Running Shorts Vs Compression Shorts or Tights (6 Critical Criteria)

While some sports have limited options regarding the uniform – either official or unofficial – running allows for a wide variety of choices. Runners can choose shoes with different levels of support, socks that range from barely there to at the knee, and shirts that cover all (or even none) of their upper body. In the same vein, there’s a range of choices for pants as well, but what’s the difference? How are running shorts different from compression shorts?

Running shorts and compression shorts or tights are both good for running. They are typically made of moisture-wicking materials and don’t limit your range of motion. Running shorts are typically very short and allow for air movement while running. Compression shorts are much tighter but not more restrictive. Some brands offer 2-in-1 options.

Keep reading to learn everything you need about the differences between running shorts and compression shorts.

Running shorts vs compression shorts – are they the same?

Runners can choose to run in whatever clothes they think best, but most serious runners will choose either shorts or compression shorts, especially during warm weather.

Running shorts and compression shorts have some basic qualities in common, but there are also several major differences. Both types of shorts are made of moisture-wicking materials and don’t restrict your range of motion. Running shorts are very short and loose; compression shorts are longer, often to the knee (or, in the case of tights, the calf or ankle), and are tight enough that they do not restrict movement.

Running shorts tend to be very short with a cut along the outer thigh to allow the runner a full stride without restriction. They are made of moisture-wicking materials and provide airflow while running.

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Compression shorts are also made of moisture-wicking materials, but also include spandex to allow the shorts to move with the runner. Without spandex, the shorts would be restrictive. Compression shorts are great for layering, but they aren’t particularly helpful if your primary concern is modesty as they are so tight.

Compression tights are made of the same material as compression shorts, but they are longer.

If you’re looking for the best of both worlds, you can layer running shorts over compression shorts. This will provide coverage without sacrificing your range of motion. Some brands have even started producing 2-in-1 running shorts.

running shorts vs compression shorts

What do running shorts, compression shorts, and compression tights have in common?

Running shorts and compression shorts are very similar in terms of function, but they are very different in regard to form.

The primary similarities between running shorts and compression shorts and tights are:

  • Material
  • Range of motion
  • Purpose

Let’s take a look at each of these and see what these two running garments have in common.

Material

The sweat you produce is one of the biggest things that can cause discomfort while you run.

Both running shorts and compression shorts will be made from moisture-wicking materials like polyester and polypropylene. This will both help cool you more quickly and help reduce the likelihood of chafing.

While it may be less pertinent in the summer months, compression tights are also an excellent bottom layer when running in cold weather.

Range of motion

If you’re looking for a good pair of running shorts, one of the most important considerations is whether or not they will interfere with your stride.

While they do so in different ways, both running shorts and compression shorts allow for a complete range of motion while running.

Running shorts are often very short – with often as little as a 2-inch inseam – in order to keep the unnecessary fabric from restricting your stride.

Compression shorts and tights are (maybe obviously) much longer, but they are tight enough and made with spandex to allow the fabric to move and stretch with you without restricting movement.

Purpose

Both types of shorts are designed for cardiovascular activities.

Running shorts are fantastic for exercise because they allow plenty of airflow while you run. Even though compression shorts don’t offer that airflow, they’re also great for cardiovascular activities because of their fit and stretch.

Compression shorts and tights are also extremely popular among cyclists. So, if people find these shorts handy for one activity, it’s no surprise they also find them handy while running. This makes them a particularly good investment if you cross-train on a bike or stationary bike.

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What’s the difference between running shorts, compression shorts, and tights?

While they have certain qualities in common, running shorts and compression shorts aren’t interchangeable.

Some of the differences between running shorts and compression shorts include:

  • Airflow
  • Fit/style
  • Materials

Let’s look at these differences and see how running and compression shorts differ.

Airflow

If you’re looking for airflow during your run, there’s only one choice for you.

Running shorts are loose and relatively open to allow for a complete range of motion in your run; the upside of this is that you’ll also feel a breeze during your stride. While compression shorts are moisture-wicking and aren’t likely to make you sweat excessively, there also isn’t any airflow to speak of.

Whether airflow falls into the pro or con category will depend on your personal preferences, situation, and climate.

Fit/style

Probably the most obvious difference between running shorts, compression shorts, and compression tights is how they fit.

Running shorts are loose and tend to expose a lot of leg. Compression garments are longer with shorts extending from about halfway down your thigh or nearly to the knee, and compression tights going as far down as the calf or ankle.

While they offer more coverage, compression shorts or tights are not a more modest option as they cling tightly to everything they cover.

Materials

Similar to most modern athletic clothing, both types of shorts are made with moisture-wicking materials.

In addition to moisture-wicking fabrics, compression shorts and tights are also made with spandex. This addition allows the pants to cling to you as much as possible throughout your workout.

Because of the difference in materials, compression shorts also help support your muscles and joints, potentially improving your run.

man running in regular running shorts

Running shorts vs tights?

Compression shorts have been a popular option for athletes of every profession ever since the 1950s.

Compression shorts are skin-tight supportive running garments that can help improve the quality of your run by accelerating blood flow and supporting your joints.

Compression tights are the same concept as compression shorts, but they’re longer. So, if you plan to exercise in colder temperatures, it would be better to wear compression tights instead of shorts.

Compression shorts and tights are more expensive than other athletic clothing types because of the technology used to create them.

man running in tights and shorts

Are compression tights or shorts better for running?

When choosing between compression shorts or compression tights, the primary concerns will be your comfort and the weather you’ll be running in.

For instance, if you want to exercise outside during the summer, it would be best to wear compression shorts. However, compression tights would be the best option if you’re exercising while it’s cold out.

It’s also worth considering that both will help prevent drag and increase performance, and the effects will greater when wearing long pants.

Are compression shorts the same as tights?

Compression shorts and compression tights are the same in every way, except tights are longer.

Both use the same types of materials and offer you support during your run. A pair of compression shorts will typically be knee length, while compression tights will be ankle length.

are compression shorts the same as regular running shorts

Should I wear compression tights when running?

You should wear compression tights while running if it’s cold outside.

Depending on how cold the weather is, you should wear compression tights either by themselves or as the base layer of your running outfit.

However, if you feel self-conscious while wearing tights, you may want to work yourself up to that. Some people are uncomfortable wearing skin-tight clothing, and these compression tights will hug your body. 

Do tights make it harder to run?

Compression tights do not make running harder because they use plenty of spandex to optimize your range of motion.

Even though these tights cling to your skin, you don’t have to worry about them being so tight that they restrict your movement. In fact, their primary selling point is how perfectly they fit and move with you.

That being said, if the tights do not fit correctly, they may negatively affect your run. Too tight compression tights will make it difficult to complete your full stride, while too loose tights will move around and restrict your movement that way.

Can you run in just compression shorts?

Compression shorts are basically skintight. Can you run in just them, or do they need to be covered?

You can run in just compression shorts if you feel comfortable. However, many people layer running shorts on top of their compression shorts for extra modesty.

The downside of wearing compression shorts only is that they completely hug your frame and can make you feel self-conscious.

What are running shorts – key specs?

Running shorts are short shorts with a slit on the side so that you can move easily.

These shorts are typically made with a combination of polyester and polypropylene, both materials used for their moisture-wicking qualities. These shorts are shorter than most athletic wear because most runners prefer as little fabric as possible in order to reduce friction and drag.

Running shorts can range from affordable to expensive, depending on the manufacturer. For example, if you purchase name-brand running shorts from Nike, there will be more expensive than an off-brand pair.

regular running shorts

When should I wear regular running shorts?

There’s a reason loose-fitting moisture-wicking short shorts are just called running shorts: they’re the perfect shorts for running!

You should wear running shorts whenever it’s comfortable for you. Leave them at home if they make you feel uncomfortable, cold, or self-conscious. Otherwise, they’re your best friend!

Running shorts are also a good way to cover up your compression shorts if you’re not comfortable with how form-fitting they are.

Are running shorts better than compression tights and shorts?

There is a hot debate about whether or not compression shorts and tights are better than running shorts, but there’s probably never going to be a standard answer because it’s such a subjective question.

Running shorts are better for runners who want airflow or looser clothing. Compression shorts and tights are more supportive and can help with recovery. Which one is better really depends on your purpose and preferences.

Some people argue that compression shorts are better for running because they can help you recover post-workout. However, if you don’t feel comfortable in tight-fitting clothing, it can hurt your performance because you’ll be focused on your appearance.

On the other hand, proponents of running shorts argue that theirs is the better option because they offer maximum airflow and comfort. 

If you’re on the fence, don’t choose! You can layer your running shorts over compression shorts or tights for the best of both worlds.