Are you a road or trail runner that wants only the very best pair of running socks, but aren't sure which ones to choose? We can help! After researching close to 50 different pairs of running socks, we have purchased nine of the best and most popular for inclusion in this comparative review. Over the course of two years, we put these socks to the test by running thousands of miles in locations all over the U.S., in all types of weather conditions, and in countless different pairs of shoes. With so much experience, we have great recommendations for you, including what is the best overall running sock, the best for running on trails, and the best at the lowest price. Whether you run 10 miles a week or 100, prefer dirt surfaces or the treadmill, read on to find out which socks will help you run your best.
The Best Running Socks for All Seasons
The onset of spring brings the blooming of another long and enjoyable running season, so we set out to update our running sock review to meet your needs. While most of the socks in this review remain current and fresh, we added one, the Stance Appalachian QTR that quickly became our favorite for trail running, so we recognized it as a Top Pick. Be sure to check it out!
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, sometimes as large as 9-12, for example. 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 was nearly as effective as the Experia XCCU.
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 Hidden Comfort
Running socks are not exactly known as big ticket items, but it is still nice to feel like you can get good performance without simply shelling out for the most expensive product. That's where the Balega Hidden Comfort comes in. This sock retails for $12.00 per pair, a few dollars less than the competition, but also offers some great performance to match. Simply put, no other sock in this review was as easy to pull on, and no other sock felt as soft to the touch than the Hidden Comfort. These two attributes alone endeared it to our hearts and encouraged us to award it our Best Bang for the Buck award.
Despite its economical value, we wouldn't want to confuse you and claim that this was the single best running sock. In particular, we often struggled to keep this sock securely on our feet, as it likes to slip off the back of the heel. The tab on the back helps with this problem, but if we were wearing anything but low-cut running shoes, we could pretty much expect to have some slippage taking place. The Hidden Comfort also features a single swath of padding across the bottom of the foot, which doesn't allow for the targeted breathability that some other competitors did. While this is a comfortable running sock, it might be even more comfortable for simply wearing around the house, but either way presents a spectacular value.
Read review: Balega Hidden Comfort
Top Pick for Trail Running
Stance Appalachian QTR
For trail running, we prefer a sock that stays comfortably in place no matter how many miles we run, is durable enough to withstand plenty of abrasion from dirt in our shoes, and that has a cut that protects the ankles and keeps out debris. The Stance Appalachian QTR easily lives up to these standards, which is why it is our favorite sock for trail running. Despite having a large size range (9-12) for a single sock, the Appalachian QTR fit our size 11 foot pretty much perfectly, offering unrivaled comfort and much-appreciated security. Its 200 needle count stitching is tight: this was not only a durable sock but also did a great job keeping out dirt. We also loved how its quarter high cut covered our ankle bones and never slipped downward.
All these qualities endeared it to our hearts while putting in the trail miles, but we wish that it did a slightly more effective job wicking and breathing (it ranked 5th in our testing). We also point out that it is a light sock, meaning that it doesn't fill a loose shoe very well, and the tightly woven fibers make it somewhat prone to slippage if the shoe is not fit on the snugger side. These setbacks are minor, however, and this was the second highest scoring sock in our review. We think it is ideally suited for its namesake, the Appalachian Trail, or any other trail for that matter.
Read review: Stance Appalachian QTR
Most Comfortable Running Sock
Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-Light Cushion
When it comes to selecting a great pair of socks, comfort is king. The most comfortable pair of socks that we tested in this review 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 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 cushion, this was nearly the perfect running sock. Its attention to detail separates it from the competition, exemplified by the "seamless" seam across the toes.
This sock did a great job of keeping our feet cool during warm days on the trails, but the Coolmax polyester fiber wasn't as effective at wicking away moisture as it claimed and was less effective than other socks in the test. There was no doubt, however, that these fibers were far more comfortable 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 the ankle-length Coolmax Vertex Quarter Ultra-Light Cushion, or the longer Coolmax Vertex Micro Crew Ultra-Light Cushion.
Top Pick for Wicking Ability
DryMax Running Mini Crew
The DryMax Running Mini Crew is a unique sock. DryMax claims that their socks are the absolute best for wicking moisture and maintaining that dryness all day. We would have to agree. 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 attract the moisture that simply won't stay on the inside of this sock. This combination of fiber technology was incredible, enough so that we awarded it a Top Pick for Wicking Ability.
That said, these socks have downsides. The same DryMax olefin fibers felt rough to the touch, and we thought that these were the least comfortable socks compared to the competition. We also thought that they fit large. These issues can be worked around, and for the person who frequently runs in wet conditions, these socks are the ultimate weapon. For a shorter version than the Mini Crew, check out the DryMax Running No Show. For taller versions, try the DryMax Quarter Crew and full-length Running Crew Length.
Read review: DryMax Running Mini Crew
Analysis and Test Results
Running socks help to form an essential bond between your foot and running shoe. They have some specially adapted features that normal socks do not, such as extra padding in places of high impact and wear, moisture-wicking fibers, panels of super-thin breathable mesh, and an ergonomic fit. These features work to prevent blisters, the mortal enemy of the runner. Blisters typically occur after running for a long period or distance and are more prone to form where there is rubbing, friction, heat, and moisture. Eliminating these four factors is the primary role of a running sock and the reason why a good pair is worth its weight in gold.
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.
To determine the best overall pair, we put each sock through months of field testing and then conducted other tests to fine-tune our findings. If you would like to read more about our process, check out our article How We Test. We rated each pair on a scale from one to 10 based on 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 on 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 detail explaining the importance of each category, pointing out the best and worst socks for each, and what was the winner of that category.
Getting bogged down in the details and just want to know which sock with give you the best bang for your buck? Check out the interactive graph below! We placed all of the contenders based on their features vs. list price in relation to the competition. Award winners such as Best Buy winning Balega Hidden Comfort and Editor's Choice winning Thorlos Experia XCCU are represented by blue dots, and the further into the lower right quadrant a product places, the better value we believe it to be.
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? While pulling it on, 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?
We evaluated the feel of the sock both on the foot and in and out of the running shoe. The most critical comfort test was during the run, both midway and at the end. Our feet needed to feel the same or better than when we geared up at the trailhead. For the most part, all of these socks succeeded, and our complaints tended to be nit-picky for the sake of discrimination.
Even after 10 or more miles, none of the products tested made us want to stop and take them off. Some 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, even when we were doing our best to focus on how they felt. Three pairs of socks stood out for comfort, both in a shoe and out. These were the Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex Tab No Show Ultra-light Cushion, our Top Pick award winner, the Balega Hidden Comfort, our Best Bang for the Buck award winner, and the Stance Appalachian QTR, our favorite sock for trail running.
On the other end of the spectrum was the DryMax Running Mini Crew. While its hydrophobic inner fibers were not abrasive, they certainly were not soft and plush like the most comfortable socks, and they also had creases and bumps that rubbed against our toes and heels. 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. Comfort was weighted as 30% 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 small is not going to be as comfortable as it could be. The fit is determined by how well a sock molds to your foot and stays in place. It should hug the foot comfortably, while not being too tight or loose. A perhaps 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. 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 on you. Similarly, someone with an 11.5 foot might feel constricted in that sock. However, there is little consistency between brands, and each individual review will need to be 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.
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 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 overemphasized the amount of elastic in the arch, making it feel restrictive.
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. Despite having a vast size range, from 9-12, our head tester felt that the Stance Appalachian QTR also had a nearly perfect fit, hugging the foot as perfectly as one could expect. The Feetures! Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab also deserved an honorable mention for fit. 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. 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, this sock was still loose and baggy. Fit accounted for 20% of a product's final score.
Wicking is a sock's ability to effectively pull moisture from the skin to the outside of the sock where it will hopefully evaporate. 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 when running, but rain, streams, mud, puddles, and morning dew are also common culprits. When water is trapped next to the skin, 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 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 won't absorb water, sending it to the outside of the sock to evaporate. This technology was remarkable and compared to the competition, this sock's wicking ability was off the charts.
The Darn Tough No Show Light was another sock that wicked well. On the other hand, we found that the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew did little to transfer moisture from inside to outside of the sock. As a midweight sock, this one was substantially thicker than others, but we still expected it to do better than it did. Wicking accounted for 20% 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 and protect from rubbing inside the shoe. There is little doubt that socks with cushioning will last longer than those without. The amount of padding in a sock is a personal preference, 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 makeup. 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 not adding bulk and heat-trapping fabric. 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 based on the thickness of 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 excellent sensitivity. Most times, there is no need for extra padding in the arch of the foot, as it adds more bulk. 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.
The best socks were the Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro, which had Merino Wool pads that covered target areas and nowhere else, as well as the Thorlo Experia XCCU, which 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 thickly padding the entire underfoot, 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% 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. 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 were aware of how well a sock helped keep our foot in place. 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 socks that were thicker, tended to "fill" our shoes better than 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. If you size your shoe wearing a medium thickness sock and then go running in an ultra-light sock, there will be extra room for your foot to slip.
The very best sock for slip resistance was the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew. It is a high volume sock that has lots of surface area with its individual toes, enabling it to grip the shoe. Its relatively large, loose weave seemed to help increase this grippiness. For different lengths, check out the Injinji Trail Midweight Micro and the Trail Midweight Crew. Both options are available for the same $15 price tag as the Mini Crew. The Feetures! Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab was another top scorer regarding 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 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 want to size your shoes smaller and tighter to better grip your foot. In addition to the No Show Tab that we tested, this sock is available in Elite Light Cushion Quarter, the Elite Light Cushion Mini Crew, and the Elite Graduated Compression Light Cushion Knee High. Slip Prevention was also weighted as 15% percent of a product's final score.
Choosing the perfect running sock is a challenge. This process is complicated because there are countless combinations of features in a running sock when taking into account different fabric types, thicknesses, padding levels, and ankle heights. Luckily, all these choices ensure that if you figure out what you like, there is a running sock out there for you. We have reviewed nine of the most popular and common running-specific socks available, and in doing so have made an effort to investigate as many different choices as we could. 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 this seemingly simple running accessory. We'll recommend the best pair of socks for you, as well as make other recommendations based on differing criteria.
— Andy Wellman