From ultralight ankle socks, to protective crew socks. Here's what to look for when buy a pair of running socks
Make no mistake, choosing the right running sock could make or break a great day on the road or out in the hills. If you’re someone who, quite rightly, invested a lot of money into a decent pair of trail running shoes, then ensuring your feet are wrapped up in an equally high performing pair of running socks is the key to comfort over long distances in the hills.
What Makes a Great Running Sock?
Although running socks provide cushioning and comfort while you’re pounding mile after mile on the trails, they provide many other features that make life that bit more comfortable.
Expect to find running socks packing features such as support in much needed areas in an effort to improve blood flow, and minimal seams to reduce the chance of blisters. Anti-odour treatments are a great feature to look out for to help keep your socks smelling ‘fresh’.
You’ll notice that many of the socks featured are made from a mixture of nylon, wool and elastane. Gone are the days of wearing regular cotton socks while running. This is because, generally speaking, cotton absorbs a large amount of moisture (sweat) and is unable to wick it away from your body.
Going for a lightweight merino fabric ensures that the socks are able to remain breathable and comfortable, all while giving a good fit around your foot to prevent any unwanted blisters. Nylon is then blended with the merino yarns to give the sock structure and durability. Lastly, a stretchy material, like elastane, is generally used to give the sock a tight fit that won’t move or bunch, avoiding any dreaded blisters.
The height of the running sock is important to consider. Crew cut running socks are becoming extremely popular in recent years. There’s very little difference in performance between crew and ankle cut socks, but crew cut socks offer a little extra protection around the calves for when the trail exposes you to a bramble bush or two.
If you’re running in an extremely warm climate, then you may still prefer the increased breathability of an ankle sock.
Finally, cushioning is vital for running socks – especially when you consider the distances you’re likely going to be hammering out in a day in these socks. Expect to look for a touch of extra cushioning around the toes and heel, with a lightweight (and more breathable) material used elsewhere.
Our Team’s Verdict on the Best Running Socks for 2023
Here are the pairs of running socks that impressed us the most following our tests out on roads and trails. All of the pairs featured here are available in men’s, women’s or unisex models.
Best Overall Trail Running Sock: Darn Tough Run Micro Crew Ultra Lightweight
Best Value Running Sock: Stance Run Light Crew
Best Toe Socks for Running: Injinji Ultra Run No-Show
Best for Smelly Feet: Hilly Marathon Fresh Socklet
Best Merino Running Socks: Bridgedale Ultra Light T2 Merino Sport 3/4 Crew
Best Overall Running Sock
Darn Tough Run Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight
Price: £21 Available lengths: short, crew, 3/4
Key attributes: hard wearing, breathable
We’re big fans of Darn Tough hiking socks here at Outdoors Magic. We featured their Kelso Micro Crew Light in our Outdoor 100 product guide and, rather unsurprisingly, their running socks make our top pick of trail running socks.
The Darn Tough Run Micro Crew Ultra-Lightweight uses a combination of 51% nylon, 44% merino wool, and 5% lycra spandex. The merino wool brings comforting breathability to the party, as well as quick-drying and stink-fighting properties.
Hard wearing nylon has been brought in to add durability. Finally, the little bit of lycra helps with the stretch to ensure there’s no slipping, no bunching, and therefore, no blisters.
Price: £9 Available lengths: crew, quarter, tab Key attributes: good value, good anti-odour tech
Stance socks have become synonymous with the trail running community in recent years – and for good reason. Treated with Stance’s Fell360 technology, this is a treatment that works to keep you comfortable throughout hours on the trail. Feel360 works by eliminating 99.95% of odours which cause foot bacteria, while keeping your feet dry by adapting to your body temperature to wick away sweat.
On the construction side of things, the Run Light Crew is made up of a 85% Nylon, 8% Polyester and 7% Elastane mix to give the sock a close fit, at an extremely low weight.
Price: £19.00 Available lengths: mid, high
Key attributes: fast wicking
Featuring a 96% nylon and 4% spandex mix, the Inov-8 Speed Mid Sock promises increased compression and fast-wicking, durable materials. We can see this in the construction, where a predominantly nylon build has been used to boost the durability even when you’ve got thousands of logged Strava miles.
Price: $17 Available lengths: no-show, mini crew, crew Key attributes: anti-blister design, breathable
As you can see, these socks are slightly different compared to the other socks in this round up, most notably at the toes. The thinking behind their little toe ports is that this kind of design minimises skin on skin contact and therefore reduces the risk of blisters. From our experience running in these socks, we’d say that there might be something in this. We didn’t experience any blisters running in them and a look at other reviews people have written would suggest that they’ve spared a lot of other runners from any nasty rubbing too.
The only downside with these socks is that they can be quite fiddly to get on. If you’re not precise enough, you can end up with two toes together and you often have to fiddle to pull the toe fabric ends out before sticking the socks on. There’s definitely a bit of a knack to it.
Looking beyond the toes, these have a useful construction, including loads of terry looping across the base of the sock that adds heaps of padding, then a thin, breathable mesh up top that brings ventilation to proceedings. The fabric, which is a synthetic blend, feels durable and abrasion resistant and it’s quick drying and moisture wicking too. Unfortunately there appears to be no anti-odour control, so we found that smell can build up in the fibres and regular washing was required.
These socks have a high Merino content and we found this makes them well suited to runs in colder conditions. They’re quite thick for a pair of running socks and there’s quite a lot of cushioning underfoot and on the back of the heel.
While their warmth is their big strong point, the downside to them is that they’re very slow drying. In our tests, we found that they were good at wicking away moisture from sweat, but if the sock got saturated, whether that was by stepping in a puddle or from heavy rainfall, it seemed to stay saturated.
So, if you’re running in cold but dry conditions then these are great. But if there’s moisture around we’d recommend looking for something with perhaps a higher proportion of synthetic materials.
Price: £15 Available lengths: socklet min, anklet min, anklet med Key attributes: anti-odour, comfortable
Out of all the socks tested, these were the ones that we found to be the best for handling smelly feet. One factor that makes them so great for preventing odours from building up is their embedded Polygiene odour-control. It’s a long-lasting, skin-friendly technology that stops smell-causing bacteria from building up and spreading.
Then there’s the Merino wool content too. Merino is a naturally antimicrobial material, meaning it creates the kind of environment that bacteria can’t prosper and spread – so again, that forms a part of the Hilly Marathon Fresh Socklet’s odour control.
Merino is also very comfortable too, of course. These socks do feel comfortable to wear. That’s not just thanks to the Merino but also the padded knit. It’s not ultra cushioned throughout but most runners will find that there’s just enough padding in the right areas. We particularly like the top padded cuff which we found can lessen the blow if your left foot happens to swing into and clip the inside of your leg.
Price: £18.50 Available lengths: crew Key attributes: sustainably made, breathable
There’s quite a lot to like about Rockay’s offering to the trail running market. First of all, these socks are made from 100% recycled materials. The sock consists of 51% Econyl Regenerated Nylon, 45% Recycled Polyamide, and 4% Recycled Elastane.
Secondly, the Razer Trail Running Socks come with the Rockay Blister-Free Guarantee, meaning that the good folk at Rockay will offer you a refund, or send you a new pair of socks, if you develop a blister while using these socks.
Finally, for every pair of socks sold, Rockay have committed themselves to removing 125g (13 bottles) of plastic trash from the ocean. So while the £18.50 price tag might initially look steep, there’s a lot going on with these socks that, to us, looks like money well spent.
Price: £19 Available lengths: ankle, crew Key attributes: stylish, breathable
Kind of like the Rafa of the running world, Soar Running put as much thought into the technical aspects of their socks, as they do with the design.
Featuring a temperature-regulating Softair yarn and targeted compression for support, the Soar Crew Sock is designed to perform well no matter the distance, or intensity, of your run. We were big fans of the open mesh construction that stretches across the upper midfoot and ankle to provide fantastic cooling when you’re grinding out the miles.
Hilly were founded back in 1992 and are the sister brand of Ronhill, one of the UK’s most-loved running brands. Their Pace socks are fully synthetic, using a mix of polyester, polyamide and elastane, and this gives them a robust, long-lasting feel to them. The blend also makes these very quick to dry too.
The moisture wicking is good. As is the breathability. They’re not particularly plush in terms of comfort, with more of a minimalist feel to them, but they do feel light. And when they get wet, the moisture seems to clear out quickly.
The toe box seam is flat and placed under the toes, so there’s no discomfort or irritation from this whatsoever.
All in all, we’d say this is a great value sock that will suit casual runs, track running or long distance stuff, particularly in warmer weather.
These running socks by twenty-year-old running sock manufacturers Balega are designed to keep feet cool in the summer and warm in the winter. They’re made from a blend of materials: a synthetic that Balega call Drynamix and a wool called Mohair. One of the oldest textile fibres in use, Mohair is a durable and resilient wool that’s derived from the hair of the Angora goat. It’s known for being warm in winter, due to its insulating properties, and also moisture wicking enough to create a cooling effect in summer.
Socks with a high wool content can often be quite heavy and thick-feeling, but that’s not the case with the Balega Resist socks. They feel light and breathable. There’s also a nice bit of padding under the heel and around the toes and that not only adds comfort but it seems to help to prevent blisters too.
With the cushioning and strong arch support you get from these, we’d say they’re a great pair to wear on longer runs.
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