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Like many runners coping during the pandemic, I’m now exclusively taking to the streets for my regular workout routine. With Covid-19 cases ticking steadily upward again, it’s not likely I’ll be back in the gym any time soon (unless it’s a home gym we’re talking about). So now, even with the arrival of early sunsets and freezing temperatures, I’m getting ready to run outside all winter long.
I live somewhere pretty cold and snowy, so I will admit I’m a bit intimidated by running outside on even warmer winter nights. Lucky for me, I’ve found a pair of athletic tights that make me feel strong and confident when I get bundled up for my winter runs.
They’re not the only pair of running tights I’ll keep in my winter arsenal, but the Athleta Rainier Tights are comfortable for high-impact running, kept me dry while sweating in cold temperatures and felt flattering enough that I’d wear them outside of my workouts. Plus, they stayed up throughout the duration of my longest, toughest runs — I’ve found nothing more efficient, comfortable and versatile.
Specially designed for high impact workouts in cold climates, Athleta’s Rainiers feature reflective details on the thigh and back calf. Made of recycled nylon, they’re built to be breathable and quick-drying, too. The pant comes with three pockets: one phone-deep stash pocket in the back and a zipper pocket on each leg.
The biggest draw for me in this pair of tights is that they look flattering while actually staying in place while you’re running. The wide waistband has a very thin, short drawstring at the waist for extra reinforcement. The drawstring is only a little bit longer than the waist dimensions and it sits in a complete loop inside the waistband. As a result, there are no dangling strings or knots that sit inside the tights. It’s so short and unobtrusive that I actually didn’t notice it at all. It fits close like a legging but has mobility around the knees and hips so I don’t feel stiff while I move. Some runners may not like the skin-tight feel, but the fit makes for a super reliable hold during longer workouts.
The size and placement of the pockets made it easy for me to reach my phone and keys, even when I was bundled up. Each pocket is big enough for my smartphone without making my legs feel too bulky, either.
While I really do like these winter Athleta tights, there is one obstacle they can’t overcome: below freezing temperatures, which they're not specifically designed for. I found that on super cold nights (below 30 degrees Fahrenheit), they didn’t keep me warm enough. I finished my workout with the irritation of cold skin, wishing I had another layer on underneath. But with the snug fit of these pants, there is no way I could squeeze a warming layer underneath. To that end and given these tights don’t have a cold-weather specific lining, the coldest temperature I’d brave in them is around 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit. After that, I’d feel warmer with an insulated option.
But alas, not everyone lives in the path of a bomb cyclone, so runners in warmer climates might be able to pull these off all winter long. I’ll just have to cross my fingers for warmer temps.
For a few more dollars, Athleta also offers a more reflective version in funky animal pattern fabric, the Rainier Reflective Printed Tights.
More winter running pant recommendations
Runners want to finish their workout just as strong as they started. The same goes for a warm finish. There’s nothing worse than feeling like a human icicle after a deep winter run. Here are some of the other go-to styles I trust to keep me toasty while I knock yet another workout off the winter calendar.
These are my default it’s-very-cold-out running pants. Designed for winter weather, these tights have a super soft thermal insulation that helps pack the heat. Each leg has a side pocket and reflective elements for higher visibility in dark conditions. I bought an older version of these pants two years ago for year-round triathlon training and over time started wearing them mostly for running when I was too timid to bike in below-freezing temperatures. This brand caters to cyclists, runners and triathletes alike, so multi-sport athletes will appreciate the crossover possibilities with these pants. This style is made without a chamois layer (the foam bike seat sewn into cycling shorts) so they are designed to be compatible with another under layer. I pair these with a wool base layer for outdoor runs when it gets below freezing.
Every versatile winter sports wardrobe needs a good pair of baselayer pants, aka long underwear. These pants provide extra warmth underneath another outer layer, but can also be worn on their own. Made of merino wool, this style has an elastic waistband that sits right at belly button height. The leg fit is a little looser, so these are the perfect pairing with joggers or a more heavily insulated winter pant. But runners who prefer a skin-tight fit might find these too loose for their liking. The midweight wool fabric wicks sweat throughout your workout but unlike some heavy wool products, won’t offend the olfactory sensations after putting it through the washing machine. After owning a pair of these for many years, I can attest that the fabric does not pill and still retains its original shape after many wears and washes.
By far one of my favorite leggings of all time, these are non-sport specific and perfect for runs on a warmer day. I consider them a must-have staple that you can wear for running, yoga, or working from home. I’m such a fan of this brand that I will admit to having multiple pairs of Zellas that have lasted me many years at this point. These leggings are made from moisture-wicking fabric with a wider waistband that holds the leggings up during high-impact workouts. Runners will appreciate the flexible stretch for easy mobility, but these pants won’t fall down as you log mile after mile. While Zella is a Nordstrom exclusive brand, you’ll also find it at resellers like Poshmark, Mecari and eBay.
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