Need to Know
  1. We put 8 pairs of black yoga pants to the test
  2. Besides yoga, we tried runs, gym workouts, and basic errands
  3. Lululemon, Athleta, and Forever 21 — really! — rate high

For years, lululemon’s Wunder Under pants have been held up as the Holy Grail of women’s workout pants. But at $82 per pair, they seem awfully spendy for a staple that’s just meant to get sweaty. So the Spright editors set out to answer the question: are there pants that cost less than lulu’s and perform just as well?

The test

We picked out seven pairs of black workout pants to go head-to-head with the Wunder Unders, with most priced at or below lululemon’s $82. (The exception was from up-and-coming brand Lorna Jane, because they’ve received enough buzz that we wanted to see if their $99 pants were worth the extra cash.) At least two editors wore each brand’s offering for one or more of their typical workouts, plus errands, lounging, city walks — all of the less-sweaty activities that make black workout pants such a great utility player in any wardrobe.

The contenders:

The takeaway

The Wunder Unders fit, feel, and perform in a way that our testers feel justifies the price. But some of the cheaper options put up a great fight, including pants from Athleta, Target, and Forever21. The ones to skip? Most of the pants priced around $50. Spending just a little more brings a huge leap in quality — and you can spend way less without sacrificing too much.

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The testers

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lululemon_productlaydownTHE PANTS: lululemon Wunder Under Pant ($82)

The bottom line: These pants perform well for any activity — and yes, they’re worth the price.

Fit: 5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 5 out of 5

Worth the price: Yes

Best for: Yoga, running, Pilates, gym workouts, lounging

 

 

lululemon_ProductReview_3up_mollyMolly tested lululemon size 4 for running and yoga. Molly says: Listen, I tried to resist these pants due to a self-imposed lulu ban in the wake of some shady business practices (and a jerk CEO) but the pants really are fantastic and flattering. I feel great in them and even sometimes save them for my hardest yoga classes of the week just because they add a little bit of confidence to every posture.

lululemon_ProductReview_3up_caitlinCaitlin tested lululemon size 8 for yoga. She says: These pants are expensive, yes, but they are every bit worth the money. They’re perfect for yoga, and even though I don’t usually do high-intensity workouts in lululemon, there’s no reason not to. They also trump any other lounge wear I own. The new ones are slightly thicker post-“see-through” incident, so they’re better for cool-weather workouts outdoors. They’re a great investment piece since they bridge the gap of workout wear and lounge wear.

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BlackPants_productlaydown_C9THE PANTS: C9 Champion Women’s Premium Ankle Legging ($40)

The bottom line: Fine pants at a reasonable price that will get you through most workouts — with some comfort-based drawbacks.

Fit: 3 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 3 out of 5

Worth the price: Yes

Best for: Basic workouts

 

C9_ProductReview_3up_mollyMolly tried C9 Champion size small for yoga. She says: For the price, these are great. The fit wasn’t as perfect as lulu, but at less than 1/2 of the price, that is as expected. The material was a little rough, but might get better with more washes. The pants seemed to stretch a little over the course of a yoga class, which isn’t ideal. But overall, these are good, especially for the price. I would recommend these to a friend looking to spend less on this staple.

C9_ProductReview_3up_jackelynJackelyn tried C9 Champion size small for high-intensity work and stretching. She says: These pants were okay. They’re good if you just need a basic pair of pants to work out in, but some things annoyed me. For one, instead of being stretchy overall, the waistband is held up by a 1/2-inch elastic strap. It was so prominent it got in my way — it wasn’t sewn into the fabric, so I could feel it moving around when I touched it. Also, some extra space around the crotch made the pants an awkward fit. They got the job done, though.

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BlackPants_productlaydown_AthletaTHE PANTS: Athleta Chaturanga Tight ($69)

The bottom line: Though still not cheap, they fit and feel the best of any of the less-pricey-than-lulu options.

Fit: 5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 5 out of 5

Worth the price: Yes.

Best for: Yoga, Pilates, errands, lounging

 

 

Athleta_ProductReview_3up_mollyMolly tested Athleta size extra-small for yoga. She says: These definitely seemed like the best of the less expensive pants. They’re about $15 cheaper than the lulu ones, but are still high quality and comfortable. I’ve never shopped at Athleta before, but I would purchase these pants and probably others from them after this experience.

Caitlin tested Athleta size small for running and some errands. She says: I was surprised to fit in a small. I’d probably get a medium if I bought these again, but the small was fine — the top elastic on the waistband had a limit on the stretch that I only noticed when I pulled them on and off. The length was great. I’m 5’2” and they fit perfectly at my ankles. I liked the weight of these pants — breathable but still thick, quality material. There’s a small pocket that would fit a key and cards but not much else. I enjoyed lounging in these as well as running.

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BlackPants_productlaydown_zella

THE PANTS: Zella Live In Leggings ($52)

The bottom line: Comfy, thick pants that don’t breathe well are an awkward middle ground — and they may be better for lounging than exercising.

Fit: 4 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 3.5 out of 5

Worth the price: Yes

Best for: Yoga, running, lounging

 

Zella_ProductReview_3up_molly Molly tried Zella size small for yoga. She says: While the material didn’t feel quite as body-hugging or thick as the lululemon, these were super comfortable. I wore them to my most rigorous 90-minute hot yoga class — which I usually reserve my favorite pants for. They were great during class, but after, it took them a long time to start to dry out. I had dinner waiting for me at home so didn’t jump right in the shower, and I started to get super chilled after about 15 minutes. These might not be the best pick if you’re going from a workout to another activity. For a day of lounging or errands, however, they would work great. 

Caitlin tried Zella size medium for a run. She says: These pants feel as thick as lululemon but not quite as breathable. However, they kept me warm on my morning run. The fit was pretty good — better than the lower-priced pants I tried. They were comfortable to lounge in. However, for slightly more money I could buy lululemon or Athleta, both of which I preferred overall.

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BlackPants_productlaydown_F21THE PANTS: Forever 21 Performance Leggings ($23)

The bottom line: The best-performing lower-priced option — but only if you get a good fit for you.

Fit: 3.5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 3.5 out of 5

Worth the price: Yes

Best for: Running, core exercises, cool-weather outdoor activity

 

 

Forever21_ProductReview_3up_ursula Ursula tried Forever 21 size small for running and core exercises. She says: I was pleasantly surprised: The pants didn’t look like they came from Forever 21, and they fit well, with compartments for keys, contoured stitching, and even a slight compression feel. They were very warm, so I’d recommend them for fall and spring use outdoors. They didn’t ride up or fall down, and there was no weird fabric bunching anywhere. And the cost can’t be beat.

Forever21_ProductReview_3up_caitlinCaitlin tried Forever 21 size medium for a running hill workout. She says: I wasn’t sure these pants were stretchy enough to fit, but they kept sliding down — even before I started my workout. I kept having to hike them up when I was running. But maybe they stuck better once I was sweaty, because by 10 minutes in I stopped noticing the sliding. These pants have two pockets, one in the waistband for keys and cards and a bigger one on the outside thigh. The thigh pocket fits an iPhone 5s, but I’m not convinced it’s secure, and I would notice it bouncing with every step. 

Molly tried Forever 21 size small for hot yoga. She says: For the price, these are a pretty great option. They weren’t the best for my very sweaty Core Power class, but for less than $25 I can forgive them that. In the future, I’d throw these on for a run, even though they have no pocket big enough for my iPhone. One bummer: The drawstring came out in the wash!

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BlackPants_productlaydown_LJTHE PANTS: Lorna Jane Amy Full-Length Tight ($99)

The bottom line: Good pants, especially for cooler climates — but for the price, just buy the lulu.

Fit: 3.5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 4.5 out of 5

Worth the price: Maybe

Best for: Yoga, running outdoors in colder weather, lounging and errands

 

LornaJane_ProductReview_3up_ursulaUrsula tested Lorna Jane size medium for running and body weight exercises. She says: I could probably have worn a small — the top kept slowly scooting down my hips, even after I tied the drawstring as tight as it would go. They were very warm and didn’t have any weird sagging, which I appreciated. Overall I’d say these are best for winter running outdoors in moderate to cold (snowless) weather.

LornaJane_ProductReview_3up_JackelynJackelyn tested Lorna Jane size small for yoga, running, and high-intensity training. She says: I loved the feel of these pants. They were a bit tight, but they kept everything in place and the thick fabric moved with me as I ran and jumped into lunges. But I felt extremely hot the moment I put them on, as the fabric was not very breathable. These were also way too long for me — I’m 5’5″ and most pants fit fine, but these bunched near my ankles. I liked the idea of the zipper pocket being at the hip instead of the back, but the execution drove me nuts: the zipper itself is invisible, but the zipper pull is not, and it was so annoying. Overall, these pants did the job, but the finer details make the price point too high.

Molly tested Lorna Jane size small for yoga and general life tasks. She says: These are the most expensive ones? That seems unnecessary. They have a zip pocket, which is good for valuables (but who is really carrying valuables in a yoga class?). I found the top with the drawstring to be a little bulky.

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BlackPants_productlaydown_adidasTHE PANTS: Adidas Performer Mid-Rise Full Tights ($50)

The bottom line: Awkward fit, strange styling choices, and uncomfortable waistband make these an easy pass.

Fit: 2.5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 2 out of 5

Worth the price: No

Best for: Basic workouts

 

 

adidas_ProductReview_3up_JackelynJackelyn tried Adidas size small for running, high-intensity training, and yoga. She says: These pants were only OK. The top band is thick (about 5 inches in width) and parts of it kept folding over. The fit of the crotch area was a bit loose. My butt looked really good, though, and I felt very athletic. One of my least favorite parts was the “shiny fabric” factor. I don’t like shiny workout pants.

adidas_ProductReview_3up_UrsulaUrsula tried Adidas size medium for running. She says: I appreciated the thick waistband, but these pants were not my favorite. Every pair of adidas pants I’ve tried has the same issue for me: baggy fabric around the crotch. I don’t enjoy working out when I feel self-conscious about the fit of my workout gear, so it was hard to concentrate on running when I felt like everyone would be staring at the bunched fabric. The fabric also wasn’t very breathable. I don’t think these are worth $50.

Molly tried Adidas size small for yoga. She says: They’re less expensive, which is great, but the fit left a little to be desired. The top folded/rolled down a bit as I moved around in my heated vinyasa class. It also bugged me that they weren’t tight all the way through the ankles — from about mid-calf down, they hung straight, which had the effect of flaring out a bit. 

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BlackPants_productlaydown_OldNavyTHE PANTS: Old Navy Go-Dry Compression Leggings ($27)

The bottom line: Affordable, but too thin and unstructured to feel comfortable in public.

Fit: 2.5 out of 5

Comfort and feel: 2 out of 5

Worth the price: Maybe

Best for: Lounging, at-home workouts, moderate hiking

 

 

OldNavy_ProductReview_3up_mollyMolly tried Old Navy size medium for a moderate walk. She says: I wore these for the two mile walk to the office and felt self-conscious the whole time. They feel very thin, so I was worried the whole time that they were sheer. I was probably wearing a size too big, which contributed to them feeling flimsy. They did not fee like “pants” I would be comfortable running around town in. 

OldNavy_ProductReview_3up_ursulaUrsula tried Old Navy size small for hiking and jogging. She says: These pants are very affordable, but I felt like I definitely was getting what I paid for — low quality to go with the low price. The fabric is thin and insubstantial, which would make it excellent for running on hot days, but I felt like these pants needed some more contouring seams or something to make me feel like I wasn’t wearing sheer tights. That said, they did have a better overall cut and fit than Old Navy athletic pants that I’ve tried previously … possibly because they have no structure. The pants also stretched out over the course of the day.

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THE AWARDS

Best Overall: lululemon’s Wunder Unders deserve their reputation as flattering and functional yoga and workout pants. If you’ve got the cash to spend, these are a good investment piece for both workouts and daily life.

Best Middle Ground: Athleta’s Chaturanga Tights deliver premium features at a lower price than lulu (plus, they’re more likely to go on sale). These pants fit and move well for a variety of workouts and never felt skimpy or cheap.

Best Value: Forever 21’s Performance Leggings surprised us with their attractive styling, functional pockets, and minimal price. Double-check the fit before buying, and knot the drawstring before washing.