Okay, let me begin by saying that I’ve been “dressing Euro” for a while now when it comes to my trail and ultrarunning. Calf sleeves, compression socks, and compression shorts have become mainstays of my training, racing, recovery, and travel wardrobes. Let me explain why.
During training and racing, I appreciate the biomechanical support said clothes provide as well as the reduction in minor-but-annoying-to-me soft-tissue vibrations. Let me state the second part of that another way: I hate feeling my quads and glutes do that tiny jiggle they do on a burly descent because it makes me feel like important energy is being directed the wrong way. If it’s cold, that jiggle is additionally painful. And, at the end of a long run, I like the minor biomechanical aid that, say, a pair of compression shorts gives to my core. When fatigue sets in, gait-changing shifts in the tilt and rotation of my pelvis occur because surrounding muscles don’t behave quite right. With a little love from something tight, those shifts are staved off. Also, I’m one of those people who blows up like a balloon from water retention after a big training or racing event, and during long bouts of car/airplane/whatever travel. When I wear compression, I don’t blow up so much.
I asked the Swiss company Compressport if I could test one of their newest trail products, the Pro Racing Trail-Running Short. Perhaps because they’ve noticed my penchant for tight clothing, they sent me a few additional pieces to test, the Full Socks 3D.Dots, the Pro Racing Arm Sleeve with Watch Space, the R2 Calf Guards, and the ProRacing Trail Socks.
Compressport Pro Racing Trail-Running Short
Description and Specs
This short ($130) is high waisted and almost knee length, giving complete coverage of the lower abdominals, the glute complex, the hamstrings, and the quads. The compression around the abdominals and glutes is what I’d call moderate and high around the hamstrings and quadriceps. There’s an external, finely woven mesh pocket on the back that can hold about five gels, an iPhone (Put the phone in a baggie because the pocket gets sweaty, and beware an electronics-crushing fall!), or a pair of gloves. The inside of the high waist is ringed with a silicone overlay that’s designed to create friction between the shorts and your skin to prevent movement and sagging. Additionally, there are several silicone overlays on the outside of the thighs – words, circles, and swishes – that are also designed to give you a friction-ed place to put your hands when you’re climbing uphill. The seams are flat and strategically placed to avoid crotch-chafing issues. The short is unisex and come in four sizes that you fit yourself into based upon the circumference of your upper and lower quads. The short is available in black and red.
Among the Compressport pieces I tested, these were my hands-down favorites. The level of compression and the way it varied between the core and hamstrings/quads areas was ideal for me. Around my core, I’m looking for a little bit of biomechanical support, but not so much compression that I get a belly ache. And, in the hamstrings/quads area, I prefer very strong compression to eliminate soft-tissue movement. The only awkward part of this short is where the compression suddenly changes from moderate to high on the upper thigh. This sudden change creates a slight, shall we say, bulge of my upper back thigh. If Compressport graded from moderate to high compression over an inch or two, I think it would eliminate this little bulge.
The silicone overlays more than do their job. The shorts stay up and you can push on your thighs as much as you want when you’re climbing and your hands won’t slide around. Cool innovation. I’ve found that the front waist, because it’s so high, occasionally folds over when I’m doubled over on a steep climb. Also, I’ve found that I have to drop trou with intention or the silicone overlays work too well in keeping my pants on, if you know what I mean. I’ve gone through roughly 15 hand washings/air dryings, as per directions, and about 25 outings – including a 100k race – with the shorts and they remain intact and fully functional.
I worried a bit about how the front of the crotch would perform given that this short is unisex and I’m lacking certain anatomical features that would have to be accounted for there for male short wearers. But, honestly, as a woman, I notice no weird extra fabric or fabric bulges. I don’t know how Compressport pulled that off, but good on them.
The back pocket works great in all the ways I’ve tried it. Its mesh is see-through so whomever is running behind you will have a nice view of its contents.
Speaking of views the folks behind you will have, let me progress to my least-favorite aspect of this short. They are slightly see-through in the heiney. (I tested the black shorts.) If you’re just plain running in the short, folks won’t have a view through the material to whatever is, or isn’t, back there. But, if you’re taking big steps up a big climb, the material stretches across your lower behind thin enough to provide an, ahem, slight view. So, this means that you either have to live with this or wear underwear that appropriately covers the view. Ideally, if Compressport used a slightly thicker material, just through the lower back half of the butt, they would allay any issue.
I fell hard once while wearing this short, cutting my knees, left elbow, and left hip. My hip was covered by the short, which emerged from the fray undamaged. I wish I could say the same for the skin underneath!
Full Socks 3D.Dots
These are knee-high compression socks ($56). As compression goes, I’d place them in the moderate-to-high compression category. Other features include ribbing for a close fit, an arch-support band, and those funky 3D.Dots, three dimensional nubs of material designed to grip a shoe’s insole, provide padding to sensitive areas of the foot, and allow air and moisture transfer. They are unisex, but come in 11 sizes based upon your shoe size and the circumference of your calf at its thickest point. You can get these socks in black or white.
These socks do the trick in supporting all of the tricky, tiny support muscles of the lower legs and preventing vibrations in my calf muscles. I’ve also enjoyed using these socks on long travel outings and during recovery to prevent swelling. The arch-support band is nice; I can feel the tiniest of tugs on my arches at the ends of long runs when the arch collapses a bit due to muscle fatigue.
And the 3D.Dots? Honestly, I can’t tell if they do anything or not. About the biggest impact they’ve had is garnering attention from others who ask, “What kind of sock is that?” and “What are those dots?”
ProRacing Arm Sleeve with Watch Space
Here we’re talking about a simple product, compression arm sleeves with a special slot through which you slide your watch so that you can read it without having to push the sleeves around. The watch space has protective material on its edges so that you don’t stretch or rip your sleeve around the watch. Again, the product is unisex but comes in four sizes based upon the size of your biceps and forearms at their largest spots. The arm sleeves are available in white and black and they retail for $64.
You know, I wanted to like these arm sleeves, but, for several reasons, they just aren’t for me. That said, they are good sleeves and they could be right for you. Let me elaborate.
First, because they are moderately compressive, it takes a bit of effort to slide them up and down than other, looser arm sleeves. I wear arm sleeves largely when the temperature is variable, when one minute I’ll want my arms covered and the next minute I’ll want some air to cool off. Also, the watch sleeve doesn’t work for all watches. I can slip my little Timex stopwatch through the sleeve no problem, but the watch space won’t allow for the larger, square face of my Garmin 310.
That said, the sleeves wear comfortably, provide moderate compression to the arms which mostly keeps the sleeves up, and are well-made for what I think would be long-lasting use. If you don’t have the desire to slide your sleeves up and down with as much frequency as me and if your GPS watch face isn’t as big as mine, these sleeves might do the trick for you.
Finally, during very hot runs, I pour water over my arm sleeves for a cooling effect. These sleeves do a great job of holding onto water for a little while so that the arm sleeves can do their cooling job longer. This, for me, is the highlight of the sleeves.
R2 Calf Guards
The R2 calf guards ($48) are the mainstay product of Compressport’s calf-guard line. “R2” stands for race and recovery, and I would add that the guards can be easily worn during just plain running, too. :) We’re looking at a simple product that’s designed to provide a high level of calf compression. The top and bottom of each sleeve has a band made of a slightly stretchier and looser material that’s designed to provide a gradual transition from tight compression to bare skin to prevent circulation cut-off issues. The socks come in four sizes based upon the circumference of your calf at its widest point as well as the length of your lower leg. The R2 comes in 10 colors, including black, white, and an array of bright shades like blue, green, pink, and yellow.
I’m into the R2 Calf Guards; they are my second-favorite Compressport product among those that I tested. Mostly, I’m into the fact that they are both simple and effective. They are highly compressive, eliminating what feels like all calf vibrations while running. The guards are easy to pull off and on, which isn’t always the case with highly compressive garments. I appreciate the attention to detail with the stretchy top and bottom bands, and the sleeves don’t cut into my legs. When I’ve been traveling, I’ve worn these for eight or more hours without discomfort. I think these guards are dang durable, too. I drag my calf sleeves through the shrubbery and snowfield wringers, but mine look nearly new after nearly 20 outings. Finally, I dig the color scheme; you can get really colorful with these guards.
ProRacing Trail Socks
Compressport makes a number of crew-ish-length tech-y socks, and these are their trail version ($24). As far as I can tell, the difference between the trail socks and the other socks on the ProRacing sock line is that these have more 3D.Dots around the inner ankle. For features, the socks are ribbed for a sturdy fit, have an arch-support band, and 3D.Dots around the foot’s ball, heel, Achilles, and inner ankle. Finally, there’s a tab on the back of the sock that I think is supposed to help keep the sock from falling into a shoe. The socks come in four sizes, based upon your shoe size, as well as three colors, blue, pink, or green dots atop the gray with black base colors.
Since I’m a person who sometimes struggles with friction blisters between my toes while running, I enter into all sock discussions with a bias for toe socks. That said, I wear tested these socks about 10 times under conditions where I knew toe blisters wouldn’t happen, and I enjoyed wearing them. I could feel the arch-support band, but, like the Full Socks 3D.Dots, I couldn’t really tell what the 3D.Dots were doing for me other than looking good.
Compressport has been providing compression and similar garments to the triathlete and Euro-running crowd for the last three years and, of late, they are expanding into the trail-running markets beyond Europe. For folks who are into compression, there’s no doubt that something or things in the Compressport lines will work well for you. Their products vary in their technical additions, with some products seeming simple and others seeming more loaded with “gadgetry.” I can vouch for their durability, given that I’ve put each of them through lots of trail wearings and not-so-benign conditions. As far as I can tell, washing/drying directions for all of Compressport’s gear is for hand washing and air drying.
In the online and written literature for Compressport’s products, the company makes a lot of claims about what their products do that I don’t think are substantiated by scientific research. For example, they claim that the fiber of a product that “triggers a micromassage providing well being and lightness” when you move in it or that a garment has “painkilling” properties. While I wish companies would trend toward just telling potential buyers what a product is specifically made of rather that what they think it can do in their product literature, I can look past this and see the usefulness of the garments for me.
Finally, after my experience so far with Compressport’s products, I’m left wanting to try more. Namely, I’d love to give their ForQUAD quad guards a go since they appear to be very similar to the R2 calf guards in structure and function. I’d also like to try their FULL LEG compression garment, which extends from thigh to ankle, for recovery and traveling.
Call for Comments
- Have you worn any of Compressport’s products for trail running or ultrarunning? If so, what did you try and how do you think it performed for you?
- Is there anything among the Compressport lines that you’d be eager to use in your outdoor activities?