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The Best Running Socks

Updated

We asked two runners to test eight top-rated pairs of socks for blister prevention, breathability, fit and comfort. The best running socks overall are the Feetures – Elite Max Cushion. They provide the perfect combination of cushioning, compression and moisture-wicking fibers. Our runner-up, the extra-comfortable Balega – Blister Resist socks, mold perfectly to the foot. For blister prevention specifically, we recommend the Rockay – Accelerate Anti-Blister socks, which offer a well-aerated body, strong compression and comfortable cushioning along the sole.

Our Top Choices

Best Overall


Feetures

Elite Max Cushion

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Runner-up


Balega

Blister Resist

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Best for Blister Prevention


Rockay

Accelerate Anti-Blister

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Best for Warm Weather


Swiftwick

Aspire Zero

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Best for Cold Weather


Darn Tough

No Show Light

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Best for Extra Cushioning


Balega

Hidden Comfort

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We asked two runners to test eight top-rated pairs of socks for blister prevention, breathability, fit and comfort. The best running socks overall are the Feetures – Elite Max Cushion. They provide the perfect combination of cushioning, compression and moisture-wicking fibers. Our runner-up, the extra-comfortable Balega – Blister Resist socks, mold perfectly to the foot. For blister prevention specifically, we recommend the Rockay – Accelerate Anti-Blister socks, which offer a well-aerated body, strong compression and comfortable cushioning along the sole.

Who needs running socks?

Plenty of runners simply run in regular gym socks, but a sock designed specifically for running is more likely to stay dry and in place during your run.

“I used to buy cheap, thin socks for running, but paid the price in blisters and calluses,” says Whitney Heins, founder of TheMotherRunners.com, who is also training to qualify for the Olympic Trials.

With compression to support your arches and extra cushioning for the heel and ball of the foot, running socks can make all the difference. Those with sweat-wicking fabric and ventilated sections also help prevent excess moisture from building up in the sock — the number-one cause of blisters.

Running socks tend to last longer as well, with many brands offering year-long or even lifetime guarantees. If you’re updating your running wardrobe, take a look at top picks for the best running shorts in both dry and wet weather conditions. You might also want to incorporate a weighted vest into your running routine.

Important features to consider

Fabric: Whether you plan to wear your running socks in warm or cool conditions — or just on the gym treadmill — it’s important to choose sock materials that keep the foot cool and dry. “Sweat leads to blisters because it can cause your foot to swell, increasing friction,” says Whitney.

Polyester, acrylic, nylon and merino wool blends are all good choices for eliminating moisture. Look for socks advertised as seamless and “sweat-wicking” — which means they move moisture away from the foot to the surface of the sock, so it can evaporate. Avoid cotton socks, which are more likely to retain moisture. You may also consider investing in ultra-thin, well-aerated socks for warm weather, and thicker, better-insulated socks for cold weather.

Fit: Running socks should mold closely around the foot; if your sock is loose or there’s excess fabric, your foot will slide around inside the sock, creating friction that leads to blisters. Many socks feature varying levels of compression around the arch, which helps keep them in place on your foot and also boosts circulation to reduce inflammation.

“The right-size sock will be fitted and tight to your foot, gripping your arch and heel,” says Meghan Kennihan, a personal trainer and running coach. “That way, it won’t slide back and forth in your shoe as you run, or bunch up.”

Thickness: Running socks generally come in a variety of thicknesses, from ultra-light to ultra-cushioned. We recommend choosing a lighter sock to start, and then moving up a level or two in thickness if you find that you need extra cushioning or warmer socks. Lightweight socks will be more breathable in general, and the high-quality designs will feature cushioning where it counts: under the heel, toes and ball of the foot.

When choosing a pair of running socks, also consider the fit of your running shoe. Perhaps an insole will relieve discomfort, or maybe there’s too much extra space inside your shoe, and your foot will rub against the sides,  causing blisters. If you’re between shoe sizes or wear a running shoe that’s a little big on you, look for a thicker, more cushioned sock that will fill up that extra space. If your shoe fits your foot perfectly, try a thinner sock.

Men’s vs. women’s socks

While the majority of running socks are unisex, some brands offer socks marketed specifically to men or women. The main difference between the two? Unlike the many variations between men’s and women’s running shorts, women’s running socks simply tend to have a narrower fit than men’s, which are on the wider side. Therefore, let the width of your foot — not your gender — guide your decision. If you’re a man with a narrow foot, a women’s running sock might fit you better; if you’re a woman with wider feet, you may feel more comfortable in men’s socks.

After running in eight top-rated pairs of running socks, our testers ranked the best running socks below for blister prevention, weather conditions and extra cushioning.

1

Feetures - Elite Max Cushion

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The Feetures – Elite Max Cushion socks were the all-around favorites among our testers. A great choice for both warm and cool weather, they kept our feet snug but not sweaty, thanks to their “iWick” fiber blend (74% polyester, 21% nylon and 5% spandex). Although the fabric itself isn’t the softest of those we tested, the socks were breathable and received high comfort ratings from our testers.

The Feetures socks fit the foot like a glove, with excellent compression under the arch. They’re also seamless, preventing any rubbing against the toes and potential blisters. The “Max” socks we tested (they also come in Light and Ultra Light versions, for those looking for a thinner sock) have extra cushioning in the toe and heel area, which strikes an excellent balance with the thinner, breathable body of the sock. Feetures offers a lifetime guarantee on its socks that allows you to replace your pair once they start to wear out, no questions asked.


2

Balega - Blister Resist

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It was a close race between the Balega – Blister Resist and Feetures socks, but the Feetures’ all-weather breathability ultimately won them the gold. Our testers loved the Balegas, but found them to be slightly on the warmer side and better for cool weather — though still very breathable. The Blister Resist socks are made of 34% nylon, 2% elastane and 64% “DryMo,” a blend of the brand’s moisture-wicking Drynamix polyester and natural mohair, which is anti-microbial and has been shown to help prevent blisters.

The Balegas mold perfectly to the feet, with medium compression in the arch area. Save for the arch, the entire bottom of the sock and the toe area have more padding than the Feetures sock, which may be why they felt warmer. Like the Feetures pair, these also have a seamless toe. Balega offers a one-year warranty on their socks.


3

Rockay - Accelerate Anti-Blister

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The Rockay – Accelerate Anti-Blister socks offer the most arch compression of any pair we tried. This strong compression helps the sock stay in place on the foot, preventing chafing and making them ideal for blister prevention. They are also one of the thinnest pairs we tested, and are well-ventilated throughout to prevent moisture build-up.

Like the Balega – Blister Resist socks, the Rockays feature seamless toes and padded soles except for the arch (though the Rockay padding is on the thinner side for extra breathability). Impressively, the Rockay socks include recycled materials: 66% nylon, 30% organic merino wool and 4% elastane. This moisture-resistant blend kept our feet dry as we ran, and received one of the highest ratings for breathability (the highest rating went to the Swiftwick socks). Rockay offers a lifetime guarantee on their socks.


4

Swiftwick - Aspire Zero

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The Swiftwick – Aspire Zero socks are ideal for summer runs, or for runners with particularly sweaty feet. The thinnest of the socks we tested, they feel ultra-lightweight and allow for excellent airflow around the foot. These socks offer medium compression in the arch area — less than some of the other socks we tested, but the Swiftwicks are so thin and close-fitting that they stay in place on their own without the help of intense compression.

Made of 55% nylon, 40% olefin and 5% spandex, the Swiftwicks’ moisture-wicking, lightweight profile doesn’t offer much cushioning, so they may not be the best choice for trail running. As we noted before, ultra-thin socks like these are best worn with a well-fitted shoe, to prevent the foot from sliding around inside the shoe.


5

Darn Tough - No Show Light

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Thick and on the warmer side, the Darn Tough – No Show Light socks are ideal for running in cooler temperatures. They received high comfort ratings from our testers, with a good amount of cushioning running the entire length of the sock’s sole. The Darn Tough socks fit snugly, with a thinner top for breathability and medium compression in the arch area to help keep them in place on the foot.

Sweat-wicking and odor-resistant, the Darn Toughs are made of 51% merino wool, 46% nylon and 3% lycra. Our testers found them to be a little less aerated than some of the other socks in our lineup, but that’s the trade-off of wearing a warmer, more insulated sock. Darn Tough offers a lifetime guarantee on their socks.


6

Balega - Hidden Comfort

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The Balega – Hidden Comfort socks are especially cozy, with soft, uninterrupted sole cushioning from heel to toe that received top marks for comfort from our testers. Though the tops of these socks are thinner to allow for ventilation, we should note that their padded arch made them warmer and less breathable than the others. Made of 84% moisture-wicking Drynamix polyester, 14% nylon and 2% elastane, the Balega socks stayed dry for the most part, though we did notice moisture building up inside our shoes on longer runs.

Because the Hidden Comfort socks provide little to no compression, double-check your size to ensure a snug fit and minimize sliding within the sock. Balega socks come with a one-year warranty.


7

Injinji - Run No Show

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If you have trouble with blisters between your toes, the Injinji – Run No Show socks are worth a try. Designed like toe socks, with each toe individually encased in fabric, the Injinjis are made to reduce inter-toe rubbing and wick moisture away from the skin between the toes.

Our testers tried out both the Lightweight (63% nylon, 32% CoolMax polyester, 5% lycra) and Original (68% nylon, 29% CoolMax, 3% lycra) Injinji Run socks, and both were quite breathable with plenty of airflow. Besides their unique toe design, both pairs have the most minimalist design of all the socks in our lineup, with very little compression. The Lightweight pair has virtually no padding, and the Originals is only slightly more padded in the toe and heel area.
The Injinjis take longer to put on, and the sensation of individually wrapped toes takes some getting used to. However, if you’re prone to between-the-toe blisters, these socks may be worth the extra trouble. Injini offers a one-year limited warranty on their socks.


8

Smartwool - PhD Ultra Light

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The Smartwool – PhD Ultra Light is a basic running sock that we found to be good but not great. This simple, straightforward sock has a thin, lightweight body that offers light compression and minimal padding located only at the very tip of the toe area.

Made of 48% nylon, 48% merino wool and 4% elastane, the Smartwool socks allow for good airflow throughout the foot. Though the Smartwool socks are lightweight and breathable, our testers agreed that this sock doesn’t seem to excel in any one area beyond that. They’re not snug enough in the arch to provide much compression, and their cushioning leaves much to be desired. Compared to the other stand-out performers in our line-up, the Smartwool sock is just okay. However, with Smartwool’s two-year satisfaction guarantee, you’ll have time to try them out and reach your own verdict.


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