For runners and riders alike, tights are an essential garment to keep legs warm and overall temperature up during the colder months of the year. From 3/4-length knickers worn as the autumn chill creeps in to thick and fleece-lined full-length tights donned in the depths of winter, there is a tight available for all occasions.
Modern technical fabrics will work hard to keep you dry and comfortable in all conditions, while a close, skin-tight fit improves aerodynamic performance and helps to prevent chafing caused by flapping fabric.
If you don’t want to read our in-depth guide on tights, you can go directly to the relevant product pages via the links below:
Read on to find out more about the different types of cycle and running tights and to find which pair is right for you.
Essentially ‘long’ versions of the classic skintight cycling shorts, cycling tights provide additional warmth and protection to keep you riding through the colder months of the year, with features including a padded chamois for long hours in the saddle and a cut that takes into account the ergonomics specific to the bike-riding position.
If you want to ride or train through the chilly mornings of spring and autumn or the winter months when the mercury drops, tights are an essential investment.
The type of tights you buy will depend largely on the conditions you intend to use them and, as with most things bike-related, your budget.
For autumn and winter riding, when you are looking for a little more coverage than that provided by your summer shorts, a 3/4-length tight or knicker (like made from a similar Lycra material to your summer shorts) will cover the knees for a little extra warmth and comfort, without being so thick as to cause overheating or affect flexibility.
However for riding in winter proper, and training through the months of November-January, you will need a pair of full-length tights providing total leg coverage and made from a thicker, insulated material (also likely to be fleece-lined for extra warmth). Such tights are less flexible than thinner summer-issue garments and will cause you to overheat in anything but cold conditions, but are essential winter wear.
As with cycling shorts – and indeed the vast majority of cycle clothing – cycling tights are made of modern materials which are ‘breathable’ (allow water vapour to escape through the fabric, rather than condensing on the skin) and which draw sweat away from the skin to where it can evaporate (a quality known as ‘wicking’). Types of fabric used may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and from tight type to tight type – autumn knickers, for example, may use the same Lycra-based fabric as summer shorts while winter tights will use a material with more thermal properties. For the latter, thicker, more insulating fabrics such as Roubaix and Super Roubaix are popular and can be used in certain areas only – for example, thick and wind-resistant fabric at the front of the legs and thighs with thinner, more flexible panels the back of the knees. These can also be be fleece-lined to add more warmth. Some tights also use a water- or wind-proof fabric in certain areas which can be good to help maintain warmth in inclement conditions. As your budget increases, so too do the technical performance and features of the fabrics and panels used in your tights.
Tights are made up of multiple individual panels to provide an optimum fit to your body contours and to reflect the specific ergonomics of the on-bike position (a long, stretched back). Again, better-quality tights will have more panels and a more considered design, using a combination of panel placement/design and stretchy fabrics to achieve optimum on-bike ergonomics. Cool-weather or autumn tights for example may use a thicker fabric on areas exposed to wind chill (such as the front of the thighs) and a thinner material on areas such as the back for flexibility and ventilation. With thicker winter tights, where thermal insulation is a priority, the fabric is more likely to be of a universal thickness with a corresponding loss in flexibility, but this the price to be paid for staying warm on winter rides.
Padded or unpadded?
While most cycling tights will feature a chamois pad as standard, some riders (e.g. MTB riders wearing warm tights under baggy shorts) may prefer a tight with a removable pad, or with none at all. It’s a matter of personal preference as some riders may not like the feeling of a ‘shammy’. It’s worth noting however that chamois quality will improve with premium tights: these will have contoured, multi-density shammies that are more supple and comfortable on long rides and less prone to bacteria and odour. Chamois care is essential to prolonging the life of any tights, with post-ride washing obligatory and pre-ride treatment with special cooling and moisturising chamois cream advised for both comfort and long life.
Waist tights are secured with an elasticated waistband as opposed to over-the-shoulder bib straps.
These extend up over the abdomen and have straps that go over the shoulders, rather than a waistband. These are regarded by many as being more comfortable as they are less prone to chafing and have no waistband to dig into the stomach. They are also useful as a semi-base layer to keep the kidneys warm, and don’t leave any skin on your back exposed should your jersey or jacket ride up.
Winter-specific thermal tights will have thicker, insulated fabrics for warmth, often with fleece linings. Most winter tights will be aimed at ‘normal’ winter conditions (6-15 degrees) but there are also versions available for more extreme cold. Many winter tights will also have protection against wind and rain.
3/4 length/knicker tights
Slightly less coverage than full-length tights and typically with thinner fabrics, these are suitable for cool/changeable conditions such as experienced in spring and autumn.
Women’s specific tights
Tights cut specifically to reflect the different anatomy of the female form. May have shorter abdomen and legs etc plus a differently-shaped chamois.
Running tights are a training essential during the colder months of the year but also have many benefits to athletes beyond just providing extra warmth. The right pair of running tights for you will depend on multiple factors including the conditions you wish to use them in and the features that you regard as being most desirable.
Many running tights may appear superficially similar, and indeed in lots of ways share the same characteristics – most running tights will offer improved warmth over shorts, and improved aerodynamics and comfort over tracksuit bottoms, for example.
However tights may differ in the thickness and thermal properties of the fabric used in their construction, with thinner and more flexible materials used for warm-weather tights intended to be worn in spring or autumn, and thicker insulated fabrics used for winter tights. When purchasing tights be mindful of the conditions in which you are likely to be running – a pair of thin, 3/4-length tights won’t offer much additional warmth in the depths of winter while thick winter tights will cause overheating and discomfort on warmer days.
Meanwhile as your budget increases, so do will the technical performance of your tights, with higher-end garments using hi-tech synthetic fabrics with optimum breathability and wicking properties to keep you cool and comfortable, or insulating properties to keep you warm in low temperatures.
Running tights offer athletes a number of benefits, the most obvious one being extra warmth in colder conditions but others being also worthy of considerations. Some of the advantages to running tights over shorts or tracksuit bottoms are:
• Warmth: Wearing running tights will help to trap a warm layer of insulating air next to your skin. Tights with optimum thermal properties such as a fleece lining will offer further warmth in very cold conditions while others may feature fabrics that are wind- or water-resistant in order to combat the chill.
• Wicking: Most running tights are made of high-tech synthetic fabrics such as Lycra, polyester or elasthene which work hard to draw moisture away from your skin so it can evaporate, a process known as ‘wicking’. This will prevent a cold, clammy layer of perspiration or condensation building up on the surface of the skin.
• Aerodynamics and comfort: Loose-fitting garments such as shorts and tracksuit bottoms can flap and move in the wind affecting aerodynamic performance and causing discomfort through chafing. Close-fitting run tights can feel like a second skin helping you to run in comfort for longer.
• Compression: Many runners believe that the close-fitting nature of tights offers an element of the benefits of compression garments – increasing blood flow to the relevant muscles for improved performance and resistance to injury. Specific compression tights are also available.
• Skin protection: Tights will also offer protection against the harmful effects of the sun’s UV rays and some will have specific SPF treatment. This is a key consideration when running on bright but cooler days and in Alpine/high altitude conditions.
Full-length tights made from breathable, high-wicking materials. Thinner, more flexible tights for warmer and changeable conditions, insulated and fleece-lined tights for winter wear. May have ankle zips to aid in putting on and taking off, or foot loops to help them stay in place. Features such as zipped pockets for keys and other essentials and high-visibility reflective strips for night and low-light running may also be desirable.
Cycle-short style tights cut above the knee. Many runners may prefer these to shorts for support and comfort in warm weather conditions.
Also known as knicker or Capri tights, these are cut to just below the knee leaving the shins and calves exposed to cool air.
Compression tights keep muscles warm and supplied with oxygenated blood, helping to prevent fatigue which can lead to muscle strain and also providing support which lower the risk of muscle injury. Compression wear is also said to help the body to get rid of lactic acid and other toxins, and to delay the onset of muscle soreness.