The best running socks aren’t just an opinion, there’s a lot of data and science around what’s going to keep our feet blister free and possibly even feeling less tired from the pounding!
Unfortunately, we tend to overlook this piece of our running gear because the focus trends towards fancy tech gear. But guess what the right running socks have a lot going on.
Runners are always thinking about what we put on our feet…I mean there are pink shoes and blue shoes and super speedy-looking yellow shoes.
For first time marathon runners looking for advice, I always start with the feet and while shoe fit is VERY important it’s not the only thing happening down there.
I find that even for us long-time runners it’s good to be reminded that a few minutes of care can go a long way towards preventing blisters, increasing comfort, and possibly recovery.
In this article, learn what the best running socks are right now from many many years of testing out different brands. As well as what to look for when buying running socks.
How Do Good Running Socks Help Runners?
As a runner, the right pair of socks can make a big difference in your comfort, performance, and overall experience.
First things first, skip the cotton, and be ok with spending a bit more for the right technical material and fit.
A great pair of running socks will eliminate a few major issues:
- friction (blisters and black toenails)
- heat (discomfort, swelling, blisters)
- moisture (blisters, swamp foot bacteria, feeling cold)
- rubbing (blisters, raw skin)
Here are a few other key features that make them worth the price.
Just want an immediate answer? If I had to pick two styles, I’d go with these:
✅Compression sock for recovery and race day.
✅Everyday training sock to prevent blisters.
How are Running Socks Different from Regular Socks?
Running socks may seem similar to regular socks at first glance but they are made with runners and running in mind. This affects the material and features of the socks.
Running socks usually feature moisture-wicking features to keep the feet dry and comfortable while running. This is also why you won’t commonly find running socks made of cotton unless they’re mixed with a synthetic blend.
This is because cotton socks absorb and hold moisture, leaving your feet prone to blistering.
Running socks also come with more options, such as compression which improves blood flow and reduces swelling.
The Most Important Thing to Keep in Mind for the Best Running Socks
One thing every runner should keep in mind when figuring out what the best running socks is for them is the material they’re made of.
Skip the cotton and be ok with spending a bit more for the right technical material and fit.
To start, stay away from cotton at all costs. I recommend being ok with spending a bit more for the right technical material and fit. It’ll all stack up in your favor really quickly.
Certainly, you could get through a three-mile recovery jog in a 10-pack of running socks, but cotton absorbs a great amount of water and easily creates blisters on humid or wet days.
Merino wool, on the other hand, can be worn all year round because of its temperature-regulating, moisture-wicking, and odor-fighting properties. It’s a common material used to make many high-quality running socks.
However, the vast majority of running socks available on the market make use of a combination of synthetic materials, such as nylon, polyester, and spandex, which not only provide excellent value but also prevent irritation.
7 Best Running Socks of 2023
When it comes to running socks, it depends on the weather you’re running in, the compression you’re looking for, and the added features that’ll work for you.
I definitely have my personal preferences, but have run in all of these socks and you’ll find many of them still in my drawer ready to roll!
Here are the best running socks for 2023 according to their features:
Best Running Socks for Summer: Swiftwick Aspire Zero Socks
You’ve probably seen the logo for Swiftwick in tons of my travel running photos and it’s because I can wear these socks for multiple days in a row and they’ll repeatedly pass the sniff test!
This means less to pack and I can take off my shoes on the plane without fear thanks to their Olefin fiber. It’s all along the footbed and helps wick moisture and dries quickly.
These are very thin socks, which means they won’t be best for those who want some cushion, but are definitely the ones you want if you’re looking for breathability and ventilation.
And it does make them nice for long runs when your feet swell and are my go-to for running all summer long.
Swiftwick’s proprietary GripDry Fiber includes micro-treads in the heel and forefoot that use frictional force to keep your feet in place when you run which improves stability.
Highly recommend these Swiftwick socks if you’re planning on running during the summer or just want a sweat-wicking and smell-proof option. Also, if you want socks with very little show or branding these hit the mark.
Best deal on a pack of 3 >>
$38 for 3
Best Cushioned Running Socks: Balega Hidden Comfort Socks
There’s a wide variety available here and though I tend towards the thin Swiftwicks a lot, the Balega Hidden Comfort is a great choice.
The cushioning is immediately obvious as you slip these on, and they remain soft and comfy throughout the day. Despite the cushioning, they manage to feel really comfortable without feeling bulky.
The cushioning extends around the toe cap and up to the top of the toe to give protective cushioning from the top of the shoe.
And the seamless toes help to keep the shoe from irritating the foot and the ventilation panels around the top wick away sweat and keep the feet cool.
Thanks to the rib-band design, the fit is tight and supportive without feeling restricting. This design not only makes the sock more comfortable, but it also keeps its shape over long runs.
If you don’t like visible names, you will find that pretty consistently with these. Along with some big bold colors.
See current colors and current pricing >>
Starting at $10.99, HUGE range of colors
Best Winter Running Socks – Smartwool Performance Socks
Winter means my toes often feel like popsicles and that isn’t terribly pleasant when you’re pounding the ground.
But super thick socks can mean sweaty feet, which also become cold…what’s a poor determined runner to do?!
The answer lies in merino wool! Merino wool is a fiber you can wear year-round thanks to its ability to regulate temperature, move moisture, and resist odors.
This makes it perfect for winters as they can keep your feet warm but still be moisture-wicking.
I’m a fan of these Smartwool Light performance socks for keeping my feet both warm and dry. These socks feature a performance-oriented fit and a mesh ventilation design.
They also call their wool technology ‘Indestructawool’ which features a construction method that’s known for its incredible durability. So, if you’re looking for running socks that’ll last, these are the ones for you!
The one thing to remember when looking at winter socks is as they get thicker you need to consider replacing your shoes to ensure they don’t become too tight and cause blisters.
What’s great about Smartwool is you can get a variety of designs and also heights. They are a MASSIVE hit among trail runners and winter runners.
Smartwool socks at REI >> (use those points to save on purchases!)
Starting at $18
Best Running Socks for Toe Blisters – Injinji Run Socks
If you have an issue with blisters, then Injinji toe socks might be just want the running doctor ordered. For some reason these are what I prefer on trail runs, I’ve noticed fewer issues with big toes when I use them. And David swears by them for cycling, which makes them a perennial fitness gift for men.
Injinji’s patented five-toe design helps prevent blisters and hotspots while I’m running. It also features excellent moisture management which further helps prevent blisters and increases comfort.
These nylon socks also include mesh panels for ventilation and compression in the arch that gives additional support.
Another thing to consider with rubbing is the height of your socks…I know that the look right now is no-show socks, but if your ankles are being rubbed raw it’s very hard to keep the running habit going.
And if you’re hitting the trails a higher sock is designed to keep the pebbles from crawling inside.
Best Distance Running Socks – Feetures Elite Light
If you’re looking for some lightweight or ultra-lightweight socks, then look no further! These socks by Feetures include a unique design that isn’t common with socks.
These Feetures Elite socks are designed with particular left and right forms that fit each of your feet, preventing any excess bagginess that might cause blisters. And because they are so thin, as your feet swell during longer runs or races, you have less chances of running out of room in your shoe.
It also features a seamless toe that will not bother your feet and a high heel clip that’ll prevent the sock from slipping down into your shoe. These socks also feature a tab in the back to protect from the heel cup of the shoe.
I get a TON of messages from runners who really like Feetures, so they definitely have wide spread support.
See Feetures Elite>> (starting at $18)
See Features Ultra Light No Show >> (also thin, starting at $15)
Best Natural Fibers Running Socks: EcoSox No Shows
You might assume all socks feel the same if you’ve been living in a world of cotton…but they don’t! And when it comes to your running socks, bamboo socks, like EcoSox, are hard to beat.
First of all, it’s pretty awesome to wear a sustainable resource, but also bamboo fibers are twice as soft as cotton which is going to mean less friction and less chance of blisters!
The EcoSox No Shows are a go-to for warm feet thanks to the vented top and because bamboo is thermoregulating!! A fancy way of saying it keeps your feet cool when they should and warm when they should.
These are a THICKER sock, so I use them more for winter runs or if you really like cushion.
Currently available $12.99 for a pair >>
Available mostly in black and white
Best Low Cut Compression Running Socks – CEP Ankle Socks
Most of you know about knee-high compression socks by now (if not read this post on why compression socks work). I love wearing these on race day, but actually enjoy low cut compression socks on other runs!
Especially as I increase mileage I find wearing them after my long run for the rest of my day as I walk around feels great.
This is where CEP Ankle Performance socks come into play. They’re the best compression socks on the market and are incredibly comfortable to wear.
This brand has been in the compression gear market for a LONG time, which means they know what they’re doing. This is going to be a lighter level of compression than tall socks, but can still help with swelling and recovery.
Especially great if you feel like your feet muscles are often sore or tired. They also have the seamless toe are to help prevent potential issues with blisters.
👉I’ve done a full post on compression socks that cover your calves and when to use sleeves, so not focusing on those here.
See Men’s CEP Ankle socks >> (Starting at $7)
See Women’s CEP No Show socks >> (Starting at $12.50)
Bonus – Cheapest Running Socks
Listen running socks are never going to be super cheap. Not like buying a pack of regular cotton, but there are a few that occasionally slip under that $12+ mark.
- REI Co-op socks – low cut and starting at $8.99
- Backcountry often lists socks at 30% off
How to Pick the Right Running Socks
Now that you’ve learned what the best running socks are, it’s important to know what to keep in mind when choosing the right socks for you. Here are the four main characteristics to consider when buying running socks:
Socks that don’t fit properly are detrimental to runners. Tight socks not only create discomfort, but they also force the toes together, increasing the risk of blisters between the toes.
On the other hand, oversized socks will bunch or wrinkle in the shoe, creating friction spots where blisters may form.
Socks are rarely ever available in specific sizes, so your possibilities will likely range from XS to XL and up. Most socks can stretch to fit different sizes because they have some stretchy fibers like elastane in them.
Wicking and Breathability
The ability of running socks to regulate moisture is one of the most significant considerations when purchasing a pair. Moisture causes friction, which is what causes the majority of blisters.
Socks reduce moisture by enabling excess heat to escape the sock which correlates to breathability. This helps in the prevention of sweating in the first place.
The other method is to draw or wick perspiration away from the foot and move it to the outside of the sock, where it may evaporate. Both of these features are essential when selecting a pair of running socks.
Keeping your feet cool not only reduces sweat, but it also keeps your feet comfy and prevents swelling.
Swelling is, at best, inconvenient. At worst, it will force your foot against the sides of your shoe, which is uncomfortable and increases friction in areas where blisters can form.
Many running socks are vented. On the top of the foot or surrounding the midsole, look for a waffled or checkered pattern. This is where the majority of socks place the breathable material, as the laces of the shoe are more open and allow heat to escape more easily.
When it comes to moisture-wicking, opt for synthetic fabrics that, unlike cotton, repel rather than retain moisture. Polyester, for example, is good at absorbing moisture and rapidly evaporating it.
If you choose to go natural, merino wool also serves to wick moisture away. Running socks made of bamboo fibers are also great as they are thermoregulating. This means that they keep your feet cool when they should and warm when they should.
Cotton socks should be avoided at all costs. Cotton, unless reinforced with a synthetic substance, will absorb and hold moisture, leaving your feet prone to blistering.
You’ll be spending a lot of time in your running socks, so they should be comfy. Apart from the fit, you’ll want a sock that regulates heat and moisture properly as noted above.
Cotton is the softest material, but it loses its shape, bunches up, and retains moisture.
Padding is also important. Find a sock with cushioning going down the sole of the foot to absorb the force of a foot strike. This also helps extend the life of the sock, as that is the part of the foot that receives the most impact.
Socks with cushioning solely in the heel and forefoot are your best bet if you’re looking for the lightest option.
Running socks are available in a few standard heights.
- No-show sock: which lies below the ankle
- Three-quarter-length sock: which sits above the ankle
- Crew: which falls just below the calf
- Knee-high: which rests directly on the knee
No-show socks are good for running in hot or warm weather since any additional coverage will keep heat in. And just a personal preference for how you want to look.
When looking for a no-show sock, look for one with cushioning on the rear of the cuff. This extra material helps to keep your shoes from rubbing against the back of your ankle, which can cause blisters.
Trail runners like three-quarter-length socks. The higher cuff is more effective in preventing trail debris such as dirt or twigs from getting inside the sock when trail running. The debris in your socks might prompt you to stop running to remove it.
Crew socks perform a similar role, providing extra protection for off-trail runs, while knee-high socks take that a step further. Compression socks commonly come in knee-high lengths.
The material that wraps around the calf has a graded compressive substance that improves blood flow and reduces swelling in the calves and ankles.
Why Wear Compression Socks for Running?
Compression socks apply graded compression to specific areas of the foot and calf. This compression improves blood flow and reduces swelling.
They are used to help the circulatory system supply oxygen to the muscles and flush out lactic acid during runs. Compression also reduces the vibration that happens when you run, which can cause muscle microabrasions that can make you tired.
They are also used by runners for post-run recovery. A common practice amongst runners is to wear compression socks after a run in order to speed up post-run recovery and lessen discomfort.
This is because the increased blood flow helps carry nutrients to the muscles This lowers pain and recovery time, which is especially beneficial after high-intensity workouts.
Should Running Socks Be Thick or Thin?
When it comes to the thickness of running socks, it is entirely up to the runner. In most cases, runners prefer a thinner sock since their feet heat up during a run and thin socks are better at releasing heat.
When running in cold weather, a thicker sock is preferable since the extra material helps the sock to retain more insulation. But make sure that a thicker sock is made of a material that can keep sweat away from your feet.
When you run, your feet may be cold at first. Most of the time, they’ll start to get warm during the run. When wearing thicker socks, sweat-wicking material and a well-designed ventilation system will keep your feet dry and avoid overheating.
When it comes to cushioning, having a thicker layer of material underfoot is helpful. Thicker soles are more comfortable and protect your feet while you run because they cushion your steps.
You may buy socks with cushioning along the length of the sole. Opt for padding only on the heel and forefoot if you want a lighter sock.
You may buy socks with cushioning along the length of the sole. Opt for padding only on the heel and forefoot if you want a lighter sock. The absence of midsole cushioning can cause an uneven feel underfoot, which is why many runners choose shoes with full sole covering.
Socks with no underfoot cushioning are also available. This is ideal for runners who wish to wear them with minimalist shoes for a more barefoot feel.
How to Care for Your New Running Socks?
Finally, it’s not enough to just choose the right socks. If you don’t take good care of them, their quality will go down, and it won’t be long before even the best running socks start to give you trouble.
Make sure you should read any special care instructions that came with your socks.
Otherwise, the general guideline is to wash your socks in cold water with the insides facing out. No fabric softener is required, and you should probably stay away from the dryer and just let the air do its magic instead.
Certain popular running sock fabrics could be harmed if they are dried in the dryer. Again, read the instructions so that you can extend the life of your new favorite running shoes!
How Long Do Running Socks Last?
The lifespan of a running sock varies greatly depending on the sock’s quality. Lower-quality socks should last at least a few months before showing signs of deterioration. Any damage such as holes or tears indicates a manufacturing flaw and should be returned for a refund or warranty exchange.
You should be able to wear high-quality running socks for a few years before you start to see holes or they lose their elasticity and become too loose. The best socks don’t ever tear.Who knew socks were so important to a good run?! #runchat #bibchat Click To Tweet
What About Running Without Socks?
Socks…they’re a very personal choice.
You’ve seen the hightop socks that are scrunched down, the cute little old men who wear black socks with everything, the socks with toes that we can thank the barefoot movement for and the socks with colorful characters that often shoe up in my holiday stockings.
Yet, there are some who would say socks are just unnecessary. Why?
- Socks prevent your toes from stretching out
- Socks reduce friction in the shoe, allowing your foot to move around in it
- The appropriate fitting shoe doesn’t require socks
I understand all of this…I will not be running without socks. I’ve done it on a few occassions when I arrived to the gym without them and found the entire experience icky. I know people who run without socks. I am not one of those people.
Ick, ew and really no thanks.
But some days you have to just take what life gives you, so I laced up hit the treadmill and then ran home to rip off those shoes and wash away the icky feeling. The truth is our shoes are washable, so if you run sans socks it’s possible to still feel clean, but not me.
The upside…I ran like hell to get that feeling over with as quickly as possible…hmm ideas for the race are percolating…no.
Looking for more reviews to find the best things for your run?
Checkout our full page of my best running gear reviews and guides to save you time searching and money! I share what’s worked for me and fellow runners, along with what wasn’t worth the price tag.
A few common requests:
- Best sports bras for running
- Best Running Leggings for Women
- Best HR monitors (from watches to straps)
- Best compression pants for running
- Best sunglasses for running
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MrsB • Mind over Matter
I just included socks in my gift guide for runners 😜 My feet are prone to blisters & I only managed to stick with running once decent shoes & socks were invented. That makes me sound ancient but I’m talking about 1995 vs 2005.
meredith @ cookie chrunicles
agreed on needing great socks! I actually find that I love gap athletic socks most of all which is great because the price is always decent! I rotate those with a few pairs of thorlos (especially in the winter) but for sure, uncomfortable socks is a miserable experience. last year I tried Lululemon running socks and returned them – they were slipping and just NOT RIGHT. PS. – one time by accident I wore a different pair of running socks inside out – I do not recommend that. lol
I am a sock-obsessed runner. In fact, my sock drawer broke and there it sits, in the middle of my bedroom. My husband refuses to fix it because I can’t bear to part with any of my socks! BTW, I love injiniji for my runs. Smartwool is a close second–only because they don’t have toe socks.
OMG I’m dying!! I too have a sock issue.
Drymax are my favorite. I will apply BodyGlide on my feet as well before a long distance run or a long race. Helps prevent blisters.
YES!!! I don’t know why I don’t need it on training runs, but race day it’s a MUST
I like the Wrightsocks for running. Double layer eliminates friction.
I LOVE my SmartWool and Features! socks. They saved my feet during marathon training.
Jennifer @ Fit Nana
I also included socks in my gift guide for runners! I struggle mightily in the winter with keeping those little guys warm (thankyouverymuch, Raynaud’s :/) so the thought of running without is terrifying! This is actually a really handy guide. Thanks for sharing!
There have been two times in my life I have completely forgotten socks… and one of those times was a 5K!!! You don’t truly appreciate how important socks are until you don’t have them… LOL! Love this post!
ha right?! they seem so insignificant…but they aren’t!
Yes, I’ll totally splurge on socks, and you’re so right: It’s such a personal call on which ones are right. For years Wrightsocks were the ones for me. Then Injinji, then Thorlo and now? Balega! I still love Thorlo for winter though.
Judy @ Chocolaterunsjudy
Of course I spend $$$ on good socks. Balegas are my favorites, because I am a cushiony girl (and therefore not a sockless girl).
And Mud Gear is actually my favorite compression socks to run in — because they are cushioned around the foot; I generally only wear other compression socks for recovery, because like I said, I need my cushion!
I feel no guilt in splurging on socks…SmartWool are my poison ;-)
Yes, socks are so worth the money! I didn’t think so when I first started running because I would run in cotton. But when my mileage went up that’s when the blisters started coming. Now I know how important a good pair are.
I have so many pairs of socks. It’s kind of crazy. Lately, I’ve been loving the Feetures cushioned socks. The extra material keeps my shoes from feeling too big.
Montana @ Pretty Lil Mudder
I just counted my compression socks recently and I have…35 pair. 35. At about $25-30 a pair. You do the math. It’s disgusting how much I actually spend on socks. But I wouldn’t be able to run without them so…
I didn’t give much thought to the socks until I once wore a pair of brand new ones to a race. What a mistake! They actually slipped down my heel and I had to stop midrace to fix them.
I love good running socks. To the point that while I still technically own a bunch of “regular” socks, I almost never wear them. I just take the running socks that are a little older, or that I decided were not my personal favorites for running, and make them my everyday socks. I love my feetures, followed closely by balegas, and the pairof swiftwicks I have. I do tend tk enjoy more cushion than not. And I just bought a pair of mid crew compression socks for my race in 2 weeks, mostly becauase they have sloths on them, and I am a proud sloth runner.
Agree I think I only own running socks now!