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

By , SparkPeople Blogger
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

Smartwool for me ... for everything! Report
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. Report
Wrightsocks are the right socks for me! I wear them for everything and just buy more of them! Report
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. Report
MAGMAN
Thorlo's rock! Report
I buy all my running socks at Wal-Mart - 3 pairs $10 - no problems :)
Report
I LOVE my Features socks with my running & trail shoes and my Injinji socks with my Vibrams!!! Report
I loved this article!! I've only ever used my addias sport socks but now i am intrigued to try something new! Report
OUTOFCONTROL
My favorite running socks are Balega. They are so soft and comfy and perfect in every way. Report
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! Report
CHRIS3874
Never heard of them. I guess Im too old school Report
I haven't tried the Injiniji socks, but I love my Thorlo's! I like the mini-crew length the best. The cushioning is great with these socks. They have socks designed for many different activities - even for wearing boots. But do make sure you try them with your walking/running shoes, because they are thick and can crowd the shoe. I've never had a blister with these babies! Report
I use Nike Dri-Fit socks in my Mizuno Wave Runners when I walk and my feet have never been so comfortable! The socks are made specifically for the left and right foot so there isn't any sock bunching over the smaller toes.
By the way, in many garments the use of fabric softener decreases the wicking properties so should not be used. Report
thank you so much for the information about socks. I didn't know at first how neccessary a good pair of socks were in addition to the right running shoe.
thanks again. Report
I loved my Asics socks at first (and still do) but I bought a pair of Adidas running socks that are just amazing - Adidas ForMotion Zone socks Report
Smartwool for winter and Drymax Maximum Protection for long runs and races. Report
LIVINGONMYTERMS
I love my Thorlo socks!! That was the best investment I made for my feet (outside of shoes). Report
I messed up my foot training for a half marathon because I wore Birkenstock sandals - and yes, I know I should have worn running shoes, but I hate socks. I particularly hate socks with a seam over the toes, which then rub and either give me blisters or make sore holes in my toes. I have the worst time finding socks, and finally just decided to not wear them unless absolutely necessary. Like a winter visit to a cold climate.

I have no idea why sock manufacturers thought a seam would be a good idea.

Thank you for the time to rant, LOL! Report
JDBD17
Absolutely LOVE my Thorlo socks! Report
I learned my lesson when I went for a run in a pair of cotton socks & ended up with bloody toes. Now I always use running socks. I have all kinds - reebok, adidas, powersox, but my wrights are probably my favorite. Report
I was not aware of these special socks. I always choose mine by how confortable they feel on my feet. I prefer the ones with extra support on my toes and heels. However, I will look for these special socks to try them. Thank you for your article. It is very informative! Report
EJDUZANT
Very informative. Thank you. Report
Love love love Injiniji socks! I have a toe-overlap problem (mild but enough to give me a blister with lots of walking/running in regular socks). These toe socks are the best discovery I've made in a long time. For shorter walks, I'll have to check out some of these suggestions - thanks! Report