Half-Tights vs. Short-Shorts: A Definitive Guide

By David Melly

June 26, 2019

It’s a debate as old as the sport itself: What to wear, and when. In particular, [male] [distance] runners have, since the dawn of time, spent long runs and locker room time debating the relative merits of short-shorts and half-tights. Do you want to show off your newly-inked team hip tattoo as your gangly, pale legs fly through intervals? Or do you want to showcase your best assets with form-fitting spandex that sends Bible-belt parents complaining to their athletic directors? The choice is yours.

You could argue that what you wear doesn’t matter nearly as much as the effort you put in, but that’s not nearly as fun as digging your heels unnecessarily deeply into an extreme position and arguing passionately against anyone who might disagree with you. The more arbitrary and inflexible the rule, the better.

As host of the Run Your Mouth podcast, I occasionally ask our guests what their half-tights versus short-shorts (or bun huggers, or short tights for our female guests) preferences and policies are, which has helped inform the guidelines below. As a disclaimer, this particular piece is largely focused on the apparel sported by male runners – for many reasons, I would not presume to tell women what to wear and when but I’d eagerly anticipate a follow-up post if anyone would like to make one.

At the end of the day, rules were meant to be broken. If you’re good enough, you can pretty much get away with wearing whatever you want, which has resulted in a resurgence of sprinters in short-shorts and the rise of the distance-runner speed suit.

Races: The general rule when it comes to racing on a track is as follows: if you’re trying to feel speedy, wear half-tights. If you’re trying to feel smooth, wear short-shorts. The roads are more complicated and weather dependent, and despite the historical popularity of shorts, the trend in the marathon lately has moved toward half-tights over 26.2. If it’s good enough for the GOAT, it’s good enough for you.

  • By distance:
    • >3000m: short-shorts.
    • <3000m: half-tights.
    • 3000m: half-tights if steepling.
    • >10 miles: half-tights if chafe-prone.
  • By temperature:
    • >50 degrees: short-shorts
    • <50 degrees: half-tights

Workouts: If you care about your hamstring health, always err on the side of extra warmth. Take notes from the sprinters, distance crew: Long tights for warmups in almost any conditions. If it’s warm enough to take your shirt off, shorts are allowable, but if it’s a “speed day” I still recommend half-tights for the confidence booster.

  • By temperature:
    • >60 degrees: short-shorts
    • <60 degrees: half-tights
  • By color:
    • You can wear either a racing singlet or racing bottoms in a workout, but never wear a full matched uniform in a workout. You’ll look like a nerd.

Easy runs:

This one is simple. There is one rule for easy run apparel (assuming it’s warm enough that long tights aren’t necessary):

  • Wear whatever is clean and available.

Additional words of wisdom:

    • When to tuck your shirt: In shorts? Dealer’s choice. In half-tights? Only if you’re Sam Parsons.
    • Short-shorts over half-tights: Never. Leave that particular fashion choice in middle school where it belongs.
    • Shorts length: I disagree with my colleagues on this one. Running shorts should be split and max out at 2-inch seams. Anything longer belongs on the basketball court.
    • Runderwear: You may have noticed that people run with sports underwear under their shorts, even if said shorts have a built-in liner that serves the same purpose. This may seem foreign to you, but that’s because it is: For reasons passing understanding, runderwear is almost entirely an international phenomenon, one Americans rarely employ. I don’t know why this is a universal rule, but it is.

These rules are ultimately subjective, but please don’t let that stop you from angrily disagreeing with me on Twitter. And feel free to send along your own set of sartorial guidelines – the more silly and irrational, the better. Happy summer!

David Melly

David began contributing to CITIUS in 2018, and quickly cemented himself as an integral part of the team thanks to his quick wit, hot takes, undying love for the sport and willingness to get yelled at online.