Best Running Socks of 2024

Our top picks include socks from Swiftwick, Smartwool, Merrell, and others.

By and on February 27, 2024 | Comments
Best Running Socks - running on desert trails - feature photo

The right socks can keep your feet happy during your run, and there are endless options to choose from. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

As one of the most important pieces of gear for running, choosing the best running socks for your unique needs is important. Well-constructed, tailored running socks are generally more expensive than cheaply woven silhouettes — for good reason. Each athletic stocking 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 storms, or bushwhacking up steep and long-forgotten singletrack. A better-made sock also survives more miles through the wilderness and on back roads than a bargain option.

The problem with top-tier running socks is that a handful of 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 many months, our squad of professional, competitive, collegiate, and recreational trail runners and ultrarunners pulled on a range of hosiery for hundreds and hundreds of miles. The team included runners training for myriad races, from the Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile to the 40-mile Grand Traverse Mountain Run. We ran across the Rocky Mountains and the Western United States from dusk to dawn, facing dust, sunbaked singletrack, snow, and rain.

At the top of our list is the Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five, which has an excellent fit and wicks away moisture quickly and efficiently. The Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks were a close runner-up, while the Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock was our top budget pick. Scroll through to see all our recommendations for the best running socks. 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. And if compression socks are your thing, be sure to check out our Best Compression Socks buyer’s guide.

Best Running Socks

Best Running Socks - running on a road

iRunFar’s Alli Hartz tests a pair of socks on an early morning road run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Best Overall Running Socks: Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five ($27)

Best Running Socks - Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five - product photo


  • Snug and secure
  • Manages moisture super well and dries fast
  • The moderate cushion is not too thick or too thin


  • Higher cost

The Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five is a snug-fitting running sock with a soft feel, excellent breathability, and thumbs-up ankle protection. These socks are specifically designed for hiking and trail running, so they incorporate materials and a knit design that aims to wick moisture, prevent blisters, and provide extra support on uneven terrain. Swiftwick achieves this through a blend of merino wool and olefin fibers, which have natural wicking properties, and nylon, polyester, and spandex, which are breathable and quick-drying. This mix of materials keeps the sock light, breathable, and slightly compressive.

This sock has moderate cushioning beneath the arch and heel, which we found provides adequate protection mile after mile and on rocky descents. The fabric below the forefoot and heel has alternating rows of cushion that feature a proprietary grippy fiber to prevent friction or bunching that can result in blisters. This design works with the merino and olefin blend in the footbed to wick moisture and keep feet dry. The top of the sock is a slightly thinner mesh that enhances breathability, and the snug compression around the arch and ankle feels like a nice, firm hug. While these socks do not have significant compression, they provide enough of a squeeze to feel supportive. They are also tight enough that you can count on them to not move around inside your shoes. But they don’t feel constrictive.

Although many of us trail runners love this sock’s extra height and ankle protection, other options exist in this line of socks. A “Two” version hits just above the ankle bone. Finally, Swiftwick’s non-trail version of this sock, the Flite XT, has also been a longtime favorite among iRunFar testers and is available in a Zero no-show height and the Five, a crew-height sock.

Material: 38% nylon, 24% Merino wool, 22% olefin, 13% polyester, 3% spandex

Shop the Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five

Best Running Socks – Runner-Up: Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks ($27)

Best Running Socks - Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks - product photo

  • Attractive, stylish design
  • Durable


  • Lightweight but not a prime choice for the hottest weather
  • Higher price tag

The lightweight Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks have our favorite strategically placed cushioning plus a cuff height that protects the ankles and lower legs on trail runs. This sock was a close second among testers — it’s a design that has been and is still among the best socks for runners.

This sock has both dense and ultralight cushioning that’s far from flimsy. It provides excellent and strategic protection from mud-ridden, high-altitude routes to arid desert floors. The sock has a targeted, thin, tightly woven cushion beneath the ball of the foot, heel, around the toe, behind the Achilles tendon, and against the outer ankle. 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 Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew socks below. That said, this sock transferred moisture well and didn’t become soaked from sweat, even with the sweatiest testers. The height rises nearly four inches above the ankle, and the toebox is seamless and doesn’t bunch up.

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. Another chose them for a Nolan’s 14 unsupported FKT effort and used them for any run longer than a few hours. Ultimately, these are crisp, well-tailored running socks, ideal for short or long trail runs, moderate temperatures, and multi-day trips.

Material: 53% merino wool, 32% nylon, 11% recycled nylon*, 3% elastane, 1% polyester

*Smartwool is in the process of transitioning to 100% recycled nylon

Shop the Women's Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew SocksShop the Men's Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks

Best Crew Socks: Stance Performance Crew Socks ($20)

Best Running Socks - Stance Run Light Crew - product photo


  • Ultralight, thin sock with moderate compression
  • Good ventilation
  • Appealing style


  • They are not as durable as other top picks
  • Less cushioned than others in this guide

With five inches of cuff height above the ankle, the Stance Performance Crew Socks are ideal for runners logging long miles on dusty trails or in the mud who love a thin, quick-drying sock. It’s also super lightweight and breathable thanks to its blend of nylon, polyester, and elastane, with a touch of cotton.

One of our ultrarunner testers has put hundreds of trail miles on this sock, running over volcanic scree and granite-strewn ridges, through creek crossings, and even traversing cow pastures while racing in Europe. While the sock remained incredibly comfortable and the cuff showed minor wear, eventually, holes started appearing in the toes. This is not totally unexpected for such hard wear, but we’ve found that other socks in this guide have held up a little better on the most rugged terrain. These socks provide a hug-like squeeze around the midfoot and heel with just the right amount of wiggle room in the toes, and we had no reports of blisters or hot spots. However, this sock is not quite as soft as others in this guide. Further, it’s a thin sock with less cushioning underfoot than other options tested.

These socks come in ultralight, light, and medium cushion levels, and there are a variety of colors to choose from.

Material: 79% nylon, 12% polyester, 6% elastane, 3% combed cotton

Shop the Stance Performance Crew Socks

Best Budget Running Socks: Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock ($15)

Best Running Socks - Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock - product photo


  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Stretchy fabric can reach higher on the lower leg
  • Great price


  • Less cushioned than other top picks

The Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock provides excellent value for runners who prefer a thin, stretchy sock for everyday running. This sock is made almost entirely of recycled nylon, with just enough spandex to provide stretch and a gentle squeeze. It feels thin but not flimsy, soft, and smooth on the feet. We didn’t experience any movement, bunching, or wrinkles that might lead to hotspots. Additionally, the sock stretches five to six inches above the ankle bone, making it tall for a crew sock and an excellent option for dusty or muddy trails. Note, however, that if crew socks are not your preferred style, this sock is also available in a no-show design.

This sock is unique on our list because it’s constructed almost entirely of nylon. The benefits of nylon include its durability, stretchiness, and smooth feel. It’s also a lightweight and inexpensive material, so these socks are available at a lower cost than others in this guide. If you’re looking for a quality running sock that is reasonably priced, this is a great option.

The primary downside of nylon is that it’s not very breathable unless the fabric is very thin. This sock is indeed thin, and it’s constructed with mesh zones across the top of the foot and the toes for extra breathability, but because of this, it’s not as cushioned as other socks in this guide. This sock breathed and dried just fine during testing, even on the hottest summer asphalt runs.

Material: 97% recycled nylon, 3% spandex

Shop the Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock

Best Running Socks for Hot Weather: Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks ($26)

Best Running Socks - Drymax Hot Weather Running 14 Crew - product photo


  • Lightweight
  • Excellent ventilation
  • Tenacious, long-lasting fabric


  • Not a sock for colder days
  • It looks thick and cumbersome
  • Pricier

The Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks are lightweight, very breathable, and resist heat buildup during hot, sun-exposed runs and races. 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. According to the Polymer Properties Database, the fabric blend includes a Teflon fiber — polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) — that is among the best synthetic materials for minimizing friction. The PTFE is located in the heel, forefoot, and toe areas, making them super durable.

One professional mountain runner and product tester has used a pair of these socks 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 preferable for toasty jaunts. The fiber blend also includes olefin, which wicks moisture and sweat. Overall, our team experienced no blisters, slippage, or lingering odors after pounding countless miles in these socks. The interior of the toebox was smooth and went unnoticed. The only downside to these socks is that they aren’t very soft, and sometimes they can even be described as coarse to the touch.

Material: 36% Drymax olefin, 26% polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), 22% polyester, 12% spandex, 4% nylon

Shop the Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks

Best Running Socks for Cold Weather: Swiftwick Pursuit Four ($20)

Best Running Socks - Swiftwick Pursuit FourPros:

  • The soft, fuzzy interior feels cozy
  • Wool has natural temperature-regulating properties
  • The cuff feels snug and secure


  • Slightly thicker design is not compatible with snug-fitting shoes

The Swiftwick Pursuit Four is a moderately cushioned sock that’s technically year-round, but we especially love it for colder weather. This sock is mostly Merino wool, blending nylon and spandex for added softness, stretch, durability, and compression. The inside of the sock feels fuzzy and soft and makes us crave those brisk shoulder season runs. At the same time, it hugs the foot enough not to feel bulky or bunchy. 

Merino wool is a natural fiber known for its temperature-regulating properties. It provides warmth in cold conditions, cooling in hot weather, and wicking moisture throughout. The downside of wool is that it can feel scratchy or coarse, though modern merino wool is a far cry from the wool used in older clothing items. It’s also typically not as durable as synthetics, though the wool blends can be comparable. This is why manufacturers often blend wool with nylon, polyester, spandex, or other materials, as Swiftwick did with the Pursuit. This sock’s mix of nylon and spandex helps gently squeeze the foot, providing slight compression around the midfoot and cuff. This design and its seamless toebox also help keep the sock in place, reducing the likelihood of developing blisters. 

While this sock is designed to perform throughout all seasons, its moderate cushioning and cozy fuzz may feel too warm for runners during the summer heat, especially if you prefer thin socks under a more snug-fitting shoe. That said, the Pursuit is available in six heights ranging from zero (no-show) to twelve (calf height), providing ample options for just about anyone. 

Material: 63% merino wool, 35% nylon, 2% spandex

Shop the Swiftwick Pursuit Four

Best Wool Running Socks: Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock ($20)

Best Running Socks - Darn Tough Stride Micro Crew Ultra-lightweight Sock - product photo


  • Lifetime guarantee
  • 100% Responsible Wool Standard certified materials


  • No cushioning on the sole

Named the best sock in the iRunFar best wool running apparel guide, the Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock is a favorite for many reasons. They are incredibly comfortable, and Darn Tough guarantees these socks for life. If you wear holes in them, you send them back, and they’ll send you a new pair. These merino-blend socks are 55% nylon, 38% merino wool, and 7% Lycra, making them durable and stretchy while still maintaining all of the moisture-wicking and odor-resistant properties of wool. Many runners gravitate toward wool socks because they tend not to pick up smells, and fastpackers, who will wear the same socks multiple days in a row, love the material. Several cooling panels around the sock increase its breathability and allows them to dry quickly. Made of thin fibers, this sock doesn’t feel like a bulky wool sock at all and lives up to its ultra-lightweight name. The crew length reaches about six inches above the top of a shoe, providing plenty of protection from any trailside brush or rocks.

The socks provide extra support under the arch, and this material also helps prevent any bunching during long runs. These socks don’t have any extra padding on the sole, which might be an issue for people looking for a little extra cushion from their socks. The lack of material keeps the socks from slipping around and provides a skin-tight feel. This helps prevent blisters and other skin irritation.

Darn Tough is a locally owned company, and they still make all of their socks in Vermont. They use 100% Responsible Wool Standard certified wool for their socks, so you can feel good about wearing them. Plus, they look good and come in a couple of different color schemes.

Material: 5% nylon, 38% merino wool, and 7% Lycra

Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-lightweight Running SocksShop the Women's Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-lightweight Running Socks

Softest Running Socks: Paka Ankle Socks ($48 for a 3-pack)

Best Running Socks - Paka Ankle Sock - product photo


  • Velvety soft and supple
  • Made with sustainable materials
  • Good value and a lifetime guarantee


  • Lacks compression of other socks in this guide

The Paka Ankle Socks are supremely soft running socks that are comfortable, lightweight, and breathable. Yes, even our feet deserve buttery smooth apparel, and this sock wraps our feet in silky soft alpaca wool while providing all the performance we need in a running sock. You will remove these socks from their packaging and not want to put them down because they feel velvety and plush. Note these socks are also available in a crew version, which is equally soft and stretchy and offers more ankle protection on the trail.

These socks are made in Peru using a blend of alpaca wool Tencel, a fiber derived from eucalyptus wood pulp, nylon, and spandex. Both alpaca wool and nylon are soft, lightweight fibers, so this medium-cushion sock feels very smooth and light. Likewise, Tencel (a brand name for fibers called lyocell) is known for its super-soft feel and sustainability since it usually comes from sustainably harvested trees and produces less toxic waste in manufacturing than other synthetics. On the topic of sustainability, it’s also worth pointing out that Paka is a certified B-Corporation.

These socks are constructed with thinner knit paneling around the midfoot and above the toes, with slightly thicker cushioning beneath the ball of the foot, around the heel, and behind the ankle. Like sheep, alpaca wool has natural temperature-regulating properties, keeping you warm in cold temperatures and wicking sweat on hotter days. It also dries quickly and resists odor-causing bacteria. By blending alpaca wool with nylon and spandex, Paka can increase the durability and stretchiness of these socks. While these socks fit comfortably against the foot, they don’t provide any compression, and they’re among the stretchiest socks in this guide. In fact, we noticed our feet sliding around a bit inside these socks when we wore them without shoes. That said, we did not experience any bunching or hot spots once we put shoes on and took to the trails.

Material: 41% alpaca fiber, 8% Tencel, 50% recycled nylon, 1% spandex

Shop the Paka Ankle Socks

Best Compression Running Socks: CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0 ($20)

Best Running Socks - CEP Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0 - product photo


  • High level of compression at the ankle
  • Comfy, squeezy, no-budge fit
  • Breathable and quick-drying


  • Durability is untested

The CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0 are the kind of running sock you can tug onto your feet and completely forget. They don’t budge or wrinkle inside your shoes. If they get wet, they dry out immediately and breathe well. CEP’s socks provide significant compression, though the actual squeeze you feel will depend on the sock. For example, the tall, calf-height socks feel the most compressive because they cover the most surface area. The mid-cut (crew height), low (ankle), and no-show socks aren’t as compressive as the calf socks but provide more squeeze than your typical running sock. Claimed benefits of compression generally include increased blood circulation, reduced swelling and pain, and increased support. Compression socks can often help address issues relating to inflammation, such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. That said, one primary benefit of this sock for every day, uninjured runners is that it feels very comfortable over many miles of rugged trail, through dust and creek crossings, and across snow and rocky mountain passes.

These socks have targeted support in the arch and ankle, with dedicated left and right socks. They’re designed with a slightly padded footbed and mesh panels for ventilation. This is a thinner sock than others in our guide, though CEP also has an ultralight run sock that was even thinner. The ultralight version got thrashed by rugged trails, but it still performed well.

While compression isn’t for everyone, if you’re looking for extra foot support, these are a great option. We found them to stay put on our feet once on and didn’t experience any issues with blisters or material bunching. You can learn more about compression socks at our best compression socks guide.

Material: 86% polyamide, 14% spandex

Shop the Women CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0Shop the Men's CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0

Best of the Rest Running Socks: Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew ($14)

Best Running Socks - Injinji Run Lightweight Mini Crew - product photo


  • Great cushion
  • Solid moisture transfer
  • Excellent coverage and protection
  • Great value


  • Hot for pavement
  • Short and tiny or high-volume toes are the least compatible with these socks

If you haven’t tried toe socks, the Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew is worth a closer look. If you’ve already converted to toe socks, there’s a solid chance you have a drawer full of these socks or perhaps their close cousins. For some runners, toe socks are the answer to their longest ventures and daily miles. Theoretically, fabric wrapped around each toe keeps digits from brushing against each other, causing friction and, eventually, blisters. The design also helps splay the toes out, encouraging toes to engage while running.

Our testers say this sock is very protective, comfortable, and cushioned. It has a soft, very lightweight fabric around the toes. The arch has a ribbed knit to provide extra support and keep the sock in place. The mesh top is designed to release heat, though one competitive ultrarunner and tester found that the socks were hot for faster road runs compared to being 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, these socks held onto their elasticity and didn’t smell.

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. Toe socks like this one may take some getting used to, and some runners will feel uncomfortably aware of the fabric between their toes, especially on a sustained, steep, and technical descent. As such, toe socks may not be the right solution for every runner. Nonetheless, they’re a worthy consideration for your sock drawer. And at a very reasonable price for a pair of socks, they’re worth a try if you’re curious.

Material: 62% nylon, 35% CoolMax, 3% Lycra

Shop the Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew

Best of the Rest Running Socks: Feetures Elite Ultra Light Mini Crew ($20)

Best Running Socks - Feetures Elite Ultra Light Mini Crew - product photoPros:

  • Outstanding balance of light cushion and moderate compression
  • Snug, no-budge fit


  • Solid sock, but not a standout in any one area

The Feetures Elite Ultra Light Mini Crew is another great crew sock that is ideal for the trails. It has light cushioning targeted compression around the arch and maintains a snug fit that doesn’t create hot spots. It also has an anatomical design with dedicated left and right socks. Like the top picks in this guide, this sock hugs the foot comfortably, wicks sweat, and dries quickly. It doesn’t slip, or bunch, and its crew height provides extra protection from rocks, mud, dust, and brush on the trail.

This sock is lightweight and breathable, thanks to thin mesh panels across the top. Its footbed, toebox, and cuff have slightly more cushioning and support than other parts of the sock. The arch has some ribbing to indicate its targeted compression and the heel cup cradles the heel for a secure fit. The toebox is slightly more roomy, giving the toes enough space to wiggle and splay. Without squeezing too much, this crew sock provides a hug-like fit and doesn’t shift around. This great everyday running sock performs well on everything from short, easy runs to mountain ultras. Additionally, while we love these specific socks, Feetures offers a range of sock heights and cushion options ranging from ultralight no-show to max cushion synthetic and merino crew socks, all designed for running and other active use.

These socks come with a lifetime guarantee, so if you do not like them, they’re easy to return.

Material: 91% nylon, 9% spandex (these percentages have some minor variation depending on color)

Shop the Feetures Elite Ultra Light Mini Crew

Best of the Rest Running Socks: Stance Performance Tab Socks ($10-$15)

Best Running Socks - Stance Performance Tab socks - product photo


  • Different cushioning options
  • Highly breathable
  • Reflective logo


  • None yet

The Stance Performance Tab Socks are a great low-rise option that come up to just below the ankle. These socks come in three different cushion levels: ultralight, light, and medium. Whether you’re looking for a sock that feels barely there or one that provides a good bit of cushion on the heel and toes, there’s an option right for you. These socks are also available in an array of color and pattern options to suit any style. They are made of an Intraknit nylon-blend material and treated with an antimicrobial FreshTek moisture-control coating to help prevent sock stink by reducing the rate of bacterial growth. The material is durable, allowing these socks to stand up to many miles of use. In fact, Stance guarantees these socks for life.

These socks come with an anatomically fitted left and right sock designed to provide arch support that can help with foot fatigue as the miles add up.  To help prevent chafing, the toe box area is seamless with an anti-friction finish that will keep your toes happy and blister-free. We found the nylon mesh material to be highly breathable, and our feet stayed dry and cool, even in hot temperatures.

A small reflective logo to increase low-light visibility is a thoughtful detail on these socks.

Material: Intraknit nylon

Shop the Stance Performance Tab Socks

Best of the Rest Running Socks: Janji x Balega No Show Sock ($20)

Best Running Socks - Janji x Balega No Show Sock - product photo


  • Breathable and wicks moisture well
  • Fabric doesn’t bunch or slouch
  • Designed in collaboration with Chilean artists and a portion of sales supports clean water projects in Chile


  • Lacks ankle protection
  • No compression

If giving back is an important factor in your running sock choice, this guide has some good options, including the Janji x Balega No Show Sock. This exclusive co-brand collaboration between Janji and Balega incorporates Balega’s premium performance socks and Janji’s artist series program, bringing artists and nonprofits together worldwide. This particular sock was designed in collaboration with Chilean artists, and Janji donates 2% of sales of this sock to support clean water projects in Chile.

This sock is essentially a limited edition of Balega’s Enduro sock. The Enduro is a running-specific sock made with Balega’s Drynamix, a proprietary fiber from recycled polyester designed to wick moisture and dry quickly. Nylon and elastane are added to the blend for added stretch and softness. The result is a medium-cushioned, soft, and breathable sock. It has a comfortable heel cup and a seamless design that stays put and doesn’t lead to hot spots. Notably, while this sock does have a contoured fit and doesn’t slip, it doesn’t have the added compression you’ll find in most of the socks in this guide.

Nonetheless, this is a stretchy sock that’s easy to slide on and off and won’t cause blisters. Finally, while its no-show height lacks the ankle protection of other socks in this guide, Janji offers a crew version. The taller version reaches nearly seven inches above the ankle, which is a lot for most runners.

Material: 86% Drynamix recycled polyester, 10% nylon, 4% elastane

Shop the Janji x Balega No Show Sock
Best Running Socks - Swiftwick Pursuit Four running socks

Testing the Swiftwick Pursuit Four running socks. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Comparing the Best Running Socks

Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five $27 Medium Light Nylon, merino wool
Smartwool Athlete Edition Run Print Crew Socks $27 Light None Merino wool, nylon
Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock $15 Light Medium Nylon, spandex
Drymax Hot Weather Running ¼ Crew $26 Light Light Drymax
Swiftwick Pursuit Four $20 Light Medium Merino wool, nylon
Paka Ankle Socks $48 (3) Medium Medium Alpaca, nylon
CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0 $20 Light Medium Polyamide, spandex
Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew $40 Light None Nylon, lycra
Feetures Elite Ultra Light Mini Crew $20 Light Light Nylon, spandex
Stance Performance Crew Socks $20 UL, L, M UL, L, M Nylon, polyester, elastane, cotton
Janji x Balega No Show Sock $16 Light Light Polyester, nylon, elastane
Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock $20 UL None Nylon, merino wool, lycra spandex
Stance Performance Tab Socks
$20-$40 UL, L, M UL, L, M Intraknit nylon

Buying Advice: How to Choose Running Socks


The best running socks feature a blend of synthetic and natural materials. All socks need a percentage of nylon, polyester, or elastic to retain the design’s shape, stretch, durability, and elasticity. A handful of our favorite socks incorporate merino or alpaca wool, like the Paka Ankle Socks, natural fibers sustainably grown by animals. Studies show that this specialized wool minimizes odor and can benefit those who struggle with eczema. According to Woolmark, a nonprofit organization that works alongside Australia’s 60,000 woolgrowers to research, develop, and certify wool, it is moisture-wicking and breathable. Most wool socks, including the Darn Tough Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight Running Sock, blend merino wool and a synthetic fiber, like nylon, to increase the socks’ durability and stretchiness.

A handful of our choice socks include unique fibers like olefin, polytetrafluoroethylene, and Tencel from eucalyptus, enhancing specific benefits like breathability, moisture management, and next-to-skin feel. We recommend avoiding cotton. Cotton retains moisture, so as your foot builds heat in a running shoe, you’ll likely experience hot spots or blisters.


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 and 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 seams on the best running socks are the ones that go completely unnoticed. Toe socks such as the Injinji Run Lightweight Mini-Crew have no seams.


In running socks, the majority of moisture-wicking yarns are synthetic. 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 since as the core absorbs a small amount of liquid, the surface remains dry, and the wool wicks out the moisture. When running in hot weather, we found that the Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks outperformed every other sock we tested.

Thick Versus Thin Socks

Generally, the best running socks for more wintry and weather-tossed conditions like rain and snow are thicker, like the Swiftwick Pursuit Four. Also, thicker socks often pair better with less streamlined trail running shoes with a wider toebox. Light- or medium-weight summer-weather socks with a medium level of cushion feel thicker than socks with an ultrathin or thin cushion. A medium-level cushion also feels softer beneath the foot. A trail runner’s ideal amount of cushion is based on personal preference, foot health needs, and 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 most of a shoe’s interior.

Thin, super-breathable socks are often a good choice for warmer conditions. Thin socks with minimal cushion also work well with narrower, more precise footwear. For some runners, minimal socks provide a sense of enhanced foot control inside their footwear and while running technical terrain, especially if traversing loose rock or scrambling off-trail is involved in the route. If your feet 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.

Best Running Socks - Runner on trail wearing crew socks

Meghan Hicks of iRunFar wears warm socks on a chilly spring run. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Tall Versus Short Socks

The best running socks come in a range of sizes for a variety of applications, from sidewalks to rugged mountain ridges. 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 just below the knee.

Generally, a higher sock is desired for trail running and ultrarunning to cover and protect the ankle and lower leg from flying dirt and pebbles, tall grass or brush, and abrasive rocks in outdoor terrain. That said, a low-cut sock has its purpose on particular runs, especially on the track or road with no vegetation or when it’s really hot. Some people love socks that disappear into the shoe, like the Janji x Balega No Show Sock. Again, this is ultimately a matter of personal preference.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from no-show socks, knee-high socks provide the most protection against the elements, so some trail runners and ultrarunners wear tall socks. Over-the-calf socks inherently feel warmer than shorter pairs. Tall socks can also feature graduated 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. We did not test knee-high socks for this guide.

The majority of our top-ranked socks are between a knee-high and a no-show. Our highest-rated, favorite socks for most of our runs from mountains to deserts are a range of crew heights that rise three to five inches above the ankle. One example is our best overall sock, the Swiftwick Flite XT Trail 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. This 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 abrasion-resistant fibers in high-use areas of the foot that normally wear down, like beneath the toe, Achilles area, and heel. The Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks use synthetic fibers designed to withstand friction to create a comfortable and highly durable sock. 

Best Running Socks - Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew running socks

Testing the Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew running socks. Photo: iRunFar/Alli Hartz

Why You Should Trust Us

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. In the initial creation of this guide, six product testers covered hundreds of miles with these socks. Since then, iRunFar buyers guide team members, who are constantly testing running gear and, have periodically updated this guide.

We covered rocky and smooth trails through high-altitude deserts and mountain slopes, sandy singletrack, granite canyons, sun-beaten loops, dense aspen groves, crusty post-holing ventures, and mud-caked routes. On some runs, we pounded the pavement and packed dirt. Our runners endured frigid rain, blasts of snow, sunshine at 14,000 feet, and lip-chapping gales. We tracked miles through various environments across the San Juan Mountains, Elk Mountains, and Front Range of Colorado, as well as mountains and deserts throughout Utah, Wyoming, Montana, and the scree-strewn slopes of Oregon’s Cascade volcanoes. In addition to testing socks on shorter daily runs, we wore a number of the socks included in this guide during race and FKT efforts, including Western States, IMTUF, Hardrock 100, and Nolan’s 14.

We meticulously examined the socks throughout each run and ranked each sock on breathability, moisture transfer, and cushioning to overall protection and comfort. 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.

Best Running Socks - Running along a ridge

The right socks can make any run easier on the feet. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

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 toebox and more streamlined fit often pair best with lighter-weight socks like the Merrell Trail Runner Light Crew Sock or Stance Performance Crew Socks. Also, some runners’ feet swell in hotter conditions or during long-distance runs, so thicker socks can become too cumbersome. The foot protection provided by a thicker sock like the Swiftwick Pursuit Four is preferable in winter running conditions.

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, the inherent friction inside our running shoes, brushing against shrubs, and wash-and-dry cycles. Synthetic fibers are generally more durable, stain-resistant, and longer-lasting than natural fibers. The socks in this guide are made with either synthetic or natural and synthetic fiber blends, so they generally have proven durability.

Additionally, following your socks’ laundering instructions can help them 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. The Feetures Elite Light Mini Crew above should be washed inside-out in cold water and hung up to dry. Also, using a detergent that’s not recommended can decrease a sock’s perceived functionality, as the detergent’s residue can decrease the sock’s breathability.

Wearing the proper size sock and trimming your toenails can also help reduce wear. And, of course, walking inside or outside in socks without shoes on can also deteriorate the fabric. While we are elated when our run socks last two or three seasons, we’re not surprised if they’re barreled after one.

Best Running Socks - runners wearing socks

Injinji toe socks are popular amongst a lot of runners.

Should I wear compression socks for running and recovery?

Between runs, compression socks can support blood circulation in a runner’s legs, which helps prevent and reduce swelling. Some evidence from the Cleveland Clinic, a premier academic medical center based in Cleveland, Ohio, also shows that compression socks worn during a run can positively impact performance on the athlete’s next run and aid recovery. 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, adding them to your kit is likely a good idea. The best compression socks for running are the ones that best fit your feet and calves. They should feel snug but not too tight. The CEP The Run Compression Mid Cut Socks 4.0 provide some compression without being tall.

Compression socks are produced in a range of tightness levels from eight millimeters of mercury (mmHg) to 50 mmHg. Silhouettes made for runners, such as the tall compression socks made by CEP or Pro Compression, typically offer 20 to 30 mmHg.

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.

Should I wear special socks for cold and hot weather?

When you run in hot weather, it’s best to pull on your most breathable, moisture-wicking socks. When you run in cold weather, thicker socks that are still fairly breathable and moisture-wicking will be ideal. If there is precipitation, choosing a pair that retains heat even when wet, such as socks with a natural fiber blend, like wool or alpaca, is good.

A taller sock height is a good choice for cold weather. In hot weather, shorter socks are generally more comfortable, though choosing a sock cuff that’s so short it doesn’t stay fixed against the ankle is not good. Shorter socks also don’t protect against trailside vegetation as well. Our favorite socks for cold weather are the Swiftwick Pursuit Four, and we love the Drymax Hot Weather Running 1/4 Crew Socks in warmer seasons.

Best Running Socks - running in compression socks

Socks don’t have to just be functional, they can have fun designs to choose from as well. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

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. Choosing socks and shoes that fit well — and fit well together — is important to prevent hot spots that become blisters. If the 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 snug fit and compression feel of the Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Five can keep feet free from blisters by preventing any sort of rubbing.

The sock fibers can make a difference, too. One of our sock testers experienced blisters directly under her forefeet caused by the socks she wore that day when doing downhill sprints. They were made with nylon (75%) and elastane (13%), and the bottom of the sock was too slick for the specific mechanics of the workout. 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, to ensure your feet and choice footwear operate well with that sock. And if you begin to experience hot spots or blisters, stop and address them immediately.

Finally, after choosing their favorite footwear and socks, some runners also apply lubricant like Body Glide or Squirrel’s Nut Butter to their feet before running. Curiously, blisters can be linked to hydration and electrolyte imbalances.

Read our in-depth article on blister care and prevention to learn more.

Best Running Socks - Road running in socks

Socks for road running don’t need to provide as much ankle and leg protection as trail running socks. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Call for Comments

Is there a pair of excellent running socks that have improved your runs? Share it in the comments below for us to consider for future updates to this guide.

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Morgan Tilton

Morgan Tilton is the WeRunFar columnist of iRunFar and a Staff Writer for GearJunkie and AllGear Digital. Morgan has covered outdoor industry news, adventure travel, and human endurance for nearly a decade. Aside from iRunFar, Morgan has written for more than 70 publications, including recent contributions to Outside, Forbes, Trail Runner, Runner’s World, Bicycling, and NewsBreak. She’s a recipient of more than a dozen accolades for her travel writing from the North American Travel Journalists Association. Based in Crested Butte, Colorado, Morgan enjoys mountain running and exploring the high alpine in the summer when she’s not splitboarding or mountain biking.

Morgan Tilton

Alli Hartz is a member of the gear review team at iRunFar. She’s been writing about outdoor gear, outdoor adventure, and adventure travel for 10 years. Aside from iRunFar, Alli contributes gear reviews and adventure stories to Switchback Travel, Travel Oregon, and other outlets. She also works as a ski guide during the winter season and has dabbled in run-skiing on the Cascade volcanoes. Alli is based in Bend, Oregon, where she loves to run from her front door up into the Three Sisters Wilderness.