How to Choose the Best Socks for Running

Look for these features in socks for less risk of irritation

Man running at Marathon race, Barcelona.
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Your choice of running socks can be the difference between a comfortable, pain-free run and a painful one. Wearing the wrong type of socks can lead to foot blisters, chafing, corns, and other issues. Some runners run in the wrong socks for years before they realize how much better their feet could feel in the right type of socks.

Running socks come in many different types of material, thicknesses, and sizes. Here are some tips on what to look for to keep your feet dry, happy, and blister-free.

Choose Synthetic Materials

When choosing socks for running, the most important factor to consider is the material. You want to stay away from 100 percent cotton socks. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. When your feet sweat or you step in a puddle, the moisture won't get wicked away. Wearing cotton socks in the winter will make your feet feel cold and clammy. In the summer, sweaty feet will increase your risk of blisters.

The best running socks are ones that are made from synthetic materials such as polyester, acrylic, and CoolMax because these fibers wick moisture away from the surface of your skin. You may be familiar with these fabrics for technical running shirts, and they work great on your feet as well. Look for a breathable, anti-chafing material for all of your running clothes.

For winter running, modern wool blends such as SmartWool are also a good choice. These differ from old-school wool socks in that they are made with "itch-less" wool that is less likely to irritate those who experience that effect. In addition, they are machine-washable and dryable, which would shrink the wool socks of yore. Wool has its own form of moisture management that works well for many runners. You can even find thinner summer-weight wool socks if you find that you prefer them.

Anatomic Shape for Running Socks

If you've been wearing shapeless tube socks for running, you risk the fabric bunching and irritating your feet. Running socks are constructed to hug the contours of your feet so this potential source of blisters is eliminated. Many have an elastic arch lock to keep your socks in place. Some are designed specifically for men and women to match the typical shapes of feet seen for each sex. You can even find socks labeled for the left foot and right foot.

Running Sock Features

Some runners choose to wear double-layer socks (WrightSock is one brand) for additional blister protection. These socks are designed with an inner and outer sock connected, providing an air layer in between to help with wicking moisture away from the foot.

Another great feature is padded soles, which can give your heels some extra cushion. Although some runners like thicker socks for additional cushioning, others prefer thin socks for a lighter feel, especially in warmer weather. Other things to look for are a seam-free toe section, which can further reduce your risk of blisters.

Running socks come in various heights, from no-show to knee-highs. If you prefer no-show socks, just make sure that they have a tab that goes above your running shoe and over your Achilles, so your shoe isn’t digging into or irritating your skin.

Compression running socks or compression sleeves have become popular with runners. These are designed to help return blood flow uphill to your heart.

When shopping for running shoes, make sure you try on shoes with the socks you're going to be running in because some socks will require you to go up a half-size.

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