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Gear and Technology

What are running pants, and how are they different?

Two runners wearing running pants take a break on a trail run.
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In a perfect world, we'd be able to run in shorts all year round. But for most of us, the cold weather is settling in or already has. Learn how to pick the right running pants to get you through the winter months.

What makes running pants special?

First up, make sure the pants or leggings you're pulling on are designed for running. A pair of leggings made for indoor yoga, for instance, won't have the sweat-wicking properties you need to stay dry. They also might not feature mesh panels in key places like behind the knees, which prevent overheating as you warm up and get deeper into your run. Another feature you'll likely find in running pants versus other types are side pockets for stashing phones or keys.

It's also important to know if you tend to run hot or cold. Every runner is different. For some, 35 degrees might mean capri pants. For others, it's full-length tights or pants. Also, think about what makes you comfortable: tight-fitting leggings, or something looser? There are options for all preferences, and it might take some trial and error to figure out exactly what works for you.

Most important, however, is looking for the right materials. Because you might be facing cold temperatures and/or precipitation, wearing pants that wick away sweat from your body is crucial. Also important is selecting bottoms that dry quickly should they get wet. Both features will keep you warmer and drier, preventing a case of winter chills and allowing you to run your very best even in the worst of weather.

Two runners in the winter

Prepare for different cold weather conditions

Because winter can offer up a wide variety of conditions, you probably want to stock up on a few pairs of running pants. Start with a good pair of capris or crops for the warmer end of the temperature range, add in a 7/8 or full-length tight or pant, and then consider a really warm running pant, such as a thermal tight to keep you toasty on the coldest of days. Cycle between them as the roller coaster temperatures of winter throw a bit of everything your way.

Winter weather might make it tougher to get out the door, but when you prepare for it with the right gear, you can enjoy the season as much as the warmer months. By adding a few key pieces to your running wardrobe — and doing a little experimentation — you'll be dressing like a pro all year round.

Our writer's advice is intended for informational or general educational purposes only. We always encourage you to speak with your physician or healthcare provider before making any adjustments to your running, nutrition, or fitness routines.

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Written By
Amanda Loudin

Health and science writer

Amanda Loudin running in a forest

I've been a runner for more than two decades and a journalist for just as long. I'm also a certified running coach and nothing makes me happier than marrying up writing and running. Find me on the trails with two- and four-legged friends.