When you’re just starting to be more serious about having an active lifestyle, you may find it surprising how athletes and other workout enthusiasts put so much emphasis on workout clothes.
Under Armour is an example of a company that started out from the basement of a football team captain in Baltimore who wanted to design activewear that can withstand sweat and intense activity for the team. Now it’s a billion-dollar company that sells not just in the United States but also worldwide.
If you’ve ever shopped for sportswear, you will notice that a lot of workout clothes are expensive. And you might be asking, why spend the extra money on clothes that you’re just going to sweat in. And since you’re planning to use it several times, it’s just going to get worn out.
To answer that question, sportswear is not the same as your everyday clothing that you just need to be comfortable in. Aside from the emphasis on fabric, there are a lot of technology features that go into manufacturing sportswear. Along with production, the price adds up.
With the rise of sportswear trends also comes the rise of sporting equipment stores. Now are you are blinded with choices. From types, materials, and features that you don’t know what to use them for.
Running shorts is an example of workout clothing that has a lot of factors to consider before buying. We understand that with the plethora of options that you have, it’s hard to choose when you don’t know what you are looking for and you don’t know what your needs are.
That’s what this ultimate guide is for.
Before you fall into the trap of buying running shorts just because you think they are cute, we’re breaking down the different types, different lengths, and different fabric materials. We’re also taking a look at some features that you should look for when you’re buying running shorts for different running activities. So read on.
First, let’s get into what running shorts specifically are for.
1. What Are Running Shorts?
Running shorts are specialized types of shorts that are worn by runners. Like any workout clothes, they are made to be comfortable as well as practical. They tend to be lighter and more breathable than “usual” shorts to better facilitate the running process.
If you are an active person who just wants to switch between different workouts, you might not find having a specific type of running short to be a requisite.
If you are new to running, you might forego running in shorts that you already have.
But as you progress in your running repertoire, you will notice a lot of discomforts that will be addressed by buying specific types of workout shorts.
In the same way, if you are an avid runner who wants to reap the benefits of running or a running athlete where you need to be at your optimum condition, you will find that running shorts help for better performance.
The main goal of running shorts is to cater to different running types. Whether you are running track, or trails, or just plain roaming around local roads for a morning exercise, there is a specific running short that will match your run.
2. Why Wear Running Shorts?
Let’s address the elephant in the room and answer the question: How do running shorts help with running?
So we’re down to the same question of what should workout clothes do for you?
Let me put you up to speed:
The best workout clothes that you can find must be able to provide you comfort, provide support, adds protection during activity, prevents injuries, boost your performance, boost your confidence, and even aid in your recovery after exercise.
Every second counts when you’re in a race. Wearing a pair of running shorts can boost your performance or at least give you that slight advantage over your competitors so you can take first place.
That’s pretty much what workout clothes should be about.
While you can take account of fashion, you need to keep in mind that your goal in buying workout clothes is to make working out as comfortable as possible whether in rain, cold, and heat.
So we’ve given you the gist of it. Now let’s get on to specifics. First, with the types of running shorts.
3. What Types Of Shorts Are Best For Running?
When it comes to types, you should be looking at freedom movements that it will allow.
Many types of running shorts are available: compression running shorts, split-leg running shorts, V-notch running shorts amongst others. The type of running shorts most suitable for you depends largely on the distance you run, as well as the intensity of the run itself
3.1 Compression Running Shorts
Compression shorts are gaining traction to athletes of all levels.
It is made mainly of a stretchy fabric material called spandex.
They are called as such due to the “compression” or pressure that it provides when you wear it. When we say pressure, we’re mainly talking about the tight fit, while having a sturdy construction, as well as a good grip around the edges.
Compression shorts are also warmer and therefore helps reduce muscle fatigue and lower the risk of muscle soreness.
These are best when you’re going for extreme sports and endurance races.
They are usually made of longer inseams and probably your best option when you’re looking for activewear to prevent chafing as well as one that will give you exceptional flexibility.
There are two types of compression shorts and these are underwear or outerwear. It’s a great undergarment and also can double as an outer garment. it just means that you can wear compression shorts alone or as an inner short.
Recovery-wise, compression shorts can also be worn after and between strenuous workout as it increases blood flow, and support key muscle areas such as the glutes and hamstrings.
- Tough, lightweight HeatGear fabric, with all the performance benefits of UA Compression
- Stretch mesh gusset & inseam panels deliver strategic ventilation
- Updated ergonomic design keeps seams off high abrasion areas & increases durability
- 4 way stretch construction moves better in every direction
- Material wicks sweat & dries really fast
3.2 V-Notch Running Shorts
V-notch running shorts are the most popular type.
It got its name from the upside-down v-shaped cut from the half-inch of the hem.
Compared to the traditional cut of shorts that are sewn all the way down, the v-notch running shorts due to its cut allows for a greater range of movements.
- Shell 100% Polymicro Polyester, Lining 100% Polyester Crepe
- Lightweight moisture wicking fabric to keep you dry and cool
- V-Notch side split. 3.75” inseam and Muli-Sport Fit
- Elastic waistband with built in drawstring and key pocket
- Designed, Cut, Sewn, and Printed in the USA
3.3 Split-Leg Running Shorts
Similar to a v-notch, split leg type of running shorts have an opening cut on the hem.
However, the split-leg design is sewn by overlapping the front panel over the back.
While v-notch is a simple cut, the v-shaped in the split shorts is made by this overlap.
Both are good for flexibility and a different range of motions.
The leg can move back and forth without constriction that is usually a problem with running shorts in conventional cuts.
Many runners prefer this type of shorts because they can make natural strides with the flexibility offered by the split design.
Shorts with the split-leg design are usually with shorter inseams.
- Running short featuring a covered elastic waistband and dolphin hem
- Inside key pocket
- Inseam: 2.25"
- Moisture management technology
- Built-in brief liner for added comfort
Looking back, split shorts have been the choice of runners since the 1940s starting from Roger Bannister, Kenenisa Bekele, to Mo Farah.
Still, many male runners usually get second thoughts about wearing short shorts in the v notch and split-leg design due to the exposure in the legs.
As running becomes a more mainstream and casual activity, skimpier shorts are also becoming a top choice for short sprints and for warm summer runs.
4. What Materials Are Running Shorts Made Of?
Exercise clothing comes in a variety of fabric materials.
Materials can be grouped into two broad categories: synthetic fibers and natural fibers. Synthetic fibers refer to materials such as polyester, spandex, and nylon, whereas natural fibers refer to materials such as cotton and (less frequently) bamboo. Each set of materials comes with its own advantages and disadvantages – while running shorts made from synthetic fibers tend to be more durable, they’re often not as breathable as running shorts made from natural fibers. On the other hand, running shorts made from natural fibers offer great stretch and movement, but are prone to chafing.
When looking at your choice of fabric materials, keep in mind how it will have an impact your running performance.
The sweat management technology that goes into it will determine whether you can run at prolonged lengths.
There are four common types of fabric materials used for running shorts including polyester, spandex, nylon, and cotton.
Almost the majority of workout clothes manufactured today are made of polyester. This type of cloth resembles plastic which makes it lightweight.
Polyester is preferred by many athletes primarily because of its durability and breathability. It is also wrinkle-resistant.
While it has many good qualities, a lot of runners try to find an alternative because polyester tends to stink after heavy sweating.
Bacteria-causing odor tends to grow faster on polyester which makes it smell bad.
Hence, even though you’ve washed your workout clothes and worn them smelling fresh, they’d still smell bad. Now you know why soccer team locker rooms smell like a wet dog died in there.
The way you can prevent this by airing your clothes out immediately after activity. Adding some borax in your laundry also helps to inhibit the enzymes that causes the bad smell.
It’s also not advisable to use fabric conditioners or softeners in washing your workout clothes as these just locks the bad smell in your clothes.
Also avoid wearing cologne when you’re preparing for an intense activity. Some colognes doesn’t mix well with sweat.
In this article by Bustle, there are 8 ways on how to get the smell out of gym clothes.
Unlike polyester, nylon’s hydrophilic nature makes it less odorous.
Nylon is also sweat-wicking and has great stretch and recovery.
If you’re planning for an active day, nylon may probably be your best option.
Spandex, which is also known by the name lycra, is the stretchy material that makes up compression shorts.
It is what makes workout clothes stretch so you will find that almost all workout clothes are 5 to 10 percent made of spandex.
Many athletes prefer this because of its stretchability and snug-fit.
Nylon, Spandex, and Polyester materials are types of synthetic fibers.
Cotton, however, is made of natural fibers.
Cotton, as you may already know, is the type of fabric that we commonly use in our everyday clothes. It feels great on our skin because it is smooth and it excellently manages sweat.
Shorts made of 100% cotton has smooth, soft fabric and offers low-friction during workouts. If polyester, nylon, or spandex isn’t your type, you can still go for the old cotton running shorts.
Natural fibers like cotton are excellent in absorbing sweat. So some runners prefer this fabric. However, for the same reason, some runners also hate cotton because it holds moisture and tends to be heavier after a lot of sweating.
While cotton can provide comfortability during the beginning of the workout, we don’t recommend having this type of fabric in your workout clothes. Unless, of course, some type of moisture-wicking material is added.
With that said, running shorts and other workout clothes are not made purely of nylon, or purely of spandex, etc.
Most workout clothes, for example, are made of 90% polyester or nylon, and 10% spandex. As we have already mentioned, a good workout clothing will always have a percentage of spandex.
This type of fabric is best used as a base-layer as it is water-resistant—it stays dry even after heavy sweating.
If you are looking for an eco-friendly alternative, there are running shorts that are made of bamboo natural fibers.
With the properties of bamboo, it is naturally sweat-wicking and anti-bacterial. Like cotton, it is also incredibly soft.
Wool can be used both in cold and hot weather due to its temperature regulating qualities. When combined with spandex, wool-made running shorts will give you more fitted-shape. It is also lightweight and breathable.
5. What Length Shorts For Running?
Running shorts come mainly in 3 different lengths: 3 inch running shorts, 5 inch running shorts and 7 inch running shorts. The 3-inch variants are most ideal for running long distances/marathons with as their shorter lengths mean less friction is produced overall.
We have mentioned inseams a couple of times but have not defined what it is.
Inseam is simply the length of your shorts.
One question that we often hear: what is the right length of inseams for running shorts.
Some would say you should get shorter inseam as it provides more movement as opposed to longer inseams that cause chafing in the front leg.
While that could be true, preference in inseams should depend on your where you will be using the shorts and what will you use them for.
5.1 Short Inseam (3-inch or shorter)
Short inseam running shorts provide the best ventilation and range of movement.
They are the ideal option for both sprinting and marathon runs.
Because they have less fabric and exposes the majority part of the skin, these shorts can keep you cool during the summer.
Overall, because of their technical construction, lightweight and non-restrictive cut, they are the best option for all-out performance.
Brands like Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon have a great selection of short inseam shorts for both men and women.
5.2 Long Inseam (10-inch or longer)
Long inseam shorts have a healthy amount of fabric that go just above the knee. They are the recommended length for when you’re running on the track, or the road.
They are also used for marathons when the goal is for the material to not rub against the skin due to its long length.
You will have to most coverage with this length. So if you’re into trail running or just like running off-road, long inseam running shorts offers you protection from scratching your skin from passing bushes or shrubs. No more insect bites and ticks.
However, when you’re going for this length, make sure that you are choosing the right fabric so they don’t hamper your performance.
Longer inseam shorts trend to build up heat and moisture on a warm day if the material doesn’t have a breathability feature.
Ideally, find one that is sweat-wicking and ensuring ventilation.
Aside from running, these are used for strength training exercises. You will see that basketball player wear shorts will longer inseams.
5.3 Middle Inseam (5-inch)
Between short and long inseams, you have middle inseam running shorts that is versatile for different activities.
If you neither like short shorts nor longer ones, these are probably your best option.
When you regularly switch from track to trail and having different types of running shorts for every run is not ideal for budget, you should go for shorts with middle inseam.
Baleaf, New Balance, and Under Armour has the best selection of middle inseam running shorts. They usually comes in elastic waistbands.
6. What Are The Features To Look For In Running Shorts?
This depends largely on personal preference, but features like pockets, reflective elements, and an adjustable waistband are great features that all running shorts should have. Some running shorts are also odor-resistant so you can sweat it out without worrying about smelling bad. A four-way stretch feature means that you’ll have greater freedom of movement, and, consequently, derive greater pleasure out of each run.
6.1 4-way Stretch Fabric
Now that we have discussed the fabric materials, a nice feature to look for is stretch. Specifically, 4-way stretch fabrics which in essence stretch in any direction you try.
There is another type is stretch which is called a 2-way stretch, which quite self-explanatorily, stretches in just one direction.
Running shorts that stretch and recovers both crosswise and lengthwise is called a 4-way stretch.
- Lightweight and stretchy fabric wicks sweat away and helps keep you dry and comfortable
- Built-in briefs for comfort and support
- Interior drop-in pocket at waist for convenient storage
- Split-leg design for enhanced range of motion
- Elastic waistband for a snug, adjustable fit . Reflective elements keeps you visible in low light
6.2 UPF 50+ Protection
We already know about SPF that is found mostly on lotions and other skin-care products. We use SPF to protect our skin from UV rays.
But did you know that clothes have ultraviolet protection factor, too?
Especially in running, which we usually do outdoors, we get a lot of exposure from the sun. UPF (or ultraviolet protection) benefits that we get from fabric is a nice added protection from sun and ultraviolet exposure.
UPF 50+ is the highest protection that you can get from sun-protective clothing.
What do runners wear under their shorts? Quick answer: liners.
A great option for those that want some support but also prefers the look of a traditional short may find liner features come in handy.
The 2-in-1 feature adds either a compression liner or a mesh liner inside as support.
Although compression shorts is quite snug to the body but provides the best muscle support, many runners find it uncomfortable to wear compression shorts alone as it is revealing.
There are a lot of running short brands that add compression lining as a built-in feature.
On the other hand, built-in mesh briefs provide a breathable fit. Due to its net-like material, it gives extra ventilation that you might see handy during the hottest days of running.
- Elastic waistband with interior drawstring for an adjustable fit
- Dri-Fit to help keep you dry and comfortable
- Inner shorts provide support and coverage
- Small interior pocket for storage
- Body: 100% Nylon, Tight: 84% Polyester, 16% Spandex
6.4 Visibility And Reflective Features
This one special feature might be something that others find unnecessary. But runners who usually run in low visibility tracks will find it useful.
If you like running during the night, don’t forget to look for running shorts with visibility and reflective feature.
Reflective details, as well as bright colored running shorts, may add safety and visibility to drivers, especially when you’re running on the highway.
6.5 Waistbands (Adjustable Or Elastic)
Elastic waistbands that offer a snug fit and can be folded down is another preference for most women runners.
These versatile fold-over waistband shorts provides a perfect fit that allows women to move easily.
Even for pregnant women who wanted to stay active in the early weeks of pregnancy, they specifically look for running shorts that has a tight waistband. Ideally, they can roll this down or up.
High-waisted running shorts that are designed to flaunt the woman’s shape typically has thicker elastic waistbands.
On the other hand, most running shorts for men will have either have just the right size of waistband thickness or an adjustable waistband.
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- COTTON BLEND: The 60% Cotton / 40% Polyester fabric blend makes the performance shorts comfy enough for the casual runner, the serious athlete, and anyone in between.
A lot of times, you will need to bring your phone, or some cash, or house keys.
Hence, built-in pockets will be a nice added feature as opposed to using a belt-bag or a small bag. Some running shorts will have deep side pockets huge enough to fit important items.
Pockets are usually hidden in the waistband of your shorts and can range in size. A lot of runners are really happy with shorts that have deep side pockets.
When you’re looking for this feature, you must get the zipped one. Your pockets should zip up so that you don’t need to worry that you might lose your items during your run.
6.7 Flatlock Seams
We don’t want to get very technical here so a flatlock stitch is simply a sewing technique that will have almost no bulk.
This type of sewing is best for activewear as it makes them the most durable due to the stitching materials. The flatlock stitching technique helps to reduce friction on the user’s skin.
This feature will come in handy during long runs as well as on humid days when chafing creates an issue.
6.8 Gusseted Crotch Design
A gusseted design is a diamond-shaped piece that’s commonly used as a sewing technique for shorts, jeans, yoga pants, and other bottom wears.
Ideally, they are made in this design so that it allows for undisturbed movements during any type of workout activity.
To look for this feature, check the crotch part of the shorts. If you see a triangular or diamond shape sewn in the crotch, you know you have gusseted crotch design.
6.9 Cable Holes
A lot of times, our headphones restrict our movements and get in the way of our workout.
If you’re looking to run with some music on, cable holes is a must-have feature for your running shorts (unless you have some Airpods on, this will totally be unnecessary).
These Baleaf shorts have this specific feature that comes with a hidden pocket where you can put your phone inside.
7. Is There A Difference Between Men, Women And Unisex Running Shorts?
The short answer is yes: men and women’s bodies differ vastly, after all, especially in three main areas/parts: the waist, hips and thighs. While running shorts can be worn interchangeably between genders, this is generally not advisable: you could opt for these unisex running shorts instead.
Not all running shorts are created equal. They are designed to fit the gender-specific needs of runners. When you’re buying running shorts, you also need to account for gender-specific features and needs.
Let’s explore the difference between men, women, and unisex running shorts.
7.1 Men’s Running Shorts
Men’s running shorts are designed and cut uniquely with the male body in mind.
Specifically, it has a bigger space in the crotch area, with the built-in liner offering more support in the groin.
While some men preferred wearing a jockstrap for added support, most running shorts will have a built-in liner as an added feature so jockstraps won’t be necessary.
As mentioned earlier, mesh liners or compression liners are used as a substitute for underwear and jockstraps.
This feature is added to prevent discomfort with layers as well as chafing.
Men’s running shorts also usually have longer inseams.
But then again, some types of run like sprints and marathon will require running shorts with shorter inseams for bigger strides and more flexibility.
7.2 Women’s Running Shorts
Women’s running shorts, on the other hand, will have less space in the crotch area but will have more space in the bottom area.
The cuts should fit the female waist, hips, and thighs and with emphasis on the waist.
Women’s running shorts are uniquely designed for optimum freedom for leg movements, and to allow maximum ventilation. This is why most women’s running shorts that you will find in the market have shorter inseams.
A lot of female runners also find tight-fitting shorts more comfortable than loose ones.
If we look at the difference between men and women’s running shorts, it all boils down to comfort.
When it comes to comfort, running shorts cater to needs based on the structure, shape if you will, of the male and female body.
7.3 Unisex Running Shorts
If you remove the gender-specific features, you get unisex running shorts.
These are clothes that do not particularly address body shape.
While you can still find brands that sell unisex running shorts, you will notice that Adidas, Baleaf, Nike, and other trusted brands don’t offer a unisex variant.
Trusted brands categorize their workout clothing into men and women, or girls and boys categories. The reason behind this is that unisex workout clothes, specifically, running shorts don’t offer much support and chafing-prevention.
8. How To Know The Right Running Shorts?
8.1 Trail Running
Trail running or off-road running usually takes place in mountainous areas. But it also includes tackling fields, coastal paths, and dirt tracks.
It is suitable for anyone from the novice runner to the most experienced one.
Every trail has its unique challenges. Especially when you’re running on a new track, you can never expect if there are a lot of bushes to pass through. So you’re better off with a long inseam short.
If you want a dynamic running experience, you will surely enjoy trail running.
However, if you’re planning to tackle a lot of trails, or considering adding trail running in your routine, you need to invest not only in the right kind of shoes but also a good running shorts.
A pair of shorts with a 2-in-1 feature that combines a compressive liner and a looser outer-layer performs well on the trail. Your best pick is one with zipped pockets to secure your items especially when you’re on hilly trains.
The weather is a little tricky off the road. One minute, it might we warm, and the next minute, you wished you packed a jacket or an added layer.
Your best bet of shorts is one that is lightweight and fast-drying, but also one that regulates temperature. Your best bet is merino wool that does just that.
As it is hard to come by running shorts in merino wool, your next best option is polyester. It will keep you dry even in a humid trail.
8.2 Track Running
In track, you either look for a split-leg running shorts or v-notch which also comes in a super light short like polyester or nylon. These types are shorts are suitable for aggressive sprints as well as long-distance running.
Although this can’t stop you from wearing compression shorts if you prefer a tight fit during a speedy run.
A good pair of shorts suitable for the track is not written in stone as track running itself has some degree of variation.
You probably can forego features such as reflective details, or cable holes in this one. It’s a little tricky inside the lanes. Your position in lanes depends on your speed.
In track running, you should be aware of your surroundings as most of the time, you will be running in groups. While running, you need to know whether someone is behind you so you can make way for them.
8.3 Road Running
Roadrunners need a more versatile garment which can be great in any weather. So you are better off with a lightweight material, moisture-wicking, and breathable.
As we have mentioned repeatedly, you need reflective elements in your running shorts for added visibility, and to avoid accidents on the road.
It’s also a good tip worth mentioning that you need to run against traffic. This way you will see oncoming cars and you can avoid them yourself. Switching back to the right side of the road keeps you safe.
You also need to avoid wearing headphones or perhaps tone down your music a little bit, to become aware of your surroundings.
Here’s a helpful guide for which side of the road you should run on.
9. How To Choose Good Running Shorts? (AKA TL;DR)
So you’ve gone from being the quintessential novice runner to a running shorts expert.
You now can identify which type of running shorts to use for your sprint, and which ones you can use on the road. Essentially, you already know that fabric materials that have good sweat management, while also being breathable and durable should be the first thing you’d be looking for when you’ve gone to an athletic store.
If there’s one takeaway from this super long guide, that is, when choosing the perfect running shorts, there is no hard and fast rule on which type of fabric material is the perfect choice. But it’s worth knowing which will assist you in better performance the most.
Choose your ideal pair of running shorts using these factors: 1) type of use (e.g. marathon, short-distance sprinting) and 2) features you need (e.g. pockets, reflective details).
Another thing that probably has a major factor here, is that there is such a thing as ‘enclothed cognition.’
If you’ve never heard of the term, it basically refers to clothing and how it changes one person’s attitude, personality, and mood.
When you wear certain clothes, it ‘magically’ changes your mindset.
While there are not enough psychology studies that prove this, and that a lot of it has to do with the symbolic meanings that society attaches to particular images, we can say that enclothed cognition definitely plays a role in workout clothes.
When you’re unmotivated to go to the gym, the mere act of wearing gym clothes will motivate you to spend time there. Good athletic wear leaves no room for excuses.
When you wear the right workout clothes that you know are designed to improve your performance, it pushes you to perform better.
Frequently Asked Questions About Running Shorts
1. Why are running shorts so short?
Running shorts are short to minimize resistance for better performance overall.
2. What are 5-inch running shorts?
5-inch running shorts are medium-length running shorts that are perfect for both running and workout sessions.
3. Why are running shorts so expensive?
As mentioned earlier, workout clothes tend to be expensive. Again, considering the technology that goes into your shorts, it just makes sense that the price adds up.
However, you don’t have to spend a fortune to find a good pair of running shorts. Adidas, Nike, Baleaf, Under Armour, Asics, and other athletic brands price their workout wears very flexibly from as low as $20 to as high as $80 to a hundred.
Reebok, Lululemon, and ASOS have a wide selection of inexpensive running shorts. Heck, you can find a good pair at Walmart, if you need to.
Running shorts are costly mainly because of the technology that is involved. Some features include waterproof ability, cooling technology, and body-sculpting technology.
4. How to choose good running shorts?
Just because it’s expensive doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good: consider factors like weather, the likelihood of chafing, and speed of running.
When it comes to sizing guides, different brands have unique sizing.
And the best advice we can give it to try them on. Stretch and bend in your clothes, try to sit and see if it goes up in your thigh just right. While you want your clothes to fit snugly, you want them to be just loose just enough so that it doesn’t restrict your performance.
If that was a super long post, let’s summarize the gist of it:
- There are three common types of running shorts: compression, v-notch, and split-leg. The compression type is a snug fit and provides the best support. The difference between v-notch and split-leg is only on how it’s sewn but both give you freedom in movements.
- The three common types of fabric materials that workout gear manufacturers use are polyester, nylon, and spandex. A good pair of workout clothes will always have at least a small percentage of spandex.
- Short inseams are best in speedrunning, while long inseams are best for running off the road. Middle inseams are versatile and especially good for road running that requires adjustability on different roads.
- Additional features account for more support and to get you more mileage. It’s not necessary to have all these features in one single short. Cable holes, for example, are not necessary when you need to be aware of your surroundings. But some features will make a good pair even better just like a mesh liner or a UPF 5-+ protection.
- Unisex running shorts is a less-preferred type of running shorts as men’s and women’s running shorts account for body shapes
- Every type of run becomes easier to tackle when you have the right type, material, and features. But it will always change based on your preference and comfortability.