Length & Style
The first consideration you need to make when selecting a pair is what length and style are best for you and the type of yoga you practice. No one wants their poses impeded by their clothing, nor do they want to wear something that is unflattering or uncomfortable.
Full Length vs. Capri
We also included three capri length models in this review. Capris end somewhere below the knee to mid-calf, or around a 19-20 inch inseam. Again, whether you prefer to practice in a long pant vs. a capri or even a short is a matter of personal preference, as well as the climate you live in and the type of yoga you practice. Hot yoga practitioners often wear as little as possible in their heated studios, whereas you're not leaving your house in shorts or capris in the middle of winter in the Northeast. All of the capri models that we tested are available in a full-length legging.
Straight or Flared leg vs. Leggings
Some people think their legs look weird or short in leggings and prefer the look of straight cut or flared legs. Others prefer the feel of leggings during strenuous classes as there is less material flapping around. Still, others like to practice in leggings but wear flared legs when running errands or lounging around the house. While you've probably already made up your mind as to which way your preferences lie, we do feel like there are some good points to both options, and we have many of each style in our quiver of yoga pants. We chose a variety of styles for this review and tested three boot cut/flared leg and four leggings. However, many of those models come in a different cut, which is good news for all of us!
When it comes to the type of practice you do, we do have some tips for buying the perfect pair to complement whichever style you prefer.
Gentle Hatha or Yin
If you prefer your yoga calm and gentle, then comfort and fit are your first priorities in a pair. Look for looser cuts, full lengths, and soft materials (including cotton or cotton-blends). We liked the uber soft Beyond Yoga Spacedye Long Legging and Prana Audrey models for this style of practice. When holding a pose like Pigeon Pose for upwards of five minutes, you want something that is not confining or constricting in thighs and hips.
If you practice "Level 1" type classes with a variety of poses but nothing too challenging or difficult, then any leg design is likely fine. Models like the Soybu Killer Caboose Pant and Lucy Perfect Core Pant, with their straight-cut/flared legs, are good options to choose from. The Alo Goddess Ribbed Legging is a nice choice for those who prefer a legging style than a pant.
Vinyasa, Ashtanga or other vigorous styles
When performing a dozen or more Sun Salutations and a vinyasa between every pose, you'll want a pair that is streamlined and breathable. Look for leggings that are lightweight and breathable, like the Lucy Studio Hatha Capri Legging, 90 Degree by Reflex Power Flex or Lululemon Wunder Under Crop III. If you don't like the look and feel of leggings, then a straight cut model like the Prana Audrey is also a good choice.
If you like your yoga extra sweaty and hot, then you need to dress for success, and usually, less is more. Look for shorter capris or "booty" shorts that give your skin its maximum opportunity to breathe. Some of the models that we tested have short options, such as the Onzie Side String Short or the Prana Audrey Short. If you prefer to stay more covered during class, you'll be happiest with the Onzie Capri Pant. They are so lightweight that you barely notice you're wearing them. The Teeki Hot Pant is an excellent choice for heated yoga and Pilates classes as well.
There are three options when it comes the types of materials yoga pants are made with: cotton, synthetics, and cotton-synthetic blends. There are pros and cons to each one.
Unless you are doing the gentlest of gentle yoga classes and don't anticipate sweating one drop, we'd go for models made with all synthetic material over a cotton or cotton-poly blend.
Cotton is considered a "natural fiber," as it is grown rather than manufactured from plastic like synthetic materials. Properties include:
- Soft feel
- Resistant to pilling
- Sheds pills when they do form
- Moisture absorbing
- Not as breathable as synthetics
- Prone to fading
There are many different synthetic fibers used in yoga pants. The most common ones are polyester, nylon, and spandex. You might see terms like "Lycra" spandex or "Supplex" nylon, which are trademarks of a specific type of this fabric. Synthetic materials are known for their:
- Moisture wicking properties
- Propensity to pill
- Shape retention
- Stronger smell after sweating in them
- Not as soft as cotton against the skin
After reading the above lists, you'll notice that there are positive and negative attributes to each fabric. We'd love a pair that combines the soft feel of cotton with the moisture wicking and breathable properties of synthetics without the stink or pills! Unfortunately, when combining the two in cotton/synthetic blends, you end up with a little bit of everything. While we've tested cotton-synthetic blends in the past, we left them out of the review this time as we have yet to find a pair that performs well. Material engineering is steadily improving though, so who knows what the future of these blends holds, but in the meantime the best option is synthetic.
Why is synthetic best?
If you look at any endurance athlete or mountaineer, you'll notice that their gear is typically all synthetic. Cotton Kills is even a popular catch phrase. While we don't need to worry about a pair of cotton yoga pants being the cause of our demise in a yoga studio (that Headstand you're trying without proper alignment is more likely to do it!), we can learn a lot from extreme athletes about what the best performance fabrics to wear are.
If you only do gentle Yin yoga classes where you rarely work up a sweat and have a pair of cotton yoga pants that you love, then, by all means, wear them! We're more concerned here with more rigorous classes that generate a lot of body heat and sweating, regardless if they are heated or not.
Synthetic materials ventilate your moisture faster than cotton and are quicker to dry, which are two key considerations for staying comfortable in class and avoiding embarrassing sweat marks, though that can still occur depending on your color choice (see Colors and Prints below). These fabrics are shrink resistant, unlike cotton, and the addition of spandex (otherwise known as Lycra or elastane) lets them stretch without deformation. This still leaves the issues of exceptional stinkiness and pilling. When it comes to the odor issue, scientists have discovered that Micrococcus bacteria thrive on the unique structure of synthetic fibers. When they digest the fatty acids in our sweat, they produce a more noxious compound than the bacteria that live in cotton fibers. Manufacturers are trying to create "odor-control" treatments, such as silver chloride, that act as a bacterial deterrent and therefore eliminate odors. You can read more about Patagonia's "Polygiene" treatment here. Alternatively, there are special detergents available to help de-stink your synthetic layers, such as Nikwax Base Wash.
Although no one likes to smell, probably the biggest issue when it comes to yoga pants and their longevity is the dreaded "pill." A pill is a small ball of fiber that appears stuck onto the fabric. They are formed through abrasion or wear — picture your inner thighs rubbing against each other or your behind sliding on a yoga pant. The friction loosens some fibers, which form tiny balls on the surface of the material. These balls have an "anchor fiber," which holds the pill onto the fabric. In cotton material, the fibers are weak and fall off, but synthetic fibers are strong and hold onto the pill. Pills destroy the look of your yoga pants, making them look old and worn even if they are relatively new.
Cotton-synthetic blends are more prone to pilling than cotton or synthetics alone. The weaker cotton fibers migrate to the surface of the fabric, but instead of shedding easily, a stronger synthetic anchor fiber holds on to them.
The sad thing about pills is that there is little to do about them once they form, save shaving them off one by one. Your best option is to look for fabrics that have a tight knit and take proper care of your garments.
There are some tried and true methods of increasing the longevity of your yoga pants and reducing the amount of pilling.
- Wash them inside out and only with similar synthetic fabrics to avoid them rubbing against a harsher material (like jeans) in the washing machine.
- Don't overload your machine.
- Use small amounts of fabric softener, but not too much as it might impede the wicking properties of the garment. (If you are worried about chemicals in fabric softeners, there are "natural" options out there like Mrs. Meyers Clean Day Fabric Softener or Seventh Generation Fabric Softener Sheets.)
- Line dry your pants when possible.
All clothing has a lifetime though, and even the most well-engineered material breaks down eventually. Here's an excellent opportunity to practice one of the core principles of Yoga: Vairagya, or non-attachment, and let your old pants go.
Manufacturers add different features to their yoga pants, some of which we like and some of which we don't.
Gussets are triangular or diamond shaped inserts sewn into the crotch. A gusset insert alleviates the issue of having a single pressure point where four seams run together (right where you don't want it) and it also helps to disperse the stress around the crotch seams, making your yoga pants more durable. While all of the models that we tested have gussets, they vary in their design. Some use the same material as the rest of the pant, and others offer an extra layer of material for those who prefer to go without underwear. Some are diamond shaped and others are triangular, but we couldn't tell the difference between the two. Regardless of the material or shape used, you want a pair that has a gusset, both for your comfort and range of motion. Be sure to inspect that area before you buy your next pair, or check the specs when online shopping. While most models seem to be made with them these days, you'll be uncomfortable if you end up with a pair that doesn't have one.
Why do yoga pants have key pockets? Who wants to keep anything in their waistband when bending and folding like a pretzel? We've asked ourselves this question repeatedly during our testing process, and cannot come up with a good answer. Sure, there are scenarios where a key pocket is nice: you put your house key in there when you go to walk the dog; you're staying in a hotel and need someplace to keep your room's key card when working out in the gym; you're dashing off to the store and want to slip a $20 in your pocket. What these all have in common is that they have nothing to do with yoga! Now, this would still not be a big deal if all key pockets were discreet and easy to ignore. We wore the 90 Degree by Reflex Power Flex leggings for weeks before realizing that they have a key pocket. But other models, like the Soybu Killer Caboose Pant, have a bulky and uncomfortable one. Unless you think you'll need this feature, we'd skip it altogether if possible.
Colors and Prints
If you're like us, you're bored of wearing the same pair of black leggings to yoga class day in and day out. Fun colors and patterns give us a chance to express a little individuality and style in class, and/or wear them for other things besides yoga. However, through our testing process, we discovered the reason why black is such a popular color when it comes to yoga pants - it masks any signs of sweat! We've all seen that girl in class who looks like she wet herself by the end of it. You are probably just as sweaty as her, so what's the difference? You're wearing black leggings and she has gray ones on, and the gray material has darkened. It's not her fault; it's the pants! While all of the colored pants that we tried in this review changed color to some degree when wet, the gray pants were the works offenders for some reason. Keep that in mind, particularly if you have a vigorous practice or know that you sweat a lot. If you do, the Onzie Capri Pant is the way to go. It never changes hue when wet, and we have almost a half a dozen different prints of theirs in our closet to verify that statement
As for prints, we love mixing it up with bright flowers, trippy designs, or other colorful options; however, we've seen some unsuccessful ones out there, including the one on the Teeki Hot Pant that we tested. The deer skull is just downright creepy, and the antlers reach up on either side of your legs and appear to be poking you in the crotch. Not the best look!
Manufacturers will sometimes add seaming details to the legs and rear to help accentuate certain areas. We liked the effect on the Soybu Killer Caboose Pant. It gave nice shaping to our rear, and didn't feel too uncomfortable or leave marks on our skin. That has been known to happen though, so keep that in mind when trying on a pair with lots of seams and darts.
Waistband & Rise
Intricate waistbands or roll down tops are one-way manufacturers try to add some style elements to their designs, but be careful that there's not too much extra material around the waist. It might bunch up and get in the way of your Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) or Padahastasana (Standing Forward Bend). Plainer is better in this instance. You do want a wide waistband that sits right across your midsection, though. If it sits too low, you'll be baring all in Downward Facing Dog and/or experience the "muffin top" issue.
As the popularity of yoga and the yoga apparel industry grows, it's easy to get caught up in the fashion aspect of the practice. Ultimately, yoga is about experiencing one's true self, regardless of what you have on, and achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Though it can't hurt to look OHMazing while doing so.