For the complete story, see SNEWS Winter Outdoor magazine 2009, p. 31, "Stretching the Limits." (To download the full issue, click here www.snewsnet.com/magazines.)
These seven companies are as of January 2009 the primary players in the United States although with the burgeoning exposure and interest -- and the market potential -- others are dabbling at similar garments.
Introduced in Australia in 2005, the company came to the United States in 2006 and launched to the outdoor industry at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2008. 2XU (say it like "two times you," with the underlining meaning intended to imply that you will be double yourself when you wear its garments) has focused more on the triathlon, running, biking and swimming market until recently.
The company claims increased performance, lowered muscle soreness and better recovery, and says it tights and apparel are true gradient compression with tighter fit at the ankle and gradually looser up the body, although the pressure it claims is not as tight as others claim.
Its product line includes short and long tights, one-piece suits and tops as well as knee-highs. For lower-body activities the emphasis is on the use of tights so if you can't get the correct fit with a full-length tight because of your body shape, it recommends you wear the short tights and the socks. Its sizing is based on circumference and refers buyers to use a tape measure to choose the right size.
Its tights' MSRPs run from about $100 to $140.
With 20-plus years behind it with its parent company Wacoal Sport Science in Japan, CW-X launched in the United States in 2003 with basic tights and has slowly expanded its line to include various thicknesses, tops, sport bras and socks. Initially more of a running line, it now sees its primary markets as running and snowsports with some reach into cycling and fitness.
Although it stresses a tight fit, it does not tout benefits from pure gradient compression as others do, but calls itself a compression product while focusing on what it calls "targeted support." In other words, in first order, CW-X claims lowered muscle oscillation or movement, strong muscle support and increased "proprioception" for better balance and control. In second line, it mentions compressive benefits such as increased blood flow and better removal of waste products (lactate) in the blood. It does not measure or claim pressure gradients.
The product line is expansive and it is a regular at Outdoor Retailer shows, with socks introduced for the 2009 season. Sizing is like most other tights using height and weight.
Its tights' MSRPs run from about $75 to $115.
A Canadian company, the brand only sells in limited markets with its focus mostly on triathlons. (It licenses its technology to Zoot as of 2008 for the running and cycling markets.) The principals of the company have long backgrounds in textiles and have focused since founding the company in 2005 on mastering the first seamless compression. Basically they use what they called "overgrown hosiery machines" to do circular knits, programming the machines to do different types of stitches in different areas.
It says it has a compressive fit and that improves circulation while it also helps reroute blood from the muscles to the heart. It has not done nor does it tout the pressure gradients for the garments. Kmeleon also talks about lowering the movement of the muscles so users lose less energy needed for performance.
The product line is not shown at U.S. shows with the company allowing Zoot to take on the market. Sizing is based on circumference including thigh measurements to make sure the compression is accurate.
One of the newest players, Opedix has a product that is steeped in sports medicine. For now it has two garments -- a top and a bottom, with men's and women's fits.
Although it says the apparel is compressive, it does not use measurements of gradients because it stresses knee, hip and shoulder alignment and support to reduce joint wear and tear. That in the end, the company says, will improve strength and endurance. It stresses that banding mimics taping and the "sling action" at the knee helps the knee track correctly which helps with efficiency in movement. Particularly for women, the tights are supposed to provide lateral support like the band on the outside of the leg normally should or would.
The top is called "posture control" because of banding around the shoulders and across the back to open the chest and improve posture.
MSRP of long tights is $190, while a short sleeve top is about $100.
Although a huge player since 2002 in Australia and well-known Down Under, the company entered the U.S. market in 2007 and is now working to strengthen its placement here. In its home country, runners, cyclists, triathletes, rugby players and many other athletes turn to Skins. The company has a full line of tights, tops and socks, and for 2009, the women's line has changed colors and the placement of the traditionally large logo in central locations to more subtle placements.
It talks pure gradient compression and emphasizes its pressure gradient ratings, noting figures that are comparably as tight as medical compression hosiery. In first line, Skins says the compression is what improves circulation, returns blood to the heart better and improves performance. The company says its technology is new and it applies particular pressure to particular places to enhance circulation and improve muscle power. In addition, it touts better recovery.
Sizing is based on something called "body mass index" which is a complicated algorithm that takes height, weight and mass into account. That is translated into a chart that shows height and weight in a grid.
The MSRP of basic tights is about $115 to $120.
Under Armour (www.underarmour.com)
The name that most know in sports for tight, compressive apparel, Under Armour has been around longer than the other companies -- founded in 1996. Its apparel line is gargantuan and now goes beyond the basic tight stuff to an entire line of looser-fitting garments that are more mainstream and traditional. The apparel is sold not only at specialty but just about everywhere such apparel can be found, from mass merchants to sporting goods.
Others in the specialty area applaud Under Armour for raising awareness among consumers of the performance benefits of compression apparel. Under Armour touts four lines of specific benefits including temperature regulation, more stamina and power, and faster recovery. It bases those on several specific studies by a particular researcher.
The company declines to discuss pressure gradients or how it measures its compression because it says the methods and results can vary, may not be accurate and may not be comparable to others.
The MSRPs of tights range from about $40 to $80.
X-Gear was launched in the U.S. market in 2007 -- eight years after its launch in Switzerland. In Europe, it has a huge following and high-profile athletes, such as Tour de France competitor Jan Ullrich, as spokespeople. The X-Gear line is also expansive with long lists of patented features that provide benefits including ankle support, toe protection and temperature regulation.
Although also a tight fit, the company stresses that best performance in its opinion is when an athlete's body temperature is regulated well -- cooled when it's hot and warmed appropriately when it's cool, while also allowing sweat to evaporate well. X-Gear does have compression socks for various sports, as well as for travel, but it uses a lighter compression, stressing in papers that too much simply cuts off circulation and can hamper performance.
The tights' MSRPs range from about $110 to $220.
Zoot Sports (www.zootsports.com)
Zoot, with a longer heritage in cycling and multisport, has licensed Kmeleon's technology and has exclusivity for the running, biking and some triathlete markets in the United States. Although the technology and the material is the same, the line does not include the same garments, and Zoot has some that Kmeleon does not.
Before its launch in the summer of 2008 to the trade, Zoot also did its own testing in its own lab and found a decrease in lactic acid build-up and lower perceived efforts by subjects. The tests were not on subjects doing long-term training but short bouts.
They also compare some of the compressive benefits to what users might get when they use elastic banding and it claims high pressure gradients very comparable to medical compression hosiery.
MSRPs on tights are about $110 to $150.
Don't miss the full story, "Stretching the Limits," in the SNEWS Winter Outdoor 2009 magazine. To download the full issue – and see other back issues --, go to www.snewsnet.com/magazines.