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Published Nov. 9, 2021

It’s commonly believed that the specific shoe you choose will determine your performance during any strenuous exercise. It’s true, the shoe plays a huge role in comfort, and we’ve come a long way from strapping pieces of leather to our feet and calling them sandals, thankfully. But while you’re probably aware that there has been a ton of research into running shoe technology, did you know socks are just as important? Sure, companies haven’t figured out a way to sync your sock and fitness tracker yet, but socks are just as critical as the rest of your fitness gear. The sock acts as a barrier between your foot and the shoe, essentially a foot shield. Overlooking your sock selection could have dire consequences. 

If you’ve ever gotten a blister while on a run, you know how painful it can be and how socks play a factor. If you don’t, well then you’re lucky and you’ll just have to imagine what it’s like having a hot poker rammed into your foot every time it hits the ground. Every step creates friction, and when your shoes and socks aren’t right, that friction will create blisters. David Goggins may choose to run on blistered feet, but there’s no reason you have to (unless you want to become a Navy SEAL). Instead, you can select a pair of the best running socks so that your feet have a foot shield to protect against blisters and debris.

I consider myself a utilitarian and severely dislike purchasing items good for only one purpose. So when I’m buying socks, I look for a pair that can do everything I can. Balega makes amazing socks, and these Enduro V-Tech socks fit the bill. There are more features on this sock than you’ve ever seen, and your feet will praise you for buying them.

The quarter length offers security and peace of mind knowing the sock wont slip with the elastic rib top, allowing you to focus on that next checkpoint. Made from a unique combination of polyester, nylon, and elastane, these socks feature Drynamix moisture management fibers. This means you’re less likely to get blisters. Of course, the medium level cushioning plays a role there too, as well as reducing your foot and body fatigue on long runs. If your body doesn’t feel as beat up after running, then you’ll have a faster recovery.

Product Specs
  • Brand Balega
  • Material 75% Polyester, 23% Nylon, 2% Elastane
  • Length Quarter (Ankle)
PROS

Breathable mesh panel keeps feet cool

Seamless toe increases comfort

Compression for extra support

Mid-weight cushion aids in endurance/recovery

CONS

Compression isn’t certified for medical uses

High price point

Not everyone is baller enough to drop a Jackson on a single pair of socks. Yeah, I’m talking about our junior enlisted warriors. Some people would rather spend their money on other cool gadgets instead, like that high APR Mustang. Normally, this means you get something of lesser quality that falls apart rather quickly, but that’s not the case here. The cushion and comfort are easily comparable to moderately priced running socks.

You could easily replace these socks if they weren’t as durable as they are. Owning a few pairs myself, I can attest to their durability and versatility. Bonus points go to the no show level that keeps you looking cool while staying cool.

These polyester/cotton blended socks feature spandex to offer a sporty compression feel. This is complemented nicely by the medium cushion level that offers just enough to feel great, while not being bulky or cumbersome. You’re sure to feel comfortable while running, but they work great for regular workouts and day-to-day activities. The dark colors offer service members the option of wearing these with their PT uniforms, so say goodbye to the cuffed boot sock.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Puma
  • Material: Polyester, Cotton, Spandex
  • Length: No-show
PROS

Cheap pricing, easy to replace

Sport cushion offers multi-discipline comfort

Mesh ventilation for extra breathability

CONS

Cotton absorbs moisture, not ideal for wet weather

No specialty features

No heel tab

Best Recycled Material

We’ve all seen the rise in awareness of trash, and it’s become popular for companies to dedicate themselves to using sustainable materials for their products. One of the leaders in the running sock world is Rockay, which has taken an ethical approach to its consumer-driven business. There’s even a no-questions-asked guarantee for life to give you some peace of mind.

If you didn’t already know that these socks were made from recycled materials, you wouldn’t even guess it. The sleek design is on par with all the other socks we’ve reviewed, even surpassing many with a completely seamless construction. Mesh zones have been incorporated to increase ventilation and prevent blisters. There’s even compression in the arch for support and a reinforced heel for extra durability. You’ll be ready to tackle anything with the performance cushioning built in.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Rockay
  • Material: 100% Recycled: Features Econyl, made from ocean waste & landfill fabrics
  • Length: No-show
PROS

Environmentally friendly

Medium cushion

Designed to wick sweat away

Built seamless to prevent chafing

CONS

High pricing for single pair

Arch compression not intended for medical use

Guys like fancy cars, boats, watches, guns, and all sorts of toys and trinkets. But when it comes to socks, we’re really just looking for something that gets the job done and lets us focus on the task at hand. Under Armour has built a reputation for manufacturing clothing that exceeds expectations. Indeed, this is how they were able to partner with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson for his Project Rock line of apparel and gear.

UA socks are simple and efficient, featuring a blend of polyester and spandex, and your feet will quickly appreciate this purchase. Once you feel the compression around the arch, this design offers extra support for lengthy runs. The lower profile equals less material, which means less weight and more freedom to move. This gives you the freedom to wear them while running, hitting the gym, or crushing that at-home workout. A keen feature you’ll notice is the seamless toe that eliminates chafing. It’s easy to like these simple socks, and for those on active duty, the dark colors allow you to wear them during organized PT.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Under Armour
  • Material: 98% Polyester, 2% spandex
  • Length: No-show
PROS

Multi-sport functionality

Half cushion for comfort

Compression around the arch increases support

Moderate pricing

CONS

No fancy features

Only available in black and white

Ladies know all too well that men’s gear is generally too big, too bulky, or just doesn’t fit right. Thankfully, there has been a ton of research and development to create gear specially designed for women. Smartwool is a socially conscious company that’s done a great job developing products for women, like the PhD Run Light Elite.

At the forefront of this sock is the Merino wool. While there is nylon and elastane as well, the Merino wool sets it apart. Grown from Merino sheep, this wool is lighter and softer than traditional wool, but with all the same benefits. It wicks away sweat in the heat, while keeping you warm in the cold. Even though this sock has a Light Elite cushion, the soft wool will have you thinking otherwise.

These low rise ankle socks sport a seamless toe to avoid nasty chafing. Women will also benefit from the specially designed and placed mesh ventilation zones. An added benefit of the wool and anatomical contours is that you’ll see an extended-use life out of these socks. Of course, the color options are more stylish and numerous than men’s socks, if that’s important to you, with seven available choices. To get the best out of intentionally designed socks, you’ll want to match them with a set of women’s running shoes made just for you too.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Smartwool
  • Material: Nylon, Merino wool, and elastane
  • Length: Ankle
PROS

Specially designed for women’s feet

Slight compression for extreme comfort

Durable construction

Great for all seasons

CONS

The light cushion may not be enough for some

High price point for single pair

With a claim like 100 percent waterproof, you might be asking if Randy Sun is just a modern day elixir peddler. Yet these socks in fact are waterproof. Utilizing a three-layer system, your feet will stay dry from outside sources as long as it is below the cuff of the sock. The outer layer is made from durable Nylon with a lycra blend, while the inner layer is made from Coolmax and elastane. These two layers sandwich a waterproof membrane that keeps water out while remaining breathable.

These socks are designed to be multi-functional, not specifically for running. However, if you’re concerned about getting your feet soaked while out on a trail or during the rainy season, they’ll work just fine.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Randy Sun
  • Material: Three layers include Nylon, lycra, elastane, waterproof membrane, and Coolmax.
  • Length: Crew
PROS

100% waterproof and windproof

Material remains breathable for feet

Seamless toe

Satisfaction guarantee

CONS

Premium pricing

Special washing instructions

Not suited for all seasons

On the opposite end of the spectrum from waterproof are quick-drying socks. You can’t always avoid getting wet, and when you do, the last thing you want is your socks to hold onto all that water. That’s just a breeding ground for large and painful blisters, especially if you’re in a warmer climate.

Mesh socks offer excellent ventilation, which is essentially an escape route for water. Saucony knows running and designed these no-show socks to exceed expectations in any weather. Constructed from polyester and spandex, you’ll notice the softness and slight compression for support around the arch. This also means there is no cotton, which can hold 24 to 27 times its own weight in water. Not only are these socks allowing water to escape, but they also aren’t trapping as much as other socks. Rounding off the design is a light cushioning to increase comfort and decrease recovery time. This nicely complements the seamless construction.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Saucony
  • Material: 98% polyester, 2% spandex
  • Length: No-show
PROS

Breathable mesh doesn’t suffocate feet

Moisture wicking materials keep feet dryer

Light cushioning for comfort

Some compression for added support

CONS

Compression not for medical purposes

Not ideal in winter weather

The U.S. military has a unique relationship with reflective gear. Needless to say, it’s important to be visible while training, especially if you’re out there alone reciting that mantra to prepare for the marathon you regret signing up for. Having reflective socks is just one option available to you, and the ReflecToes are worth a glance.

At first, you’ll notice the obnoxiously bright yellow color, although other colors are available. This is a passive feature that works better in the daytime. What really makes these socks shine is the use of directionally oriented mirrors built into the fabric. Instead of relying on a reflective spray or fabric, there are actual mirrors, which means 10 to 50 times more light is reflected back. The only way that a car’s driver won’t see you is if they’re blinded by your socks.

All joking aside, these socks are designed for performance for either running or cycling. So you can be sure that the moisture-wicking material will last step after step after step. Make sure to read the washing instructions though, because there are some special instructions for the cotton/polyester/spandex blend.

Product Specs
  • Brand: ReflecToes
  • Material: Reflective HTL/Fabric
  • Length: Crew
PROS

High-reflective material up to 50 times brighter than competition

Moisture wicking yarns

Slight compression offers arch support

CONS

Moderate price point

No cushion

There are many advantages to wearing compression socks, namely that they increase circulation and improve recovery. They are great for those with medical needs, but athletes and runners have been using and benefiting from them for years.

CEP specializes in making compression clothing, so it isn’t just a feature for them to add on. This sets the athletic compression socks apart. Rising to just below the knee, these socks offer 20 to 30 mmHg of graduated compression, which means that you’ll notice more squeeze near the ankle. The seamless construction is sure to help you step up your game by preventing chafing and blisters. Available in nine color options, there is nothing to stop you from overcoming that obstacle.

Product Specs
  • Brand: CEP
  • Material: 85% polyamide, 15% spandex
  • Length: Knee high
PROS

Compression increases blood flow for superior performance

Speeds up recovery and fights overuse injuries

Tall length keeps you warm in winter

CONS

Premium pricing

Cushion information not available

Best Blister Preventing

If you run long enough, then you’re bound to develop blisters at some point. Those daring enough to sign up for Ragnars, Spartans, and other races are sure to experience them. Choosing a pair of socks that actively fight the development of blisters plays as vital a role as selecting the right pair of shoes.

Balega socks are definitely premium running socks, and the “blister resist” is no joke. To start, these socks are built with a seamless toe box that eliminates the potential of chafing and blisters on the toes. The heel features a tab to prevent chafing from the back of the shoe and keep the socks riding high miles down the road. Balega uses a proprietary fabric called Drynamix to wick away moisture, keeping your feet cool and dry. To top it all off, the mohair and wool make these socks incredibly soft.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Balega
  • Material: 52% Drynamix polyester, 14% Mohair, 14% Wool, < 10% Acrylic, Nylon, Microfiber, Neofil, and Elastane
  • Length: No-show
PROS

Wicks moisture to prevent blisters

High-volume cushion reduces impacts

Designed for all seasons

Tab on heel

CONS

High price point

Doesn’t dry quickly

Few things are more frustrating than spending good money on a pair of socks that fall apart fast. Your money ought to buy you something that’ll last, or at least a darn good warranty program. Enter Darn Tough socks that provide just that. Even if the socks don’t hold up, there is a lifetime guarantee to fix or replace them, easy as pie. With these socks made in Vermont, you might think these socks were made just for hikers — think again.

The micro-crew is a unique length, just shy of traditional crew length below the calf. This offers a little protection from dirt and debris while running, as well as extra material to keep you warm. Darn Tough socks feature Merino wool as a vital component in the construction, which blends nicely with the nylon and lycra for a soft and secure feel. You won’t have to worry about chafing with a seamless toe and the breathable mesh fights blisters.

Product Specs
  • Brand: Darn Tough
  • Material: 54% Nylon, 40% Merino Wool, 6% Lycra spandex
  • Length Micro-Crew (Lower Calf)
PROS

Guaranteed for life

Seamless toe increases comfort

Merino wool good in all seasons

Breathable mesh allows feet to breath

CONS

No cushion

Slight compression not intended for medical purposes

Why you should trust us

I have over 20 years of personal experience in exercising and running, requiring me to have purchased hundreds of socks. This began with my tenure in the Marine Corps where running, rucking, and marching were a daily requirement. I’ve also run a Spartan Sprint, Ragnar Sunset relay, and the Rainier to Ruston relay races in my time. These experiences allowed me to personally build relationships with avid runners and marathoners, who supported my research.  

Types of running socks

Even the most specific online search for running socks can get confusing. There are so many options and variations available that it feels much like finding a needle in a stack of needles. Truthfully, you can wear any sock to run in, but whether or not you enjoy the experience is to be determined. If you’re not wanting to rely on trial and error to find what works best for you, then read on. We are breaking down the types into three categories based on intended usage.  

Specialty socks

Running has become a bit of a science in the modern age. Every day, there is someone trying to improve sock technology from the material used to the way socks support and interact with your feet. Specialty socks include compression socks, tab socks, bamboo socks, silicone, spandex, and more. These socks are what you see top-tier athletes wearing. 

Hiking/sport socks

These are great alternatives to the more expensive specialty socks. Typically designed for hiking or other sports, they may not have all of the same benefits. These socks will often be taller and/or bulkier depending on their intended sport. Most of your wool socks will fall into this category. 

Off-the-shelf socks

If you’ve ever purchased a set of 12-pack socks from your local superstore, you got yourself off-the-shelf socks. Generic is the best word to describe these, as they’re made from cheap material and designed to fit any foot. Out of all the socks available, we don’t recommend using these for anything more than a quick jog. 

Key features of running socks

When you’re selecting your new running socks, you’ll want to consider what more they can do for you. This is your chance to customize your running socks to your needs, whether you sweat a lot, need extra cushion, or you name it. You get to decide how luxurious your socks are with these key features.

Material

Socks are made from many different materials. If you’re a heavy sweater, you’ll want a moisture-wicking fabric like wool or polypropylene to keep your feet dry while you run. Those who need some compression would benefit from socks with spandex or other stretchy material. Anyone considering long-distance running will want to avoid cotton as it absorbs sweat and creates the perfect environment for devastating blisters. 

Cushion

Whether you’re a large-framed heavy-set runner or a petite-framed feather-weight runner, the cushion should be considered. The amount of cushion in a sock plays a role in your body’s level of fatigue during and after runs. For the 5k-fun runners, this may not be as big of a factor, but having extra cushioning could lengthen the number of years you can participate. Marathoners and long-distance runners would greatly benefit from extra-cushioned socks. 

Length

Aside from influencing how cool or dorky you look, the length of a sock can actually help a lot of runners. Crew length or knee-high socks have the benefit of protecting your legs from the elements, mostly in the form of dirt/debris and cold. The benefit of long socks is compounded by compression fabric. Shorter socks are great for hot weather and track environments, and they also look cooler and show off your ultra-tone legs. 

Tabs

A cool new feature that has seen an increase in popularity is the addition of extra fabric (called tabs) at the back of no-show socks. These tabs hang over the heel of your shoe to protect your skin from any rubbing. This also prevents the dreaded act of your sock slipping off your heel and sliding down your foot. Whether you need tabs or not is really a personal preference, but they’re sweet to have. 

Benefits of running socks

As with any sport or activity, getting tools and gear tailored for that specific function have benefits. Running socks play an integral role in your performance while running and even impact your speed and ability to recover. You could choose to wear cheap socks, strips of leather, or anything else if you wanted to. You just wouldn’t see the same benefits. Selecting a pair of running socks is about investing in your body’s health and wellness. 

Comfort

When you go running, the last thing you need to focus on is the chafing or blistering with every step. Specially made running socks eliminate these concerns to keep you comfortable while pushing your limits. The level of comfort in the socks can also help mentally prepare you for what’s to come. When it comes to comfort while running, it’s really about how much you need to focus on. The less mental energy you have to spend on trivial things like “is my sock falling down,” the more you’ll have for when you hit that wall. If you break it down, the more comfortable your feet are (especially with long runs), the better you’ll be able to perform. 

Recovery

Most people think of post-run recovery as drinking a beer while wearing flip-flops and discussing the nuances of tempo training. There’s more to it than just that, and the type of socks you choose play a role, too. Running socks have intentionally designed features like cushioning and arch support. You may not notice them right away, but you will after a mile or two. These and other intentional designs reduce the stress your feet and body experience while running. This speeds up recovery because your body doesn’t have as much to recover from. Like anything else, the key to a successful recovery lies within your preparation.

Running socks pricing considerations

Cheap

As a grown adult you have the freedom to make whatever choice you want. Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. With cheap socks, you may see more blisters and hot spots while running, but you can also get 12 pairs at a time. The choice is yours. 

Moderate 

Stepping into the realm of socks designed on purpose is the moderately priced socks. These you can generally get in three to six pairs per pack. Spending a little more will reduce your unwanted consequences of running. 

Premium

Not for every runner, premium-priced socks are normally bought in one- or two-pair packs. These socks cost enough that you have to justify spending that much on a pair of socks. Increased health, longevity, and faster recovery are all you need to know. 

How we chose our top picks

Each product was selected based on performance criteria and the brand’s respective history of reliability. We looked for socks specifically designed for the purpose of running, or similar activities. We avoided products with extravagant pricing or unrealistic claims. We also utilized personal reviews and recommendations from active athletes and runners. Not all of these reviews come from hands-on testing, and we relied upon industry knowledge and experience instead.

FAQs on running socks

You’ve got questions, Task & Purpose has answers.

Q: How should running socks fit?

A: Personal preference normally dictates how clothing should fit. With running socks, however, science plays an important role. Ideally, you want close-fitting, tight socks that hug your feet like they’re afraid to fall off. This prevents chafing and blistering.

Q: Is it OK to go running without socks?

A: Sure! You can go running without socks if you want to. Make sure to have a first aid kit with blister supplies ready for the end of your run. In most cases, socks are needed to protect your feet from the abuse of running in shoes.

Q: What is the difference between running socks and regular socks?

A: Regular socks are basic and have no special features for running. They’re not made to fit snuggly and are often just decorative. The materials used will vary and are not run-friendly.

Q: Why wear compression socks for running?

A: Aside from the medicinal benefits of compression socks, every runner could benefit from increased circulation and support. Compression socks act as a forcefield, keeping your muscles firm and encouraging good blood flow.

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Scott Whisler is a Marine Corps veteran and family man. He’s an avid student of philosophy who strives for self-growth and challenge, both found in his outdoor adventures. As a new Okie, his focus is on exploring the South Central region. His lifetime goal is to have excursions in all of the National Parks.

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