Best running sock for you in 2020
Our fitness expert Ciaran and the team tell you how to choose the best running sock looking at padding, fit/sizing, height, material and style, so you know what is the best sock for you
Us runners usually will spend anywhere from €80-180 on a pair of running shoes. We might even get them fitted in a specialist store. The joy of lacing them up and getting out for that first run is a great experience. Have you put the same thought behind the other piece of material that also goes on your feet? Socks are so often overlooked by both men and women but contribute massively to the running experience.
So if you usually go running wearing the socks you went to work in then now is the time to sit back and give some thought to your feet.
Some of the main factors to look at when choosing the right sock for you are:
Padding and cushioning –
This is the main point of consideration for many. It can range from simple light socks all the way up to heavily padded double-layer socks. There are also a myriad of options in between. It really is a personal choice and preference, but I do think you need to try some different styles to know what works best for you. I like some cushion in my socks especially on the foot pad. One of our testers, Maria, who also tested socks in this list, would prefer less cushioning as her feet can overheat and it’s uncomfortable for her.
Many runners suffer from blisters too, so trying different socks is a far cheaper way of making a change than buying new shoes. Investing a little in the sock that makes running more enjoyable is money well spent. There are five very different options below.
Some research has shown that calf compression can improve blood circulation which can help with injury prevention and recovery. Some studies have even shown compression to help boost performance. There are also studies that debunk this so it’s really worth trying it for yourself. You see many runners with just calf “sleeves” on which give extra compression. Socks offering this should have certifiable medical compression standards or it will just be for show. You might want compression in your calves but you certainly don’t want to compress your toes as outlined next.
It’s vitally important your shoes are the right size when running. What is often overlooked is sock size and fit. People mostly just order the same size as their shoes but the sizing and restrictive nature varies from brand to brand. It’s really important that your toes can spread out to give you the best platform to land on. I hate running in tight socks so I often order a size up or check reviews to see if the sizings are generous.
Make sure you aren’t wearing tight socks as you are doing your feet, and the rest of your body which rely on them, no favours.
There has been a big shift towards mid-calf socks when running. It gives you a little more fabric to show some colour on, plus it can keep you warm on colder runs. When doing trails the higher socks come in handy by protecting you from briars and nettles, for example.
Many go for the “no show” look, and if you have the legs for it, this is a great approach and the one most athletes go for. One of our writers reliably told me “they make your legs look longer”. The mid-length look is usually just over the ankle and is quite a classic style. Finally, there are the full calf sleeves and compression socks, which visually I am definitely not a fan of, but they do seem to functionally work for many.
Polyester will usually make up around 80-100% of most sock material. There may also be some elastic, nylon and maybe even Lycra for stretchiness around the arch, for example . What you probably want to avoid is cotton as it can have poor drying qualities and you really want to avoid your feet getting wet. Foot health starts with your socks. Merino wool is a brilliant material for colder days and has excellent drying and performance characteristics if you want a natural fiber. Be prepared to pay a little extra for it though.
Lastly you want the sock to look good (or in the case of “No-Show” socks, you don’t want them to be seen at all). There are a wide variety of colour options to choose from with most brands. The higher the sock goes up your calf, the more real estate you have for expressing yourself. Many of the newer brands on the block are very creative with colour trends and even images on their socks. Be brave and try to move away from the white and black tradition. Socks that match your running shoes or kit is a great look.
That should give you a lot of food for thought. Taking all the above info into account, here are some running socks in different categories to suit your needs. We rigorously tested them and they come highly recommended.
Best Summer/Lightweight Sock – SOAR Running Ankle sock
We tested SOARs white Ankle Sock (£16/€18) which has some really nice orange branding. We previously reviewed the Soar running t-shirt and shorts which got four stars out of five. They also sell a selection of crew and all weather socks (both £21/€23) in various eye-catching designs.
Their ankle sock is definitely a summer sock due to its minimal padding. They have an open mesh upper which keeps your feet nice and cool and gives the sock a stretchy feel. They also have an elastic part around the middle, which keeps the sock in place and works very well. They have little seaming and are pretty unnoticeable when running.
I am a UK 9/EU 43 and went for their large size, which is a 11-13/45-48 fit. As mentioned above, I am a big believer that feet should not be constricted, so I was pleasantly surprised it was a perfect fit.
The above ankle cut is the goldilocks size. Not too long, not too short, but just right. I am actually pretty easy-going about sock length for running and like to mix it up but don’t care much for no show socks.
I wouldn’t go for the white socks again, due to the obvious fact they would get stained easy enough in the medium term. I have to say after lots of uses, my socks still look great, but that’s easy in this nice summer weather. If I got caught in a downpour, I don’t know if I would say the same. When they have such interesting designs such as their Diamond Crew, I think it pays off to be adventurous.
If you are looking for something light, with really soft materials that keep your feet cool without added cushioning, then the SOAR Ankle sock is our pick for you.
Check out the rest of their men only range at www.soarrunning.com
Best Cushioned Sock
Thorlos Experia Prolite Micro Mini cushioned
Thorlos are the cushioned sock specialists. They are the creation of Jim Throneberg in the 1980s and all their socks are made in North Carolina. An impressive feat.
They focus on extra padding in essential areas like the heel and ball of the foot. You feel the cushioning instantly when you put them on. It’s quite lush. I was using the Experia Original (XCCU) and really liked the cushioning. I actually love it for trails or hard ground when you can’t find a green space. If you have been looking for cushioned running socks, then I don’t think you can look past these. They really are super padded in those critical areas.
Maria tested out and liked the Thorlos Experia Prolite (XPTU) no show seen here with the NewBalance Fresh Foam 1080v10 which we reviewed this year. “The Prolite socks were nice, lightweight and breathable. I found the extra padding does prevent blisters for me. The Prolite has a nice amount of padding, with much less than the full Experia. Those had a little too much padding for me in summer. When running in the heat, my feet can get sweaty so I would say they would be perfect from Oct-Mar. The ProLite are my favourite running socks.”
Despite the extra padding, they dry out quite fast and the rest of the Prolite sock is very soft material using their NanoGlide Fiber technology. Maria’s sizing was perfect. I went up a size to large and was very happy. So again if you like them loose then go up a size.
Thorlos are also available on Amazon in many styles and they have excellent reviews. The Experia Prolite Maria recommended comes in five sizes and 8 colours with the original coming in 19 colours. So there are plenty to choose from for men and women. Almost too many to choose! Their women’s multi-sport sock has 4.5 out of 5 from almost 1500 ratings so they are really popular for people who like cushioning.
They range in price from £9/€10 up to £22/€25 for their ski socks. Their average running sock costs around £13/€15 and comes in a variety of colours. They aren’t the most creative looking socks but they are the best cushioned sock we have tried.
Go and check out here thorlo.com/shop/running-socks or search for Thorlo on Amazon.
Best Compression Sock
Hilly Pulse Compression Sock
This is probably my least favourite sock on this list but for the compression fans, it’s worth checking out. Compression socks are meant to improve blood flow which in turn improves performance and recovery. That’s the science anyway.
I got these as I suffer from calf and plantar issues and although I didn’t notice massive benefits, I have heard positive things from many users. I stopped using them as I just preferred the other socks on this list but if you really want to try out compression socks then these could benefit you.
I find Hilly to be quite restrictive fitting and always need to size up. I have actually given away a couple of pairs of socks after just two uses when they just constricted my toes too much. I used to only go for Hilly socks but I think my love affair is waning slightly due to lack of innovation and their colour schemes just aren’t creative. Sorry Hilly.
Best Dual Layer Sock
1000 Mile Fusion Sock
The concept behind this style is that if you have two layers in the sock, you will protect yourself from movement in the shoe and eliminate blisters. Fusion combines both layers AND padding so you should have comfort and protection. Having used these socks for a couple of years on and off I do really like them. They certainly aren’t stylish, coming in only black or white but they do the job effectively if you want a double layered sock.
They are a good winter sock but maybe avoid them if you are doing some wet trails as the double layer means they don’t dry out so quickly. The Fusion sock costs £12.50 and if you are desperate to eliminate blisters, I think it’s worth a try. Bear in mind that it’s a little bulky so best avoided if you have tight fitting shoes. I also wouldn’t want to wear them for too long as they don’t breathe especially well due to two nylon layers. They do however offer a one- year money back guarantee that you won’t get blisters using these, so there is no risk involved.
Their running socks can be found here 1000mile.co.uk/product-category/1000-mile/running
Best Combination Sock
On Running Mid Sock
On Running is a company you may not have heard of…yet. The Swiss company was only founded in 2010 with the goal of using the latest technology and engineering to make you feel like you are running on clouds. They have successfully done this with their running shoes by selling millions of them to runners around the world with rapid growth in the last few years. But what are their socks like?
They keep things VERY simple when it comes to their sock line. They have three styles of length which come in various colours. They sell a low, mid and high sock in most mens and womens sizes. It’s quite refreshing to go to a site and not be overwhelmed with options, but were the socks any good?
The first impression is that they feel super premium and look very stylish even if they are quite understated. The reason we awarded these the best Combination Sock is because they combine cushioning in important areas, but are also light and breathable mesh in other places. As you would expect, they have nice arch support but the almost total lack of toe seam was a great addition for us.
Their three sock heights also offer slightly different benefits. The Low is a hidden sock that is perfect for warm days offering lighter cushioning and materials. The Long looks perfect for colder trail runs. It offers nice cushioning and mid calf protection from the cold and any briars that try to hack your ankles. The Mid is a combination of the two and that’s what we chose here as our favourite.
With previous socks, I sized up but with the On sock I was told to go with my shoe size as they are not restrictive fitting. I ordered a medium (8-9UK) and they did the job exactly as I would like. With four or five colours per sock height, there is something for everyone.
Roger Federer is now On board (pardon the pun) and we think the next 12 months will see further rapid growth. When I was out testing these socks, I met a friend who was wearing their new release Cloudflow cushioned shoe, which I will actually be reviewing shortly. I expect to see more people in these shoes this summer. I will certainly be wearing mine and I think I will check out some of their running kits too.
I hope you can now understand each style of sock is and what their purpose is. We put all these socks to the test and know if you give any of them a go, you should be able to enjoy lacing up even more than you do now.
Let us know on Instagram @newproductsreviewed if you know any other socks or running products we should test out and follow us for updates and more reviews like this.