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Monday, May 2, 2011

Zensah High Compression Tights Review

I know that it's hard for some guys to embrace wearing tights while running.  If recent Miller Lite commercials are any indication (and I think they are the most accurate barometer of pop culture ever created), skinny pants are not in.  They aren't attractive.  They make you look like you raided your girlfriend's closet...that if your girlfriend is a size zero punk rocker.  Tight pants on a guy means you're either a girly man, or a Black Crows fan.  Neither of those things are necessarily concerned good qualities in the male world.  If I see you wearing skinny jeans on the street, I will punch you in the nards and revoke your man card (it's every man's right to revoke another man's card for a serious rule violation...I would expect any man to do the same for me).  It's...just...that...bad.

But in the instance of running, I really believe in tights.  The tighter the better.  They are warmer than shorts but cooler than pants.  They keep the wind from whipping your saddlebags.  They double as a baselayer in the winter.  They are such a versatile and functional piece of running gear that if they make you uncomfortable with the state of your manhood you really need to put some shorts on over them and get over it.  If you're out running when you need to wear tights, everyone who sees you already thinks you're nuts.  Nobody cares what your ass looks like... 

So come on folks!  Let's celebrate tights!  Everybody sing!

Not only do I love running tights, but I also love compression clothing.  Ever since I've bought my Zensah Calf Sleeves, I've been a believer.  That belief was only strengthened after I tested the Zensah Compression Shirt.  So I've been curious about how compression tights would perform for a while.  If my calf sleeves help stave off fatigue in my legs, and sped up recovery to Ricky Bobby "I wanna go fast!" style speeds, compression on my entire leg should be even better right?

So I was thrilled when Zensah contacted me to ask if I would test and review a complimentary pair of their High Compression Tights for my blog.  I quickly agreed, and I received my tights a few days later in a package smaller than the envelope for my water bill.

Now the tights are currently only available in black.  It's probably better that way...no point in having legs that look like the Wicked Witch of the West.  So all of the pictures I took of the product and it's features are about as useless as the cast of The Hills...or the IPhone 4.  You'll have to settle for the picture from the company website.

Initial Impressions

Anyway...I took them out of the package and became a little concerned about their size.  They looked like tights that would fit my two-year old daughter.  How was I going to fit these buggers over my giraffe legs?

Well it wasn't terribly hard.  With an effort somewhat equivalent to getting into a wetsuit while it's wet, I managed to squirm into the tights.  The first thing I noticed was the compression, which I would describe as...well...high.  I felt a high level of compression on my quads, hamstrings, and glutes, as well as a lesser amount in bands directly above and below my knees (which did a great job on my IT band and calf).  I would describe this "high" compression as being slightly greater than that of Zensah's calf sleeves.  The compression above and below my knee was comparable to that found in my calf sleeves.

I wasn't bothered by the level of compression on my upper legs at all.  I found it quite comfortable and very supportive.  When I first put these tights on I had just done a pretty hard Crossfit workout, and I had some aching legs.  As soon as I put these tights on I felt them work their compression magic, and my legs felt like they could go all day.

Note to the fellas: You may be wondering if the compression in these tights is "high" everywhere.  Rest assured, the male version of these tights features a looser section of fabric where you may desire a little less "support".  I hope you understand my meaning, as I will not be drawing you a diagram.

After they were stretched out, I also noticed that they appeared to have several different fabric patterns.  On the areas where I perceived there was compression, I noticed a cross-hatched pattern.  On the bands above and below the knee, there was a series of small vertical lines.  The remainder of the fabric was the standard Zensah proprietary fabric. 

Again, pictures of this feature were pretty useless, so I won't bother you with them.  Not only that, but the only way to see the weave of these tights would be to take pictures while wearing them.  That ain't going to happen.  I'm a pretty confident guy, and even these tights made me feel a bit self-conscious.  Let's just say you can tell what size shoe I wear when I have these on.  For testing, I opted to wear a pair of shorts over them for modesty sake.  That's the first time I've ever done that with a pair of tights. 

Now we've had trouble making it to Spring in Minnesota this year, so there has been plenty of opportunity to test these things in a variety of weather.  Since wearing them initially, I've run 30+ miles in them in temperatures between 20 and 50 degrees.  I've also worn them on rainy and sunny days.  I like them a lot.

Here's where I think these tights excel in their performance.  They are going to keep you very warm without making you sweat.  Most of the warmer tights I wear in the winter and fall get that ability from some kind of insulation material on the inside.  These tights seem thinner than any others that I own, but yet seemed to keep me just as comfortable in cold weather. 

But this was a different kind of warmth.  Instead of just doing a good job of reflecting my body heat back onto my leg, which eventually makes me sweaty and then cold, these tights seemed to enhanced my legs' ability to warm themselves.  As a result, I felt like my comfort level was more consistent.  Furthermore, on long runs in the cold weather, I didn't experience a point where I went from hot to cold when my tights became saturated with sweat (a great image I know...but an important point).  These will likely be my go-to tights in long cold weather runs for that reason.  Long runs in the winter always become uncomfortable once your gear gets wet. 

At the same time, the weave on these tights make them especially breathable.  I definitely felt like I had less insulated material on my body than with normal tights.  I think this aspect will make these tights useful later into the running season.  Usually I wear shorts and a t-shirt starting at about 50 degrees.  But I wore these tights with a t-shirt in the same weather without feeling much of a difference. 

As for the normal endurance benefits of compression, I found positives and negatives.  These tights will certainly keep your legs from fatiguing on long runs.  Once I get to a certain point, usually around 20 miles, I start to feel extreme fatigue in exactly those places that are compressed with these tights.  With these tights on, my legs still felt strong in those places at the 20 mile point.

However, for a barefoot or minimalist runner thigh fatigue really isn't as much of an issue as is calf fatigue.  That's why a lot of us have calf sleeves in every color.  They are great for improving performance for those who use their calves more (i.e. barefooters).  However, the calf compression on these things isn't all that great.  So I found that although my thighs were still raring to go at the 20 mile point, my calves were burning.  I can imagine this isn't much of an issue for folks who don't use their calves all that much (i.e. shod runners), but it certainly is for us.

But do I think these tights would be better with some added calf compression?  Probably not.  I think any if any more areas of your body were compressed, it would make you somewhat immobilized.  I already felt that because these tights have such high compression, that they made it a bit harder to move my legs.  I'm used to a bit of resistance in the legs when I wear tights because the fabric clings so tightly to your legs.  I experienced more such resistance in these tights.  To me, it felt nice to have an area of my legs that wasn't compressed.  It made the tights seem less restrictive.  If you put compression on the calf as well, you'd feel like you were wearing the bottom half of a suit of armor or something. 


These tights come in with a hefty $99.99 price tag.  Now that's certainly cheaper than compression tights from companies like CW-X, which can retail for up to $200.  Regular thermal tights on the other hand retail for between $50-$90.  So I think they occupy a nice middle ground for someone who wants the performance of compression tights without the hefty price tag.  Are they worth the extra $40 some dollars over regular tights?  Absolutely.  I would spend the extra money to buy compression tights for the thermal properties alone.  The recovery and endurance properties, although somewhat limited for me, are an added bonus.

I always tell folks it's a good idea to invest in a good pair of tights if you live with the four seasons.  Buy these instead and you'll have a very versatile addition to your running wardrobe.


These tights have made me a convert as to the thermal properties of compression gear.  I'm excited at the prospect of being able to take longer runs in cold weather without having to worry as much about a down-there deep freeze.  I would recommend them to anyone for that purpose.  They are worth the money over standard thermal tights. 

Overall, I give this product a 9 out of 10.  I hesitate to give them a perfect score because the endurance aspect of the gear isn't quite right for a barefoot or minimalist runner in my opinion.  It's still very good, but lacks the calf fatigue protection that barefoot runners would find useful. 

Where can I buy these?

The Zensah High Compression Tights are currently available for women only at here.  The men's version of the product will be available here on May 16, 2011.  For more products from the great folks at Zensah, visit their website.  You can't go wrong with pretty much anything they sell.   

Happy running folks!  Cheers!


  1. For UL backpacking I use Sahalie Ultralight Tights. They are certainly "snug" enough to work as compression tights. Due to their ultrlightedness (read: see-thru-edness) they must be worn underneath in order to stay in compliance with various city ordinances.

  2. This was a great review--thanks. I have some tights from Road Runner Sports, and while they are warm and comfy, they aren't that tight because my legs are itty bitty toothpicks. If the Zensahs are that snug, they might even be tight on my legs. It would be nice to have compression gear on my limbs that actually COMPRESSES, you know? I'm keeping these in mind for when I want to splurge.... I'll have to decide if I'm willing to spend $100 on them or not. Maybe in several more months you can update on how they've held up after that time. I'd want to get a LOT of use out of them at that price.

  3. Thanks C.Beth. I get A LOT of use out of my tights in the fall and winter. I'll probably use these tights the most because they are good in so many different types of weather. It's getting a little warm here in MN now, so I probably will put them on the shelf for a while. But next fall and winter I will let folks know how they held up.


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