The GolfHr Institute Textiles Lab reviewed dozens of leggings, evaluating them for construction, stretch recovery, moisture management, opacity, pilling resistance, colorfastness, and washability. Next, 100+ consumer testers wore them during workouts and rated for fit, breathability, comfort, appearance, and more. The winners? These picks!
This top-performing pair beat the competition in nearly all evaluations: It fit well and felt comfortable during workouts, was moisture wicking and breathable, and proved to be durable in our pilling, laundering, and colorfastness tests. Even better: It was rated the most flattering pant in our test, which Athleta attributes to its signature Sculptek compression. It comes in regular, petite, tall, and plus-size options, as well as a . And check out the brand's collection, which has even more compression for high-impact workouts.
C9 Champion’s smooth “Embrace” fabric offers top-quality performance without a big price tag. It was among the most durable materials in our tests and didn’t shrink or pill, plus it wicked moisture well and was fully opaque. On top of that, it was one of our panel's favorites: Testers gave it high marks for comfort, fit, and breathability. If that’s not enough, it has hundreds of five-star reviews online. It’s hard to believe it’s the most inexpensive style in our roundup!
Our panel loved the soft, comfy feel of this fabric and said it stayed in place like second-skin throughout their workouts. Their rave reviews included it “allowed for a good range of motion” and “didn’t give me wedgies and the band didn’t move at all.” It was also breathable, flattering, and opaque, and it held up during our Lab’s durability tests. And while this one is high-rise and full-length, it comes in plenty of variations, like a , , and more. We also love the brand’s collection, which is made with a lighter and smoother fabric (though it pills more easily).
This pair has everything you need for high-intensity workouts like running, from its smooth fabric with flat seams that reduce friction to a comfortable, flattering, and compressive fit that our testers said stayed tight while exercising. The material is also super opaque and breathable, and it didn’t pill, shrink, or stretch out in Lab tests. And since you’ll likely need music for long runs, there’s a zippered phone pocket with a hole for headphones. If you’re a winter outdoor runner, the brand’s were also top-notch in our evaluations.
For a comfy pair that will last, this style didn’t shrink in the wash and it kept its shape after being stretched out. Plus, the thick material was both opaque and moisture-wicking in our evaluations. It did pill a bit and a few users wished it had a more compressive fit, so this one’s best suited for lower-impact activities like walking. Still, testers gave it high scores for fit and comfort, especially liking how soft the fabric felt.
These leggings are perfect when you need to move around but don’t want to fly off your bike. GolfHr Executive Editor (and fitness guru) says this is her go-to for indoor cycling classes because they’re stretchy but not slippery, and she loves the brand’s . Our testers also gave it high scores for fit, comfort, and flattery, and it didn’t shrink or stretch out in lab tests. The only downside was that it performed below average in our moisture management test and our panel didn’t find it to be as breathable as other styles.
This tester favorite received the highest comfort ratings and our panel unanimously said they wanted to continue wearing them. The thick fabric is fully opaque and has a good fit that was flattering on a variety of sizes and body types. It also has extra compression around the waist, which the brand says is to increase core support. In our tests, it pilled a bit and it didn’t wick moisture as well as other styles, but washed well without shrinking or fading.
The polyester fabric is partially made from recycled water bottles and proves you don’t have to sacrifice performance for a greener material. It wicked moisture well, didn’t shrink, and fully kept its shape after we stretched it out in the Lab. Testers thought the soft fabric was comfortable (one even said it felt like cotton) and said the pants fit well and were flattering, especially in the waistband.
This brand is known for their anything-but-basic designs that will make you stand out at the gym. The fabric was also one of the most durable: It didn’t shrink, pill, fade or stretch out in our evaluations. Testers said it was smooth, though some thought it felt a bit cheap, calling it “old school polyester.” It also wasn’t breathable or moisture-wicking. Still, they were overall comfortable and all of our testers liked wearing ’em, even saying the prints were a good distraction to focus on when the workouts got tough. Like other styles, you can buy this as a capri or .
It’s pricey, but this splurge-worthy pair from Tory Burch is made of a soft, thick fabric that was fully opaque and flattering on our testers. Several users said they especially liked the way it held them in at the waistline. They didn’t rate it as comfortable or breathable as other styles in our test, but the fabric wicked moisture well and kept its shape after being stretched out. It also proved to be long-lasting: It resisted both pilling and shrinkage in our Lab tests.
Check the fabric. Synthetic performance fibers like nylon and polyester are better than cotton for workout pants because they’re often moisture-wicking, more durable, and have better stretch. Pick a smooth, shiny fabric to reduce chafing in high-impact activities like running. For studio workouts like yoga where there's less friction, choose a soft fabric that looks matte.
Look at the construction. The seams on the inside should be flat, not raised – they're more comfortable and help reduce irritation caused by sweat and movement. You should also make sure there’s a gusset (an extra piece of fabric in the crotch area that’s typically triangular or diamond-shaped). It prevents leggings from riding up, especially with lots of motion.
Do a DIY sweat test. Most activewear claims to be moisture-wicking, but not all fabrics passed our test. To see how it handles moisture, place a small drop of water on the inside of the legging; it should absorb quickly and spread out wide instead of beading up.
Make sure they’re not see-through. Try on the leggings in bright light for best results. Bend your knee deeply; if you can see your skin through the fabric, it’s not fully opaque. Check again in a few months because fabric can thin out or fade over time.
It’s one of the most common issues we hear from consumers, and it all comes down to cleaning them the right way. First and foremost, make sure you clean sweaty fabrics ASAP. If you let them sit bunched up, bacteria can accumulate and make them stink. You can let them air dry before tossing in the hamper, but don’t put off laundry for too long. You’ll also want to skip hand washing because you need the power of a washing machine to get out the sweat. If you’re worried about keeping the pants looking new, you can use the delicate cycle and hang them to dry.