The Best Running Socks for Men
What is the best pair of running socks for hammering out some miles on the roads or trails? We put eight of the best and most popular running-specific socks available on the market today through rigorous testing and months of running. We ran in these socks on roads and trails for months before evaluating them for five important characteristics: Comfort, Fit, Wicking Ability, Padding, and Slip Prevention. After exhaustive testing and evaluation, we feel confident in showcasing our award winners. Read on to find out which contenders helped us run our best.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
The Thorlo Experia XCCU was the best overall running sock in our testing, delivering in nearly every category that we rated for. With its small size ranges (our test pair was for 10.5-11.5 size feet), this sock is made to fit far more precisely than others whose range stretches up to three whole sizes. We loved how the padding cushioned all of the wear points on our feet, from the toes to the forefoot to the sides of the feet and the heel, while perfectly transitioning to thin, stretchy, breathable fabric everywhere padding was not needed. This design gave us the optimal amount of cushioning while still allowing for wicking and breathing. It scored near the top of nearly every category, making it the highest rated sock in our review. It featured more targeted padding and wicked away moisture much better than either the Balega Hidden Comfort or the Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light Cushion, and was far more comfortable than the DryMax Running Mini Crew. For the best running sock available on the market today, we encourage you to check out the Thorlo Experia XCCU. If you're looking for a slightly longer sock, check out the ankle-length Experia XCMU or the crew-length Experia XCXU.
Wicks and Breathes Well
Perfectly Placed Padding
Not as Grippy in the Shoe as Some
Low Cut is in Between
The Balega Hidden Comfort retails for a low price of only $12.00 per pair. Granted, none of the socks we have featured in this review are all that expensive, but these ones were pretty much the cheapest. In the case of the Hidden Comfort, you certainly get more than you pay for. These may just be the most comfortable sock we have ever worn, although that distinction can certainly be claimed by the Darn Tough Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light Cushion as well (see below). Made almost completely of Drynamix Polyester, these socks pull on so easily over the foot it is almost like they are meant to be there. We loved the feel of this super soft fabric against the skin, and couldn't stop wearing them, even when we weren't running. Due to the fact that they didn't wick or prevent slippage as well as the competition, they were not one of the very highest scorers, but we still think they are a sock anyone would love to wear, at the most affordable price.
Slips Off Back of Foot
When it comes to selecting a great pair of socks, or running shoes for that matter, comfort is king. The most comfortable pair of socks in our test was the Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light Cushion. While the name is a serious mouthful, the sock does all the talking. Darn Tough claims that this sock is so comfortable that you will put it on and forget it is even there. We agree! With its soft Coolmax fibers, ultra-light thickness, and perfect amount of cushioning, we felt this was nearly the perfect running sock. We also loved the attention to detail that separates it from the competition – exemplified by the "seamless" seam across the toes. While we thought this sock did a great job of keeping our feet cool during warm days on the trails, we have to point out that the Coolmax polyester fiber wasn't as effective at wicking away moisture as it claimed, or as good as some of the other socks we tested. There was no doubt, however, that these fibers were far more comfortable against the skin than its wool counterpart, the Darn Tough No Show Light. If you want the most comfortable sock available, this is the one for you. And, if you're looking for different lengths, check out ankle-length the Coolmax Vertex Quarter Ultra-Light Cushion or the longer Coolmax Vertex Micro Crew Ultra-Light Cushion.
Perfectly Placed Padding
Doesn't Wick Moisture Well
The DryMax Running Mini Crew is certainly a unique sock. DryMax claims that their socks are the absolute best for wicking moisture away from the feet and maintaining that dryness all day long. We would have to agree with them. In our tests, it was remarkable how much dryer these socks stayed than every other sock. The hydrophobic DryMax olefin fibers found on the inside of the sock really don't absorb any water, while the wicking outer fibers do a great job of attracting the moisture that simply won't stay on the inside of this sock. Our testing found this combination of fiber technology to be simply incredible. That said, these socks have some down sides. The same DryMax olefin fibers felt a bit rough to the touch against our skin, and we felt that these were the least comfortable socks compared to the competition. We also thought that they fit very large, and we wish that they would work to fine tune their sizes a bit better. We feel that these issues can be worked around, and for the person who frequently runs in very wet conditions, these socks could be the ultimate weapon. For a shorter version than the Mini Crew we tested, check out the DryMax Running No Show. For taller versions, try the DryMax Quarter Crew and full-length DryMax Crew Length.
Incredible Wicking Ability
Grip Within Shoe
Heavy and Thick
Fit and Sizing a Little Off
Bunched Up Seams
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Analysis and Test Results
We set out to reveal the advantages and disadvantages of the many kinds of socks one can choose from today. Running is such a simple activity: the only thing that you need is a good pair of running shoes. But is that really true? What about the pair of socks that protects your foot from your shoe, and vice versa? The truth is that a good pair of socks are just as important as shoes when it comes to enjoying your run and wanting to go back for more the next day. Not convinced? We suggest you talk to someone who has had their goal race derailed by blisters or other foot issues, and ask them whether sock choice is something to be taken seriously.
We chose socks that were made out of different combinations of fibers, had different levels of padding, and ended at different heights around the ankle. The fact is, socks play an incredibly important role in keeping your feet happy while running, in ways that may not at first seem obvious. The two biggest enemies of a runner's foot are friction and moisture, and socks play a critical role in mitigating these potentially catastrophic obstructions. Friction occurs when a runner's foot moves around inside a shoe, rubbing forward and backward as the runner and his foot move through the progression of running strides.
Too much friction localized in a particular area causes a build up of heat, as well as trauma to individual cells. These traumatized cells fill with fluid, creating swelling and eventually painful blisters. While a running shoe is designed to protect a runner's foot from the ground, a sock is needed to protect the runner's foot from the shoe. An effective sock will help a foot and shoe grip each other more effectively, reducing the friction that causes so many problems. A sock can also work to absorb and dissipate some of the energy transferred to the foot, helping to reduce friction, heat buildup, and swelling.
Moisture is another critical enemy of the foot while running, and again socks prove to be the best weapon to combat this potential problem. Running on dry roads and trails in warm or hot weather will certainly cause a runner's foot to sweat inside their shoe, and a good sock can help to absorb this liquid and quickly move it away from the foot, where ideally a highly breathable shoe will help this sweat to evaporate. Running in the rain, mud, snow, or other wet conditions only makes this problem worse, demanding that much more performance from your sock. When moisture isn't quickly removed from the area next to the foot, the skin is quick to absorb it, leading to a softening and swelling of the tough, callused sole of the foot. Take our word for it, soft and swollen skin is much quicker to break down and blister than tough dry skin, and so for runs of longer distance, making sure that liquid travels away from the foot is of critical importance.
A slightly less important role of a running sock is related to hygiene. If you have ever lived with someone who insists of running without socks (or have gone through a phase of this yourself) then you are well aware that it doesn't take long for bacteria and fungus microbes to start breeding in the warm, dank environment of running shoes. Not only do these microbes create a horrible stench, they can also lead to an increased chance of skin or toenail infection. Running specific socks help manage the moisture that causes bacterial and fungal colonies to thrive, ideally minimizing these qualities in the shoes themselves, and can be easily washed and sterilized after every run.
Components That Make Up a Great Running Sock
Compared to the simple cotton tube socks that used to be the norm for running or any other athletic use, socks these days are remarkably complex. When accounting for all the various permutations and combinations of features for a running sock, the choices are very close to limitless. Below we will look at a few of the most obvious and important differences between individual socks and brands: their thickness and cushioning, fabric types, design, and the height of the ankle. For a more in-depth discussion of these and other choices available in our fleet, we encourage you the check out our Buying Advice Article.
It is worth noting that although we mostly reviewed No Show or No Show Tab varieties of running specific socks, those who would like mini-crew can usually still order the exact same sock with a different ankle height. Sock makers produce endless varieties, so options abound to mix and match your favorite fabrics, thicknesses, and ankle heights.
Criteria for Evaluation
In order to determine which is the best overall pair, we put each pair through months of intensive field testing, and then conducted other tests to verify and fine tune our findings. If you would like to read more about our process, please check out our article How We Test. We rated each pair of socks on a scale of one to ten based upon five individual categories: Comfort, Fit, Wicking, Padding, and Slip Prevention. We then assigned each category a specific weight based upon its relative value to the perfect function of a running sock.
The sum of a product's weighted scores for each category constitutes its final score. When assessing each product, we strove to rate them comparatively. That means that each product is compared to all the others, and the scores are assigned based upon their relative strength. All of the socks could be comfortable (and were!), but that didn't prevent us from giving out both high and low scores for comfort. Below we have gone into further detail to explain the importance of each category, which were the best and worst socks for each, and what was the final weighting of that category.
Comfort is without doubt the most important consideration when evaluating a running sock. How a sock feels on your foot will determine whether you wear it every day or never again. For this test we began by examining how the material felt. Did it feel rough and abrasive, or soft and supple? Were there exposed seams that cause rubbing or friction? While pulling it on our foot, did the fabric catch on dry skin or toenails? Did the sock hug our foot comfortably or squish the toes? Did the sock pinch the front or back of the ankle or the top of the foot, or easily stay in place with no discomfort whatsoever?
To answer these questions, we evaluated the feel of the sock both on the foot, and in and out of the running shoe. The most important test of comfort was during the run, both midway and at the end. Our feet needed to feel the same or better than when we put our socks and shoes on at the trailhead. For the most part, all of these socks succeeded, and our complaints tended to be on the nit-picky side for the sake of discrimination.
Even after a 10-mile or more run, none of the products we tested made us want to stop and take them off. Some actually seemed to get better as the run went on. It was not uncommon for us to realize that we hadn't even noticed the socks for miles, even when we were doing our best to focus on how they felt. Two pairs of socks really stood out in terms of comfort, both in a shoe and out of one. These were the Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light Cushion, our Top Pick award winner, and the Balega Hidden Comfort, our Best Bang for the Buck award winner. On the other end of the spectrum was the DryMax Running Mini Crew.
While their hydrophobic inner fibers were not what we would call abrasive, they certainly were not soft and plush feeling against the skin like the most comfortable socks, and also had creases and bumps that rubbed against our toes and heels where seams were sewn. It is worth noting that comfort is a somewhat subjective metric, no matter how much we might try to objectify it. Comfortable to some will not feel that way to others. The most important thing is to try a pair of socks on for yourself and be the ultimate judge. Comfort was weighted as 30 percent of a product's final score.
How a sock fits is directly related to comfort, but different in a few subtle ways. A sock that is too big or too small is definitely not going to be as comfortable as it could be. In general, the fit is determined by how well a sock molds to your foot and stays in place. It should hug the foot comfortably, but should not be too tight or too loose. A perhaps overlooked aspect of fit is where your particular foot fits within a manufacturer's size range. Some companies manufacture a single sock for a wide range of foot sizes. It is not uncommon to find that a size large sock fits feet from 9-11.5.
If you have a size 9 foot, it isn't unreasonable to assume that this sock may end up feeling large and loose on you. Similarly, someone with a size 11.5 foot might feel constricted in that same sock. However, there is little consistency between brands, and each individual will need to be very aware of where they fall on the sizing chart. We have done our best to point out in the individual reviews whether a sock fits small or large and to point out nuances of fit.
For our test, we asked a number of questions to determine the best fit. Did it bunch up and need to be rearranged after first pulling it on? Did it stay in place mile after mile, or did it creep down? Did it feel confining when first pulled on to the foot, or did it almost feel as if it wasn't there? How well did it seem to move with the foot? Some socks had a lot of snug fitting elastic sections that hugged the foot. Others were too tight around the opening at the ankle, giving us the feeling that circulation was being cut off. Similarly, some socks over emphasized the amount of elastic in the arch, making it feel restrictive or claustrophobic.
The best fitting sock out of the bunch was the Thorlo Experia XCCU. This was due in no small part to the fact that their size range was relatively small - ours was from 10.5-11.5. Since our head tester's foot was a size 11, this perfectly matched what we needed without being too large or too small. The Feetures! Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab, deserved an honorable mention in the fit category. Due to the detailed elastic support structures and the anatomical shape, the Feetures! sock did a fantastic job of staying in place.
On the other end of the spectrum was the DryMax Running Mini Crew, which was too large for our foot, and had extra space and bunched up fabric in both the toes and heels around the seams. This was despite the fact that we ordered a size down, and went with the large, which is for foot sizes 8.5 – 10.5. Our size 11 foot should have been too large for this sock, but never-the-less, this sock was still loose and baggy. Fit accounted for 20 percent of a product's final score.
Wicking is the quality in a sock that effectively pulls moisture from next to the skin to the outside of the sock where it will hopefully evaporate given that you have a breathable shoe. Wicking is an essential quality for a running sock because whether it is hot outside, or cold and wet, your feet are going to get wet. Sweat is the most common moisturizer to the feet when running, but rain, streams, mud, puddles, and morning dew are also common culprits. When water is trapped next to the skin of the feet, it gets absorbed, causing the feet to swell and also soften, increasing the chance of blisters. To combat this, you need a sock that effectively wicks away moisture.
The best socks in the wicking department tend to use a blend of thick padding that effectively wicks moisture from the highest wear areas, mixed with very thin, stretchy, and breathable fabric covering the rest of the foot. The DryMax Running Mini Crew was so effective at wicking that we couldn't help but recognize it as a Top Pick. The inside of this sock is comprised of hydrophobic olefin fibers that simply won't absorb water, sending that liquid to the outside of the sock where it can evaporate. This technology was quite remarkable, and compared to the competition, the ability of this sock to wick was off the charts.
The Darn Tough No Show Light was another sock that performed well at wicking. On the other hand, we found that the Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew did little to assist in the transference of water from inside to the outside of the sock. As a midweight sock, this one was substantially thicker than many others, but we still expected it to do a little better than it did. Wicking accounted for 20 percent of a product's final score.
Padding, also known as cushioning, is an optional feature in running specific socks. Padding helps protect the feet from the repeated impacts of running, as well as protecting the foot from the rubbing of the inside of the shoe. There is also little doubt that socks with cushioning will last longer than those without. The amount of padding in a sock will end up being a personal preference thing, but in our opinion there is an optimal level.
We think that targeted padding in the forefoot, toes, sides of the toes, and the heel, is the ideal make-up. If the rest of the sock, such as the arch and top of the foot is made up of thin, breathable material, the runner benefits from having that extra protection while also not adding bulk and heat trapping fabric to the sock. In our experience, padding tends to become a more valuable feature when you are running for longer distances, and also when the ground surface becomes rougher, like when trail or mountain running.
Scoring for this test was not simply based on the thickness of the padding. We tested some socks with lots of padding, as well as the Darn Tough No Show Light, which had no padding whatsoever, so we tried to assess the padding for each sock compared to what was advertised. We looked for balanced padding – if it shielded the foot from ground strikes while still allowing for good sensitivity. There is no need for extra padding in the arch of the foot, as it only adds more bulk. As such, socks with padding throughout the bottom of the foot scored lower than those with pinpoint padding. For this test, the higher the score, the better the padding protected the foot, without simply carpeting the entire foot in pads.
The best socks were the Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro, which had targeted Merino Wool pads that perfectly covered the targeted areas and nowhere else, as well as the Thorlo Experia XCCU, which very nicely accomplished the same thing. On the other hand, the Balega Hidden Comfort, despite having a lot of underfoot cushioning, chose not to target it to areas of need, instead choosing to have the entire underfoot thickly padded, while high wear areas on the sides of the big and pinky toes, as well as the Achilles region of the heel, went unpadded. Padding was weighted as 15 percent of a product's final score.
The final component to avoiding blisters is a sock's ability to reduce friction and heat by staying in place within the shoe. When a foot slips inside a shoe, friction occurs – usually in the heel, under the ball of the foot, or between the toes. Friction in turn creates heat, accelerating the creation of a blister. For this test we were keenly aware of how well a sock helped keep our foot in place within the shoe. The interface between the skin, sock, and shoe liner is crucial.
That said, the sock is only part of this equation, with the shoe playing an equal role. We found that socks with added padding or cushioning, or just socks that were thicker, tended to "fill" our shoes better than super thin socks. For an optimal fit, you would be wise to run in the same thickness of socks in the same shoes regularly, and fit the shoes to the volume of your preferred sock. In some cases, if you were to size your shoe wearing a medium thickness sock, and then go running in an ultra-light sock, there will be extra room inside the shoe for your foot to slip.
The very best sock in our tests for slip resistance was the Injinji Trail 2.0 Midweight Mini-Crew. It was a high volume sock that had lots of surface area with its individual toes, enabling it to better grip the inside of the shoe. The relatively large, loose weave of this sock seemed to also help increase this friction or grippiness. For different lengths, try the Trail Midweight Micro and the Trail Midweight Crew. Both options are available for the same $15 price tag as the Mini Crew we reviewed. The Feetures! Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab was another top scorer in terms of slip resistance.
The other end of the spectrum was held by the Darn Tough No Show Light. This was the only sock we tested without padding, and we tried not to be prejudiced against it, but found that it had very tightly woven fabric that felt slipperier to the touch as well as against the inside of the shoe. If this is your preferred style of sock, you will surely want to size your shoes smaller and tighter to better grip your foot. Slip Prevention was also weighted as 15 percent of a product's final score. In addition to the No Show Tab that we tested, this sock is available in the ankle-length Elite Light Cushion Quarter, the Elite Light Cushion Mini Crew, and the Elite Graduated Compression Light Knee High.
Choosing the perfect running sock is a tough challenge. This process is complicated by the fact that there are countless combinations of features in a running sock when you consider different fabric types, thicknesses, padding levels, and ankle heights. Luckily, all these choices ensure that if you are able to figure out what you really like, there is surely a running sock out there for you. We have reviewed eight of the most popular and common running specific socks available on the market today, and in doing so have made an effort to investigate as many different choices as we could in order to help you. We hope that this review has pointed you in the right direction, and helped you find a great running sock to meet your needs. We also encourage you to check out our Buying Advice Article, where we go into even more detail on all the various choices involved in choosing this seemingly simple running accessory. We'll recommend the best pair of socks for you, as well as make some other recommendations based on differing criteria.
— Andy Wellman
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