Workout leggings should be a fairly simple purchase: after all, they are just two pieces of fabric, no buttons, buckles, or tailoring. But the perfect pair can be elusive — and the sheer when you squat, sag when you run, roll down when you down dog pairs — those are everywhere. Plus, the ubiquitous legging comes in high compression or buttery soft, barely there fabrics, with pockets, drawstrings, or reflective sides, making it hard to choose the right ones. If 2020 taught us anything about pants, it’s that the simple legging is maybe more useful — and complex — than we gave it credit for.
In search of the perfect pair(s) I tried a slew of leggings, from fleece-lined to mesh-paneled. Below are my absolute favorite pairs for every possible workout (as well as just your daily WFH fit). These pairs have either all been tried and tested, or come highly recommended — and they start at just $20. Ahead, the thirteen best pairs of workout leggings for women, for whatever 2021 throws at you.
The Best Workout Leggings Overall
Sweaty Betty Power Mission High Waisted Workout Leggings
The Sweaty Betty Power Mission leggings prove that the devil is in the details. Every element of the design here is groovy and techy-looking, a welcome change to someone who is always looking enviously at how purposeful men’s activewear looks in comparison to women’s. The slick detailing at the waist and calves also adds an extra compression factor, which feels especially good on a tired runner’s legs, and I loved the toggle waistband: if you frequently find yourself between sizes and have to tie off the drawstring, this pair is the solution. The high waist cut and compression material makes for a flattering, comfortable fit overall, and they’re both squat proof and don’t sag — so wear them to run in, to lift in, or for yoga and pilates.
The Best Size Inclusive Running Leggings
Nike Pro Tights
This ultra-light pair is tighter than a traditional legging — it’s slightly sheer, with a thin, soft fabric that holds onto your skin. For warm weather runs or track workouts when you don’t want to be bogged down by any possible bunching or sagging, these stretchy, sweat-wicking tights are ideal. The mid-rise hip and wide, flat waist-band also gives you the comfort of a legging top, which I have learned is hard to find in the sea of mostly low-rise running tights. One tip: the Nike site says these are great for HIIT, and if you’re doing HIIT in the privacy of your own home or in a quiet park, great. But, in my experience, these are definitely too sheer for squats in a studio.
The Best Lightweight Cropped Running Leggings
Hoka Women’s Performance Crop Tight
I’m a big fan of Hoka running shoes, but until recently, I was sleeping on the workout gear. For warm-weather days, these brushed, ultra-soft tights are the ideal choice. The fabric, which boasts UV protection, is an Italian-made recycled blend, so you can be sustainable while getting sweaty. I loved the handy pocket placement, and the bright blue color: a nice change from the usual black and navy. This pair has quickly made their way into my running, cycling, and weight lifting rotation.
The Best Reflective Leggings
Rainier Reflective Printed Tight
If you’re a runner or cyclist living in a climate that gets dark at 4 pm for half the year, a reflective pair is essential. The Rainier Reflective Printed Tight from Athleta looks totally normal in daylight, and then gets a little extra when the sun goes down: the whole pant more or less lights up, compared to the usually measly few side stripes. While I wish these came in extended sizes like most of the brand’s activewear, they are available in petite and tall, which is handy for anyone who’s had to hem their leggings (or accept that almost every pair is a cropped style). The fabric is more of a medium weight, making them a versatile option regardless of the weather.
The Best Size Inclusive Studio Leggings
Spacedye Caught In The Midi High-Waisted Leggings
Like the Zoezi Sport leggings above, this pair is as good for a full day of WFH as it is for yoga or barre. These have a silky fabric that’s excellent for someone after more of a barely there legging than a tight compressive hold (or just anyone who doesn’t want to have to change after their morning workout). In addition to coming in size XS-4X, they also have an excellent shade selection — each season, Beyond Yoga adds eight or so colors to their slate of neutrals.
The Best Inexpensive Studio Leggings
High Waisted Yoga Leggings
8,000 positive reviewers love these nylon and Spandex cropped leggings on Amazon, thanks to their chafe-free seams, high-rise waistband, and under $25 price tag. They have a small internal pocket, just the right size for a key or credit card as well. While I’ve never tried this pair, my running partner swears by them for her low-intensity days. While they do have quite a bit of stretch, they don’t have a strong compression hold or a thick enough fabric to be squat proof, so they’re better off for walking, yoga, or barre.
The Best No-Fuss Studio Leggings
Zella No Fuss High-Waist Leggings
These leggings are peak wardrobe basic: a less expensive option than some of the other studio leggings on the list, but definitely still a pair that would end up in regular rotation. They’re made from a lightweight, polyester and Spandex blend that will hug your legs without adding much compression, making them a good option for low-impact workouts. Reviewers (all 7,000 and counting) love that the high-waist doesn’t bunch, slide, or flip while you’re working out.
The Best Studio Leggings with Pockets
Ultra High Rise Utility Pocket Leggings
Bandier calls these their #1 legging, and I can see why. It’s a classic, ultra high-rise style that lands at the natural waist: making it the perfect rise to pair with a sports bra or workout crop, and, more importantly, the most comfortable rise for downward facing dog. The legging is also available in cropped and pocketless versions, but I think this pair is the best multitasker: the zip pocket is perfect for a key, cash, or credit card, while your phone fits in the side pocket. The fabric is a sweat-wicking all way stretch, making this the ideal pair for sweatier HIIT workouts or hot yoga.
The Best No-Pocket Studio Leggings Overall
Alo Yoga High-Waist Airlift Leggings
Sure, you could get these in classic black, but this warm chestnut color separates them from the pack—as does the slight sheen. These are pocketless, so if you want the sleekest silhouette possible or to be totally unburdened by keys, cards, and so on, give them a try. One sizing note: I found that they run a bit big, so if you’d prefer more of a compression fit, size down, whereas if you’d like something comfortable enough for wearing all day at your desk, go up. I put these on one day for a morning walk and then stayed in them all day, without any uncomfortable digging around the seams.
The Best Leggings for Cold Weather
ColdGear Armour Leggings
Faced with no gym for the time being, has your winter workout routine involved more chilly runs, bike rides, or walks? If so, these toasty leggings might come in handy. They’re made from a thick (but still comfortable) fabric that has a brushed interior, to feel extra cozy against your skin, and a quick-drying exterior, so that they won’t build up sweat.
The Best Leggings for HIIT
Core 7/8th Leggings
When it comes to really sweaty HIIT workouts, you need a fabric that’s thick enough to be squat-proof and wicks away sweat at the same time. The Core ⅞ leggings from Outdoor Voices are that. They have a structured waist, which helps keep them in place while you get all your burpees in, and are made from the brand’s signature TechSweat fabric, which is specifically formulated for intense workouts.
The Best Day-to-Workout Leggings
Malaika Ribbed Seamless Leggings
This textured pair is made for barre or yoga, but they are cozy enough to wear all day long at your desk. While the line has a slew of zingy colors and prints ready to get you amped up for HIIT workouts, I’m partial to the soft, natural shades of the Malaika pair, particularly this oatmeal shade, which would look equally good with a cozy sweater by the fire as it does a sports bra.