The best compression tights for flying

The verdict

For me, the best compression tights on the market are made by Skins. I favour the Skins RY400 for all the reasons I describe in this article.

They never cut into me, yet always feel like they are providing a good snug fit without bunching behind the knee. Plus they don’t have a “sock”. They also feel a little lighter than the other full length compression tights. The seams are not noticeable on wearing but that is much the same for Nike. They are a little more expensive than others, but for me it is worth it.

With all that said, this really comes down to personal preference and how you feel in them. Remember this is all about lowering the risk not eliminating it.

What’s the risk?

There is more than enough research to conclude that you should be rocking compression tights, socks or stockings on long haul flights.

It would be inflammatory to say something like “If sitting is the new smoking then flying must be crack cocaine” but you would get the gist. 

Researchers say that being on a plane for more than 8 hours increases the risk of DVT. Sitting for more than 6 hours will greatly increase your risk of an early death.

OK, I’ll chuck the tights on.

I’ve worn them since I started doing regular long haul travel back in 2009 (the equivalent of 2 long haul flights every month). Over that time I’ve tested a number of different brands and styles. I definitely notice reduced inflammation when wearing either the socks or the full length tights. As well as lesser joint pain and good “recovery” – meaning I am able to get out to exercise as I normally would.

The thing is there is a massive range of alternatives and it can be tough to pick and choose. Here’s a few things to consider when investing in compression wear.

Style

I’m not talking about how cool you look in these bad boys. For me, these are all undergarments and not the sexy “I might get lucky” sort. The socks are as appealing as those seen hoisted between plaid shorts and patent leather shoes at the 19th hole. And the tights, well, let’s face it unless you are an Olympic gymnast it’s hard to pull off anything this form fitting. Especially for boys. In the words of tweens everywhere “Eeew… gross Dad.”

So looks aside, which compression style performs better? The consensus seems to support the use of socks and long compression tights i.e. not the shorts or three quarter leg versions.

One metric to look out for is the mmHg measurement which refers to the level of compression in the tights. Whilst there is no definitive guide something like the Skins RY400 provides a good indication: a pressure rating between 19 – 22mmHg at the base of the mid calf and 9 – 11mmHg at the hip/waist.

Skins RY400

Comfort and fit

Socks are by far the easier of the two to incorporate into your wardrobe. These are sold just like any other pair of socks and sized accordingly. In my experience just go with your normal shoe/sock size. Don’t attempt to size-up for swelling on the plane or size-down for more compression. Covering less surface area they are cooler than full length tights but still fit above the knee. For women this is not an unusual sensation but for guys it can be new but in no way uncomfortable. Really, these are just a snug fitting sock.

A risk here is that they are “just a sock” and get treated as such in your laundry. Not washing them according to the label reduces their longevity. Also, the sock monster in your washing machine loves a good left sock. Yep, like all other socks you will lose one soon enough.

Full length compression tights, by definition, cover you from waist to ankle. Some, like the Nike Pro Combat, also have a type of sock-loop which covers part of the foot leaving only the toes and heels exposed. This coverage does lead some to complain of overheating. Personally, I am normally cold on planes and don’t mind the extra layer, though on occasion I have woken to push the blanket away.

Over time I have gravitated towards the full length version of compression tights. I wear these like you would long johns or full length underwear, with a loose fitting pant over the top.

 

A few things to check

  • The waist band shouldn’t pinch or cut into you, which you can normally tell with a quick glance and touch of the waistband in store.
  • The knee fit is important as it shouldn’t bunch up behind the knee which gets increasingly more uncomfortable over the length of the flight.
  • The foot loop/stirrup. I find it annoying and uncomfortable under shoes and socks. A friend of mine actually cut if off with no noticeable impact. I wore the Nike Pro Combat for about a year and got into the habit of rolling it up over the ankle. As I say, a bit annoying.

One thing about the full length tight is that it does add some compression around your waist. Between ensuring you hydrate on the flight and pressure on your tum, you can be up and down a lot. So first time it might pay to get an aisle seat, or hope you have a considerate neighbour.

 

Price

This is the clincher for many. A good pair of the socks will cost you over $30 whereas the compression tights are about $100. This isn’t cheap.

But I do feel like you get more wear out of the tights. Being an unusual garment they get treated differently and possibly better. The socks disappear like all others and seem to deteriorate more quickly.

Style Comfort Price
Skins RY400 ***  ***  $$$
Skins A400 *** **  $$
2XU Recovery *** ** $$$
Nike Pro Combat Recovery ** * $$
Dr. Scholl’s Support Socks ** ***  $

 

 

And the winner is.. Skins RY400

They are the most comfortable compression tights I have worn. They are a little more expensive but it is worth it.

 

A final word on getting into your compression tights

This provides no end of comic relief for my partner. She loves to see me pull on the skintight, elasticised material trying not to be self-conscious as I check the fit in the mirror. I’ve read stories about change rooms at international swimming meets during the body swimsuit era. Picture a scene of trainers and coaches attempting to manipulate their charges into itsy bitsy bodysuits (purposefully designed several sizes too small to eliminate water resistance). This is how I would like to think I look. Probably not.

The tip is to treat it just like a pair of stockings but they are much less fragile. For the less experienced, this means:

  1. Start by sitting pulling the tights over your feet.
  2. Ensure the seams are lined up to be in the right position (normally the sides of the legs).
  3. Pull until your feet are all the way through and the tights are bunched at your ankles.
  4. Then roll them up, watching the seams and smoothing as you go.
  5. Once on it is really hard to reposition them so keep an eye on those seams.

 

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