The Best Running Socks of 2020
Best Overall Running Sock
Thorlos Experia XCCU
As the top overall scorer in our comparative testing, the Thorlo Experia XCCU is our choice for Best Overall Running Sock. We loved that it had small size ranges, meaning the fit is far more tailored to your exact foot than other socks that have a huge size range. This sock has such perfectly tailored padding in all of the correct places that we felt more than adequately protected on the sides of our metatarsals, as well as on our Achilles tendon. In places where padding was not needed, the sock is made of very thin, highly breathable mesh that works extremely well at allowing your feet to breathe and stay dry. While many of the socks in this review also included targeted padding and breathable mesh, none were as thoughtful or successful as this sock.
Like most things in this world, these socks also came with a few downsides. In particular, we found that this sock was exceptionally thin on the top and sides of the foot. There is nothing wrong with this fact, except that you need a snugger running shoe to accompany the thin fit of the sock if you want to avoid undue slippage while running. We highly recommend the Experia XCCU to any runner, although it will probably suit road runners more than those who favor trails. If you're looking for a slightly longer sock, check out the Experia XCMU or the crew-length Experia XCXU.
Read review: Thorlo Experia XCCU
Best Bang for the Buck
Balega Silver No Show
The Balega Silver No Show offers a super cozy and comfortable experience at a decent price. The synthetic materials are soft and supple to the touch, wrapping your foot in what seems like a snuggie. Unlike the Hidden Comfort, a previous Best Buy award winner, it is more fitted with specific areas of compression that keeps the sock in shape. The padding underfoot is quite protective, making it a great option for both trail and road running.
Unfortunately, this super comfortable sock isn't the most breathable. Unlike other more thoughtful designs, it has full padding along the bottom of the foot with slits to offer some venting. However, we learned that in wet or super hot conditions, the sock holds more moisture than most. It does, however, wick well. While the architecture of this sock isn't as thoughtful as other contenders, the price is certainly fabulous proving to be of exceptional value.
Read review: Balega Silver No Show
Best for Comfort
Feetures Merino 10
If you're seeking a mega-plush fabric that offers the best in comfort, the Feetures Merino 10 is our favorite! As a lightweight contender, it offers a specific and targeted cushioning in the forefoot and heel, with a padded pull tab. Unlike most socks in this review that are made of 100% synthetic materials, this one integrates Merino wool, adding to its comfort features. The cushioning is super plush and responsive underfoot. It is sewn together in a high-density configuration that wicks away moisture efficiently, leaving larger areas of breathability where it matters the most. Some say this almost feels like a compression sock around the arch, though it's not advertised as such. A great option for both road and trail running in cool to warm weather.
The caveats? It simply feels pretty tight and runs a little small. While the toe box offers the ability to play, if you're on the cusp of sizes, we'd recommend that you size up. In addition, while the sock wicks away moisture from the foot, because of its tightly-knit configuration, it holds onto moisture in the cushioning of the sock. Your feet will stay dry, but it takes a while for the sock itself to dry out. We also think the price is a little high, but if comfort is your priority, this is still a good choice.
Read review: Feetures Merino 10
Best for Wicking & Breathability
Swiftwick Aspire Zero
The hydrophobic olefin fibers in combination with the Nylon materials make the Swiftwick Aspire Zero a favorite for those needing a sock that'll keep feet dry. The construction provides ample ventilation that easily moves moisture from the foot, through the sock, and out. We are super impressed with its specific fit and its lack of movement while running long and hard days. Even when wet, it dried quickly and kept our feet relatively dry. As a result, it's well recommended for warm weather on terrain that doesn't require a whole lot of support or cushioning.
While it's hard to find anything truly wrong with this sock, we'd have to say the biggest caveat is simply in its intended construction. While this isn't bad, as it's been designed as a lightweight sock option, it isn't a great recommendation for those that require a little extra cushioning. In addition, while the material isn't very slippery, because it is so thin we noticed it does slip around in wider, sloppier shoes. So it does require a tighter fitting shoe to avoid this issue. Overall, a great running sock that has a wide range of utility.
Read review: Swiftwick Aspire Zero
Why You Should Trust Us
Andy Wellman and Amber King provide quality insights into running gear. Both are avid runners, participating in ultra-distance marathons. Andy has participated in 100-mile marathons, while Amber continues to train hard for 50-mile trail marathons that take place throughout the USA. They play in places from Oregon to Colorado to Ontario, visiting canyons, beaches, mountains, deserts and more. Both have been gear testers and contributors to OutdoorGearLab for over six years, keeping tabs on the industry and testing new models, to make the best recommendations possible.
To determine the best overall pair, we put each sock through months of field testing and conducted objective in house tests to fine-tune our findings. We ran through all sorts of weather, battling technical trails and long days on the pavement. We tried different lengths, levels of cushioning, and banged out 1000's of miles throughout the country. Our team of tried and true testers looks at each sock comparatively, qualifying each with five important metrics. After putting our legs through the "stuff" we provide you with an unbiased and quality overview of the best running socks on the market.Related: How We Tested Running Socks
Analysis and Test Results
An excellent running sock makes the difference between a swampy, blistered foot, and one that stays dry and comfortable while you tackle the miles. It is the integral layer separating your skin from shoe contact. Over the years, sock technology has gotten better with designs becoming more thoughtful. A great running sock will wick away moisture, breathe, and provide a little cushioning along the forefoot and Achilles. It'll also prevent slippage in your shoe, which aids in preventing blisters. Rubbing, friction, heat, and moisture are blister causing agents that an excellent running sock will help to reduce. This article outlines the comparative performance of each sock. Finding a good one that'll keep you comfortable and dry is worth its weight in gold.
Related: Buying Advice for Running Socks
One of the most important points to consider is which sock simply offers the best value! When it comes to running socks, it's important to look at the durability in addition to the price. This will inherently tell you which will offer you the best bang for your buck. Our Best Buy award winner, the Balega Silver No Show is offered at a fair price with surprising comfort features. The Darn Tough brand is another to consider with its unbeatable durability and lifetime unconditional guarantee, even though it costs a few dollars more. The range of cost for socks is small, but the real value is in how many miles you can put in before needing a new pair.
Comfort is the most important consideration when evaluating a running sock. How a sock feels will determine whether you wear it every day or never again. We began by examining how the material felt. Was it rough and abrasive, or soft and supple? Were there exposed seams that cause rubbing or friction? 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? Where is the padding located? While there is a lot to consider in this metric, we ultimately determined which was the most comfortable when evaluating the feel of the sock both in and out of the running shoe. We also took a critical look at where cushioning was targeted. Socks that simply felt the most comfortable with padding targeted to all the right places did the best. This metric makes up for 25% of the scoring.
After 10+ miles, each sock still feels quite comfortable. Some even seem to get better the more miles we put on 'em. Of all tested, the Feetures Merino 10 proves to be the most comfortable. Like the Balega products, the materials are super soft and comfortable, but this one features ultra-plush cushioning targeted to the ball of the foot, heel, and Achilles. While it feels more compressive than others, it certainly provides comfort for distances ranging from one mile to 20 and beyond. The fabric in the cushioned areas is highly dense, quite responsive, and protective underfoot.
The Thorlos Experia XCCU offers targeted cushioning that is super soft to the touch. While the fabric isn't as plush or soft as the Feetures Merino 10, this sock kept our feet protected and comfortable on the long runs. Both offer more cushioning overall, which adds to thier comfort.
Socks with less cushioning typically didn't score as high. Of the lightweight products tested, the Darn Tough Vertex Coolmax Ultra-Light is our favorite. While there are no areas of highly concentrated padding, there is an additional layer of material throughout. The Coolmax polyester is little softer than the merino wool composition used in the Darn Tough Vertex UltraLight (women's version). Smartwool is typically the king of comfort, but these ultralight socks don't feel as soft as the rougher Darn Tough fabric. We also love the Smartwool's, with a little more padding, and found this material to be quite amenable and cozy. So be sure to check out different cushioning options if you want a little more protection.
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 same sock with a different ankle height. Sock makers produce endless varieties, so options abound in fabrics, thicknesses, and ankle heights. This also applies to the level of cushioning. This review ranges from ultralight to lightweight, but there are more cushioned varieties available if this is what you seek.
How a sock fits is directly related to comfort, but different in a few subtle ways. A sock that is too big or small is not going to be as comfortable as it could be. The fit is determined by how well a sock might mold to your foot and stay in place. It should hug the foot comfortably, without being too tight or loose. A perhaps an overlooked aspect of fit is where your foot fits within a manufacturer's size range. Some companies manufacture a single sock for a wide range of foot sizes.
We asked some questions to determine the best fit. Did it bunch up and force rearrangement 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, or did it feel as if it wasn't there? How well did it move with the foot? Some socks have a lot of snug-fitting elastic sections that hug the foot. Others were too tight or loose at the ankle, giving us the feeling that circulation is being cut off. Similarly, some socks overemphasized the amount of elastic in the arch, making it feel restrictive. The best socks feel comfortable and don't restrict movement. We also point out niches some socks occupy in the section below. Fit occupies 25% of the overall score.
The best-fitting sock out of the bunch is the Thorlo Experia XCCU. This is due to the fact that its size range is relatively small, offering a versatile fit. It offers cushion in the right places with a specific elasticity that ensures no slippage. Like the Feetures Merino 10, it stays in place on a long run, without bunching or moving on the foot. In general, the fit is not nearly as tight as the Feetures, which feels more like a compression sock.
The Darn Tough socks for both men and women also features a simple fit. The compression is in all the right areas and stays in place. When looking at the comparative size differences in the men and women's socks, the women's is more narrow with a tighter heel cup. If you're a woman with wider feet, we'd recommend trying on the men's sock. Both offer a size that is true to fit.
The Balega Silver No Show provides a surprisingly specific fit as well, unlike the Hidden Comfort that just seems like a tube of padding. It has more specific compression around the arch with a little more padding around the Achilles and underfoot. Both are seriously comfortable with a unisex fit. Both fit a bit large, so if you're on the cusp, size down.
Wicking & Breathability
When water is trapped next to the skin, it gets absorbed, causing the feet to swell and soften, increasing the chance of blisters. To combat this, you need a sock that effectively wicks and breathes effectively. Wicking is a sock's ability to effectively pull moisture from the skin to the outside of the sock where it will hopefully evaporate. Whether or not it evaporates depends on both the venting capabilities of the shoe you wear and the socks ability to release moisture into the air. This is what we call breathability. Some socks can wick and breathe well, while others might wick, but not breathe so well. In this section, we look at the architecture of the ventilation systems to determine breathability and the fabric composition to access wicking ability. Wicking & breathability accounts for 25% of a product's final score.
The key to a sock that wicks well is using a hydrophobic (water-hating) fabric that can pull moisture from the foot and transfer it through the fabric. Those with a thicker looped thread or with some porosity at the surface level of the fabric wick the best. Those that breathe the best are those with a thinner architecture with a loosely knit weave to increase surface area for water transport.
In this review, socks composed of synthetic material did the best at wicking. Specifically, those that integrate a high proportion of Olefin fibers. A previous award winner, the DryMax Running Mini Crew absolutely crushes in this category, drying quickly and wicking stupendously. However, this year, the Swiftwick Aspire Zero, won our Top Pick for its ability to dry quicker and manage moisture better. Another reason it wins an award is that it performs better in other departments like fit and comfort. This ultralight contender is super thin, wicking away moisture and keeping feet drier. Both are great options for wet, humid, or super hot conditions, with the DryMax being a little thicker in construction. The Darn Tough No Show Ultra-Light and Smartwool PhD Ultralight are two other competitors that wick quite well with a thin Merino wool construction.
Thicker socks wick well, but don't offer the same level of breathability as thinner contenders. The Thorlos Experia XCCU is an exception that features an exceptional venting system. The thicker fibers on the pads of the foot area grab moisture and move it effectively to the super-thin areas around the arch and top of the foot for optimal breathability. Other thicker socks like the Balega brand wick well, but unfortunately hold the moisture in these thicker areas, unlike the Thorlos.
The final component to avoiding blisters is its ability to reduce friction and heat by staying in place. When a foot slips inside a shoe, friction occurs — usually in the heel, under the ball of the foot, or between the toes. Friction creates heat, accelerating the creation of a blister. For this test, we are aware of how well a sock helps keep our foot in place. The interface between the skin, sock, and liner is crucial. So it's important not only to get a good sock but ensure that your shoe fits correctly or that your liners (if they are special) aren't too slippery. A sock alone can't prevent blisters. It's a combination of the fit of your shoe, how you run, and how your sock and shoe interact. Slip prevention is calculated at 15% of the total score.
Socks with added padding or cushioning, or socks that are thicker, tend to "fill" our shoes better than thin socks. For an optimal fit, you would be wise to run in the same thickness of socks regularly, and fit the shoes to the volume of your preferred sock. If you size your shoe wearing a medium thickness sock and then go running in an ultra-light sock, there'll be extra room for your foot to slip. To really look at this metric, we tested different socks using shoes that both fit loosely and tight. Socks that don't slip have fabrics that are more porous or plush, as opposed to streamlined, lightweight, and slick.
Of the socks tested, the Balega Silver No Show proves to be the best. The soft and supple drymax polyester does an impeccable job grabbing the interior of the shoe. The Feetures Merino 10 also has a plush exterior that can grab the shoe for more reinforced friction, though the threads are finer so there's more slippage in looser shoes than the Balega Silver No Show.
The Thorlos Experia has an ultra-thin section of material along the top and bottom that is a little more conducive to slip in looser shoes, similar to the ultralight Darn Tough socks. While the Thorlos grip well underfoot, similar to the Darn Tough socks, the Darn Tough has a tighter weave to the fabric. The men's version is a tiny bit thicker than the women's version, grabbing the shoe better. Overall, the thicker and more fitted the sock, the better it combats slippage. If you plan on buying a thinner sock, like the Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Micro that slips quite a bit, just ensure that your insole offers some friction, or the shoe fits nice and tight to avoid blisters.
Durability is a key metric when considering which sock to buy. You don't want to throw down a wad of cash on a sock that'll only hold up for just a couple of runs. In this metric, we look at the relative wear and tear of each sock after about 30 miles of testing. In some cases, where we've been testing socks for over the last (few) year(s), we are able to provide insight on the limits of each. To supplement our recommendations and findings, we also spent about an hour or more researching each product to see what the online reviews (from users like you) say about the durability of the products…just in case we missed anything. In general, our observations have been synonymous with what we find online. It makes up 10% of the overall score.
During this testing period, no socks blew through after 30 miles of testing, meaning that all running socks we tested are fairly well-constructed. That said, they did show varying signs of wear and tear, which tells us there are differences in overall durability. We also look at the guarantees offered by different companies, which can be a point to consider when looking at value. The most valuable socks are those that will last the longest for the lowest cost over time.
Hands down, the best durability we've seen (with the best guarantee) comes from the Darn Tough that offers a lifetime no questions asked. This means if you wear a sock for a year, and put a hole in it, you can send it back for a brand new pair. During our testing, this brand of sock showed the least amount of wear and tear, compaction, and piling issues, which lends to its stand-out durability. We've tested this brand of sock for several years and gotten over 1000 miles on a single pair!
When testing the ultralight Darn Tough Sock, we see the same leverl of durability. The sock still looks new with no thread-bare areas or compaction. This is incredible for a lightweight sock. The ultralight version of the Smartwool PhD didn't fare as well, showing the signs of a hole in the making and threadbare areas in both the forefoot and heel. The Swiftwick Aspire Zero, another lightweight contender also proves to be ultra-durable with just a few thread fly-aways after 30 miles, but not much else.
While we are surprised at the durability of the thinner Darn Tough socks, thicker socks with more cushioning are inherently more durable and will last you longer. However, they are more susceptible to compaction. Of the thicker socks, the Drymax Running Mini Crew totally crushed the durability metric, looking like new after 30 miles, similar to the Darn Tough. The Thorlos Experia XCCU also provides decent durability, but we did notice some compaction after 30 miles, similar to the Feetures Merino 10. Some socks, like the Balega Hidden Comfort, lose their shape over time and use, becoming more stretched out and less elastic. In our testing period, this is the only sock that did this, making it less durable. Be sure you buy a sock that offers great durability. You'll appreciate it once your mileage gets into the 1000s for your running sock.
The running sock that'll last you for miles is definitely out there. In fact, it's probably one that we've featured right here in this review. While there are are a plethora of options, make sure you choose a sock that'll cater to your needs. Quality will make a difference in your comfort and performance while on the run, so don't be afraid to spend a couple extra dollars if a sock is reputed to perform well and last 100s of miles.
— Andy Wellman, Amber King