When it comes to running, your socks are almost as important as your running shoes. After all, tossing on a pair of plain old cotton socks can leave your feet blistered and bleeding after a long workout.
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Trouble is, searching for the perfect running socks can be overwhelming. How thick should they be? What material? How tall do you want your socks to be?
Like the best running shoes, the best running socks are different for everyone. And runners often have their personal ideas on what makes a good sock.
To help you narrow your search for the perfect running socks, we chatted with experienced runners on their favorite pairs. Here are eight of the best running socks money can buy.
Manufacturers typically market socks according to gender, so we have listed both women's and men's picks below. Generally, men's socks are available in larger lengths. So, people with bigger feet may want to opt for men's versions (when applicable), whereas people with smaller feet may prefer women's versions (when applicable). However, some companies make unisex sock sizing, so make sure to read the product label before you buy.
1. Best for Breathability: Asics Cushion Low Cut
Asics is a go-to shoe for many runners, and its socks are somehow cloud-like and breathable, says Sarah Klein, CPT, managing editor at LIVESTRONG.com
Plenty of lightweight socks for runners feel too thin, but not these, Klein says. This sock offers plenty of comfortable cushioning. These have a thinner heel tab (the fabric designed to protect the back of your heel from rubbing against your shoe), too, that keeps your sock from slipping off but doesn't feel too snug in the back.
Regularly $10, these socks are also several dollars cheaper than other leading running socks, so stock up.
Buy it: Asics.com; Price: $10
2. Best for Durability: Darn Tough Vertex No Show Tab Ultra-Light Cushion Sock
Runners who push the limits need a sock that can go the distance with them. The high-quality stitching on this snug, light and supportive Merino wool sock is, well, darn tough.
But if you do end up poking a hole in the sock, like Brooklyn-based runner Masha Portiansky did once after a fall, Darn Tough sends a replacement, thanks to their lifetime warranty.
Another bonus: The sock is antimicrobial, so it repels bacteria and odor. But yes, you still have to wash them.
3. Best Crew Height: Stance Run Uncommon Solid Crew
This pricier sock is well worth the investment, according to Drew Reynolds, a runner and running photographer. "I've yet to have a pair rip out yet," he says. The sock has a durable, quick-drying synthetic material to wick away sweat.
In addition to this comfortable crew, Stance also offers over-the-calf, ankle, tab and no-show socks for runners who like a range of sock heights. And Stance Run is good for all distances — from 5Ks to marathons, he says.
4. Best Ankle Length: Feetures High-Performance Cushion Quarter
An OG in the running sock space, Feetures is a go-to brand for many runners, especially those who like the anatomical design. What's that? Feetures socks are left-foot and right-foot specific, which may offer a better fit.
Logan Yu, an avid runner with a 2:48 marathon and 4:22 mile, recommends the quarter (aka ankle) length in both thick and thin materials. "Some shoes tend to cut up my ankles, and I hate having a tiny piece of skin cold and exposed in the winter," he says.
Buy it: Feetures.com; Price: $13
This South African sock has a strong foothold in the running community. Balega offers seven lines of socks to choose from, including a kids' design. If you love a good cushion, the Hidden Comfort is the running sock for you, according to LIVESTRONG.com fitness writer Bojana Galic.
As for the sweat-wicking ability? No matter which Balega line you choose, your feet remain dry and comfortable. "I never feel these socks shift inside my shoe, and they don't feel damp after a run," she says. "There's for sure some kind of magic going on there."
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $13
6. Best Compression: Bombas Performance Running Ankle Sock
This popular sock made a name for itself on Shark Tank. If you like a hug around your midfoot, Bombas has much tighter compression than other socks for runners. The benefit? They don't feel chunky inside of your running shoes.
And you can feel good when you buy these socks: For every pair of Bombas you purchase, the company donates a pair to people who are homeless.
Buy it: DicksSportingGoods.com; Price: $16
Prefer a more fitted sock? Balega Hidden Contour is the way to go, Galic says. She loves the snug, compression feel in the arch and heel.
The supportive fit may also help with proper blood circulation, thanks to the positioning of the sock's elastic bands around the arch and mid-foot. And the super high heel tab is a nice bonus, according to Galic.
"I have really narrow heels and my socks slip into my shoe all the time," she says. "I never have that problem with this sock."
Buy it: Amazon.com; Price: $14
8. Best Minimal Cushion: SmartWool PhD Run Light Elite Micro Socks
This model is virtually non-existent thanks to its ultra-lightness and no-show — or "micro" in SmartWool speak — design.
The Run Light Elite Micro may be best for speedy track sessions in minimalist racing flats or for marathoners who prefer less cushion. When you want your shoes to take care of the cushioning, this sock is the best way to go, according to John Riccardi, an athlete and web developer for the North Brooklyn Runners.
Despite the barely there feel, these socks have a long life, thanks to the quality. That's a bonus considering they're nearly $20 per pair.
As for wicking, the Merino wool prevents the sweat from his feet from getting cold and damp during the winter months in Wisconsin, according to Riccardi. "No one likes dank socks."
Buy it: SmartWool.com; Price: $18.95
4 Factors to Consider for Finding Your Perfect Pair of Running Socks
1. Sock Height
For the most part, sock height is a personal preference, according to Janet Hamilton, CSCS, registered clinical exercise physiologist and owner of Running Strong in Atlanta. But an easy way to narrow down your search depends on the temperature.
In cooler weather, Hamilton likes a pair of longer, quarter socks. These protect your ankles from brisk winds. Longer socks are also a better choice for trail running, she says. These can keep rocks or twigs from slipping into your shoe and sock.
But in hotter areas, she recommends ankle height or no-shows with heel tabs (more on that below) to avoid getting too sweaty.
2. Heel Tabs
Traditionally, Hamilton doesn't love no-show socks because can slip down into your shoe, meaning you have to stop and readjust during a run. That's why heel tabs are a must.
This little piece of fabric on the heel of low-cut, no-show socks helps keep the fabric in place for a distraction-free run. Plus, they protect your achilles from rubbing and blistering against the back of your shoe.
Different socks have different heel tab heights, ranging from a pinky-width to a thumb-width in size. To find your perfect width, it's best to take several pairs on a test run (pun intended), Hamilton says.
3. Sock Cushion
Again, this one is personal preference, Hamilton says. She coaches runners that love a thin, second-skin feel, while others prefer heavy cushion socks. There's no right or wrong choice, necessarily. And it just comes down to trying several pairs yourself.
But one thing to keep in mind: Some extra cushion may be a bonus on a long run. During longer runs, your feet pound the pavement (or treadmill) for quite a while and extra cushion can feel more comfortable.
Similarly, a lot of speed shoes have a more minimal, sleek design. And cramming a thick sock in the shoe can feel too snug and heavy. So, for speed workouts, a thinner sock may be beneficial.
4. Sock Material
Running socks come in all kinds of materials, like wool and polyester and all have their pros and cons. Wool socks are great for cooler weather, since they dry quickly and keep your feet warm. Spandex and polyester are lighter, more breathable fabrics, ideal for hot temperatures.
But the number-one thing to look for in a fabric is one that wicks moisture. Sweaty feet are inevitable during a run, so you want a material that's labeled as either quick-drying or moisture-wicking, Hamilton says. Typically, you can find this in the product details for the socks you're considering.
Make sure to avoid cotton socks. Cotton absorbs moisture and doesn't dry too quickly — and you don't want to feel like you're running in puddles.
Additional reporting by Bojana Galic.