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Yoga Pants vs. Leggings: What’s the difference?

yoga pants vs leggings

We wear them just about every day, to go to the coffee shop, to workout, and to put together a cute casual outfit for lunch. At first glance, you may think leggings and yoga pants are the same thing. That is, until you try doing downward dog or do squats in thin leggings… oops! Not pretty.

Yoga pants are truly designed for fitness, while leggings are often just for fashion, loungewear, or a warm baselayer. Yoga pants are a general term for opaque, thicker material, stretchy, sweat-wicking bottoms that can be used for athletics like running, pilates, gym workouts, or of course, yoga. Leggings, on the other hand, are typically designed to wear under your clothes for warmth or comfort. 

But what about the yoga pants that are leggings? There are many different fabrics and styles of yoga pants, from flare to capris to skin-tight. Here’s the lowdown on the nuances and differences between the two, and how to choose the best for you.

What are Leggings?

Leggings are skin-hugging pants that are thicker than tights but thinner than true yoga pants. They are delicate and comfortable for lounging, wearing under a skirt, or adding an extra layer of warmth in the winter. 

Before leggings were trendy, they were really just undergarments. You wore them to stay warm in the winter like long johns. These days, women (and sometimes dudes) seem to wear leggings just about everywhere. Pair with a crop hoodie or baggy t-shirt and you’re good to go! But it can be a little embarrassing when you forget that those cute stylish zebra print leggings aren’t really designed for workouts or yoga. 

Pros of Leggings

  • Cheap and affordable
  • Comfortable
  • Body-hugging
  • Thin 
  • Stretchy 
  • Warm base layer
  • Huge variety of styles, fabrics, and patterns

Cons of Leggings

  • Thin fabric is not good for stretching
  • Somewhat see-through
  • Not designed for workouts or yoga
  • Waistband has a tendency to fold or not stay in place

Types of Leggings

Cotton

Cotton leggings are the most widely available and budget-friendly leggings available. You can find them at Walmart, Forever 21, Target, Cotton On, and just about everywhere else. They sometimes have a little bit of spandex in them, however cotton leggings tend to “pile” and wear out overtime as they are stretched and washed.

Cotton leggings come in a million colors and styles, but they are thin and lose their shape. They are especially terrible for yoga or the gym because they can be see-through, hold sweat stains and moisture, and don’t stay in place. 

Polyester

Polyester leggings are a bit higher in quality than cotton. They are much more sweat-wicking and stretchy than cotton, but their main downside is the tendency to hold onto smells. A polyester fabric blend can be great for workouts, but sometimes these are also just fast-fashion leggings.

Wool

Wool has been used for literally thousands of years as one of the warmest and most sweat-wicking materials. These days, Merino wool is especially popular and found in a variety of base layers, including leggings. Anyone who lives somewhere with a cold winter or does winter sports like skiing will appreciate wool leggings tremendously. However, they are significantly more expensive than cotton. 

Faux Leather

On the fashion side of things, faux leather leggings are like an ultra-comfy pair of leather pants. They’re stretchy and more breathable than true leather, however they can be a bit expensive. Faux leather leggings are great for a night on the town and probably horrible for anything else. 

Spandex

Straight spandex leggings are especially body-hugging and popular in shapewear. This fabric starts amazingly small and stretches out very wide, but that also means it is typically see-through.

Nylon

Nylon or nylon blend leggings have become the most popular fabric because of their affordability and durability. Nylon is stretchy and doesn’t wrinkle, however it does shrink. If the leggings are thick enough, nylon is a great material for wicking sweat during workouts.

Legging Lengths

All leggings are technically tights, however they come in different lengths. Full length is the most common that stretches from the waist to bottom of the ankle. Some people prefer stirrup-style leggings that loop under the heel for dancing or other activities. 

Ankle length leggings (⅞) hit just above the ankle and capri length (¾) tend to hit at the calf. Body-hugging biker shorts and footed leggings are also technically leggings because they are made of the same material and serve the same purposes as undergarments. 

Best Leggings for Lounging

While we don’t recommend leggings for yoga, we still love all that stores like Forever 21, Cotton On, Amazon, and Romwe have to offer. Cute leggings are always a staple in my closet! 

What are Yoga Pants?

Yoga pants are another popular modern alternative to pants. You can always find someone wearing them to Starbucks, the gym or yoga studio, or to pick up kids at school. Yoga pants are not exclusive for yogis, however they are certainly the best-designed bottoms for a yoga practice.

The key difference between leggings and yoga pants is the thickness and stretchiness of the fabric, as well as the waistband. Yoga pants tend to be thicker and more durable, so they aren’t see-through when you move. They are tight in the but area but loosen up as you move downward into different poses. 

Pros

  • Not see-through
  • Stay in place during workouts or yoga
  • More comfortable than leggings
  • Hold their shape 
  • Sweat-wicking
  • Thicker waistband 
  • Moves with the body; never restrictive

Cons

  • More expensive than leggings (but last longer)

Yoga Pants are Best for Fitness

Yoga pants also give you all the freedom to do your favorite asanas without worrying about leggings stretching too tight against your skin or restricting movement. The thicker, rollover-style waistband also helps with movement because it keeps the pants in place. However, companies have also started coming out with a variety of fitness leggings and pants that don’t have the signature roll-over band. 

Styles of Yoga Pants

Many fitness leggings are really a lot more like yoga pants than they are like leggings. Styles include booty shorts, wide-leg pants, yoga sweatpants, cropped leggings, ankle-length running pants, and more. The most popular style of yoga pants is the high-raise body-hugging style we see at Lululemon, Alo Yoga, and more. These pants beat leggings every time because they are actually made for functional movements rather than cheap fashion. 

Best Yoga Pants for Your Price Range

When it comes to yoga, the best yoga pants should be opaque (not see through), sweat-wicking, stretchy, form-fitting, and stay in place while you twist and move. 

We did a full review of the best non-see-through yoga leggings for different price ranges and styles here. Our favorites include:

Budget: DOULAFASS Womens Camo Yoga Pants

For under $13 these leggings can’t be beat! They’re opaque and stretchy, squat proof, and surprisingly soft. Despite the affordability, the fabric actually lasts and I haven’t noticed any pilling. These leggings are breathable and thick enough to prevent seeing-through, yet not so thick that you feel constrained or too hot. 

Middle of the Road: THE GYM PEOPLE Thick High Waist Yoga Pants

If you’re going to be breaking a serious sweat during yoga class, these thick yet breathable Gym People leggings are the best choice for you. Reviewers say they are never see-through, squat-friendly, and super supportive. The reinforced seams and gusseted crotch ensure durability and no chafing (hallelujah!)

High End: Lululemon Align High Rise Pant

We can’t talk about yoga pants without mentioning Lululemon leggings. Don’t be confused by the name, these are certainly yoga pants designed for and by yogis. These buttery soft, ultra-high-quality Nulu-fabric yoga pants are cream of the crop when it comes to yoga wear. I know people who have worn their Align leggings every day for years and swear by the perfect fit, durability, functionality, and flexibility. 

Yoga Pants vs. Fashion Leggings vs. Activewear Leggings 

At the end of the day, these terms can be easily confused. It’s important to distinguish that yoga pants and activewear leggings are higher quality, more expensive, thicker, and better fabrics for working out and doing yoga. 

Activewear leggings are a hybrid of yoga pants and leggings, but still fit under the yoga category because they are never see-through and tend to be longer-lasting. Fashion leggings are cheap and widely available with fun patterns and styles for casual or dress-up use. 

At the end of the day, the differences between yoga pants and leggings are pretty major. They significantly differ in price, style, fabric, and functionality. Ultimately, if you want to do yoga or workout, go for yoga pants. If you want to lounge around or create a casual outfit, choose leggings. 

What do you think? Have you ever tried doing yoga in normal leggings?

Namaste! 

About Julien

Julien Raby has been in the web marketing industry for 15 years. An avid yoga practitioner himself, he's now the full-time owner of The Yoga Nomads where he helps yoga teachers earn more from their passion.

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