Best Running Socks of 2021
|Price||$17.00 at REI|
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|$17.00 at REI|
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|$14.99 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Protective medium cushioning, protective length, durable fibers, strong at wicking, quick to dry||Super comfortable padding, toe spread, blister prevention, excellent moisture management, protective||Deliciously comfortable, well-cushioned, affordable||Great slip prevention, seamless feel||Breathable, durable, nice size range|
|Cons||Medium cushioning isn't ideal for super hot weather||Some may not love the toe sock design, cooler than merino wool when wet||Poor breathability||A little on the thick side, holds more moisture than a thinner sock||Not very much cushioning|
|Bottom Line||An all-around excellent performer that's built for the beginner to the elite ultra-distance runner||If you are considering a toe sock design, this durable synthetic option comes highly recommended||Comfortable and affordable for long days pumping out the miles||If your feet need room to swell in a wider shoe, but you don't want to slip around the extra space, check out these excellent cushioned socks||These are a moderately cushioned option for folks who don't prefer a thickly cushioned sock|
|Rating Categories||Balega Blister Resi...||Injinji Trail Midwe...||Balega Silver No Show||Darn Tough Run Cool...||Swiftwick Maxus One|
|Wicking & Breathability (25%)|
|Slip Prevention (15%)|
|Specs||Balega Blister Resi...||Injinji Trail Midwe...||Balega Silver No Show||Darn Tough Run Cool...||Swiftwick Maxus One|
|Material||32% Drynamix Polyester, 32% Polyamide, 30% Mohair, 4% Microfiber, 2% Elastane||39% Coolmax Polyester, 58% Nylon, 3% Lycra||75% Drynamix Polyester, 23% Nylon, 2% Elastane||48% Nylon 47% Coolmax Polyester 5% Lycra Spandex||Olefin|
|Ankle Cut||Quarter Length||Quarter Length||No Show Tab||No Show Tab||Low Cut|
Best Overall Running Sock
Balega Blister Resister Quarter
The Balega Blister Resister Quarter is an excellent performer for a myriad of reasons. The synthetic construction feels soft and comfortable against the skin, with padding exactly where you need it. On long trail runs, your foot will feel protected from underfoot hazards like rocks, roots, sand, and more. The thinner construction across the top of the foot and under the arch enables ventilation, even on warm days. Furthermore, there are different styles for both men and women with a simply impeccable fit. Durability is excellent as well in our testing so far. After 60+ miles of running, it still looks like new. Our testers found themselves reaching for this protective performer for trail runs where distances ranged from one to one hundred miles through both summer and winter.
The only caveat we could think of is it may not be the option for the hottest of summer days, given the mid-weight level of cushioning. Aside from that, if you're seeking an excellent running sock with impeccable protection and great durability at a reasonable price, this is one you should buy.
Read review: Balega Blister Resister Quarter
Best Bang for the Buck
Balega Silver No Show
The Balega Silver No Show offers a super cozy and comfortable experience at a reasonable price. The synthetic materials are soft and supple to the touch, wrapping your foot in what feels like a fleece snuggie blanket. It is well fitted with specific areas of compression that help keep the sock's shape. The padding underfoot is quite protective, making it an excellent option for both trail and road running.
The downside is this sock doesn't excel at breathability. Unlike some of the more intricate designs, the entire bottom of the foot has full padding with slits for ventilation. Despite the slits, we found the sock traps moisture when conditions are wet or hot when others offer more breathability. However, we did notice it wicks well. While the architecture of this sock isn't as thoughtful as other contenders, the price is on point, proving to be of exceptional value.
Read review: Balega Silver No Show
Best Toe Sock
Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew
If you love to spread your toes on the run, the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew won't let you down. The plush underfoot cushioning cradles and protects your foot in all the right places, while the thicker quarter-length design doesn't slip or move while you explore. This sock is unique from others, wrapping each toe individually, just like a glove. It allows your toes to spread, helps to avoid blisters, and improves balance while on the trail. Designed for long trails, everybody from a 5K runner to the ultramarathoner will appreciate its unique design, comfort, and protection.
While a toe-sock might be a favorite for some, it's not everybody's cup of tea. The extra work to put them on and the toe splay is a little out of the normal. However, if you haven't tried a toe sock, why not give it a shot? We did and really enjoyed the benefits.
Read review: Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew
Best for Wicking & Breathability
Swiftwick Aspire Zero
In combination with the Nylon materials, the hydrophobic olefin fibers make the Swiftwick Aspire Zero a great option for sweat-wicking and breathability. The construction provides ample ventilation that quickly moves moisture away from the foot, through the sock, and out. We are 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, we recommend it 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 most significant caveat is simply in its intended construction. It's designed as a lightweight sock option, which may not be the preferred style for those who require a little extra cushioning. Also, while the material isn't very slippery, we noticed it slips around in wider, sloppier shoes because it is so thin. So it does require a tighter fitting shoe to avoid this issue. If you're seeking a sock that'll breathe really well in warm weather, this is our top recommendation.
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 ultramarathons, while Amber continues to train hard for 50-mile trail marathons 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 seven 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 and levels of cushioning and banged out 1000s of miles throughout the country. Our team of testers looks at each sock comparatively, qualifying each with five essential performance 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
In our testing, we look at a myriad of running sock options for both men and women. We look primarily at no-show or crew-style socks, with a quarter length thrown in for good measure. The running socks we compare are the best we could find on the market and are made from quality materials. Any option we review is one that'll work, but which is best for you will be defined by where you run and what you need your running sock for.
Related: Buying Advice for Running Socks
When it comes to running socks, it's important to look at the durability in addition to the price, which will inherently tell you which model will provide the best bang for your buck. Ultimately, most in this review are of great value, with none that we found that we wouldn't recommend. Those made with synthetic materials are known to feature higher quality fibers, but they aren't as warm or comfortable as merino wool options.
For example, the Balega Blister Resister Quarter and the Balega Silver No Show are both offered at a fair price with different performance features. The Darn Tough Run Coolmax No-Show Tab Ultra-Lightweight Cushion is another to consider, given its superb durability. While you might pay a little more upfront, this sock will last you much longer than another in the same use-case scenarios (based on our testing). The DryMax Running Mini Crew is another low-priced synthetic that doesn't have the best fit for women but proves to keep going mile after mile. 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 crucial 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 each material's overall feel. Is it rough and abrasive, or soft and supple? Are there exposed seams that cause rubbing or friction? Does the sock hug our foot comfortably or squish the toes? Does it pinch around the ankle or the top of the foot? Where is the padding located? We ultimately determine the most comfortable option by evaluating the feel of the sock both in and out of our running shoes. We also take a critical look at where cushioning is targeted. Socks with padding aimed at all the right places are the most comfortable and score the best in our testing. Let it be stated that even the lowest-scoring sock in the comfort metric is still significantly more comfortable than your average cotton sock. Hence, comfort needs to be approached with a keen eye to find out which sock is average and which is truly heaven on your foot.
Of all that we tested, the Balega Blister Resister Quarter, Balega Silver No Show, and Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew are the most comfortable. The materials are super soft and comfortable. All have ultra-plush cushioning targeted to the ball of the foot, heel, and Achilles, with a midweight construction. The fabric in the cushioned areas is highly dense, quite responsive, and protective underfoot. All are good options for protection on longer trail runs.
The Thorlos Experia XCCU is a lightweight sock that offers targeted cushioning that is super soft to the touch. While the fabric isn't as plush as the Feetures Merino 10, this sock kept our feet protected and comfortable on the long runs. However, it's not our first choice for ultradistances. We appreciate the higher sock height of the Thorlos in comparison to the Feetures, which would sometimes slip down while running.
Socks with less cushioning typically didn't score as highly in this metric. There are some standouts, though, like the Wright Sock Coolmesh II Quarter. This sock feels seamless, and even though it comes up higher on the ankle than much of our selection, we hardly noticed it, and it feels great when combined with a shoe with a debris collar. The downside is that it doesn't provide much in the way of slip prevention. We don't recommend them when wearing a wider-fitting shoe.
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 several varieties, so options abound in fabrics, thicknesses, ankle heights, and levels of cushioning. This review ranges from ultralight to lightweight, but more cushioned varieties are available if this is what you seek.
How a sock fits is another critical component that relates to its comfort and performance. A sock that is too big or small will not be as comfortable as one that fits just right. 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 sometimes overlooked aspect of fit is where your foot fits within a manufacturer's size range. Some companies manufacture a single sock design that is meant to fit a wide range of foot sizes.
We asked several questions to determine which sock fits best. 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 like 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 of circulation 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.
Our standout performer for the best-fitting sock out of the bunch is the Thorlo Experia XCCU, Balega Blister Resister, and Injinji Mid-weight Toe Sock. All offer a specific fit that doesn't bunch or rub in any locations. Like the Feetures Merino 10, it stays in place on a long run, without bunching or moving on the foot. None of the above feel too tight or small and offer a standout fit for both men and women.
The Darn Tough socks for both men and women also feature an excellent fit. The compression is in all the right areas and stays in place. When looking at the comparative size differences in the men's 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. 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, a sock that effectively wicks and breathes is paramount. Wicking is a sock's ability to effectively pull moisture from the skin to the outside of the sock, spreading that moisture over a wider surface area, where it will hopefully evaporate. Whether or not it evaporates depends on both the breathing and venting capabilities of your shoe and the sock's ability to release moisture into the air. Some models can wick and breathe well, while others might wick but not breathe so well. If your socks are good at wicking, they'll pull more sweat and water away from your foot, so your feet will also dry more quickly once you remove your socks and shoes. Keeping your feet dry is essential for preventing blisters and keeping your calluses intact. Unless you're in an actual race, don't hesitate to air out your dogs and keep them dry and healthy mid-run. With good wicking socks and a little sun, your feet can be bone dry in as little as ten minutes.
The key to a sock that wicks well is using a hydrophobic (water-hating) fabric to pull moisture from the foot and transfer it through the material. Models with a thicker looped thread or some porosity at the material's surface tend to 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 hydrophobic Olefin fibers. A previous award winner, the DryMax Running Mini Crew stands out in this category, drying quickly and wicking stupendously well. However, this year, the Swiftwick Aspire Zero can dry quicker and manage moisture better. 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 Smartwool PhD Ultralight is another competitor that wicks quite well, using different materials.
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 excellent venting system. The thicker fibers on the pads of the foot area grab moisture and move it effectively to the super-thin regions around the arch and top of the foot for optimal breathability. Other thicker socks like the Balega Silver No Show brand wick well but unfortunately seem to hold the moisture in these denser areas. The Balega Blister Resister is an exception to this, which breathes exceptionally well, even with its midweight construction. Don't be dissuaded by the double-layer Wrightsock CoolMesh II Quarter as it's exceptionally thin and wicks well.
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 vital not only to get the right sock but also to ensure that your shoe fits correctly or that your liners 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. Additionally, a sock that is too slippery in your shoe can through your whole game off, causing you to feel less sure-footed and increasing your chances of falling or rolling an ankle.
Socks with added padding or cushioning, or thicker overall socks, tend to "fill" our shoes better than thin socks. For an optimal fit, you would be wise to regularly run in the same thickness of socks 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 look at this metric, we tested different socks using shoes that both fit loosely and tightly. Socks that don't slip have more porous or plush fabrics, as opposed to streamlined, lightweight, and slick.
Of the socks tested, the Balega Silver No Show, Balega Blister Resister, and Injinji Midweight Toe Sock is the best at preventing foot slippage. All feature a thicker material construction in the heel and forefoot, with the Injinji offering the ability to spread your toes. This provides more traction in all the shoes we tested, thus offering less slippage. The Feetures Merino 10 is another that easily grabs the shoe for more reinforced friction, though the threads are finer.
The Thorlos Experia uses an ultra-thin section of material along the top and bottom that is a little more conducive to slip in looser shoes. The double-layered Wrightsock Coolmesh II Quarter also had us slipping around in our shoes more than we'd like. 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, ensure that your insole offers some friction or the shoe fits nice and tight to avoid blisters.
Durability is an important factor to consider when purchasing new socks. You don't want to throw down your hard-earned dollars to get a pair that will wear out after a few runs. To assess durability, we examined the wear and tear of each product after 30 miles of testing. Our experts have been testing some of these socks for several years now, and in those cases, they can provide further insight into long-term limitations.
During this testing period, no socks showed any significant wear through the first 30 miles of testing, meaning that all running socks we tested are reasonably well-constructed. That said, they did show varying signs of wear and tear, which tells us there are differences in overall durability. 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 comes from Darn Tough. 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 sock brand showed the least amount of wear and tear, compaction, and piling issues, which lends to its standout durability. We've tested this brand of sock for years and have logged over 1000 miles on it while running through the steep and technical mountains of sunny and dry Colorado.
Thicker socks, in general, do better than thinner options. For example, after 60 miles of wear, the Balega Blister Resister and Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew are simply crushing it, still looking new.
Lighter socks don't do as well, but some are better than others. For example, the synthetic Swiftwick Aspire Zero, another lightweight contender, also proves to be ultra-durable with just a few thread fly-aways after 200 miles, but not much else. The ultralight version of the Smartwool PhD (a Merino Wool sock) doesn't fare as well, showing the signs of a hole in the making and frayed areas in both the forefoot and heel, similar to the Feetures Merino 10, which has lasted a little longer due to the plusher materials used.
We recommend a robust quiver of socks to suit the various weather and running conditions you'll experience throughout the year. A thin sock like the Swiftwick Aspire for the hottest days, the Drymax Running Mini Crew for when the rain won't stop, and the Balega Blister Resister for the long runs under variable skies. Whatever sock you're running in, you'll know you've made the right choice when you barely notice your socks are even there, and you can focus entirely on your stride and the scenery.
— Matt Bento, Andy Wellman, & Amber King
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