Whether your movement of choice involves a supine twist on your living room floor between episodes of The Crown or an early morning 10K, what you wear from your belly button down needs to be comfortable, functional, and, yes, even cute. What would a cold-weather training warm-up look like without a pair of sleek, stretchy joggers? Consider how different your run or bike ride would be without a pair of breathable, made-for-movement shorts. Imagine how your recovery ritual would feel without a buttery soft pair of sweats. And don’t get us started on the unsung hero of all activewear: socks, which can make or break any workout.
That’s why we spent the last several months testing the latest releases from all your favorite activewear brands—including both big names and up-and-comers—to determine which sweatpants, joggers, shorts, and socks deserve a 2023 SELF Activewear Award. Every item on this list passed our tests with flying colors. Keep reading to learn more about what we look for in each type of product and see which ones took home our exceptional seal of approval.
What to Look for When Shopping for Sweatpants, Joggers, Shorts, and Socks
Sweatpants and Joggers
When it comes to sweatpants, the best fabric and fit (wide leg, cinched ankle, etc.) for you will often depend on your personal preference. Think about when you’ll be wearing them (and how warm you like to be during that activity) to help you find a style that fits your needs. Joggers meant for higher-intensity exercise are best when made of a fabric blend like spandex or polyester that gives some stretch and wicks away sweat. If your joggers are purely for relaxing purposes, a softer fabric (like fleece or French terry) and a more relaxed, loose fit might be more up your alley. In general, though, experts recommend a drawstring waist or a snug, elastic waistband for sweatpants and joggers so you’re not constantly pulling your pants up—even just while lounging.
A longer short will help prevent chafing, while a shorter short might be more comfortable and breathable. As with any other type of activewear, the waistband fit and feel are perhaps most important. Elastic or drawcords can stave off mid-workout adjustments—after all, no one likes a droopy crotch. Breathable, moisture-wicking fabric is key, especially with shorts that hug the body. Looking for loose-fitting shorts? You should consider whether you want an internal liner, which can help prevent chafing but may feel uncomfortable or obtrusive for some. Lastly, pockets! If you’re a runner, roomy pockets might be less important, but in general, at least one pocket can come in handy for stashing your keys and ID.
Sure, your sneaks are game changers when it comes to your workout, but socks are an often overlooked (and key) ingredient in activewear. First, consider what movement you’ll be wearing them for (like cardio, strength training, or barre). If you’re pounding the pavement or going on hikes, extra cushioning and blister protection are must-haves. For barre and Pilates, a grippy, no-show sock is ideal. They should feel snug but not constricting, and in general should stay put throughout your workout. You should also consider your specific foot needs: There are options out there for folks who need extra support in the arch, a reinforced heel, or anti-odor technology.
How We Picked the Best Sweatpants, Joggers, Shorts, and Socks
The sweatpants, joggers, shorts, and socks considered for the 2023 SELF Activewear Awards had to meet our submission guidelines, which you can read more about here. After brands submitted almost 500 items, a group of 45 testers (consisting of SELF staffers, fitness professionals, and exercise enthusiasts) got to work testing. Testers had two months to wear an item several times and in a number of ways, judging its performance against the standards set in SELF’s Activewear Buying Guide (a summary of which you can read above!). The sweatpants, joggers, shorts, and socks that came out on top are listed below.
During our selection process, we were met once again with the disheartening reality that plus-size activewear options are not nearly as numerous as they should be, nor are they offered in the same quality as many straight sized lines. For that reason, we decided to include items that went up to a size 2X on the winners list, while instituting a new extended sizing badge system so you can easily tell at a glance which products are made for you (or not, as the case may be). For items that do only go up to 2X, we’ve mentioned comparable options from brands we trust that weren’t part of the testing process but are available in additional sizes. We hope that these awards, the badge system, and SELF as a whole will continue to push the industry forward when it comes to size inclusivity and fat acceptance.