Is there a more versatile item of clothing than a pair of leggings? Heading to the gym for an intensive workout? Throw on a pair of leggings. Stretching up a storm in a yoga studio? Slip on some leggings. Bingeing on a box set? Oh hi, leggings. And with high-waisted and leather-look options offering style as well as stretch, they’re a wardrobe workhorse.

However, not all leggings are created equal and there are styles and fabrics that are better suited to working out than staying in. We’ve outlined the main materials and features to look out for below to suit your needs and budget.

Whether you’re looking for an everyday pair to wear under dresses and oversized jumpers, on the hunt for high-performance workout gear or want to add to your athleisure-wear collection for a weekend of brunching, we’ve highlighted a selection of the best leggings currently on the market.

This will depend on how active you’re planning to be. For everyday comfort, consider a soft, breathable cotton, which is both easy to wear and affordable to buy. Cotton doesn’t stretch too well though – and can lose its shape over time – so it’s wise to look for a pair that also features fibres such as elastane or Lycra.

If you’re planning on working up a sweat, opt for polyester. This hydrophobic fabric is water resistant, moisture-wicking and stays breathable while wet (unlike cotton). It can harbour smells though, so aim for a polyester blend that combines antimicrobial fabrics like spandex. Spandex (or Lycra) is a staple in most activewear gear as it’s stretchy, chafe-free, flattering and breathable. However, too much spandex will feel rubbery – an amount between 5% and 10% is plenty. Bamboo is worth considering too, not only for its ethical properties: it’s sustainable, soft and naturally antibacterial, although leggings made from bamboo can feel looser than you might be used to.

Naturally, you’ll want leggings made from a breathable fabric no matter what exercise you’re planning on doing. On the fit front, aim for a comfortable cling rather than a Spanx-style squeeze; you don’t want to be tugging at your waistband mid-workout, but you’ll want full flexibility when you’re on the move. For yoga and pilates, keep things comfortable by avoiding zipped pockets and seams. Pockets can be really handy when running, for stashing on-the-go essentials such as phones, cards and keys, and a compression element can also be beneficial to runners to support muscles and speed up recovery.

These high-performance leggings may be pricey, but they’ve been in development for 20 years and combine an ultra-lightweight fabric with sweat-absorbing compression technology. The “bum sculpting” feature (curved seams that provide flattering support) and contrasting side stripe mean that you’ll look the part even before you’ve set your fitness tracker to running mode. They’re high waisted so there’s no danger of them gathering at the hips while you’re pounding the pavements, and there’s a handy zipped back pocket to keep your keys and cards safe.

Soft, comfy and opaque, these basic black leggings from Hush tick all the boxes. Made from 92% cotton and 8% elastane with an elasticated waistband, they offer a firm fit that holds its shape. The full-length style sits on the ankle and despite feeling lightweight, they’re thick enough to prevent any see-through spots mid-stretch.

Whether you’re embarking on a sequence of gentle stretches or heading into a vigorous vinyasa class, you’ll want leggings that are flexible, breathable and supportive; it’s hard to channel your inner zen if your outerwear isn’t fit for purpose. This colourful pair from Reebok’s Yoga Lux range features a flattering wide waistband with a chafe-free back panel and they feel tight without being restrictive. The high-rise design is comfy to wear and the moisture-wicking fabric keeps you cool during sweaty workouts. They’re made from recycled polyester (85%) and spandex (15%) so you can breathe easy on the eco-friendly front.

Comfy to wear and easy to style, a pair of leggings is a maternity wardrobe essential. This basic pair from H&M’s MAMA range features a wide panel to support an expanding bump and although they feel thin, they’re reassuringly opaque. Made from 95% organic cotton (and 5% elastane), they’re breathable and offer an over-the-bump fit so you don’t have to keep hoiking them up. And £9 is a fair price to pay for something you’ll only add to your wardrobe for a matter of months.

This biker-style pair from Spanx combine an edgy look and a comfy feel. Made from nylon (87%) and elastane (13%), they feel thicker than your average leggings and feature ribbed detail on the thigh and shin. As you’d expect from a brand that specialises in shapewear, there’s a contoured waistband and a leg-lengthening seamless design for a sleek silhouette.

These flattering ankle-length leggings from eco clothing brand Boody are made from 80% organic bamboo. With added nylon (13%) and spandex (7%), they’re stretchy, moisture-wicking and breathable. The bamboo provides natural thermo-regulating qualities so they’re easy to wear throughout the year. They feel silky-soft and there’s a wide waistband for comfort. They wash well, but it’s best to avoid the tumble dryer as bamboo can shrink in high heat.

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