best running socks
Photo credit: CEP

The Best Running Socks of 2021

Whether hitting up the trail, running a marathon, or jogging around the block, you need the best running socks of 2021.

Socks are easy to take for granted unless you regularly pound the pavement or trot on the trail. Runners’ feet put in dozens, maybe hundreds, of miles a month, so it pays to take care of them with the best running socks available.

Socks have evolved from plain cotton sweat-soppers to highly technical, sport-specific pieces of gear designed by and for runners. We looked around and put hundreds of miles on pavement and trails to find you the best running socks we could find.

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Best Running Socks of 2021

Best Overall: Balega Hidden Comfort

balega hidden comfort

Balega is well-known in the running industry, and for good reason. When we know we’re going to be spending a lot of time on our feet, Balega’s Hidden Comfort socks ($14) are the ones we go to.

The cushioning is noticeable as soon as you slip them on, and they feel soft and comfortable all day. Somehow, they pull off feeling extremely cushy without feeling bulky.

The cushioning wraps around the toe cap to the top of the toe to provide protective cushioning from the top of the shoe, while seamless toes prevent irritation. Ventilation panels around the top vent out sweat and keep the feet from overheating.

The polyester Drynamics fabric pulls sweat away from the skin and allows it to evaporate, helping prevent blisters and that terrible soggy sock feeling.

The fit is snug and supportive without feeling restrictive, thanks to the rib-band construction. Not only does that construction add comfort, but it also helps the sock keep its shape on long runs — it really feels like a second skin, making it the best socks for running on our list.

  • Material: Polyester
  • Pros: Extremely comfortable; bulk-free cushioning; the deep heel cup; and high, padded heel tabs keep the sock in place
  • Cons: Price

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Runner-Up: Swiftwick Vision Six Impression

swiftwick vision six ompression

Coming in a close second is Swiftwick’s stylish Vision Six Impression socks ($20). If you tend to sweat more or run in hot weather, these socks are going to be your go-to.

These calf-high lookers sport structurally modified fibers that pull sweat to the outside of the sock, which bolsters Swiftwick’s reputation as the best moisture-wicking socks on the market.

Seamless toes keep irritation at bay, and the moderate compression gives the sock a comfortable secure feel without feeling too tight. Medium cushioning provides comfort without bulk on long runs.

We love this version of the Vison Six series, as the Impression features wraparound designs based on National Parks. They offer socks with designs based on Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Zion, Yellowstone, and the Great Smoky Mountain range. They’re also taking suggestions on other parks they should add, with more models coming soon.

  • Material: Nylon, polyester, spandex
  • Pros: Great design, solid cushioning, moderate compression
  • Cons: Pricey, compression may feel tight on wider feet, so size up

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

Best Bargain: Saucony Performance Heel Tab Athletic Sock 8- or 16-Pack — Men’s & Women’s

saucony performance heel tab athletic sock

At less than a buck a sock, you’re not going to find a better deal than the Saucony Performance Heel Tab Athletic Sock eight- and 16-packs ($14-27). The polyester/spandex fabric wicks sweat away, while the Airmesh venting tech on the top of the foot lets your feet breathe when things start to heat up.

Cushioning doesn’t run the length of the foot, but they’ve placed it on high-impact locations. The cushioning runs from the ball of the foot to just over to the top of the toes and over the heel to keep your feet protected during a run.

There is a toe seam, but it lays flat to minimize the risk of irritation. And the padded heel tab keeps your heel safe from excessive rubbing.

  • Material: Polyester, spandex
  • Pros: Unbeatable price for the quality of the sock
  • Cons: They run long, so they can feel too big on longer feet

Check Women’s Price at AmazonCheck Men’s Price at Amazon

Best Compression Socks: CEP Tall Compression Socks 3.0 — Men’s & Women’s

cep tall compression socks 3.0

Compression socks are designed to apply pressure to your legs, helping to facilitate blood flow and keeping swelling to a minimum. Many athletes use compression after a workout to help speed up recovery, as the increased blood flow brings oxygen and nutrients to your muscles.

But why start after the workout? Noted compression company CEP’s Tall Compression Socks ($60) are made for use during your run, providing compression and keeping your blood flowing while you move. The compression also helps stabilize your muscles on the run, which provides a comfortable feel and extra support for your heel and arches.

The HeiQ Smart Temp climate management system keeps your feet cool (the company claims that it cools your feet up to 3.6 degrees). Plus, the padding along the footbed feels comfortable and helps prevent blistering on runs. These features cement these socks as our choice for the best compression socks for running.

  • Material: Polyamide, spandex
  • Pros: Provides support during running, helps aid recovery after
  • Cons: Pricey

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best No-Show Socks: Feetures Elite Max Cushion No-Show Tab Sock

feetures elite max cushion no show tab sock

These below-the-ankle socks from Feetures ($16) have an anatomical design with right and left designated socks, making for a perfect fit. Compression at the ankles provides support while cushioning along the foot provides comfort from repeated foot strikes.

The synthetic fibers repel sweat, moving it from next to the foot to the outside of the sock, where it can evaporate. The venting at the top of the foot keeps your feet drier while you run.

In addition to the anatomical design, the Elite Max Cushion has a protective heel pad and a seamless toe, which eliminates two of the most common points of irritation on a run.

The fit and features are excellent, but several pairs that we’ve tested developed holes at the toe or heel. This only happened on a few, while the others haven’t had any issues, so we’re chalking them up to random flaws in the material. If it weren’t for the occasional durability issue, these would be contenders for the top spot on our list.

  • Material: Nylon, polyester, spandex
  • Pros: Provides support during running, helps aid recovery after
  • Cons: Some durability issues

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Best Wool Socks: Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro Socks — Men’s & Women’s

smartwool phd run light elite micro socks

Synthetic fibers are a showcase of what technology can achieve, but it’s hard to beat natural material. Smartwool has built an entire brand around the benefits of wool, the most notable with socks is the material’s ability to repel stink.

One tester wore the PhD Run Light Elite Micro ($19) for 5 days straight on a trail running backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon. “I’d just hang them on the tent to dry after each run. “I thought they’d smell like death after 80 miles of running in the desert,” he says. “But they really held up.”

Venting on the top of the sock vents sweat, while elastic synthetic material helps it keep its shape. Smartwool’s proprietary ReliaWool tech in high-impact areas keeps the socks from wearing out, and 200-needle construction adds high-density zones for cushioning.

  • Material: Merino wool, nylon, elastane
  • Pros: Stink-resistant, extremely comfortable
  • Bonus: The merino wool is warm in cold weather and breathes well in hot weather, making this an all-season running sock.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Best of the Rest

Balega Silver No-Show Running Socks

balega silver no show running socks

Named for the antibacterial silver ions encapsulated in the fibers, Balegas’ Silver No-Show running socks ($15) sport full mesh panels for plenty of ventilation, which felt great during triple-digit test runs in Northern California.

The light padding adds to the breathability and felt great on shorter runs. And, as we’ve come to expect from Balega, these socks provide some of the best fit and feel of any of the socks on our list.

A deep heel cup, seamless toes, and soft-knitted top make this an extremely comfortable sock. Elastic bands of varying strength provide the right amount of support at the right place, while the high heel tab protects your heel from shoe rubs.

  • Material: Polyester, nylon, elastane
  • Pros: Highly breathable, great fit
  • Cons: Plenty of mesh feels great in warm weather but feels too cold during runs in cold weather.

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Injinji Run Lightweight No-Show Socks — Men’s & Women’s

injinji run lightweight no-show socks

One of the most common (and painful) places to get blisters during long runs or hikes is between the toes. Even if you’re not prone to blisters between the toes, it can occasionally occur during long runs and hikes as the feet start to swell and press against your footwear.

Injinji, the company known for its distinctive socks, splits the toe end of this sock ($13) into five separate compartments, one for each toe. This surrounds each toe in material and prevents any skin-to-skin friction that causes blisters over time.

This is also essential for fans of split-toed shoes or Vibram FiveFingers shoes. (I know there are still some of you out there.)

Besides the obvious benefit, Injinji’s no-show socks sport the necessities like mesh panels for ventilation and compression in the arch for additional support.

  • Material: Polyester, nylon, Lycra
  • Pros: Great blister protection in a hard-to-reach spot
  • Cons: Light on the cushion, material between the toes takes up space in shoes’ toeboxes

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

The Best Minimalist Running Shoes
The Best Minimalist Running Shoes

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WRIGHTSOCK CoolMesh II Quarter Socks

wrightsock coolmesh ii quarter socks

The most unique aspect of WRIGHTSOCK’s CoolMesh II quarter-length socks ($14) is its dual-layer design. The inner layer is made of smooth, hydrophobic Dri-WRIGHT II polyester for a soft feel against the skin and to help pull moisture away from the feet.

The outer layer features a mesh weave to allow collect moisture from the outside of the inner layer and allow it to evaporate. Not only does this help keep feet cool and dry, but it also absorbs friction between the shoe and the foot. This prevents the shear effect in the skin that causes blisters.

The mesh panel at the top vents heat and moisture while the light cushioning helps absorb impact on runs.

  • Material: Polyester, nylon, Lycra
  • Pros: Dual-layer design absorbs the friction that causes blisters
  • Cons: Inner layer can bunch up and make it difficult to put the sock on

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Bombas Performance Ankle Sock

bombas performance ankle sock

The first thing you’ll notice when you put on the Bombas Performance Ankle Sock ($16) is that they’re the most comfortable socks you’ve ever worn. These lightweight running and workout socks are made with a cotton-polyester blend with generous cushioning in the forefoot and heel.

The temperature-regulating vents allow cool air to flow in during workouts, keeping your feet cool, while the moisture-wicking materials keep your feet dry.

The socks are contoured specifically to fit the left and right foot, ensuring a comfortable fit that doesn’t bunch up or wrinkle as well as minimizing blisters and hot spots. Additionally, the seamless toe and y-stitched heel help minimize irritation.

  • Material: Polyester, nylon, cotton, spandex
  • Pros: Extremely soft, great fit
  • Bonus: Socks are the most requested clothing item in homeless shelters, so Bombas donates one pair of socks for each one purchased.

Check Price at Bombas

PAPLUS Ankle Compression Sock

paplus ankle compression sock

By far the least expensive compression ankle socks we’ve seen, PAPLUS’s Ankle Compression Socks come in multipacks that cost $20 or less, depending on the amount and size. The varying compression (from moderate to extra firm) provides support where you need it without feeling restrictive. The compression encourages circulation and helps prevent foot swelling on long runs.

We like the ankle version for its ability to support the foot without having to wrestle a full-length compression over your calves. This, along with the ability to buy multiple pairs at low cost, makes it more feasible to wear a compression sock with every run.

The mesh upper provides venting and the raised, padded ankle cuff prevents friction at the ankle. A seamless toe closure reduces irritation at the toes.

  • Material: Polyester, spandex
  • Pros: Great price for compression socks
  • Cons: Thin material sacrifices durability

Check Price at Amazon

Thirty48 Elite Compression Socks

thirty48 elite compression socks

Designed specifically for left or right feet, each pair of Thirty48 Elite Compression Socks ($13-27) aims for a perfect fit to minimize irritation and blistering. These knee-high compression socks provide graded compression through the calves down to the arch of the foot, facilitating blood flow during your run. If you wear them after runs, the increased circulation that the compression provides helps you recover faster and mitigates soreness.

The socks are available in two-packs, so you can roll off the pair you just used in a run and put on a fresh pair to recover afterward. The wicking material and topside vents help regulate moisture, and the padded heel absorbs shock on runs.

  • Material: Polyester, spandex, nylon
  • Pros: Price
  • Cons: Could use more padding on forefoot

Check Price at Amazon

Darn Tough Coolmax Run No-Show Tab Ultra Lightweight Running Sock — Men’s & Women’s

darn tough vertex

The first thing that we learned when testing Darn Tough socks was that they live up to their name. Every pair that we’ve tested has endured everything we’ve thrown at them, from walking around a campsite with no shoes to filling longer socks with D batteries and slinging them across a park. The Coolmax ($15) is no exception. We’ve put hundreds of miles on these socks and haven’t left a mark.

In addition to their outstanding durability, these socks fit like a second skin. There’s no bunching, wrinkles, or any abnormality that could cause irritation — even after a few hours on the trail. The vented upper lets hot air out and the seam fusion give it a totally seamless feel for comfort.

All of these features add up to a comfortable, bombproof sock that’s as comfortable at mile 20 as it is at mile 1. The combination of toughness and comfort makes this our pick for the best trail running socks on the market.

  • Material: Polyester, nylon, spandex
  • Pros: The toughest socks we’ve ever used
  • Bonus: Plenty of venting on hot runs, but warm on cold runs

Check Men’s Price at Darn ToughCheck Women’s Price at Darn Tough

Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose Running Socks

Wicking & Breathability

One of the most important aspects of buying a pair of running socks is how well they regulate moisture. Moisture leads to friction, and that friction is what causes the majority of blisters.

One way that socks eliminate moisture is by allowing excess heat to exit the sock (breathability), which helps prevent sweating in the first place. The other is by pulling (or wicking) the sweat off of the foot and moving it to the outside of the sock, where it can evaporate. Both of these features are essential when choosing a pair of running socks.

Keeping your feet cool is not only a way to minimize sweat, but it also keeps your feet comfortable and helps prevent swelling. At best, swelling is uncomfortable. At worst, it will cause your foot to press up against the sidewalls of your shoe, which is painful and adds friction points where blisters can appear.

Venting is typically easy to spot in running socks. Look for a waffled or checkered pattern on the top of the foot or around the midsole. Most socks will put the breathable material here because the laces are a more open part of the shoe and will let the heat escape more efficiently.

As far as moisture-wicking goes, look for synthetic materials, which, unlike cotton, repel moisture rather than retain it. Materials like polyester are effective at pulling moisture off and evaporating it quickly. If you’d rather go natural, merino wool works to pull moisture away as well. Look for brands like Smartwool and Icebreaker to find good merino wool socks.

Avoid cotton socks at all costs. Unless it’s bolstered by synthetic material, cotton will soak up water and retain it, leaving your feet vulnerable to blisters.

best running socks
Photo credit: Balega

Fit

Socks that fit poorly are terrible for runners. Socks that are too tight not only cause discomfort, but they also press the toes together, which greatly increases the risk of blisters between the toes.

Socks that are too big will bunch or wrinkle in the shoe, which creates friction points where blisters can form. One tester wore socks that stretched out on a hike and bunched up underfoot, causing a 3-inch blister to form on his sole. You’re going to want to avoid that at all costs.

Most running socks are unisex, so the best running socks for men and the best running socks for women are the same, depending on how you plan on using them. Look on the packaging or online for size scales for both men and women.

Socks rarely come in specific sizes, so your options are going to range from XS to XL and above. Most socks stretch to accommodate different sizes, thanks to some percentage of stretchy fibers like elastane embedded in the material.

Any given sock will work for a range of sizes, so a size large may for feet sized 10 to 12. Sock packaging and websites will list a scale to help buyers choose the right size.

Compression socks are a bit different since the socks are built to provide a tighter fit, depending on the compression grade. You’ll still have a similar sizing scale, but many brands suggest buying a smaller sock if you want additional compression or a larger sock if you want lighter compression.

Comfort

You’ll be spending a lot of time in your running socks, so you’re going to want a comfortable sock. Besides finding the right fit, you’re going to want a sock that regulates heat and moisture well. Also, look for socks that will provide adequate padding for the pounding that your feet face during a run.

Most running socks are made with a synthetic material like polyester. These are effective at wicking away sweat but aren’t known for their softness. Higher on the comfort scale is a wool/synthetic blend. The natural fiber is softer, while still retaining the ability to breathe well and pull sweat from the skin.

Cotton is the softest material and feels great on the skin. However, it tends to lose its shape (which can lead to bunching), and it holds on to moisture. A few brands have managed to find the right balance between cotton and synthetic materials. The result is a comfortable sock that also wicks away moisture.

Overheating and sweat accumulation can also be a cause of discomfort. Make sure that your sock is made of breathable material and/or has breathable mesh panels. These are easy to spot. Look for a different pattern on the top of the foot. This indicates a more open weave than the rest of the sock.

Padding is key as well. Find a sock with padding running along the sole of the foot, which will absorb foot strike impact. This also serves to lengthen the sock’s lifetime, as that’s the most high-impact area of the foot. If you want the lightest sock possible, choose a sock that only has padding in the heel and forefoot.

cep tall running socks
Photo credit: CEP

Height

Running socks come in a few general sizes. There’s the no-show sock, which sits below the ankle; the three-quarter-length sock, which sits above the ankle; the crew, which falls just under the calf; and the knee-high, which sits right at the knee.

No-show socks are ideal for running in hot or moderate weather, as any added coverage will conserve heat. They’re lighter and have less material. This means you can stash a spare in your running pack if you run through a creek. This also comes in handy when nature calls on the trail and you need to improvise some toilet paper.

When shopping for a no-show sock, make sure that it has padding on the back of the cuff. This added material helps prevent shoe rub on the back of your ankle, which can cause blisters.

Three-quarter-length socks are favored by trail runners. The higher cuff is better at preventing trail debris such as dirt or twigs from getting inside the sock. Debris in your socks can cause you to stop your run and get it out before it causes a blister.

Crew socks serve a similar function, adding protection for off-trail runs, and knee-high socks take that to the extreme. Knee-high socks are also common in compression socks. The material up around the calf features a graded compressive material that helps improve blood flow and minimize swelling of the calves and ankles.

Durability & Price

Running socks put in lots of miles on varied terrain, making them susceptible to more wear than other socks. Many companies use higher needle counts to create a thicker material or blend durable fibers to combat this.

Having a running sock fall apart can feel like a small disaster. Any hole puts your foot in contact with your shoe, creating a hotspot that can cause blisters. With many running socks sitting around $15, repeatedly replacing running socks can take a bite out of your wallet.

You can avoid this by reading reviews or by going with brands that are known for their durable socks. Darn Tough is our pick for the toughest sock on the market. They also offer a lifetime guarantee: if you ever wear a hole in one of their socks, the company will send you a new one.

That means you’ll never have to buy that sock again unless you want multiple pairs. For the record, we’ve never worn a hole in one, and they’ve never had to make good on that promise.

Another option is to buy socks in multipacks. Many companies will offer socks in six or eight packs at a discounted price. The tradeoff here is that the socks are often lower quality than the top-tier ones.

If you’re new to running, consider buying one higher-end pair of socks and a small multipack. This way, you’ll have running socks for the week and you can accumulate more high-end socks over time.

FAQ

Should Running Socks Be Thick or Thin?

The thickness of a running sock depends on the wearer’s preference. Many runners prefer a thinner sock in most conditions, as feet tend to heat up during a run and thin socks are better at venting heat.

A thicker sock is ideal for running in cold weather, as the extra material allows it to hold insulation better. But make sure that a thicker sock is made of sweat-wicking material.

Your feet may start out cold, but more often than not, they’ll start heating up midrun. A sweat-wicking material and a good venting system will keep your feet dry and prevent overheating when wearing thicker socks.

As far as padding goes, it’s helpful to have thicker material underfoot. Thicker sole material provides comfort and protection during runs, as they absorb shock from foot strike.

You can find socks with padding that runs along the entire sole or, if you’d prefer a lighter sock, on just the heel and forefoot. Many runners prefer full sole coverage, as the lack of padding on the midsole can lead to an uneven feeling underfoot.

Brands also offer socks with zero underfoot padding. This works well with runners who want to combine them with minimalist shoes for a more barefoot feel.

best running socks
Photo credit: Balega

Do Professional Runners Wear Socks?

With very few exceptions, yes. Professional runners log hundreds of miles in training, and keeping their feet healthy during such heavy training loads is essential.

Socks help prevent blisters, which take time to heal. They cause discomfort that can alter a runner’s stride, which can cause injury over time. Blisters, while inevitable, should be limited as much as possible, and wearing socks goes a long way in doing so.

Also, many professional runners use compression socks to minimize fatigue during runs and races, as well as a way to speed up recovery between workouts.

We know of one exception to this rule. One of our writers knows a professional runner who chooses to train without socks, but races with them on. He does so purposefully to cause blisters and over time, build up calluses and, in his words, “to toughen up my feet.”

In addition to running, he’s also a professional hunter, often spending days in the woods. His purpose in building bulletproof feet is to prepare them during training for anything that may occur during his hunts. This is an extreme method of training — one that we don’t recommend — but it’s worth noting.

How Long Do Running Socks Last?

The lifespan of a running sock varies widely depending on the quality of the sock. Lower quality socks should get you at least a few months of use before they start to show wear. Any damage (such as holes and tearing) is a sign of poor workmanship or factory defect, and they should be returned for a refund or warranty exchange.

Quality running socks should get you a few years of steady use before you see any holes or they start to lose elasticity and get baggy — and the best ones never tear.

The one brand that we keep going back to is Darn Tough. The Vermont company uses large-gauge sewing machines to create a dense material without adding bulk, and the high-quality merino wool it uses is extremely durable. We’ve never had to replace a pair of Darn Tough socks unless we lost one in the wash or had the cat tear one to pieces.

The company is so confident in its work that they offer a lifetime guarantee. If a sock you ever buy from them ever gets a hole in it, they’ll replace it free of charge. It doesn’t matter if you’ve had it for a year or 10 years — if you wear a hole in it, you get a new pair.

Why Wear Compression Socks for Running?

Compression socks use graded compression on targeted parts of the foot and calf. This compression facilitates blood flow and helps minimize swelling.

Runners use these as a way to help the circulatory system provide the muscles with oxygen and flush out lactic acid during runs. Compression also minimizes the repeated vibration that comes with running, which causes microabrasions in the muscle that can lead to fatigue.

Runners also use them for post-run recovery. Many runners will wear compression socks after runs to speed up post-run recovery and reduce soreness, as the increased blood flow helps carry nutrients to the muscles. This reduces soreness and lessens recovery time, especially after high-intensity workouts.

Are Running Socks Worth It?

Absolutely. Running socks go a long way in increasing the enjoyment and effectiveness of run training. First and foremost, they keep your feet cool and dry, removing the moisture that can add friction and cause blisters. They also act as an essential barrier between the foot and the shoe, eliminating friction and hot spots.

Additional padding on the soles of running socks provides essential cushioning that reduces foot strike impact as well. Compression socks help you run longer and recover faster. After your running shoes, a good pair of running socks is a runner’s most important piece of running gear.


Have a favorite running sock we missed? Let us know in the comments and we’ll check it out for future updates to this article.


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Billy Brown
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Billy Brown has a problem sitting still. His constant search for the next challenge has him doing everything from running ultramarathons and climbing 14er’s to gaining 40 pounds to compete in powerlifting, breaking several state records and growing a killer beard in the process. With over a decade of writing under his belt, his work, covering action sports, gear, and beer, can be found in a variety of publications. He lives with his wife and their two cats in Sacramento, California.