Do you really need specialist socks to go running? While you can technically hit the road in any old pair and still survive, the right socks come with a number of benefits (while the wrong ones can cause absolute havoc), so it is worth investing in a good pair to save your feet from future distress.
But what are the different types and how do you know what to buy? Below, we’ve answered your essential kit questions, plus keep scrolling for our pick of the best run socks, from blister-resistant anklets to compression socks.
The best running socks to buy for 2024
In a hurry? Here are the best running socks at a glance. Keep scrolling for the full list.
What is a running sock?
Whether you’re training for a marathon or stepping out for your very first mile, as a runner, looking after your feet is a must. But what exactly is a running sock and how do they differ from bog standard cotton options?
‘The right pair are vital for good performance, comfort and support, because they have been designed specifically to increase ventilation, wick moisture and offer support in all the right places,’ says Steve Paterson, people development and product trainer at Runners Need.
‘The importance of socks is often overshadowed by the quest to find the perfect pair of running shoes,’ he adds. ‘However, without the support of some high-quality socks, problems such as blisters, overheating and discomfort can persist.’
The main types of running socks
From ankle-high to super-thin socks, there are number of different types of running socks choose from, but they usually fall into the following categories:
- Waterproof socks: Fair weather runners will be pleased to hear you can buy waterproof running socks that are designed to keep your feet warm and dry in adverse conditions, by wicking the water away from your feet.
- Odour-repellent socks: Do your kicks get a bit stinky after a run? These help to keep feet cool and dry – and slightly less smelly – thanks to clever antibacterial technology.
- Compression socks: These are designed to gently squeeze your muscles to improve blood circulation, reduce tiredness and boost recovery time.
- Blister-free socks: Plagued by blisters? ‘These socks tend to use a two-layer system, as the potential for friction is reduced by the two layers of material moving against each other, rather than against your skin,’ says Paterson.
Help buying running socks
There are a few important factors to consider when shopping for run socks:
• Check the fabric
Just like your favourite running vest, your socks should be made from a breathable, quick-drying fabric to keep your feet dry as you clock up the miles. ‘It’s best to avoid cotton because it holds moisture and traps it against your skin, which causes blisters in the summer and coldness in the winter,’ says Paterson. ‘Socks which use technical synthetic materials instead will help to transport the sweat away from your skin.’
• Size counts
Your socks should be the same size as your running shoes. ‘Too big or too small can slide around and cause blisters,’ advises Paterson. ‘They should have a good fit, especially under the arch of the foot and around the heel. To make sure you have the right size, make sure that the heel portion of the socks perfectly lands on your heel without stretching.’
• Go seam-free
The devil is in the detail, as something as small as a seam could end up causing you considerable discomfort over a long distance. ‘Make sure the socks are seamless, as this can reduce the risk of chafing,’ advises Paterson.
• Consider the thickness
Do you prefer a cushioned sock or an invisible feel? Most run socks will offer extra padding in the areas of the foot that take the most impact – your toes, heels and arch (which is why running socks often have a right and a left foot). So think about your ideal thickness before you invest. ‘What you choose depends on personal preference, as both have advantages,’ says Paterson.
• Try before you buy
The golden rule ‘nothing new on race day’ definitely applies when it comes to socks, so make sure you’ve worn them several times in advance of any planned events. Some specialist running stores will also let you try on kit, so if you’re struggling to decide what suits your feet it’s worth asking if you can test them out for size and feel first.
How to take care of your running socks
Like most sports kit, taking care of your socks isn’t rocket science, but there are a few things you can do to maximise longevity.
‘It is best to turn your socks inside out before popping them in the washing machine and wash them on a cool setting and avoid fabric softener,’ advises Paterson. ‘Also make sure to air dry them as the heat from a tumble dryer could damage some of the specialist materials.’
The best running socks to buy now
To help you choose your ideal pair, we’ve rounded up our pick of the best running socks for 2024.
Here for the best compression socks to speed up recovery? Scroll down.
Balega’s Blister Resist Quarter Socks prove that you can have great protection and a soft feel. Many socks are soft when you put them on, but that softness can mean they’re also moisture-absorbent or fragile.
These use a combination of mohair and Balega’s own moisture-wicking materials to create a plush yet durable option. Even on particularly swampy and wet runs, the Blister Resist never felt waterlogged or created hot spots (like wet socks can).
Also available in black, or the pink/purple colourway is available in small here.
There’s no doubt about it, UK brand Runderwear knows a thing or two about anti-chafing. These cushioned ankle socks give you extra protection where your foot needs it most, which will come in handy over 26.2 miles.
Made from breathable fabrics, the mid-foot grips to hold the sock in place and the high tab on the back protects against blisters.
Just fancy one pair? Shop the men’s sock here. Shop the women’s sock here.
These lululemon running socks have medium cushioning in all the right places, plus a handy heel tab and a sturdy toe box designed for each foot (left and right). While your feet will feel like they’re getting a comforting hug, they’ll stay dry thanks to sweat-wicking material – and the socks are treated with anti-odour tech.
Available in women’s and men’s sizes.
Bamboo is not only a super sustainable fibre, it also makes for a great pair of running socks, controlling temperature and moisture levels while being luxuriously soft. These ones from BAM are beautifully cushioned, terry-lined and breathable, with support around the ankle and arch and a small tab at the back to keep the socks firmly in place.
They’re absorbent too, while the naturally antibacterial properties of bamboo take care of any unwanted smells (no judgement). Choose from black or burgundy.
The first brand to come up with the double layer socks we know and love today, these anklet versions from 1000 Mile are a classic. Comfortable and cushioned, with ventilation zones for breathability, achilles tendon protection and inner layers to wick sweat away from your feet.
The regular crew version gets a mention further down, but these lighter, thinner, ankle length socks from Stance are perfect for runners who want minimal feel and show from a sock.
Ideal for warmer runs, there’s no additional cushioning in these socks meaning no extra bulk that can make hot feet hotter and for those worried about rubbing on the ankle, this wasn’t an issue for any of our testers.
Designed especially for women’s feet, if you suffer from blisters, Sweaty Betty Crew Running Socks are a good option. They don’t rub or slip, and with padding at sole and heel plus sweat-wicking, breathable panels, you can’t go wrong. Available in white, black and a blue combo pack.
With arch compression and anti-blister cushioning, these running socks from Danish Endurance are supremely comfortable, even on hot days, thanks to the knit cooling panels.
They wash well, are incredibly durable and dry fast — ideal if you’re out on a wet trail. We love the quarter length (great for summer or if you’re wearing 7/8 leggings), but they also come in ankle length, and are available in a bunch of different colours.
These pleasingly stretchy socks (you can thank the Nylon and elastane) feel cool as you put them on and are made with Merino wool for excellent temperature regulation. They have soft, terry-like cushioning all the way up the heel so there’s no chance those new running shoes are rubbing, and a seamless toe adds to the blister-preventative party. The socks feel durable too, while hugging the foot for gentle compression.
And they’re available in a range of colours — we’re partial to the blue grey — as well as men’s sizes. Also available as crew socks for men and crew socks for women.
A staple of any ‘best socks’ list, the Hidden Comfort from US brand Balega is a big hit with the RW team. They’re super soft and stretchy, but amazingly resist slipping when they’re on your foot.
While the bottom is cushioned, the top is nearly see through so you’ll stay cool on any run. If you’re a fan of hidden trainer socks, these are super low-cut so barely peak out of your shoe, and they’re available in black, grey and white, or a find a range of colours here.
This classic 3/4-crew-length pair from veteran Irish sock brand Bridgedale are perfect for off-road running. The merino wool is not only supremely soft, it’s anti-bacterial, fast-drying (great for when you’ve just splashed straight through a massive puddle) and durable enough for many a long day in the hills.
They come in women’s sizes too, or as an ankle version with added ‘Coolmax’ tech to ensure feet stay dry and don’t overheat.
We’re not sure that staying odour-free is the prime concern during a marathon, but it’s good to know the Polygiene treatment in these socks provides the service. What’s more impressive about these is the comfort, the cushioning and the ventilation.
Available in a range of colours, plus this grey/green design.
We recently tested a pair of lightweight run socks from US outdoor specialists Darn Tough, with great results. The merino wool feels cushioned without being too hot thanks to a breathable upper and they didn’t slip at all during the run.
We also like the fact they come in distinctive colours, making it easier to pick them out in a pile of laundry on run day! They also stock great lightweight no-show socks in men’s and women’s sizes.
Whether you’re looking for hidden, ankle or simply stylish running socks, Stance has it covered. Typical of the brand’s style, these are technically excellent, with targeted leg compression to boost blood flow and a reflective logo for increased visibility.
They also have reinforced toe and heel sections for improved durability, and stock both men’s and women’s sizes.
These run socks from Falke, while not as stretchy as some, are made with cooling polyester yarns for comfortable temperatures as you clock up the miles. With medium cushioning across the sole and heel, a flexible ribbed ankle, breathable upper and cooling channels on the sole (which incidentally also aid grip), they’re packed with thoughtful features to ensure the only thing on your mind is smashing that PB. They also have handy left and right markers on each sock.
Available in two colours as well as men’s sizes.
Yes, we’ll admit, toe socks look ridiculous. But, here’s a little secret: nobody sees them when they’re inside your shoe doing exactly what they’re supposed to – preventing blisters. The Liner sock maximises blister protection, which (in case you didn’t know) is what you need when you’re running a marathon.
Also available in amethyst in medium and large, or try the mini crew and no-show lengths.
These run socks by British insole brand Enertor are among the most breathable we’ve tested, keeping our feet fresh and cool across various distances. They’ve a snug, comfortable fit that snaps to your foot and front and back tabs for full ankle protection from rubbing shoes.
A seamless toe box minimises chafe and while they’re not cushioned, they do have ‘NanoGLIDE’ tech, which reduces abrasions and the chance of blisters.
All this aside, the people at Enertor claim that thanks to a special energy converting yarn, these running socks can boost performance. Honestly, we’re not sure we can vouch for that, but Usain Bolt does wear their insoles, so who are we to say…
These are as good as you’d expect from a company that only makes socks. They’re lightly padded enough to do the job for anything up to half marathon distance, and the toe section is seamless to help reduce friction.
Also available in high top stripe black, as well as in quarter length.
This funky pair from On feel supportive and lightweight yet still luxuriously thick underfoot. They’re available in three lengths and some seriously cool colour combinations to suit every style of runner, plus they have the same great socks specifically for women too.
When it comes to waterproofing, these socks are not messing around. They come with a hydrostatic head (HH) rating (the measurement used to determine how much water pressure waterproof materials can take before they leak) of 20,000. Which is high, by the way.
But there’s no need to be worried about sweaty feet – these socks feature a unique membrane that draws moisture away from the feet, allowing skin to breathe comfortably. And there’s merino wool in the inner layer to keep chills at bay.
The best compression socks for runners
While the science on wearing compression socks during a run is inconclusive, research has found that compression socks can help recovery. If you’re looking for a pair to have in your kit bag on race day, here are a few worth investing in:
These compression socks are super comfortable with great protection around the toe and heel for years of recovery-boosting wear. They’re anti-blister too, in case you do want to wear them running, and the compression is graduated to boost circulation. Available in seven colours.
Stick these on after training to speed up recovery. The graduated compression improves blood flow to fatigued muscles and helps flush out lactic acid, and the underfoot section is padded to make your post-long-run hobble that bit comfier.
The jury is out on whether compression adds benefit during exercise but if you’re a fan, these are the best you can get. The compression is firm but not confining, they don’t lose shape in the wash and the toe area offers seamless comfort. They stock the same socks for women too.