How to Choose Top Rated Running Socks

I’ve been thinking about my running socks this week. It was all sparked off by a question on the @UKRunChat twitter a few weeks ago around how many pairs of running shoes the community members have on average. I know it’s only a semi-sensible segue, but bear with me for a few minutes and I’ll explain.

I’ve spoken about my sock issues previously – I’m in the process of replacing most of my socks as they’re becoming decidedly lazy and trying to spend most of their time sliding down low on my heel. My sock preference is generally an ankle cut sock, especially because after many years of riding horses I have large calf muscles and crew socks tend to be too tight at the top. So, are top-rated running socks worth all the hype?

Top rated running socks

Are Top Rated Running Socks Worth It?

First off, don’t forget your shoes

So back to the story, while doing a quick shoe inventory in my head (on a run of course, as this is the time when my brain has the freedom to wander off on all kinds of weird and fun trajectories), I know I only ever have two “active” pairs of running shoes. There is always one pair of road running shoes and one pair of trail running shoes in my current rotation. They are both fairly new with only a few hundred kilometers on their collective clocks.

The bit that got me, was over the last few years the majority of the shoes I’ve had have been of the same models in a variety of colours and with minor changes over time (at least 5 pairs of Asics GT-1000s). Then when I bought my most recent pair of road shoes – there was a new model on offer the Asics Amplica, of lighter weight materials, so I decided to try them. I was running in these shoes as my brain was off exploring this topic – and my feet were hurting, or rather I had two lazy socks and these (no longer quite so) new shoes were rubbing mercilessly on my left heel.

So – problem number 1! Are my shoes making the sock problem worse? Fortunately for me, I’ve got some socks that I know are excellent to try to find out! So this morning (having given my heels four days rest from these shoes) I ran the same ten-kilometer route in my favourite socks and found that my feet felt fine – actually more than fine! So I’m concluding that your socks are super important and really deserve your attention!

When Should I Retire My Running Socks?

Much like sports bras, socks have a finite useful life. When they’re full of holes, it’s often a clue that they’ve reached the end of their useful time – but if you’re like me and not particularly hard on your socks, then how do you know?

Common signs that your socks are worn out:

1. A loss of elasticity

If a previously well-fitting sock suddenly looks too big, doesn’t have the rebound that it used to when stretched or slouches down when you’re wearing it (like mine a few days ago), this is a sign that the fibers giving it stretchiness have lost their elasticity. Try holding your old socks next to a new well-fitting sock of the same style – if they are obviously different in size and shape then something is going on!

2. Thin Spots

My favourite bit about a new pair of socks is how amazingly cushioned they feel on your feet; but sadly, as they age this cushioned feeling gradually gives way thin spots. This tends to happen slowly, and you often won’t realize that it has until all of a sudden, your socks just aren’t comfortable anymore. I almost feel like I’m springing along when I run in a new pair of socks, but my run gets much flatter as the socks age.

3. Discolouration

Often thought to be a good reason not to buy white socks (or so my mother always told me); discoloration of the sock material is something that can be seen on all colours of socks. As the fabric fibers wear, your blacks will start to become dark gray, and the bright colours will become a bit less bright. Different to a stain, this will be an overall colour change.

4. Blisters where they didn’t used to happen

Blisters can also be a sign of your socks being on the way out, although also rule out your shoes and changes in running technique or distances which could also contribute to blisters before putting all the blame on your socks.

5. The Washer ate its Mate

Those hungry washers or dryers seem to have a taste for socks. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it needs to be retired – but unless you have multiple pairs of the same sock to mix and match mates with eventually you’ll have to give in and weed the single socks from your collection.

How do I Keeping My Running Socks in Good Shape for as Long as Possible?

Like all athletic gear, care for your socks starts with an understanding of what they are made from, our guide to technical fibers and their general care requirements can be found here.

In general, care for your running socks should follow some pretty basic guidelines, especially if you’ve already discarded the manufacturer’s directions.

1. Wash on as cool of a setting as you can / Hang to Dry

Stretchy athletic gear tends to contain a high amount of elastane (also known as Lycra or spandex), it’s a synthetic fiber that was developed by DuPont Corporation in the 1950s. To preserve it’s elasticity, it is best to limit it’s exposure to heat, therefore set your wash to cool or warm settings only.

Don’t use heat to dry your socks, the coolest setting on your dryer may be acceptable, but it is best to hang your socks to dry.

Top Tip – if you are struggling to get your load of athletic gear to smell sweet on a cool wash, don’t reach for the fabric softener (it coats the fabric in a waxy residue designed to reduce static cling but it also interferes with the wicking abilities of the fabrics holding onto the sweat that the odour causing bacteria love), rather add half a cup of vinegar to your wash, and then line dry your gear in the sun.

2. Wash inside out and on a delicate cycle or in a lingerie bag

You want clean socks, but reduced wear on the fibers – they have a hard enough time dealing with your running abuse as it therefore gives them the best washing experience. By turning your socks inside out you are making sure that the surface of the sock that was closed to your skin (and thus directly picked up the sweat, the skins cells which sloughed off your body and those odour causing bacteria that feast on both of them) is available to the agitation of the washing machine. This allows much better access then putting your socks in the washing machine all balled up!

3. Wash like with like

Keeping similar colours together helps prevent discoloration, and also if you’re washing your socks in pairs you immediately know when one has gone missing!

What Makes A Top Rated Running Sock and How Do I Choose?

Socks?

The best running socks for you is going to be a personal choice however, there are a number of elements that appear consistently in the socks that rank well amongst runners.

1. No Seams or Flatlocked Seams

My ideal sock has no seams at all because seams cause pressure points which always seem to end up putting pressure across my toes or creating horrible rubs. When this happens it’s all I can think of for the full run – yuck!

2. Contoured to my feet

Did you know you can actually get socks that are “footed”? These are specially designed mirror image socks that taper, like gloves, to suit your feet without having to rely on the material elasticity to provide the shaping around your toes. This can help reduce blisters and increase comfort.

3. Small size ranges

You buy your shoes in a specific size, so why should socks be one size fits all? I encounter this a lot, I have small feet (a UK size 4, US size 6) so when I got to buy running socks as I’m generally at the bottom of the size range, the socks are often a tiny bit too big. My boyfriend has the opposite problem with big feet (a UK size 13 or US size 14) at the upper end of the size range he usually finds that most socks are a tiny bit too small. So look for the smallest possible shoe size range or one where you fall in the middle when you’re looking for running socks.

4. Fabric Choice

Top running socks will be made from breathable, wicking, fast-drying technical fabrics. Some will even include special elements included in their design to reduce odour, such as silver, copper or zinc.

5. Cushioning

The best running socks will work in harmony with your shoes to keep your feet comfortable and free from aches and pains. Well designed running socks will have cushioning in areas where you are likely to receive impacts (like the balls of your feet and heels). My favourite pair of running socks also has cushioning around the big toe joint which I really like. As the women in my family are predisposed to bunions, I find my foot is quite wide at this point and the little bit of extra padding increases my foot comfort.

6. The right cut

As I’ve previously mentioned, I find crew socks to be very uncomfortable, so I would never wear them for running, but they may suit you perfectly. I’ve also found in the past that I really don’t get on with a particularly low cut sock as they seem to be prone to sliding down on my feet. My favourite running socks are ankle length at the minimum and quarter length at the maximum.

Conclusion

Finding the right running socks is intrinsically related to finding a comfortable running shoe – and if the running shoe isn’t perfect, the right running sock can keep you going!

Once you find the perfect sock for you – make sure that you care for them well to get the maximum value from your socks.

Why not check out our top picks for men’s running socks?

Curious about compression? Don’t try compression socks for running until you’ve had a look at our top picks!

I love to hear your comments, what have I missed? Is there a favourite running sock of yours that I should be trying? Please let me know!

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8 Responses

  1. Jonath says:

    My point of emphasis is always finding the perfect running shoes because my feet hurt a lot after exercising, but I’ve never thought that the problem could also be the lack of cushioning of my running socks, thanks for the informative and useful article!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Jonath,

      Thanks, I’m glad you found it helpful. I’d never really appreciated what my socks were doing for me either until this week. I’m now thinking that for peak performance I really should be looking for both the right shoes and the right socks to optimise my experience!

      Best of wishes on your running!
      Lisa

  2. Ivan says:

    I never thought about socks this way. I did noticed a difference between pairs, but never gave it too much thought. Thanks for sharing this post. Judging by the title, I thought you’ll share a list of top rated sports socks. Do you have some recommendations?

  3. Sharon says:

    I never knew there was so much to socks. Nothing more frustrating than loose socks, especially during a workout. Do you think there’s as much importance in the type of socks when it comes to strength training as there’s generally less impact compared with running?

    Great article as always!

    Sharon

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Sharon,

      I think the type of sock can be important while you’re strength training, particularly if you happen to lift without shoes (like I do when Olympic lifting to make sure that I’m in proper contact with the floor). For these activities, I actually wear the same well-fitting, well-padded socks for Olympic Lifting that I use for running.

      Thanks for your comments!
      Cheers,
      Lisa

  4. Lisa says:

    Very informative article and so true! Some of us invest quite a lot of money in a quality running shoe and it makes absolute sense to invest more than we typically do in our socks. As you have pointed out, they really do many important jobs in keeping our feet in good order, preventing friction and so on. Thanks for this reminder, I am way overdue to overhaul the sock draw!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Lisa,

      Thanks for your comments! I completely agree that the investment is worthwhile in both the socks and shoes. Good luck with your sock drawer overhaul – check back soon, I’ll have a list of options that you should consider?

      Thanks,
      Lisa

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