Reviewed by Laurel-Lea Shannon
Unisex clothing is a manufacturer’s misconception that some clothing is suitable for both sexes. But what unisex really means is “guaranteed to fit almost everyone, badly.” When I come across it in cycling gear I think, “Go women-specific or go home!”
So when I received these unisex thermal knee warmers from Pearl iZUMi I groaned, imagining rides in cool weather with exposed bare leg in the space where my shorts end and the area the knee warmers are supposed to cover. I call this “thigh slippage,” when a knee warmer starts out in its proper place but slowly creeps down your thigh as you pedal, eventually exposing your bare leg to cold air—a distracting and unpleasant sensation.
But no matter how sceptical, I still needed to test Pearl iZUMi’s Elite Thermal Knee Warmers (unisex, size extra-small). When a warmer day finally arrived this spring, I discarded my cycling tights for the knee warmers. The brushed thermal fleece panels felt cozy, the anatomic fit was right—no bunching at the knees—but the elastic binding at the top of the warmer wasn’t tight on my thighs—not good. Plus it was missing the all-important gripper tape that’s usually, but not always, included on the inside band of the upper end of knee warmers. Oh oh, I thought, “these babies are going to slip down my legs before I reach the end of the block.”
But I’m happy to say I was wrong!
Not only did the warmers stay up all the way down the street but they were still in place after a 30 km ride (18 miles). No “thigh slippage” at all. I was amazed. How is that possible? When I got home I took them off, had a closer look and found the answer: Pearl iZUMi has cleverly put the gripper tape on the outside of the top band of the knee warmer. I guess the idea is that if the warmers drift towards your knee, they’ll stop slipping when the outside gripper band on the warmers meet the gripper band on your shorts. That’s a good design feature.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work every time. When I next I used the knee warmers I wore bib shorts that didn’t have as wide a gripper band on the legs, and I experienced some annoying thigh slippage on my right leg. So, having them stay up may depend on how good the gripper band is on your shorts.
I’m rather small-boned but average in size: 5’5” and 115 lbs. I doubt that the knee warmers would stay up on women smaller than me. And in case you’re imagining that they slipped down because I’m one of those fortunate women with thin thighs, you’d be wrong. But for you larger-framed women, having them stay up probably wouldn’t be a problem.
Beyond thigh slippage
The knee warmers have outstanding wind resistance and warmth. I wore them on a windy day when the temperature was 7–10° C (44–50° F), and they were toasty warm (except for the bit of exposed flesh on my thigh). Rated for 4–15° C (40–60° F) the knee warmers are comfortable and fit snugly. Reflective logos for low-light visibility are located at the side of each knee. They only come in black, sizes extra-small through extra-large.
If Pearl Izumi is going to continue selling this unisex product, then a size XXS would be welcome but I would still prefer to see women-specific knee warmers.
(I’d really like to hear from you. Do you experience thigh slippage issues when you wear knee warmers? Please comment below.)