After hundreds of trail miles from 14,110-foot Pikes Peak in Colorado to Moab, Utah’s rolling sandstone, we honed in on the best running socks for trail runners and ultrarunners — zero blisters included.
One of the most important pieces of gear for runners is our socks. Well-constructed, tailored running socks are generally more expensive than cheaply woven silhouettes — and for good reason. Each athletic stocking that we put on is strategically designed with a scientific curation of fibers for moisture management, heat transfer, placement and depth of cushion, and height. Each sock is created for specific conditions: toasty canyons, winter squalls, or bushwhacking up steep and long-forgotten singletrack. A better-made sock also survives more miles through wilderness and on back roads than a bargain design.
The problem with top-tier running socks is the cost: four solid pairs could cost a big wad of cash. How can runners choose which pairs to buy? We produced this guide to help jumpstart your considerations. Over the past months, our six-member squad of professional, competitive, collegiate, and recreational trail runners and ultrarunners pulled on a range hosiery for hundreds and hundreds of miles. The team included male and female-identifying runners training for myriad races from the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile to the 40-mile Grand Traverse Mountain Run. We ran from dusk to dawn across the Rocky Mountains and Western United States facing dust, sun-baked singletrack, snow, and rain.
Beyond our stamp of approval, the most comfortable socks in this guide will also be the ones that best fit your feet, are designed for your environmental conditions, and complement your preferred footwear. While we considered the majority of the top-performing socks for runners, this guide does not address knee-high, medical-grade compression or low-cut socks.
Scroll through to see all of our recommendations for the best running socks, or jump to the category you’re looking for to see our top picks. Also, learn more about our testing methodology, read our advice for choosing your next running socks, and see our frequently asked questions about running socks at the bottom of this guide.
- Best Overall: Swiftwick Flite XT Five
- Best Runner-Up: Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew
- Best Budget: Balega Enduro Quarter
- Best for Hot Weather: Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew
- Best for Cold Weather: Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew
- Best Softness: Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini
- Best Compression Feel: Swiftwick Aspire Four
- Best of the Rest: Injinji Ultra Run Mini-Crew, Fits Micro Light Runner Quarter, and Feetures High Performance Cushion Quarter
Best Overall: Swiftwick Flite XT Five ($24)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The Swiftwick Flite XT Five is a snug-fitting, compression-feel, no-budge sock with a soft touch, excellent breathability, and thumbs-up ankle protection.
The Swiftwick Flite XT Five received the highest average score out of all of our socks and is one of the best running socks for both women and men, according to our male- and female-identifying testers. Our biggest take-home from the Swiftwick Flite XT Five is that these socks give our feet and ankles a mega hug. The design features moderate compression, which feels snugger than most running socks like the Drymax or Smartwool models in this guide. The result? No bunching at all and a slight squeeze. These socks do not have medical-grade compression.
Nonetheless, runners with meatier calves might need a short break-in period with this muscular sock. “They were a little tight around my lower leg to start. Once I spent time in them, they stretched, held shape to my lower leg, and I did not feel restriction at all,” said one competitive ultrarunner and product tester. The runner donned these socks for 160 miles in temperatures ranging from 32 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit in Colorado and Utah. “These are by far my favorite socks. It was more than 90 degrees F when I ran in Moab and my feet did not feel sweaty or wet.”
The mesh upper helps to release heat. A medium-level cushion sits beneath the arch and heel, which we found provides adequate protection mile after mile and on rocky descents. The fabric below the forefoot has alternating rows of cushion — which feature a proprietary grippy fiber called olefin to wick away moisture and sweat. The grippy nanofiber is also mixed into the heel cushion and provided no-slip stability in our testers’ shoes. After plowing through water, “These socks dried out really fast and did not give me any blisters,” and the four-inch high cuff “is perfect for running through grass and low brush,” reported one tester. Overall, “These socks are super comfortable, really soft, and make my feet feel so secure.”
Material: 66% nylon, 17% polyester, 14% olefin, 3% spandex
- Snug and secure
- Manages moisture super well and dries fast
- Large calves might require a break-in period
- Higher cost
Best Runner-Up: Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew ($26)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The lightweight Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew has our favorite strategically placed cushion, which is dense and ultralight, plus a cuff height that protects the ankles and lower legs on trail runs.
The Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew ranked a close second place among our top-rated picks — it even received a perfect score from one of our testers. Clearly, this design has been and is still among the best socks for runners. This design is lightweight with light cushion but far from flimsy. From mud-ridden, high-altitude routes to arid desert floors, we found this streamlined sock provided excellent and strategic protection. The sock has a targeted, thin, tightly woven cushion beneath the ball of the foot, heel, around the toe, behind the achilles, and against the outer ankle — in all the necessary spots.
The top of the foot and cuff are a mesh blend for ventilation, which dissipates heat fairly well — though not as well as the Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew socks in this guide. That said, this Smartwool design transferred moisture well and didn’t become soaked from perspiration, even with the sweatiest testers. The height rises nearly four inches above the ankle, and the toe box is seamless with no bunching fabric.
One of our testers took this pair on multiple long-distance runs in a row and never noticed a stench, thanks to the odor-absorbing Merino wool. The brand produces a women’s-specific pair, too, with a narrower heel and slimmer fit. Our female- and male-identifying runners tested and approved both iterations. Ultimately, the Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew is a crisp, well-tailored running sock that’s ideal for short or long trail runs, moderate temperatures, and multi-day trips. Plus, “the seams on the inside of this sock are pristine with no free-flying threads, and the sock has the perfect amount of elasticity. My foot feels cradled and comfortable,” shared one of our testers.
Material: 57% Merino wool, 38% nylon, 4% elastane, 1% polyester
- Attractive, stylish design
- Lightweight but not a prime choice for the hottest weather
- Higher price tag
Best Budget: Balega Enduro Quarter ($14)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The Balega Enduro Quarter provides medium-cushion support while being a breathable, moisture-wicking, no-budge, budget option compared to our other top picks.
The Balega Enduro Quarter is our favorite medium-cushion sock for additional protection beneath our heel, arch, forefoot, and toes. “I like a bit more cushion on mountain trail runs, especially if I’m on a huge descent. This medium-level cushion is a nice, plush break from lighter socks with lightweight cushions, which I also like to wear on runs. Even though this cushion is on the thicker side, it doesn’t twist, bunch, or lead to blisters,” said one product tester who took these socks on mountain runs statewide in Colorado.
This midweight sock feels heavier than most other warm-weather socks in our guide but is surprisingly breathable and transfers moisture well. “My feet felt slightly warm post run but did not feel too warm during the run, and I was on a sun-exposed trail on a 80-degree Fahrenheit day at 9,000 feet above sea level. The socks never felt muggy or murky and dried fast,” noted one runner who tested the socks in Colorado’s Gunnison Valley. The runner also wore another pair of Balega Enduro Quarter socks for four seasons before the heels wore down. The elasticity also retains value over time. Plus, the toe box is roomy, comfortable, and doesn’t bunch or shift.
A potential caveat for some runners: These socks don’t squeeze your feet like the Swiftwick, Le Bent, or Smartwool pairs listed in this guide.
Material: 91% Drynamix polyester, 7% polyamide, 2% elastane
- Medium-cushion choice
- Breathable and wicks moisture well
- Fabric doesn’t bunch or slouch
- Economic price
- Lacks ankle protection
- No compression
Best for Hot Weather: Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew ($26)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew is a lightweight, very breathable sock that resists heat buildup during hot, sun-exposed runs and races.
The Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew socks are extremely breathable and provide reprieve on sunny, hot, or intense runs, report several of our gear testers. “This is a great thinner sock for warmer trail days or races. It’s very breathable with the right amount of elasticity and cushion,” noted one long-distance runner and coach, who wore the socks on mountain trails and old mining roads in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. The upper side of the sock features a mesh weave that dumps heat. A consistent layer of moderate padding stretches along the bottom of the foot, from heel to toe, beneath the metatarsals, which provides excellent protection and comfort.
The fabric blend includes a teflon fiber — polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — that is among the best synthetic materials for withstanding friction, according to the Polymer Properties Database. The PTFE is located in the heel, forefoot, and toe area, which are super durable. One professional mountain runner and product tester has used a pair for three years and notes no visible wear and tear. He added, “The slim fit works well with snugger-fitting shoes” and the lower quarter-crew length sits an inch above the ankle, which is generally preferred for toasty jaunts. The fiber blend also includes olefin, which wicks away moisture and sweat.
Overall, our team experienced no blisters, slippage, or lingering odors after pounding miles with these socks. The interior of the toe box was smooth and went unnoticed. Critique? The socks aren’t the softest in the drawer, highlighted one tester, “While I don’t feel any friction or hot spots with these socks, the tradeoff is that they feel a bit coarse — they aren’t very soft.”
Material: 36% Drymax olefin, 26% polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), 22% polyester, 12% spandex, 4% nylon
- Excellent ventilation
- Tenacious, long-lasting fabric
- Not a sock for colder days
- Looks thick and cumbersome (but functions as a warm-weather sock)
Best for Cold Weather: Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew ($22)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew is an athletic, thicker, heat-retaining sock for colder conditions with targeted light cushion and a cuff that safeguards ankles and lower legs.
This heavier-weave sock is a concrete choice that braces against the elements of cold weather, snow, or rain, and winter runs on dirt roads, pavement, or trail. The Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew reaches a few inches above the ankle. Our team enjoyed the integrated light cushion in the heel and front-of-foot and didn’t experience any blisters, foot slippage, or lingering smells post run.
“The Merino wool combination is great at keeping the moisture out and the socks feel ventilated during a run,” celebrated one product tester and run coach who donned this pair for runs in Colorado’s Elk Mountains. The socks are very stretchy and the toe box isn’t restrictive.
Another tester, who wore this pair all over Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, noted that the “extra cushioning added protection but also soaks up more liquid if you get your feet wet while running in slushy snow.” Thankfully, even when these socks are wet, they rock at retaining heat.
Overall, the fit is athletic and the design is extremely comfortable. One of our testers even voted this pair among the best all-around socks: “These socks felt so good I would forget they were even on. That’s exactly what you want in a sock — one that gets the job done and you don’t have to think about them. The wicking power of the Merino wool in these socks is definitely a game changer for overall comfort on both cooler and warmer days. I also love the length, to help keep debris out while trail running.”
The women’s-specific fit for this sock has a narrower heel and slimmer silhouette. Our male- and female- identifying runners both tallied good scores for this sock. The Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew is among the best running socks for men and women.
Material: 56% Merino wool, 41% nylon, 3% elastane
- Retains heat for cold days
- Extra material doesn’t pair well with snug-fitting shoes
- Sock thickness might not be a good choice for feet that swell
Best Softness: Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini ($20)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini is a supremely soft running sock that is comfortable, lightweight, and breathable.
Yes, even our feet deserve buttery-smooth apparel. The low-profile Trail Ultra Light Mini, made by Le Bent, fits the bill. The single most prevalent fiber in this super-soft sock is derived from bamboo, which is converted through a chemical process into a natural-based synthetic material. “Soft, soft, soft! The fibers are exceptionally soft against the skin. And the toe box and heel are seamless and don’t feel bulky,” shared one runner and veteran sock tester.
The sock doesn’t twist, bunch, or slip while on the go despite being the most supple choice in our guide. Our team took this sock on runs around Wyoming and Montana through thick pine forests, pebble-strewn paths, rocky trails, and lakeside beach sand. We found no loose threads or cumbersome seams. Mesh in the upper is a port for ventilation. The cuff — which reaches three inches above the ankle — has just-right elasticity, so no fabric slumping occurs while being jostled on rugged descents. The Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini is a comfortable, luxurious-feeling sock that still rebounds well. The toe box feels a bit narrower than other socks like the Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew.
Our team has not yet tested this trail running sock across multiple seasons. Though, one of our gear tester’s favorite snowboard and ski socks are made by Le Bent. Based on her experience, we would like the fiber blend in Le Bent socks to be a bit more durable: The fabric in the snow socks’ heels wore down after a couple of seasons. We’d also like to see an iteration with moderate cushion. “This is a go-to thin, comfortable sock for warm-weather days and shorter to moderate distances. This sock lacks the cushion I prefer for super-long mileage,” said one sock tester. All considering, this pair is a moderately priced compared to others on our list, and it’s worth adding to our sock queue.
Material: 44% rayon from bamboo, 35% nylon, 19% Merino wool, 2% elastane
- Very soft
- Moderate price
- Minimal cushion
- Fabric could wear down after a couple of seasons
Best Compression Feel: Swiftwick Aspire Four ($18)
Why It’s a Top Pick: The lightweight Swiftwick Aspire Four provides extremely supportive compression, wicks moisture well, and has a very light cushion.
The Swiftwick Aspire Four delivers the same primo moisture-wicking power as the Swiftwick Flite XT Five model but with super minimal cushion and more compression. We found the mesh footbed and upper — which is also constructed with olefin, the fiber that wicks away moisture and sweat — is effective and helped their feet stay dry. The fabric blend is soft against skin. The cuff height sits four inches above the ankle and we enjoyed the tight compression around the ankle, arch, and lower leg.
A caveat: we found that the thick cuff didn’t release heat very well. “The fabric above my ankle felt a bit thick and stuffy on a 70-degree Fahrenheit summer evening while wearing trail running shoes with a well-ventilated mesh upper. I was in shorts and a t-shirt, so I was not overdressed, but my feet felt noticeably hot. Otherwise, I really like the protection and brace the cuff provides,” shared one tester who took these socks on rocky, dusty singletrack and dirt roads around central Colorado. Our testers also wish this model had a tad more cushion but really enjoyed this sock for shorter mileage.
Overall, this pair is a solid choice for runners who want very minimal padding underfoot and a supportive squeeze that helps hold their ankle and arch.
Material: 67% nylon, 28% olefin, 5% spandex
- Supreme elasticity
- Less pricey compared to our other top picks
- Minimal cushion
- Non-ventilated cuff
Best of the Rest: Injinji Ultra Run Mini-Crew ($18)
For some runners, toe socks are heaven’s answer to their longest ventures and daily miles. Theoretically, fabric wrapped around each toe keeps digits from brushing against each other, which causes blisters in some runners. The fiber also splays the toes out, which can encourage toes to engage while on a run. According to our testers, the Injinji Ultra Run Mini-Crew is a very protective, comfortable, and cushioned design. The women’s-specific version of offers the same features in a narrower profile. Our female- and male-identifying runners provided similar good scores for the Injinji design.
The Injinji Ultra Run Mini-Crew has a soft and cushioned, mid-weight fabric around the toes, which is made with terry, a thread technique often used for towels. The footbed also has cushion. The mesh top is designed to relieve heat. Though, one competitive ultrarunner and tester found that the socks were hot for faster road runs versus on trails. Despite the heat buildup, the moisture transfer was excellent, and the socks never got drenched with sweat. The fabric didn’t slip and never bunched. By the end of long runs, the elasticity in these socks was still top-notch and the fabric didn’t retain odor.
For other runners, the toe sock is super supportive but boasts a bit too much material for long distances, technical and steep terrain, or streamlined footwear. “Despite being well-cushioned and soft, this style of sock is too stout for my personal preference. The thickness between my toes was apparent when running downhill, on rocky terrain, and at the end of long runs,” said one tester who typically reaches for lightweight socks with minimal cushion. She added, “There was too much fabric between my toes and around my pinky toe — I have a ridiculously short pinky toe. Toward mile 15, I would start to feel the fabric rubbing inside my pinky toes.” Despite the beefy fabric — especially around itty-bitty toes — our testers reported no hot spots or blisters.
Material: 64% nylon, 33% CoolMax, 3% Lycra
- Great cushion
- Solid moisture transfer
- Excellent coverage and protection
- Zero seams
- Hot for pavement
- Thick compared to other lighter weight running socks
- Not the best choice for footwear with a narrower toe box
- Short and tiny or high volume toes are the least compatible with these socks
Best of the Rest: Fits Micro Light Runner Quarter ($19)
The Fits Micro Light Runner Quarter provides one of the shortest cuffs in our guide with a one-inch rise above the ankle. For trail runs with less vegetation and technicality, this sock’s fabric coverage provides basic, adequate protection while letting our lower legs enjoy the air — especially on sunny, hot rendezvous.
This lightweight pair delivers the best medium-grade cushioning in our guide. Targeted plush material is woven around the toe box, beneath the forefoot, and around the heel for protection on trail runs. This design provides more cushion and feels thicker than the Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew, for instance.
Thanks to good elasticity, the sock cuff and arch stays put and doesn’t loosen, twist, or slouch over time. The toe box fabric doesn’t bunch, yet feels less snug than the Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini or Swiftwick models listed here. We didn’t notice any odors in the sock despite sweaty, sun-exposed runs, due to the high quantity of Merino wool, which absorbs odor. The fabric blend features a superfine wool that is 18.5 microns in diameter.
Our critique: “It’s not annoying or uncomfortable, but the interior seams of the sock have visible, long strands and aren’t as clean as the inside of other socks like the Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew. Also, this fabric blend isn’t the softest I’ve felt,” reported one tester — perhaps due to the high quantity of wool, albeit not itchy. They added, “Overall, I still love these socks for the blend of lightweight, well-ventilated fabric and more cushion than other light socks I’ve worn.” Ultimately, we enjoy and want this sock in our toolbox for breezy comfort on less technical trail runs.
Material: 70% superfine Merino wool, 23% nylon, 4% polyester, 3% Lycra
- Shorter cuff option for less technical trails
- Lower price compared to other top-tier socks in our guide
- Not the softest fiber blend
- The cuff isn’t super tall for ankle protection on technical, heavily vegetated trail runs
Best of the Rest: Feetures High Performance Cushion Quarter ($13)
The Feetures High Performance Cushion Quarter is the most economic choice on our list. We took this snug-fitting, midweight sock up dirt mountain roads and rocky singletrack and were bummed to discover that the breathability and moisture transfer scores were relatively low. We also found that the fiber felt slick against our footbeds. “I noticed extra rubbing on the front of my foot while running fast, even though the footwear was breathable. The socks had a slippery feel that caused them to move more than I prefer in my shoe,” reported one tester, a former collegiate runner and professional coach.
Another tester found that in hot, arid, and desert environments this sock isn’t breathable enough. “Out of the box, these felt the most comfortable when I put them on, but on a long run in rough conditions, they became uncomfortable, given they are too thick and don’t allow proper moisture transfer,” said one competitive athlete that tested the socks. The cuff rises one inch above the ankle, so the silhouette doesn’t provide a broad shield for tall or abrasive plants. Odors were also apparent post runs.
However, these socks have a dense cushion that’s thicker than any other sock in this guide around the heel, forefoot, and toes. That max-level plushness offers the type of protection, comfort, and foot-to-ground feel that some runners prefer. These socks are among the softest on our list. The toe box is seamless, and the fabric does’t budge on runs. Plus, the toe box is a goldilocks fit. If your feet don’t typically get hot or your bank account needs a break from sock bills, this pair could be a fair option.
Material: 77% polyester, 21% nylon, 2% spandex
- Easy on the wallet
- Very well-cushioned
- Don’t fit well in narrow footwear
- Not very breathable
Frequently Asked Questions about Running Socks
Should running socks be thick or thin?
The perfect amount of material in a running sock is based on personal preference, which is also influenced by a runner’s preferred footwear. Running shoes with a narrower toe box and more streamlined fit often pair best with lighter-weight socks and lighter cushion. Also, some runners’ feet tend to swell in hotter conditions or during long-distance runs, so thicker socks can become too cumbersome. In winter running conditions, the foot protection provided by a thicker sock is preferred.
Additionally, foot volume influences runners’ preferred sock thickness. Some people with low-volume feet find that thicker socks allow them to lock into certain shoes better. Other runners with high-volume feet might be limited to thinner socks, as their feet already occupy most of a shoe’s available volume.
How long do running socks last?
The lifespan of running socks depends on many factors, including the quality and type of materials woven into the sock and how the socks are used. All fibers break down over time from sunlight, moisture, the oils of human skin, as well as the inherent wear-down inside our running shoes, brushing against shrubs, and wash-and-dry cycles. In general, synthetic fibers are more durable, stain resistant, and last longer than natural fibers.
Following laundering instructions can help make socks last longer. For instance, socks with terry loops will re-fluff when dried in a dryer, and their care instructions will note to tumble dry. Other socks shouldn’t be machine dried, because high heat affects the fiber integrity. Also, using a detergent that’s not recommended can decrease a sock’s perceived functionality, as the product’s residue can decrease breathability.
Keeping the toenails trimmed can help avoid wear. Walking inside or outside in socks without shoes on can deteriorate the fabric as well. The more expensive a sock is, generally the better made and longer the sock will last. We are elated when our run socks last two or three seasons but not surprised if they’re barreled after one.
Should I wear compression socks for running and recovery?
Post run, compression socks support positive blood circulation in a runner’s legs, which helps prevent and reduce swelling. Some evidence also shows that compression socks worn during a run can potentially impact performance on the athlete’s next run and aid recovery, according to the Cleveland Clinic, a premier academic medical center based in Cleveland, Ohio. The thick material and tall socks can also help protect the lower leg and ankles from shrubs, sunshine, rain, snow, or harsh wind.
Most importantly, if compression socks make you feel good during a race or on a run, it’s likely a good idea to add them to your kit. The best compression socks for running are the ones that best fit your feet and calves: they shouldn’t be too tight.
Compression socks are produced in a range of tightness levels from eight millimeters of mercury (mmHg) to 50mmHg. Silhouettes made for runners, such as the tall compression socks made by Cep or Pro Compression, typically offer 20 to 30mmHg.
Such socks also generally feature graduated compression, meaning they are tightest at the ankle and become gradually looser further up the leg.
If you have any health concerns, speak with your healthcare provider before investing in compression socks. For instance, diabetic patients can experience complications while using compression socks, according to the Oklahoma Heart Institute in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We did not include medical-grade compression socks in this sock guide. We will test them in the future!
Should I wear special socks for cold and hot weather?
When you run in hot weather, it’s best to pull on thinner, breathable, moisture-wicking socks. When you run in cold weather, it’s ideal to grab a pair of thicker socks that are still fairly breathable and moisture wicking. If there is precipitation, it’s good to choose a pair that retains heat even when they are wet, such as socks with a wool blend.
A taller sock height is a good choice for cold weather. In hot weather, the sock height depends on the amount of fabric preferred to protection against vegetation; though it’s not good to choose a sock cuff that’s so short it doesn’t stay fixed against the ankle. For all seasons, choosing a pair of socks with at least a minimal cushion will provide protection and comfort for the underside of the foot from the toes to the forefoot to the heel. A bit more cushion will inherently provide a tad more warmth, too.
Our favorite socks for cold weather are the Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew and we prefer the Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew in hot weather.
Can socks help prevent blisters?
Blisters are in part caused by friction where a part of the foot rubs against another part of the foot and/or the socks and shoes you’re wearing. Some runners experience blisters on their heels while others find the painful nuisance on their toes or even the soles of their feet. It’s important to choose socks and shoes that fit well — and fit well together — in order to prevent rub points. If hosiery has too much material or is too loose, the fabric can slip or shift and the footwear or sock material can rub the foot.
The sock fibers can make a difference, too. I personally experienced blisters directly under my forefeet when I was doing downhill sprints, which was caused by the socks I wore that day. I had on a pair with majority nylon (75%) and elastane (13%), and the bottom of the sock was too slick. The best way to prevent horrible blisters is to take your socks out for a variety of shorter runs from speedy sprints on flat paths to steep climbs and downhills in order to make sure your feet and choice footwear operate well with that sock.
After choosing their favorite footwear and socks, some runners also apply lubricant, like Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter, to their feet before runs. Curiously, blisters can be linked to hydration and electrolyte imbalances.
Read our in-depth article on blister care and prevention to learn more.
Buying Advice: How to Choose Running Socks
Material (Say No to Cotton)
Zero socks with cotton were considered for this guide. Cotton retains moisture, so as your foot builds heat in a running shoe, you’d be more likely to experience hot spots or blisters.
The best running socks feature a blend of synthetic and natural materials. All socks need a percentage of nylon, polyester, or elastic in order to retain the shape, stretch, durability, and elasticity of the design. A handful of our favorite socks incorporate Merino wool, a natural fiber grown by Merino sheep. Studies show that this specialized wool reduces body odor, can benefit those who struggle with eczema, and is moisture wicking and breathable according to Woolmark, a nonprofit organization that works alongside Australia’s 60,000 woolgrowers to research, develop, and certify wool.
Then, a handful of our choice socks include unique fibers like olefin, polytetrafluoroethylene, and rayon from bamboo, which each enhance specific benefits like breathability, moisture management, and next-to-skin feel.
One of the worst feelings in a sock is when the seams are irritating or abrasive.
When running socks are manufactured, they’re generally knit as a tube, then are finished off via a seam in the toe. The toe seam rests in a slightly different location for each sock, depending on the manufacturer’s design, but is usually above and on top of the toes with a closure alongside the outermost toes. The heel pocket also has a y-shaped seam.
Not every seam is created equal. Some seams are flatter and softer than others. The best seams in socks are the ones that go completely unnoticed.
Toe socks, such as the Injinji Ultra Run Mini-Crew, have no seams at all.
In running socks, the majority of moisture-wicking yarns are synthetic. Cotton, for instance, is a hydrophilic fabric that attracts or absorbs precipitation, water, and perspiration. On the other hand, synthetic fibers are hydrophobic, so they resist the penetration of moisture. In other words, they have stellar moisture-wicking properties. However, wool also has moisture-wicking properties: the core absorbs a small amount of liquid, the surface remains dry, and the wool wicks out the moisture.
Thick Versus Thin Socks
In general, thicker socks are a better choice for colder, more wintry, and weather-tossed conditions like rain and snow. Overall, thicker socks pair better with trail running shoes that are less streamlined and have a wider toe box. Light or medium-weight summer-weather socks with a medium-level cushion feel thicker than socks with an ultrathin or thin cushion. A medium-level cushion also feels softer beneath the foot. The ideal amount of cushion for a trail runner is based on personal preference and foot-health needs, as well as foot type. Narrow and low-volume feet often find that thicker socks enable more security in particular shoes. On the other hand, runners with high-volume feet sometimes prefer thinner socks, because their feet fill the majority of a shoe’s interior.
Thin socks are a good choice for warmer conditions. Thin socks with minimal cushion tend to work well with narrower, more precise footwear than thick socks do. For some runners, minimal socks also provide a sense of enhanced foot control inside their footwear and while running technical terrain, especially if traversing rock fields or scrambling is involved in the route. Thinner cushion can feel more firm underfoot. If your feet tend to swell on runs or during a race, it’s important to account for the available real estate inside your shoe: a thinner sock might be a better choice.
Tall Versus Short Socks
Running socks come in a range of sizes for a variety of applications, from sidewalks to rugged slopes. No-show and extra-low cuts sit at and below the ankle, and a quarter-length sock rests above the ankle. A crew size hits beneath the calf. And an over-the-calf or knee-high sock reaches the knee.
For the purpose of this guide, our team concluded that low-cut and no-show socks do not generally provide the best protection for trail runners and ultrarunners. A higher sock is desired to cover and protect the ankle and lower leg from flying dirt and pebbles, tall grass, rough rocks, and brush in outdoor terrain. That said, a low-cut sock has its purpose on particular runs, especially on the track or road with no abrasive vegetation or when it’s really hot and feeling cool is a high priority.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, knee-high socks provide the most protection against the elements, so some trail runners and ultrarunners wear tall pairs. Over-the-calf socks inherently feel warmer than shorter pairs. Tall socks can also feature graduated medical-grade compression: they are tightest at the ankle, become gradually looser further up the leg, and typically provide 20 to 30 millimeters of mercury of compression. Compression socks help increase blood circulation, prevent and reduce swelling, and some evidence shows that compression helps with recovery for future runs. We did not test knee-high socks or medical-grade compression socks for this guide but intend to in the future.
The majority of our top-voted socks are between a knee-high and a no-show. The most minimal height we agreed on is a quarter sock, meaning the ankle bone is entirely covered and the sock rises one or two inches above the ankle, like the Feetures High Performance Cushion Quarter and Balega Enduro Quarter socks. A lower sock height is best for runs on designated trails where the periphery isn’t full of shrubbery.
Our highest rated, most favorite socks for the majority of our runs from mountains to desert are a range of crew heights that rise three or four inches above the ankle. One example is our best overall sock, the Swiftwick Flite XT Five.
The most durable running socks are manufactured with a blend of synthetic fibers, which help the sock maintain its form and support. Synthetic fibers are more robust, stretchy, and have a longer lifespan than natural fibers, which explains why every sock in our guide holds a percentage of synthetic material even when mixed with natural fibers.
A synthetic blend coupled with natural fibers is still a top choice for run socks, because natural fibers provide specific qualities such as moisture transfer, breathability, odor resistance, or softness.
Performance socks, such as the ones in this guide, are reinforced with layers of abrasion-resistant fibers in high-use areas of the foot that normally wear down, like beneath the toe, Achilles area, and heel.
We began this guide by polling the 20-plus-person iRunFar team with its collective hundreds of years of running experience about their favorite — and less favorite — running socks as well as researching dozens of the highest-ranked, most popular, and top-selling socks for runners,. In doing so, we honed a list of running socks for regimented testing.
Our six product testers covered hundreds of miles with these socks. Altogether, we followed rocky and smooth trails through high-altitude desert and mountain slopes, sandy singletrack, granite canyons, sun-beaten loops, dense aspen groves, crusty postholing ventures, and mud-caked routes. On some runs, we pounded pavement and packed dirt. Our runners managed frigid rain, blasts of snow, sunshine at 14,000 feet above sea level, and lip-chapping gales. We tracked miles through a range of environments across the San Juan Mountains, Elk Mountains, and Front Range of Colorado, as well as mountain and desert throughout Utah, Wyoming, and Montana.
Throughout each run, we each meticulously examined the socks and ranked each sock on a 120-point scale that included 12 essential qualities from breathability, moisture transfer, and cushioning to overall protection and comfort. Based on the average scores, these seven socks are the front-runners: Swiftwick Flite XT Five, Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Print Crew, Balega Enduro Quarter, Drymax Extra Protection Hawks Hot Weather 1/4 Crew, Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew, Le Bent Trail Ultra Light Mini, and Swiftwick Aspire Four. A handful of socks scored high in many (but not all) traits while others we tested didn’t make the cut. We’re thrilled to report that none of our testers experienced blisters during the creation of this guide.
Call for Comments
Is there a pair of awesome running socks that have made your runs that much better? Share it in the comments below for us to consider for future updates to this guide.