Which compression pants are the best?

By Henry Howard

Several years ago on the day before one of my fall marathons, the forecast drastically changed. I don’t recall the exact specifics anymore but the cold and snow/rain predictions changed my race day plans from shorts to long pants.

At the time, I only had sweatpants and didn’t want to run a race wearing those. Setting aside the rule of “nothing new on race day,” I favored protection from the elements. I bought my first pair of compression tights (or pants) that suited me well for the day, which was cold with freezing rain.

Since then, I have expanded my collection of compression tights and tested them. Here is a comparison review of the three that I currently use for workouts and recovery.

Meet the brands . . .

On that cold, windy and wet fall day, I wore a pair of Nike Pro men’s training tights — literally the only pair I could find that fit in three different running stores. I’ll start out with the Nike brand, then La Sportiva and 2UX, both of which I obtained in the latter half of 2016 when I was looking to stock up on compression tights for cooler temperatures and faster recovery.

Nike Pro

The Nike Pro men’s training tights (various models, $35 to $100) are made with a four-way stretch breathable fabric that allows for mobility while running, hiking or doing workouts. Nike’s well-known Dri-Fit technology keeps the user dry while an elastic waistband provides a secure fit. The Nike Pro has zippered ankles and a small pocket in the rear.


La Sportiva Astro Pant

The Astro Pant ($69-$119) is a snug but comfortable fitting compression tights with La Sportiva’s four-way stretch designed specifically for endurance athletes. Every inch of the Astro Pant is designed for the athlete from the ventilation system to the zipper pocket in the middle of the back to the zippered ankles.


2XU Compression Tights

The 2XU Compression tights ($55-$90) uses flex fabric (Invista LYRCA) to wrap and support the major muscle groups allowing them to fire more efficiently and produce greater blood circulation for improved recovery. The pants have reflective design for night-time running, which is a bonus. While the other models have an external small pocket, the 2XU is designed with an internal key pocket that is in the front. The pants have a UPF50+ sun protection rating.

Comfort and fit

La Sportiva: 10 out of 10

• These compression pants are the most comfortable fitting of all the ones that I have tried out by far. From the first time I put them on, they exhibit a strong balance between comfort and compression. The zippered ankles are very useful in getting the tights on or off. There also is a mesh wrap at the top that provides a secure fit and comfort around the waist.

Nike: 8 out of 10

• I was relieved the first time I wore the Nike compression pants during my marathon on that cold and rainy day. The tights worked out great, keeping my legs warm and providing satisfactory recovery. While I haven’t worn them regularly that has been more of a product of warmer weather and relying on treadmill running the past few winters before this one.

2XU: 4 out of 10

• These compression pants are comfortable but the fit is anything but secure. During short runs, the drawstring waistband fails to hold them in place. I have had to regularly stop and readjust them because of a constant slipping below my waist. Given this detriment, I only use these for recovery after runs. The fit seems to work when in recovery mode, walking and chilling out around the house.

Design and functionality

La Sportiva: 8 out of 10
• I really like the looks of these pants, with the logo and name brand, working well together without being too over-the-top. The drawstring waistband and zippered ankles set this above the competition. Another bonus is the reflective strips that will help during night-time runs.

The biggest downside is the back pocket, which is not big enough for a phone. It can store a small set of car keys, cash/credit cards or some nutrition like a couple of gels. I would prefer a slightly bigger pocket in order to carry a phone.

Nike: 8 out of 10
• These are very similar to the Sportivas, both in what works well and what does not work well. The design is plain but the Dry-Fit technology is welcome when it comes to rain, snow and sweat. I’ve run in these pants in plenty of cold conditions and have never had a time when I felt like they were not protecting me against the elements.

And, just like the Sportivas, the biggest downside is the back pocket, which is not big enough for a phone. It can store a small set of car keys, cash/credit cards or some nutrition like a couple of gels.

2XU: 6 out of 10
• I really like the overall look of the 2XUs. It’s a sleek design in appearances but not in functionality beyond the basics of compression. There lack of a back pocket is a disappointment, especially when I really love the back pocket on my 2XU shorts. That pocket is large enough to secure an iPhone. I would gladly welcome that addition to a future pair of 2XU compression pants.

Additionally, I do struggle to get the bottoms of the pants over my ankles and into a secure position without the ankle zipper featured by the other brands.

Recovery

  • La Sportiva: 9 out of 10
  • Nike: 8 out of 10
  • 2XU: 8 out of 10

While there is debate about whether compression gear actually provides benefits, I have found that wearing compression pants does improve recovery time. I have worn each of the items tested during long endurance runs (a minimum of 15 hours each, except for the 2XUs given the issues with fitting during runs) and also in the aftermath of recovery (a minimum of 30 hours each).

I have found that my recovery is slightly quicker and more complete in the La Sportivas. The 2XUs and the Nikes both provide solid recovery and will allow runners and other endurance athletes to improve their recovery time. If this were the only measure of compression tights, there would be virtually no difference among the three brands I tested.

Overall

La Sportiva (27 out of 30) is my clear favorite for all the reasons I cited above. When it comes to wearing compression tights for a long run or race where I want to have everything in place for a solid performance, I will be choosing La Sportiva. Likewise, when it comes to purchasing another pair, I will look toward La Sportiva first.

They are a notch above the Nikes (24 out of 30), which I will continue to use for both running and recovery. Both La Sportiva and Nike are significantly better compression tights than what is currently offered by 2XU (18 out of 30).

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