Best Running Socks of 2020
Best Overall Running Sock
Thorlos Experia XCCU
As the top overall scorer in our head-to-head testing, the Thorlo Experia XCCU is our top choice for the best overall running sock. We love its smaller size ranges, meaning that the fit is much more tailored to your actual foot size compared to other models with a broader size range. This sock has well-tailored padding in all of the right places that made us feel more than adequately protected on the sides of our metatarsals, and on our Achilles tendon. In areas where padding is not needed, the sock is made of thinner, highly breathable mesh that works exceptionally well at allowing your feet to breathe and stay dry. While many socks in this review also include targeted padding and breathable mesh, none were as successful as this model.
This sock also came with a few downsides. In particular, we thought it 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 slim 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. Experia also makes this model in different lengths, so if you prefer a slightly longer sock, check out the XCMU version or the crew-length XCXU model.
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 reasonable price. The synthetic materials are soft and supple to the touch, wrapping your foot in what feels like a fleece snuggie blanket. Unlike Balega's Hidden Comfort model, it is more fitted with specific areas of compression that helps keep the sock's shape. The padding underfoot is quite protective, making it an excellent option for both trail and road running.
Unfortunately, this super comfortable sock isn't the most breathable option that we tested. Unlike other more intricate 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 undoubtedly 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 exceptional comfort, the Feetures Merino 10 is our favorite. As a lightweight contender, it provides a specific and targeted cushioning in the forefoot and heel, with a padded pull tab. Unlike most socks in this review made from 100% synthetic materials, this model integrates Merino wool, adding to its comfortable construction and features. The cushioning is super plush and responsive underfoot. It is sewn together in a high-density configuration that wicks away moisture efficiently, leaving more substantial 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, making it an excellent option for both road and trail running in cool to warm weather.
The caveats? It feels pretty tight and runs a little small. While the toe box offers some flexibility, if you're in between sizes, we'd recommend that you size up. While the sock wicks away moisture from the foot, because of its tightly-knit configuration, it holds onto moisture in its cushioning. Your feet will stay likely 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 our favorite sock 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 does slip around in wider, sloppier shoes because it is so thin. So it does require a tighter fitting shoe to avoid this issue. Overall, this is 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 1000s of miles throughout the country. Our team of tried and true 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
A great running sock can be the difference between a wet, blistered foot, and one that stays dryer and more comfortable while you tackle your mileage. It is the integral layer separating your delicate skin from direct contact with your shoes. Over the years, sock technology has improved, and today's designs are more thoughtful and ergonomic than ever. A great running sock will wick away moisture, breathe well, and provide a little cushioning along your forefoot and Achilles tendon. It'll also prevent slippage in your shoe, which aids in preventing blisters. Friction, heat, and moisture are blister causing agents that an excellent running sock will help to reduce. Finding the right model to keep you comfortable and your feet dry is crucial to allow you to keep churning out the miles.
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. 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 excellent 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 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. Was it rough and abrasive, or soft and supple? Were there exposed seams that cause rubbing or friction? Does the sock hug our foot comfortably or squish the toes? Does the sock pinch around the ankle or the top of the foot, or does it stay in place with no discomfort? Where is the padding located? We ultimately determined the most comfortable option by evaluating the feel of the sock both in and out of our running shoes. We also took a critical look at where cushioning was targeted. Socks with padding aimed at all the right places were the most comfortable and scored the best in our testing.
After 10+ mile runs, each sock still felt quite comfortable. Some even seem to get better the more miles we put on them. Of all that we tested, the Feetures Merino 10 was 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 provided 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 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 their comfort.
Socks with less cushioning typically didn't score as highly in this metric. 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 entire sock. The Coolmax polyester is little softer than the merino wool composition used in the Darn Tough Vertex UltraLight (women's version). We've usually found most Smartwool products to be pretty comfortable, but these ultralight socks don't feel as soft as the rougher Darn Tough fabric. Be sure to check out different cushioning options if you want a little more protection than these ultralight versions.
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 there are more cushioned varieties 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 is not going to 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 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 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, because its size range is relatively small, offering a versatile fit. It provides cushioning 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 Belaga's Hidden Comfort model 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 moisture and is able to breathe. 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 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. In this section, we look at the architecture of the ventilation systems to determine breathability and the fabric composition to access wicking ability.
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 material. Models with a thicker looped thread or with 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 was able 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 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 brand wick well, but unfortunately seem to hold the moisture in these denser 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 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.
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 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 look at this metric, we tested different socks using shoes that both fit loosely and tightly. 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 was the best at preventing foot slippage. 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 product 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 years, we can provide additional insight into the longer-term limits of each.
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. 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 Darn Tough, which offers a lifetime no questions asked guarantee. 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 standout durability. We've tested this brand of sock for several years and have gotten over 1000 miles on a single pair.
When testing the ultralight Darn Tough Sock, we saw the same level of durability. After our testing period, the sock still looks new with no threadbare areas or compaction, impressive for such a lightweight design. The ultralight version of the Smartwool PhD didn't fare as well, showing the signs of a hole in the making and frayed 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 likely last you longer. However, they are more susceptible to compaction. Of the thicker socks, the Drymax Running Mini Crew 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. Be sure you buy a sock that offers suitable durability.
The running sock that'll last you for miles is out there and is 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 of extra dollars if a sock is reputed to perform well and last 100s of miles.
— Andy Wellman, Amber King