It’s time to banish your skimpy running shorts to the back of the wardrobe.
Winter is no season for exposed legs and bare knees – you need a pair of running trousers or tights.
A good pair will protect you against the inevitable cold, wind and rain, without hindering your speed or stamina, and ensure your fitness regime remains on track despite the dark, measly conditions.
For some men, running tights are the way forward. They keep you warm, wick away sweat effectively and the compression of your legs improves blood circulation and muscle performance.
For others the thought of overly revealing, skin-tight leggings is just wrong – and a pair of looser-fitting running trousers (like a halfway house between joggers and tights) will be preferable.
In both cases, fit is the key factor: choose a pair that matches your leg length and waist, and feels snug without being overly restrictive.
Features to look out for include waist drawcords, ankle zips, pockets and reflective panels.
But more important are the materials used. For colder conditions choose a thermal pair with added insulation and wind resistance, or for mixed weather go for a pair that’s quick-drying and stretchy with some warmth.
We’ve carefully assessed the technical performance of each pair and graded them in terms of comfort, weatherproofing, warmth and price.
Testing took place in Cumbria in late October, with our pre-dawn and post-dusk runs encountering everything from light drizzle to hail storms and frosty spells.
Here are the results – the best nine men’s winter running trousers and tights, whether you’re a lycra lover or not.
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Montane trail series thermal running tights
For tough trails and rough climes, these Montane tights have a rugged design with excellent weatherproofing and warmth. They feel reassuringly strong and durable, with the heavier build (282g) deliberately engineered to withstand the worst of British weather. Nylon overlay panels with a durable water resistant (DWR) coating are placed over the thighs, adding both insulation and protection against wind and rain, while the soft, brushed inner – constructed from a thermal dynamic fleece material – provides additional warmth and comfort. The tights have an anti-odour treatment and they also feature calf zips, a stretch pocket (for gels or snacks), a rear zipped pocket (for your keys), reflective detailing and a clever silicone ankle hem grip to keep the leggings securely in place above your trainers. The heavier weight and sturdier build might be overkill for some, but for long-distance races or local runs in poor weather these are a bombproof option.
Salomon agile warm tights
Sometimes it’s tricky to differentiate one pair of running leggings from another. These tights – like almost all others – come with the near-ubiquitous rear zipped pocket, reflective strips, waist drawcord and zipped ankle cuffs, as well as a stretchy material promising perfect harmony between warmth, breathability, protection and freedom of movement. All pretty standard stuff. But Salomon’s agile warm tights do live up to the marketing hype. The soft, brushed interior is smooth against the skin, keeping you warm in colder conditions, and the cut is snug but the material stretches for comfort. For us, the tights felt warm when we needed them to, and they breathed when we were working harder – and the lightweight (185g) build and streamlined, compressed fit left us feeling fast and nimble out on the trail.
On running pants
Stylishly modern and impressively technical, Swiss brand On has created a pair of running trousers that look good both on and off the trail. Hitting the halfway sweet spot between joggers and tights, these athletic-fit trousers have a very clever design (it must be that precise Swiss engineering in action). Mesh-lined, overlapping flaps at the knees provide excellent freedom of movement and superb ventilation without letting the cold or rain in, while the materials used – a Taiwenese four-way stretch fabric, a snug Italian waistband and a durable Japanese polyamide – complement each other neatly. At 280g they are relatively heavy, but we barely noticed on our village-to-village evening run. We found them extremely comfy, versatile and breathable. The knee vents were a revelation and the cut was just right; tight enough to feel fast and light, yet loose enough to be airy and freeing. The durable water repellent (DWR) coating coped well with a light shower too. Admittedly they are rather eye wateringly expensive, but style and performance never come cheap.
Brooks carbonite tights
If the thought of being hit by a car puts you off a run in the dark, fear no more. Brooks’ carbonite tights have reflective panels strategically placed at key motion zones – the knee and ankle – to ensure drivers recognise you as a runner on the move, rather than an inanimate object unworthy of caution. In fact, you’ll be seen from up to 500ft away according to Brooks – and that’s enough braking time even for Lewis Hamilton.
A brilliant white and fluorescent yellow colour scheme in the lower third of the leg adds to the vibrant visibility, while the all round performance is pretty solid. We found the nylon-spandex material both stretchy and breathable, providing a little warmth despite being ultra-light (160g), and the fit struck a nice balance between compression and flexibility. You also get a waist drawcord and a rear zipped pocket – but, ultimately, these tights are all about the reflective technology. Night running has never felt so safe.
Inov-8 race elite tights
Despite the name, you don’t have to be an elite level racer (we certainly aren’t) to enjoy these tights from Lake District brand Inov-8. They are great all-rounders: comfortable, supportive and breathable, providing good protection from the elements and unrestricted freedom of movement. The fit is tight, providing warming compression for your muscles, yet the super-stretchy materials don’t feel constricting. Another nice touch is the gripper tape on the high-back waist, ensuring the tights don’t ride up or down when you’re in motion. You also get ankle zips, a rear zipped pocket and a waist drawcord. We took the tights on several slow runs (or fast hikes?) up Lake District fells. Sadly they didn’t imbue us with elite speed or race skills, but we were always impressed with their technical performance.
Gore Wear R3 thermo tights
The warmest leggings in Gore Wear’s extensive range, the R3 thermo tights stand out from the crowd thanks to their soft, fleecy lining. This added insulation is super-cosy, providing a noticeable warmth boost compared to other pairs and living up to Gore Wear’s promise of “ultimate comfort on cold days”. The brushed fleece material is surprisingly breathable too, wicking moisture away from your body so you stay sweat free. You also get all of the usual necessary features – rear zipped pocket for valuables, waist drawcord for a fine-tuned fit, reflective detailing so you’re visible to motorists, and ankle zips to make getting the tights on and off hassle-free. There’s also a handy, phone-sized pocket on the left thigh, which means you can tune in to your favourite motivational Spotify playlist while feeling warm and cosy in your thermal leggings. Running in cold temperatures just got a little bit more pleasurable.
Dynafit winter running tights
Founded in 1950 in Austria, Dynafit is best known for its ski boots and equipment – but in recent years has gained a reputation for top quality trail running gear too. These tights are no exception. The material used – known rather dramatically as dynawarm vuelta 250 – is warm, stretchy, abrasion-resistant and quick-drying. Technical performance is strong, with a good balance between breathability and warmth, and all the features you’d expect are present too: an adjustable elastic waist, large stretch pocket, smaller zipped pocket and ankle cuff zips. But the real USP of these winter tights is comfort. The soft, fleece-like inner lining is positively indulgent, while the skin-tight fit provides the right amount of compression without hindering movement. There’s ample flex and stretch for leaping over stiles, flying downhill and running as fast as your legs will take you. With these Dynafit tights, your winter runs can be as dynamic as you want.
New Balance Q speed crew run pants
These pants from New Balance are a halfway house between tights and trousers. Depending on the way you see it, they’re either joggers with a more technical design and skinny cut; or leggings that are slightly baggier than usual. Made from a triple-knit polyester with so-called NB heat – a cold weather fabric that captures warmth and wicks you dry – these trousers are definitely on the toasty side. For frosty mornings and nippy evenings, they provide excellent insulation, but this does come at a cost. The 390g weight is rather heavy (your Strava speeds may suffer) and over-heating can be a problem in milder climes. You get two handwarmer pockets, a zipped key pocket, reflective detailing and waist drawstring – all good features – but ultimately the Q speed crew run pants are all about the fit and design. If you dislike the figure-hugging, constricting feel of regular tights, you’ll love this hybrid approach. They’re a bona fide bargain too.
Proviz reflect360 running leggings
Specialists in enhanced visibility and reflective technology, the experts at Proviz have put their expertise into this pair of running tights. The British brand’s so-called reflect360 material – a fabric engineered using millions of tiny glass beads – is used in several lines across both lower legs. A dull grey to the naked eye, these bands become astonishingly reflective when exposed to light, such as a car’s headlamps. For visibility, the leggings do a sterling job. Elsewhere they perform pretty well – nothing exceptional, but they do the basics efficiently. The four-way stretch material is comfy, flexible and breathable, and you also get a side phone pocket, rear zipped pocket and an adjustable waistband.
The verdict: Men’s winter running tights and trousers
For excellent warmth and weatherproofing in a rugged design, the Montane trail series thermal running tights are our top choice for when the weather gets really gnarly. The Salomon agile warm tights are a great choice for all-round performance at an affordable price, while the expensive On running pants are a superb trouser-style option if you don’t like skin-tight leggings.
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