risk of injury, or provide support to an existing minor injury.

This graduated tightness improves blood circulation in areas that can be prone to injury or tightness. With compression, more oxygenated blood can get to the muscles. The oxygen then converts the remaining glucose to ATP—adenosine triphosphate. That is the energy that your body needs to complete those intense workouts or very long runs.

Having more oxygenated blood delivered to the muscles will also help in muscle recovery. Many users of compression gear report far less muscle soreness after a workout. The other benefit is that your body is able to get rid of biomechanical body waste such as lactic acid much more quickly.

When you wear compression tights, you’re getting more oxygen to the muscles. This translates to improved performance—although many think it’s a placebo effect, especially as your blood can’t pool in the extremities.

Compression tights are recommended for runners who want a pair of tights that they can change into after their run that will help to speed up recovery and reduce muscle soreness. Although you can run in them, they may be uncomfortable and decrease your performance.

Why Wear Running Tights?

Running tights offer a tight, snug fit, but not as tight as compression tights. Generally, they’re much more comfortable to run in because the material is flexible and stretches with you as you move. This allows you to focus on your run without having a part of you go numb or possibly feeling uncomfortable.

Running tights don’t hinder your run, and there’s minimal drag due to the close fit. They provide a layer of warmth and insulation for cold-weather runs. Or, they function well as a base layer.

Some pairs of running tights even have thermal technology built into them so you can run in very low temperatures and remain warm.

As with any bit of running kit that is directly on your skin, you want your tights to be moisture-wicking. If the material draws moisture away from the skin and allows it to evaporate quickly, you’ll stay dry and comfortable on your runs without you having to worry about chafing or skin irritation.

A Variety of Options

Running tights are hugely popular, and there are a number of brands to choose from. There is also a variety of lengths to choose from: full-length, Capri, ⅞, or cropped. Whatever feels most comfortable to you, you can find in a pair of running tights.

They also come in a range of thicknesses, so that you can get the pair that best suits your running needs. Thinner tights help to keep you cool during the summer months. A thicker pair helps to insulate body heat. Thicker running tights will also provide more protection and temperature control on colder days.

When it comes to price, running tights are usually less expensive than compression tights.

Running tights are recommended for runners who want a light, comfortable and flexible pair of tights to run in and don’t need them for recovery benefits.

Are Running Tights and Compression Tights the Same Thing?

Brands often use “running tights” and “compression tights” interchangeably, which can lead to confusion. So to be clear: they are not the same. There are significant differences between running tights and compression tights.

Even though you do get running tights that provide light compression in certain areas—often around the knee, back of the calf, and the quads—they definitely don’t provide true compression.

Compression tights are made from a blend of materials, such as Magicotton, Spandex, Cotton, and Nylon. These materials are graduated in specific ratios, which means they get thicker and tighter in specific areas. This will give the material a set amount of resistance and stretch. This fabric moves with your body, but you’ll find that it doesn’t stretch out of shape easily.

Materials and Stretchiness

That being said, you do get compression tights where the material doesn’t provide any stretch at all. These are designed to provide the maximum amount of compression. But they are better used for recovery than running due to their inflexibility.

When we look at running tights, they’re often made from Nylon or a nylon-blended material. This is largely due to the moisture-wicking properties, as well as the fact that nylon stretches and moves easily with you.

Another popular material to use for running tights is Merino wool, known for its temperature-regulating properties. Merino wool is very breathable, draws moisture away from the skin quickly, and has antibacterial properties that help to prevent odors.

Often, running tights made in a combination of Merino wool and spandex will be incredibly lightweight. They feel almost like a second skin.

The form-fitting shape of running tights is due to the percentage of Lycra used in construction. This helps to give the running tights that “light compression” feeling without being too tight. It also allows for the flexibility needed to run at full stride.

If you choose to wear running tights that are a full size smaller than your regular fit, then compression may occur. But you’ll also find that after wearing the running tights a few times or washing them, they may start to lose their shape and won’t fit as tightly as they did before.

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Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.