How to Choose the Best Socks for Running

Man running at Marathon race, Barcelona.

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Your choice of running socks can make 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. Know what to look for and you'll be able to keep your feet dry, happy, and blister-free.

Synthetic Materials

When choosing socks for running, the most important factor to consider is the material. Try to avoid 100% cotton socks. Once cotton gets wet, it stays wet. When your feet sweat or you step in a puddle, the moisture doesn't move away from your skin. That can cause your feet to feel cold and clammy in the winter, and in the summer it increases your risk of blisters.

The best running socks 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 your skin. In addition, these new wool socks are machine-washable and dryable.

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

If you've been wearing shapeless tube socks for running, you run the risk of having the fabric bunch in your shoes and irritate your skin. Running socks are constructed to hug the contours of your feet so this potential source of blisters is eliminated.

Look for running socks that 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 for each sex. You can even find socks labeled for the left foot and right foot.

These socks may even provide the sensation of added arch support while running. The actual support they offer is minimal, but they may be able to boost your comfort level.

Other Features

The shape and material of socks are important, but there are other running sock features that can affect your comfort levels and performance as well.

Double Layers

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

Varied Thickness

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 during warmer summer weather.

Other things to look for are a seam-free toe section, which can further reduce your risk of blisters.

Different Heights

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 socks have a very snug fit and may take longer to put on. Some are even made out of medical-grade materials. They are designed to help return blood flow up to your heart.

Compression socks are often used for post-run recovery. While some runners wear them during workouts, you should get adjusted to using them regularly before committing to them for a long run.

A Word From Verywell

Choosing the right socks can make all the difference in your running performance and go a long way in preventing blisters and other discomforts. When shopping for running shoes, make sure you try them on with the socks you're going to be running in. Some socks will require you to go up a half-size.

By Christine Luff, ACE-CPT
Christine Many Luff is a personal trainer, fitness nutrition specialist, and Road Runners Club of America Certified Coach.