Review: Clothing That Helps Me Run and Hike Farther
Bioskin Compression Shorts
$95, 7 oz. (medium)
Bioskin Calf Skin Sleeves
$65/pair, $35/one, 3 oz. (XL pair)
Sizes: S-XXL (The size range fits calves with a widest-point circumference of 11 to 20 ins.)
Opedix Knee-Tec Tights
$225, 10 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
Well into the descent off 9,860-foot McGown Peak in Idaho’s Sawtooths—a dayhike of about 11 miles and more than 3,300 vertical feet, mostly off-trail with 1,000 feet of third-class scrambling and steep scree running—I turned to my climbing partner and said, “My legs feel great.” I’d like to believe that’s because I’m in such incredible physical condition that climbing a rugged peak does not even begin to fatigue my leg muscles. But the reason I felt so fresh at that point was because of what I was wearing below the waist: Opedix Knee-Tec Tights. I’ve been using compression apparel—shorts, tights, socks, and calf sleeves—for a few years, and I’ve found I can trail run and hike farther before getting tired, and feel better that evening and the next day. Clothing that does that almost seems like cheating—but I’ll take any advantage I can find.
How can apparel do that? While the jury is still out on how well compression clothing works, there’s some evidence of the benefits. Research conducted at Massey University in Auckland found that 93 percent of subjects in a fast-paced 10k road run without compression socks experienced lower leg soreness the next day, while only 14 percent of those who wore the socks experienced soreness. University of Exeter researchers found that wearing compression for 24 hours following exercise reduced the soreness perceived by subjects. Compression clothing purportedly does this by increasing blood and lymphatic flow to expedite recovery.
I’ve worn the Opedix Knee-Tec Tights (lead photo above) on trail runs of 7.5 to 13 miles. The light fabric was comfortable in temperatures ranging from around freezing at the outset of the McGown Peak hike (in October) to near 70° F, when they only felt a little warm on a long, uphill run in sunshine (they’re black), and got hardly damp from sweat. I finished that 13-miler (with 2,600 vertical feet) feeling like I could have gone farther, even though that was the longest run I’d taken in months. I then kept the tights on for two hours at home after the run and was impressed by the recovery my legs made: By later that afternoon, I felt no soreness. I’ve worn them under ski pants while telemark skiing with similar results. They are more expensive than other compression tights, because of the 19-panel construction and supple fabric that deliver a very comfortable fit. I sized up from my usual men’s small to medium.
I’ve worn the Bioskin Compression Shorts and Calf Skin Sleeves on numerous trail runs of seven to 12 miles in the Boise Foothills near my home. I finished each run feeling remarkably fresh, without tightness or the usual fatigue in my quads and calves that I’d have after running those distances in shorts and standard socks—and the difference was huge, not slight. After a seven-miler, the calf sleeves left my calves feeling like I hadn’t even run; I think they work better in that regard than compression socks I’ve worn, and they never slipped even slightly. The shorts left my quads feeling similarly good, though they don’t fit me quite as well as my CW-X Pro Shorts, and can get a little clammy in warm temps. I normally wear men’s small shorts, but had to size up to medium in these.
All compression apparel—shorts, tights, socks, calf sleeves—take a little effort to pull on because the fit is so snug. But getting them properly in place is critical to their performance. I’ve become a believer in compression apparel, which is now a staple of my long trail runs and hikes.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.