It's easy to dismiss the importance of good running socks. Is there really any difference between the everyday cotton sock and running socks? The short answer is, yes.
We've all done it. An unexpected free hour in your day allows you to fit in a short run. You quickly change into shorts and t-shirt, find your running shoes and pull them on before heading out the door. Later, as you rub your tired achy feet, don't be too quick to blame your running shoes. Did you run in the cotton socks you'd been wearing all day to save those vital minutes for your run? Your everyday socks may be the source of your pain.
Not all socks are created equal
Selecting the right running socks is just as important as choosing the right shoes when it comes to comfort and performance.
Running is an activity that involves repetitive stress and impact. Even if you have the right running shoes on your feet, you are likely to experience hotspots, blisters and poor arch support if you don’t have good running socks to match.
You wouldn’t drive your car with the wrong tyres now, would you?!
The key features of technical running socks
Running socks come in various different styles, colours and cushioning thicknesses. The type of sock you choose depends on your personal preferences and running needs.
Natural fibres like cotton or wool tend to hold moisture next to the skin and increase friction, causing nagging blisters and other nasties such as bruises and black toenails. Technical running socks made of synthetic fibres wick sweat away from the skin and help prevent blisters.
Most brands combine polyester and nylon to design their socks. Because they are chemically created, these synthetic fibres can be specifically engineered to feature desired properties (breathability, durability, weight, resistance to abrasion, etc.). Sock brands will use different blends to manufacture their products.
Most running socks are anatomically shaped i.e. specifically shaped for left and right feet. The custom-like design of running socks allows a perfect fit around the foot, with targeted compression for better comfort and support.
Different levels of cushioning
Running socks come in various thicknesses and levels of cushioning. Thicker socks typically have extra padding in the heel and toes for superior underfoot comfort, high cushioning and blister protection; while thinner socks offer a lightweight and barely-there feel, ideal for hotter seasons or those prone to hot or perspiring feet.
Running socks come in various lengths too – so you can opt for a length and style best suited to the weather conditions, terrain, training intensity and your own personal preferences. The main lengths are:
- Socklet – these come just above the shoe line
- Anklet – these come just above the ankle
- Crew length – these come up to the calf
- Knee length – typically compression socks, which come up to the knee to cover the entire calf
As for running shoes, there isn’t one best brand; it’s all about personal preference! Depending on the surface you run on, weather conditions or your foot shape, you may find that one brand or one style suits you better.
At Run4It we have a wide variety of brands, with something for everyone.
Balega use Mohair in their socks, a natural fibre obtained from the hair of the Angora goat. Blended with other synthetic fibres, Balega socks feel very cushioned and soft against the skin.
Feetures use branded Lycra to support the arch of each foot and come in 3 thicknesses from ultra light to max cushion.
Founded by Ron Hill, Hilly are best known for their Twin Skin, a double layer design to help provide extra protection against friction on the feet. We also stock their Marathon Fresh sock, which thanks to the anti-bacterial treatment Polygiene, does not need to be washed after every run!
2XU (Two Times You) is an Australian manufacturer of world leading high performance compression products. Their Vectr socks are mainly made of Nylon and also feature Polygiene. Their popularity comes from the additional compression benefits: the X-LOCK structure helps with proprioceptive arch stabilisation, improved coordination and blood circulation in the foot.
Nike's Spark Lightweight Socks are Breaking2 inspired (the project by Nike in 2016 which saw 3 Nike athletes attempt to break the 2 hour marathon). They provide an almost barefoot feel thanks to their snug fit and a triangular underfoot arch pattern supports the medial and lateral sides for great comfort.
Functional, stylish and Swiss-engineered, On socks are designed for the real demands of the run. They keep you dry when the intensity increases and keep you warm when the temperatures drop, combining a polyamide and elastane blend with technical mesh panelling to keep foot temperature in perfect balance. On socks also feature a pattern at the arch which triggers sensory receptors to prime your feet for the run!
Compression socks and calf sleeves (or calf guards) help prevent excessive damage to the calves by stabilising them and reducing repeated muscle vibration, which is directly related to causing fatigue, muscle damage and shin splints.
You can use compression socks before, during or after a run. Proven to improve circulation, increase blood flow (which helps clear lactic acid build up) and improve your overall recovery they're great option to enhance your post-run recovery.
We'd advise you to use compression calf guards only during a run. If used when inactive, the blood circulation to the foot won't be as efficient as with compression socks. The good thing about calf guards though is that you can still wear your favourite running socks with them!
For more information and advice on compression read: The science behind compression clothing for running.