In search of the best running sock? We've researched over 50+ different running socks for men and women and tested nine of the best for 2019. We've run up mountains, across deserts, over the pavement, and through all sorts of gnarly weather. We've worn them in all four seasons and climates, melting rubber in Death Valley and post-holing up snowy ridges in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. To truly note performance differences, we wore a different sock on each foot. After meticulously evaluating the architecture and field testing for over 1000 miles, we bring a myriad of authentic recommendations to help you find the perfect sock for your athletic endeavors.
The Best Running Socks of 2019
|Price||$9.73 at REI|
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|$10.97 at Backcountry|
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|$13.53 at Amazon|
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|$13.99 at Backcountry|
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|$13.50 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Great fit, wicks and breathes well, perfectly placed padding, unisex fit||Super plush and comfortable, ergonomic fit, men & women's versions, cute colors||Super comfortable, fits great, durable, good padding.||Great wicking and breathability, durable, thin design.||Deliciously comfortable, well-cushioned, affordable.|
|Cons||Not as grippy within the shoe as some socks, low cut is a bit of a ‘tweener||Moisture management is sub-par, tight fit.||Doesn’t wick moisture very well||Lacks cushioning.||Breathability is poor.|
|Bottom Line||The best overall running sock is comfortable, fits perfectly, and does a great job managing moisture.||A super plush and comfortable running sock with a compressive fit.||A super comfortable and durable lightweight running sock.||Perfectly suited for the hottest conditions or the sweatiest feet.||Comfortable and affordable for long days pumping out the miles.|
|Rating Categories||Thorlos Experia XCCU||Feetures Merino 10||Coolmax Vertex Ultra-Light||Swiftwick Aspire Zero||Balega Silver No Show|
|Wicking & Breathability (25%)|
|Slip Prevention (15%)|
|Specs||Thorlos Experia XCCU||Feetures Merino 10||Coolmax Vertex...||Swiftwick Aspire...||Balega Silver No...|
|Material||66% THOR WICK COOL, 20% Nylon ,1% Elastic, 13% Polyester||Merino, synthetic||52% Coolmax Polyester, 44% Nylon, 4% Lycra Spandex||55% Nylon, 40% Olefin, 5% Spandex||75% Drynamix Polyester, 23% Nylon, 2% Elastane|
|Warranty||30 day guarantee||Lifetime Guarantee||Unconditional lifetime guarantee||Lifetime Guarantee||No Information Found|
|Ankle Cut||Low Cut||No Show Tab||No Show||No Show||No Show Tab|
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 more 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 socks 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 found that in wet or super hot conditions, our foot felt warm, with the sock holding all that moisture. It does, however, wick well. While the architecture of this sock isn't as thoughtful as other contenders, the price is certainly fabulous, offering a great value.
Read review: Balega Silver No Show
Most Comfortable Running Sock
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 sock, 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 splay, 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
Top Pick 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 five years, keeping tabs on the industry and testing new models, to help make the best recommendations possible.
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. 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 the use of five important metrics. After putting our legs through the "stuff" we come back to 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
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.
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 running sock.
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.
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. Of all the socks tested, the Feetures Merino 10 proved 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 this sock feels more compressive than others, it certainly offers comfort for distances ranging from a mile to 20+. The fabric in the cushioned areas is highly dense and is quite responsive and protective underfoot.
The Thorlos Experia XCCU offers targeted cushioning that is also super comfortable 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 of those are socks that offer more cushioning overall, which adds to the comfort.
Socks with less cushioning typically didn't score as high, simply because the materials didn't feel as soft on the skin. Though of the lightweight products tested, the Darn Tough Vertex Coolmax Ultra-Light is our favorite (men and women's versions available). While there are no areas of highly concentrated padding, there is an additional layer. 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 (or queen) of comfort, but we found these ultralight socks don't feel as soft as the Darn Tough fabric. We did, however, get a chance to try 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, 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.
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 or loose 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 socks felt comfortable and didn'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 was the Thorlo Experia XCCU. This is due to the fact that its size range is relatively small and quite versatile. It offers to cushion in the right places with an elasticity that is also specific to ensure 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 like a compression sock, and fits comfortably.
The Darn Tough socks for both men and women in this review also features a nice and simple fit. Again, the compression is in the right areas and the sock doesn't move while running. 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 just to see if you prefer the wider fit. Both offer a size that seems to be true to fit.
The Balega Silver No Show offers a surprisingly specific fit as well, unlike the Hidden Comfort that just seems like a tube of padding. It has more specific around the arch with a little more padding around the Achilles and underfoot. Both are seriously comfortable and offer a unisex fit. Both seem a little bit large, so if you are on the cusp, size down.
Wicking & Breathability
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 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 porosity 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 breath well, while others might wick, but not breath 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.
A sock that can wick well uses fabrics that are hydrophobic (water-hating) that can pull moisture from the foot and transfer it into the fabric. Those with a thicker looped thread or with some porosity at the surface level of the fabric wicks the best. Those that breathe the best are those that typically have a thinner composition or have a loosely knit weave to increase surface area for water transport.
In this review, socks composed of synthetic material did the best. 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 high affinity to dry quicker and manage moisture better. In addition, it performs better in over departments such as fit and comfort. While the DryMax is a little thicker, this ultralight contender is super thin, wicking away moisture and keeping feet drier. Both are great options for wet, humid, or super hot conditions.
The Darn Tough No Show Ultra-Light is another sock that wicks quite well with its Merino wool composition and thinner design. The Smartwool PhD Ultralight also proves to offer great wicking capabilities in this department with its ultralight construction.
In terms of thicker socks, the Thorlos Experia XCCU has an exceptional venting system that does a wonderful job of breathing. The thicker fibers on the pads of the foot area able to 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 options wick well, but unfortunately hold the moisture in these thicker areas, unlike the Thorlos. Another reason it's our Editors Choice winner.
The final component to avoiding blisters is the socks 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 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. That's all in the fit of your shoe and this important system that interfaces with one another. Slip prevention is calculated at 15% of the total score.
We learned that socks with added padding or cushioning, or socks that were 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 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. To really look at this metric, we tested different socks using shoes that both fit loosely and those that were tight. In general, socks that didn't slip have fabrics that are more porous or plush, as opposed to streamlined, lightweight, and slick.
Of the socks tested in this round, the Balega Silver No Show proves to be the best. The soft and supple drymax polyester does a great job grabbing the interior of the shoe in both tight and wide options. The Feetures Merino 10 also features a plush exterior that can grab the shoe for more reinforced friction, though the threads are finer so they slip more 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 just has a tighter weave in general. The men's version is a tiny bit thicker than the women's version, and thus grabs a little better. Overall, the thicker and more fitted the sock, it seems, 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 actually blew threw 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, that lend to 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.
Hands down, the best durability we've seen (with the best guarantee) comes from the Darn Tough that offers a lifetime no questions asked, guarantee. This means that if you wear a sock for a year and it wears a hole, you can send them 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.
While they do have a lifetime guarantee, we recommend supporting the company if you do happen to blow through a sock after it's been thoroughly used. For us, a previous version of this sock we used for about two years and logged over 1000 miles before it was deemed useless. At that point, we could have just sent in for a new product but decided to buy a new pair of socks instead as we believed it had truly carried out its function.
When testing the ultralight Darn Tough Socks, we see the same trend. The socks still look like 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.
While we are surprised at the durability of the thinner Darn Tough socks, thicker socks with more cushioning are inherently more resistant to holes. 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 offers decent durability, but we did notice some compaction after 30 miles, which is 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 selection, this is the only one that did this, making it less durable than other options out there. In general, make sure you look for a sock that offers more in the form of durability so you can ensure the longevity that you need.
The perfect running sock that you've been seeking is out there. There are a plethora of options that you need to consider like the type of fabric, level of padding, and breathability. We hope that our presentation of nine of the best options out there has helped you in finding your perfect running sock. Quality will make a difference in your comfort and performance while on the run, so be sure you select the sock that caters to meet your needs.
— Andy Wellman, Amber King