Summer racing season is (almost) upon us and as we get our training completely dialed in for the adventures that await, it’s good to make sure one of our most basic gear choices—socks—are dialed in as well. Nothing can derail a grand adventure like bad blisters and unhappy feet… well, spectacularly barfing one’s way through said adventures can certainly cause one’s train to jump the tracks, but that is beyond the scope of this review.
What we wear on our feet is a pretty polarizing topic in ultrarunning—from the barest of feet to the tallest compression socks and the myriad proprietary fabric options in between. It can easily be argued that cotton socks from the bargain bin work great for some while $50 wool socks from alpacas named Crescendo and Andante that freely range only on a relative’s mini-farm are preferred for others. The purpose of this review is not to debate these things. It’s to introduce you to Feetures! Performance Socks and some of the options they offer in the quest to keep feet happily charging down the trail.
Feetures! was established in 2002 and is a family-run company based in Conover, North Carolina. According to their informative website, they pride themselves on outstanding customer service, products that have a “lifetime guarantee,” and a generous return policy if you’re not satisfied with the performance of your socks. They also donate a portion of the proceeds from each item sold to the National Forest Foundation. The website is very helpful in navigating through the five fabric options (use the shop by product tab), three levels of cushioning (use the shop by cushion tab), and six different heights of the socks offered (use the shop by height tab) plus a sleeve. Interestingly, they also offer a plantar-fasciitis sleeve that, according to the website, is supposed to “lift, stabilize, and improve circulation in the plantar fascia,” and two types of therapeutic socks “for active people with special foot-care needs.” I was not able to ascertain how the features on the therapeutic socks differ from the other options. Truly, there’s something for everyone.
Feetures! offers socks with the following heights:
- No Show
- No Show Tab
- Low Cut (at ankle)
- Crew (at calf)
- Knee High
- Sleeve (plantar-fasciitis sleeve)
Not all fabrics are available in each height. The availability is spelled out beautifully on the website.
Three levels of cushioning are available:
- Ultra Light
- Light Cushion
- Heavy Cushion
Most sock fabrics come in either Ultra Light or Light Cushion.
The feel of the Ultra Light cushioning varies with the model—super thin and slick in the Elite fabric or like a thinner but still soft tech fabric in the High Performance fabric. (The fabrics are described and reviewed below.)
The Light Cushion offers a softer feel to the sock yet doesn’t add significant bulk or bunching of the fabric around the toes. I found this to be consistent regardless of the model. The exception to this was the Elite Compression model which only comes in Light Cushion but fits so snugly that it has the feel of an ‘ultra light’ sock by comparable companies.
There is one model, the Elite Merino+ Heavy Cushion Crew Sock, which felt to me like an old-school ski sock. It was super warm.
I love that there are so many variations. If you’re going to pay between $10 and 25 for your running socks, it’s good to find ones that fit your exact preferences.
Five fabrics are offered:
- High Performance
- Elite Merino+
- Elite Compression
Below we review all the fabrics but Therapeutic.
Their iWick fabric is a combination of polyester and nylon fibers which are combined and engineered with the goals of providing outstanding moisture-managing properties and enhanced breathability. The website says that these socks will “…hug your feet, prevent blisters, and keep feet dry and comfortable all day long.”
I received a pair of High Performance Light Cushion Low Cut socks ($10.99) in this fabric as well as a pair of the High Performance Ultra Light Low Cut socks ($10.99).
I thought they were fine running socks in two different pairs of my typical trail shoes on the dry days, but they didn’t stand out in harsher conditions. My feet were adequately warm in snow and slush (with my thin gaiters over top of the shoes and socks), but the socks didn’t dry as fast as I prefer. Granted, I was being very analytical and perhaps a bit hard on them, but after a 90-minute snow/slush/mud run on two different occasions, I was able to wring water out of each pair. This didn’t contribute to any hot spots, but it didn’t make me want to reach for them when I knew wet conditions were imminent.
Where these socks really came through for me was in daily wear. I LOVED wearing them around during the day. I typically don’t wear my ‘running socks’ casually, but these socks stayed in my constant daily-wear rotation. Unfortunately, perhaps due to medium heat in the dryer, the opening at the ankle of both pairs seemed to shrink over a few months to the point where it was uncomfortable to the anterior tibialis tendons on both feet after three to four hours. Perhaps this is because I’m at the higher end of my size on the sizing guide, but I was bummed to lose my favorite daily-wear socks.
Ultimately, I felt these socks could be great if they fit your own foot/ankle properly and you’re not spending a lot of time with soaked feet. They had no trouble dealing with sweat or dust on the warm and dry days.
These socks also use the iWick fibers and are, according to the website, “…anatomically constructed using patent-pending Sock-Lock technology to provide targeted support where it’s needed most.”
I first tested a pair of Elite Ultra Light Low Cut socks ($14.99) with this fabric and I found them to be perfect for my lower-volume road shoes. They are left/right specific and so formfitting that my toes felt squished each time I put them on. However, once I was running, I didn’t notice anything at all. I wore them in dry conditions and in wet and was surprised by how well they did with breathability and wicking moisture. I also used them in cycling shoes for a couple spin classes and they were just thin enough to fit inside my almost-too-small cycling shoes. No hot spots, no tendon irritation, no issues at all. If you wear your shoes on the snug side or have low tolerance for sock padding, these are worth a look.
The second pair I tested in this fabric was the Elite Light Cushion Crew sock ($16.99). I’ve never done very well with the crew height as my hill-climbing calves cause them to slide down faster than me on a ball-bearing slope. These hit a bit higher than normal crews and stayed up nicely through one- and two-hour winter runs when anchored down under running tights. I did like the light cushion in trail shoes—it kept the fit just right and prevented any hot spots or irritation during snow/slush runs and slippery mud runs. I also liked wearing them under casual boots occasionally though the scrunching around the ankles was inevitable in that scenario. If you’re a crew-sock fan, check these out.
Ahhhh, and now we’ve come to the shining star of the Feetures! line-up in my opinion—the Elite Merino+ sock.
I tested in the Elite Merino+ Light Cushion Quarter ($15.99). This sock feels like butter… or like silken tofu (?) for the non-dairy folks—soft, smooth with nary an itchy spot to be found. According to the product information, this is due to the combination of a super-fine Merino wool with rayon from bamboo. While these wouldn’t fit in my road shoes comfortably, they worked well in each trail shoe I tried them with and with winter casual shoes as well. They kept my feet as warm as could be expected in snow and slush and weren’t too warm up to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. I haven’t run in anything hotter yet this year, so I can’t attest to their performance in ‘real’ heat. They wicked moisture well with the over-the-shoe slush and didn’t feel soggy for more than a few minutes after stream crossings or puddles. They interacted well between my foot and shoe on slippery mud sections and while flailing around between postholing and staying on top of snow crust. They’ve survived all the cold washes and medium heat dryings I’ve thrown at them with no change in fit and only a bit of fuzz on the exterior. If you’re a wool fan, these are worth a trial.
Using the Elite fabric but incorporating graduated compression, Power Arch, and a seamless toe, this knee-high compression sock, the Elite Compression Light Cushion Knee High ($50.00) is targeted for use pre-, post-, and during competition per their description.
I’m pretty limited in my exposure to compression garments, but let’s just say I needed to add five minutes to my pre-workout dressing time to get these socks on. They are left/right specific and extremely supportive once in the right place. Historically, if I do wear lower-leg compression garments, I prefer it as a recovery tool. Wearing them in workouts usually results in tingling calves which I’m less a fan of. No tingling resulted from wearing these socks, but I had a hard time wanting to wear them past an hour of running. Three-plus hour car rides—no problem. Though they have a seamless toe, both right and left socks had excess material that protruded right at my best potential blister-forming spot on my medial big toes. This had nowhere to go but against my toe in my road shoes. In my roomier trail shoes, it seemed to do a bit better, but I’d have preferred no extra material there at all. Ultimately, these seem like excellent recovery socks to me, with the potential to be running socks if you like the fit, feel, and function of compression socks during your workouts.
So there you have a brief overview of a few of the options from Feetures! as interpreted by my feet. If you want to know more specifics about the various fabrics, patented technology, and other features (sorry, couldn’t let that completely go), check out the Feetures! product-information page on their website. There are a lot of options out there for keeping our feet happy and healthy as we journey down the trails. Feetures! has some solid offerings that warrant a closer look if you’re looking for new options.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
Have you tried Feetures! socks? If so, which model did you try and what were your impressions?