Sock It to Me: How to Choose the Right Pair for Your Runs

4SHARES

By: , SparkPeople Blogger
11/13/2010 8:00 AM   :  63 comments   :  20,098 Views

As runners we know the necessity of being fitted for the right shoe for our training needs and pronation. After all, shoes are the only 'real' equipment a runner needs, right? Well, not so fast. While running in the correct shoe for your needs is a top priority, never underestimate the importance of wearing the proper performance socks. Wearing the wrong socks can turn what would have been a great run, into a not so great run when blisters begin to form. Trust me, when your feet hurt, it is almost impossible to continue running.

So you may be asking yourself, why are socks so important? After all shelling out $10 or more for one pair of socks seems absurd. But if you have ever developed a blister anywhere on your foot during a run, you would gladly pay any amount of money to keep it from happening again. The purpose of wearing a sock is to provide protection for your feet. Because blisters are caused by friction and moisture, wearing a sock that wicks moisture away from the skin while lessening the friction created within the shoe, may prevent a blister from ever developing, making your runs more enjoyable.

In the past 30 years or so, there has been an evolution from the standard cotton and wool sock many runners had no choice but to wear in the 1970's, to the fancier versions of today. However, with this advancement comes a more expensive price tag. This is why doing your homework before shopping may help make the decision process a little easier. Just remember when you are shopping for new socks, you need to bring your running shoes with you. Purchasing a sock that may be too thick or too thin for the shoe you wear may create problems down the road.

Fabric

As mentioned earlier cotton and wool were the two common fabrics used for socks 30- 40 years ago, however that all changed when sock manufacturers started using acrylic in their fabric. Synthetic materials, such as acrylic, polyester and trade names such as CoolMax and Teflon, wick moisture away from the skin and allows for protection within the shoe. Wearing a cotton/acrylic blend is fine, just make certain that you are NOT wearing 100% cotton socks as they tend to absorb the moisture which may lead to blisters. Runners who live in colder climates may find the SmartWool Blend Socks to be a great option as the wool-nylon blend offers a wicking property, all while keeping a runner's feet wram.

Cushioning

For the past five years I have worn the same sock winter, spring, summer and fall and that is the Thorlo mini-crew running sock. What I like most about my Thorlo socks is the cushioning quality, especially in the forefoot and the heel, as well as the overall thickness of the sock.

If you opt to try a thicker sock, make sure you try them on with your running shoes in the store since the increase in thickness may require you to go up a half shoe size to accommodate for the added cushioning.

Some runners may find the thicker socks too constraining, therefore opting for a thinner performance sock may be the perfect solution. A very popular sock amongst runners who prefer the thinner option is the double-layer WrightSock. This sock is comprised of two thin layers of fabric, an inner layer which provides a wicking property thereby allowing moisture to be pulled away from the skin which will help keep feet cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and an outer layer which helps to reduce friction. Because the company believes so strongly in their product they do offer a 100% satisfaction guarantee.

Size

Just like wearing the wrong size shoe can lead to bio-mechanical issues, the same can be said about wearing ill-fitted socks. Wearing socks that are too big may lead to friction issues which may lead to blisters. However, wearing socks that are too small may make your feet feel too constricted and not allow for proper toe movement, potentially changing your running bio-mechanics.

Style

Some runners, like myself, prefer a mini-crew running sock, while others prefer a knee length, crew length, even mid calf length sock, but regardless of which style you go with, make sure the sock rises above the back of the shoe collar so that you avoid developing blisters on your heel.

And for those runners who wear Vibrams, the Injinji sock allows one to have a layer of protection between these shoes and your skin. But even those wearing a traditional running shoe have found the Injinji socks to be a big help in blister prevention.

Care and Replacement

Socks, like our running shoes, will not last a lifetime. But because of the quality of the fabric used, many runners may find they can get quite a bit of wear out of them before they need to be replaced. When your socks start to thin, lose their shape, quick wicking or the cushioning isn't what it was when you purchased them, it is time to replace them.

Because these socks can easily set you back ten or more dollars for just one pair, it is imperative that you take measures to ensure you get the most wear out of your socks.

Below are a few measures you can take that may extend the wear of your socks.
  • Only wear your socks for running or walking
  • Follow the manufacturer's care instructions on the packaging. Many manufacturer's recommend turning your running socks inside out when washing. Doing so will help fluff up the inside padding of the sock.
  • Do not use bleach. Bleach can breakdown the fabric
  • Some sock manufacturer's recommend using fabric softener to help extend the life of the socks and the wicking properties, but be sure to read your care instructions.
  • Unless otherwise stated on manufacturer's packing, dry your socks on low heat in the dryer or air dry
A few other considerations when it comes to socks and blister prevention include:
  • Never wear dirty socks to run in, this will increase your risk for blisters
  • If your feet tend to sweat a lot, especially on your long runs, carry an extra pair with you so that you can change into dry socks during your run to help avoid blisters from forming.
  • Discard socks that have lost their shape and no longer fit your foot's shape
As much thought as you put into choosing the right shoes, runners and walkers alike should put as much thought into choosing the right sock so that their runs and walks will be more enjoyable and hopefully, blister free.

Just a few short words, while this blog is written for runners, know that walkers can also benefit from the information provided. Also, I have elected not to cover compression socks for this blog. While they are gaining in popularity, this blog's intention was to provide you the information needed to guide you through the maze of choosing the best sock for you.

If you are a runner or walker, have you found wearing the proper sock made a difference in your performance? What is your favorite sock and why? How much would you be willing to spend for a pair of socks if it prevented blisters from forming?


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Comments

  • DUCKYONTHERUN
    63
    In the same manner in which Road Runners Sports Stores fit my whole family for running shoes, they also fit us for socks. I have different socks for different types of running and for running on different types of ground. I cannot imagine not using specialty socks for my running. I even use specialty socks for my children. If you have never used them, just like the right shoes, the right socks make a remarkable difference. - 5/2/2011   10:43:10 PM
  • 62
    I have stopped buying 100% cotton socks for quite some time b/c of this reason to wick away the moisture but I still get the occasional blister on my arches after runs, even after adding powder to the mix. Yesterday I was @ WMart and I saw a new product called Friction Block stick.. today is my first day trying it out but I only went to Body Pump today so there was no cardio involved. I'm taking Anatomy & physiology II and Microbiology this semester so running will have to wait till tomorrow. I sure hope it works though. IF it doesnt .. it was only $6. - 1/27/2011   4:20:08 PM
  • 61
    Seams and slipping into the shoe are my biggest issue with socks. I avoid the slipping issue by wearing a crew length or calf length sock. But I need a seamless sock. The seam hits the top of my little toe (no matter what brand) and rubs on the little to giving me a blister. Not only do I get the blister but it is JUST PLAIN UNCOMFORTABLE! I have tried different shoes as well...Nike, Saucony, Asics, and Brooks. The shoe is great if I can get that little seam to go where it is supposed to go! Any suggestions? - 1/5/2011   10:47:44 AM
  • 60
    I was told you SHOULDN'T use fabric softener with clothes that wick sweat away but here it says you should. I'm confused. - 11/22/2010   3:25:43 PM
  • 59
    I don't run much, but I LOVE my Smartwool socks for when I'm hiking in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. - 11/18/2010   4:26:51 PM
  • 58
    My boyfriend loves SmartWool socks and wears pretty pricey work boots...I always thought he was just being ridiculous and wanted super nice things. Then I felt his buttery soft feet and was immediately jealous! He works outside and I know it's important for him to take care of his body so he'll be able to work without injury. Socks and shoes are definitely key to healthy and feet!!! - 11/18/2010   3:36:20 PM
  • 57
    WOW! I never really gave a thought to the importance of socks, but it makes sense. I've always just worn regular socks. When I got my first pair of running shoes (good ones), I thought "what a difference". So I have a feeling I might be saying the same thing about socks! Who knew??? Thanks for all the information! - 11/17/2010   9:37:07 PM
  • 56
    The first thing I look for is no noticable seam in the toe. So many of the brands in running stores have a raised seam which causes me a lot of discomfort. Currently running in Zulu brand, cushioned and no seam! - 11/17/2010   10:18:34 AM
  • 55
    I seldom ever wear socks, but I certainly dislike the low cut ones. If I do wear them, they are the cuff style. - 11/16/2010   2:14:18 PM
  • 54
    I am a big fan of Injinji socks for my marathons. I love my Thorlo's for short runs but have problems when I use them for very long runs, probably because my feet swell so much that the thickness becomes a problem. - 11/15/2010   6:16:58 PM
  • 53
    Injinji are my new favorite socks. I got my first pair and they've been so great during my current training plan I went out and bought 5 more pairs. I recommend them for everything, not just Vibram wearers. I haven't had a toe blister since I started wearing them! - 11/15/2010   4:55:00 PM
  • 52
    Never crossed my mind tell my husband gave me a good luck pair to match my bike of a Tri last year. I love them and have two more pair to my gym gear. - 11/15/2010   12:29:15 PM
  • 51
    I'll be honest, I never really gave my socks a second thought. of course, I haven't had a problem with blisters. the only time I've ever gotten blisters from walking is when I do a 20 mile charity walk.

    I tend to ignore some of these high tech socks because of the price. It strikes me that people have been walking without the fancy socks for years and haven't had any major problems. Example, the Greeks and Romans wore sandals. Plenty of our ancestors routinely walked around barefoot.

    So, I guess I really can't justify paying extra for fancy socks that may or may not help me improve my running/walking times. Once again, it's because people have been running/walking barefoot for tens of thousands of years.

    - 11/15/2010   11:10:48 AM
  • 50
    I have Adidas socks that I absolutely love. I never believed that socks made that big of a difference until I switched out of my 100% Cotton ones and found out that exercise can actually be comfortable for my feet! I have completely flat feet (no arch whatsoever), so socks with a little arch support actually help me a lot. - 11/15/2010   10:28:32 AM
  • 49
    I swear by Injinji and Feetures. Moleskin on the part of the foot that blisters, a blister bandaid on the toe that blisters and Injinji socks for me yesterday: not a single blister! - 11/15/2010   10:06:56 AM
  • 48
    I don't buy a particular brand but I am conscious of my socks. I prefer socks with more fabric on the sole and heel. It just seems more comfortable for me especially since I am a hard striker (working on that part). I especially like the recommendations by several other contributors on this piece. - 11/14/2010   11:35:40 PM
  • 47
    I have issues with my socks 'crawling' down into my shoes! It drives me crazy. I'm constantly trying to find a better sock, the right size, ect. I need the extra cushion. I like the compression around my high arch. The ones I bought seems to loose their fit after wearing once or twice and start their crawl and I'm constantly having to take my shoe off and pull them up. I wasn't aware there were special socks for walking or running. Thanks for the information! - 11/14/2010   8:27:56 PM
  • 25LADY
    46
    I think socks are socks but I make sure that my socks always fit properly. - 11/14/2010   6:39:05 PM
  • 45
    Having had plantar faciatitis a few years ago, I have learned the pleasures of socks with slight compression through the arch. They really help! I walk, don't run. However, Mervyn's , my supplier for these socks, has closed so I will be doing the internet search soon for these socks. Made by Keds. - 11/14/2010   5:22:46 PM
  • 44
    Socks are one of my big indulgences. Thanks for the info! - 11/14/2010   5:13:29 PM
  • 43
    While it's a great article, and I appreciate the information, the developments in technology, and all, I'll stick with wool & cotton.
    First, they are natural fibers, naturally renewable--while all the other fibers are not; nylon, the -ics, etc., tend to be manufactured in ways that aren't particularly good for the earth; and they use resources in ways I'm not comfortable supporting.
    Second, because most artificial fibers make me break out (personal issue, not related to the first point, except coincidentally---I preferred nat. fibers before my meno-pause made me allergic to synthetics).

    There are other ways to manage blisters. I have to wear synthetic shoes, but when I don't have to wear synthetics, I don't. - 11/14/2010   3:59:42 PM
  • 42
    Thank you for this Article. The correct socks with a thicker sole are especialy important for us more senior runers/walkers. - 11/14/2010   2:49:06 PM
  • 41
    i love my SmartWool socks! I wear them year-round (I live in Alaska). - 11/14/2010   1:19:57 PM
  • 40
    I adore my Wright Socks. I've been wearing them for nearly 10 years now and they are so comfortable. I was looking for them in a new shoe store (we moved out of state) and they didn't have them. I told the owner about them and she was impressed. Maybe next time .... - 11/14/2010   1:09:17 PM
  • GBTRIGIRL
    39
    I love my Wright socks but also really like Ironman socks as well. The Ironman have thin to thick so you can adjust based on your shoe and any foot swellling. - 11/14/2010   12:16:47 PM
  • 38
    Yes indeed, the correct socks are very important. Thanks for posting this and helping other people understand. - 11/14/2010   9:42:11 AM
  • 37
    I love Injinji socks for running and/or walking! They can take some getting used to for some people since the toes are separated out, but I swear by them for not getting blisters. A couple years back I wore them for the Susan G Komen 3-day walk. Walking an average of 20 miles per day over 3 days and I never got one blister! I was one of the only people there who didn't have a blister! And I didn't even have to change the socks mid-day as most people did to ensure dry feet. I have been hooked ever since. But I am desperate for some new pairs now as I can tell they don't work properly as much anymore, but have lasted for years for me. - 11/14/2010   5:07:17 AM
  • 36
    I had no idea. I am unable to run, but I walk a lot and get blisters. I Thot blisters were the price to be paid for exercising. I will be checking out these socks, THANKS for the info! - 11/14/2010   4:14:43 AM
  • TWOOFTHREE
    35
    I don't run but socks are important to me nonetheless. I like socks with padding in the toes and by the heel. That makes them great for hiking/walking, as well as wearing with my steel-toe boots (I have to wear them for work sometimes).

    My feet don't get sweaty, so I don't have to worry too much about the material as long as it's soft and not abrasive.

    2/3 - 11/14/2010   3:33:59 AM
  • CAMEOSUN
    34
    SmartWool is very comfortable. Will have to look into the others also. - 11/14/2010   3:13:44 AM
  • CRANKYCRONE1
    33
    A walker here. I have horrible toes- hammertoes and bunions and it seemed like no matter what socks I'd wear, my toes would blister when I walked. About a year and half ago I discovered silicon top caps. They solved the blister problem for me. - 11/14/2010   2:12:42 AM
  • 32
    I am a hiker, walker, light jogger. I like low socks just above the shoes by an inch or so. I like a good pair of fitted socks. - 11/14/2010   12:07:42 AM
  • 31
    This is true for cycling too. Having the right socks on that fit and give you cushioning in the right places can make all the difference on a long ride. It's worth finding a pair and brand that works for you. - 11/13/2010   11:56:40 PM
  • 30
    I love my socks from the Spark Store. I don't gush about clothes, but every time I wear my Spark socks I say these are terrific. I have washed them scads of time and they have outlasted any others. - 11/13/2010   10:10:31 PM
  • 29
    I have been wearing Thorlo socks for years. They feel good when I put them on and really do preventing blisters. I will definitely be trying WrightSocks after reading this blog and some of the comments. I like to keep different weight socks for different activities, weather, and shoes. - 11/13/2010   9:08:57 PM
  • CAROLA28
    28
    While I'm not a runner, I do have a couple pairs of running socks for gym work, as I walk on a treadmill. I can attest to the comfort of running socks. They do make a difference. The price made me wince at first, but I've compared the socks to cotton socks and there's no comparison, running socks are better. When you think about it, we're willing to spend $$ on a purse or on a nice dinner out, so why not spend money on your feet? Our feet really take a beating and need the attention while exercising. - 11/13/2010   8:45:58 PM
  • 27
    I use Smart wool for hiking and walking but I love the Nike Dri fit for running. - 11/13/2010   8:33:38 PM
  • 26
    Thank you for the information on socks. I'm a walker and have one pair of socks I purchase over 3 yrs ago at an Expo for a 1/2 marathon and I love them. Unfortunately I can't remember what brand or material they are. They are double layered and still feel good. I have some other types but none compare to these. One day I'll find something comparable and then I'll take note of the information you listed and buy more than one pair. Thanks again - 11/13/2010   8:22:41 PM
  • ROCK_CLIMBER2
    25
    Love to wear Smartwool work boot socks in my duty boots. Twelve plus hour shifts take a toll on my feet. Lots of walking and running great socks. Stay safe! - 11/13/2010   7:25:15 PM
  • 24
    Thorlos! I love their black walking socks for just about everything. No chafing, seem to help my shoes fit better, & keep my feet warm in cold weather, cool in warm. I've had pairs that have lasted years & years. I admit I'v even worn 'em for everyday. REI & places have an annual buy 3 get one free sale & such. They're spendy but worth it. I like their light hikers too.

    I've found good deals on performance fabric running socks at Ross Dress for Less or Campmor.com: discount New Balance, Nikes & similar CoolMax socks. They really do make a HUGE difference just in comfort & temperature. I'm not prone to blisters, but my feet freeze in just about any weather.
    Thanks for a great article on an often overlooked topic, esp. for walkers!
    - 11/13/2010   7:18:57 PM
  • 23
    Smartwool for me ... for everything! - 11/13/2010   6:53:45 PM
  • 22
    I love Smartwools and Feetures. Both are so comfortable. I used to wear Thorlos, but I like Feetures better now. I'm not a runner, so maybe Thorlos work better for running. - 11/13/2010   6:33:50 PM
  • 21
    Wrightsocks are the right socks for me! I wear them for everything and just buy more of them! - 11/13/2010   5:54:09 PM
  • 20
    I love Injinji socks! I'm prone to blisters between my toes and I never get them with these socks. Laundering socks and workout clothing properly is really important - nothing synthetic goes in the dryer and no fabric softener. I have a rack for all of those things. The only exception is the waterproof/breathable outerwear. That technology only works properly if it goes in the dryer periodically. - 11/13/2010   5:39:18 PM
  • MAGMAN
    19
    Thorlo's rock! - 11/13/2010   5:15:47 PM
  • 18
    I buy all my running socks at Wal-Mart - 3 pairs $10 - no problems :)
    - 11/13/2010   4:50:11 PM
  • 17
    I LOVE my Features socks with my running & trail shoes and my Injinji socks with my Vibrams!!! - 11/13/2010   4:30:36 PM
  • 16
    I loved this article!! I've only ever used my addias sport socks but now i am intrigued to try something new! - 11/13/2010   4:23:09 PM
  • OUTOFCONTROL
    15
    My favorite running socks are Balega. They are so soft and comfy and perfect in every way. - 11/13/2010   4:18:54 PM
  • 14
    I guess I'd be willing to pay through the nose for a pair of socks that would save my feet the pain of blisters. I have to keep running! - 11/13/2010   4:03:06 PM

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