There are so many different features to be aware of when buying running socks (trail running included), and brands will often have their own unique selling point which helps their socks stand out from the competition.
While researching which socks to buy, you’ve probably seen words like compression, cushioning, moisture-wicking, breathability, and more being used, and on top of that, you will have also noticed that there are usually different lengths and thickness options to choose from too.
All the options can ultimately lead to overwhelm and at the end of the day, the best running socks for one person may not work for another so it’s important to do your own research and follow trusted recommendations (like these) as a starting point.
This buyer’s guide features the best running socks for men and women, which are all high-quality running socks for wearing on the roads and trail runs.
For additional help on how to choose the best running socks for you, we’ve included an informational section, right after our list of recommendations.
Overall Best Running Socks
Swiftwick Flite XT Trail [$24]
The Swiftwick Flite XT Trail socks have been designed to provide your feet with advanced stability on uneven terrain – and they do just that with plenty of comfort underfoot. These are currently my favorite socks for running right now!
Not only are they the best socks for trail running, I also wear them for my road running sessions too!
The Flite XT Trail features AnkleLock Technology that supports your ankles and GripDry™ Fiber in the heel and forefoot to keep you stable within your shoes.
Merino wool naturally moves moisture away from your feet while also regulating temperature – which is why we love it so much.
It can keep your feet cool in the heat and warm as it gets colder, staying dry and comfortable for your entire journey, no matter the elevation gain – which is usually a lot in our case. The Flite XT Trail is available in two different cuff heights, 2 and 5 inches.
Best No Show Running Socks
Feetures Running Socks – Elite Light Cushion No Show Tab [$18]
The Feetures Elite Light Cushion No Show socks are my second favorite choice, and deservedly won our Editor’s Choice Award for Best No Show Running Socks. They’re some of the most comfortable running socks I’ve worn.
These tab no-show socks have been designed with an anatomical fit and targeted compression, which provides a fit that almost custom, and a reduced risk of blisters because of it. They make great trail running socks and so are a personal favorite.
I particularly like that Feetures’ light cushioning doesn’t take up any unnecessary room inside your running shoes, which can sometimes lead to the shoes feeling too tight.
There’s just enough cushioning under the heel, forefoot, and toe regions with more around the Achilles heel area.
In the remaining areas is structured, directional compression which supports regions like the arches and the top of your feet. There are also no seams around the toes which makes them very comfortable as your toes splay and flex while running.
This applies to all their styles of socks that I have worn for running over the years, like the crew version, pictured.
The socks are made with 95% Nylon and 5% Spandex which is able to wick moisture away from your feet and toes to keep them cool, dry, and hopefully blister-free.
Best Merino Wool Blend Running Socks
Darn Tough Ultra-Light Cushion Running Socks [$17]
Darn Tough socks are incredibly soft and form-fitting. These socks are seamless too which gives a very comfortable feel on your foot with no risk of rubbing, and hence no blisters.
I tested their Vertex No-Show Tab socks on various trail runs including a grueling 35km trail race where it was raining throughout. My feet had been in so much water for so much of my race, yet my feet were immaculate by the end of it.
There’s also a nice soft layer of cushioning along the bottom of the sock for extra protection when running long distances.
The fit is excellent with no bunching anywhere to be seen. You may think a material that stretches so much would feel tight on the foot but it doesn’t.
I should also mention that the other 95% of these Darn Tough socks consist of 50% Merino wool and 45% Nylon.
I’m a fan of Merino wool for its ability to keep you cool in warm weather and warm in cool weather while maintaining breathability.
I was very impressed with how quickly the socks began to dry out every time I was done with a wet section of the course during the race mentioned above, this is a testament to their sweat-wicking capability.
I finished that wet race with feet that felt good, which is saying something after everything I put them through, this has much to do with the breathability properties of Merino Wool.
Smartwool Performance Run Socks [$18]
Smartwool also makes some excellent Merino wool blend socks for running. Smartwool Performance socks feature lightweight cushioning in the ball and heel of the foot for shock absorption with minimal in-shoe volume.
These ankle socks also have foot-contoured mesh ventilation zones on the top section which help with breathability and also wick sweat away from your feet.
They also have a virtually seamless toe box for extra toe comfort while running, and compression where it’s needed, in the arch zone.
The no-show style has a tab at the back too, designed to keep the socks from falling down and to give additional cushion to your Achilles.
PhD is Smartwool’s high-performance line of products built to perform to the highest degree so you can imagine, how much testing and iterations have gone into these socks, one of Smartwool’s best sellers.
They are made in the USA with 56% Merino Wool (imported), 41% Nylon, 3% Elastane in a patent-pending construction method for exceptional durability and comfort.
If you’re looking for longer-length running socks, Smartwool also sell a range of other lengths including 1/4, crew and calf height Merino running socks – see the range available below.
Best Cushioned Running Socks
Balega Hidden Comfort & Enduro V-Tech Running Socks [$18]
The Balega Hidden Comfort socks offer comfortable cushioning, excellent performance, and durability; these are features that make them a great choice for ultrarunners.
These Balega socks are made with extra-fine yarn that gives a plush protective cushion without added bulk.
We’re also big fans of the very popular Balega Endura V-Tech socks, which also offer a comfortable balance of cushioning and soft, unrestrictive material.
Balega uses their proprietary synthetic Drynamix moisture-wicking fibers with reinforced microfiber mesh ventilation panels to keep your feet dry and cool while also allowing for some level of breathability.
All Balega toe seams offer seam-free comfort, which provides an added level of confidence with the reduced risk of blisters.
If you choose the no-show variety, the heel tab at the rear is extra padded which helps prevent the sock from slipping into your shoe if that’s ever an issue for your feet.
Best Range of Colors and Styles
Stance Running Socks
Stance running socks are known for their wide range of jazzy and bright patterns for both their men’s and women’s socks, although they also offer some more muted and understated designs.
Many of the Stance running sock styles are made with FEEL360, which is their exclusive fiber treatment that reacts to your body’s temperature and eliminates odor-causing bacteria as it wicks away moisture to keep you feeling fresh and dry while running.
The material’s construction is also very good at regulating the temperature of your feet.
I love the longer tab on the ‘tab’ style, it makes them easy to adjust with a quick pull and there’s enough space on them for a reflective Stance logo, which will help you be seen when running in the dark.
The sock material is lightweight with good padding in all the right places including the toe box and heel areas.
Like with all the socks on this list, there’s mesh on the top for improved breathability performance to keep your feet cool and dry.
This also helps the socks drain if they get wet during a downpour or a river crossing. Other features include a seamless toe box and compression in the arch for added support.
Best Toe Socks for Running
Injinji Run Lightweight Running Socks – NuWool [$17]
Injinji is probably the best known toe sock-focused brand out there. If you haven’t tried toe socks before, you must, because these Injinji socks may be just what you need.
Now, they aren’t for everyone but many swear by them, and I enjoy wearing my Injinjis too. My current favorite styles are the Injinji Ultra Run Tab and Mini-Crew socks but really if you like this style then any of their run-specific socks are great.
So, what are the pros and cons of wearing this sock style for running? Well, the key benefit of wearing them is that you shouldn’t get toe blisters while running, provided you have a good pair of trail shoes that fit, and of course, the socks fit you properly too.
The downside is that they take a little longer to put on, a small caveat if they prevent blisters for you though.
The reason for such good blister prevention is because each toe is protected with its own glove-like sock, which wicks sweat/moisture away from your toes and there’s no way for your toes to rub against each other because of the material separating them.
You can find these toe socks in lightweight no-show styles, as well as regular and mini crew lengths.
Best Compression Socks for Running
Swiftwick Aspire Running Socks [$20]
Compression socks can really help with swelling and reducing fatigue, especially in the arch area if you feel you could benefit from the added arch support but don’t want to wear running insoles in your running shoes.
Wearing compression socks when you’re running also help to provide stability and comfort for your feet when you have shoes on – and so are especially beneficial for longer endurance running efforts.
Swiftwick’s Aspire socks are thin socks that are breathable, with firm compression and light cushioning. They’re available in the full range of lengths from no-show through ankle socks, crew and over-the-calf knee high socks styles, with the Swiftwick Aspire Zero being the most popular with people who like the no-show sock look.
My personal favorite is the Aspire Four (crew / ankle length) which is great when you want ankle protection and support for trail running over long distances.
We also love that these Swiftwick socks are available in a wide range of colors as well as lengths.
Running socks buyer’s guide
As runners, it’s important to look after your feet so they can carry you happily for many miles of running, and a good pair of sweat-wicking, breathable socks is just as important as choosing the right running shoes for you, your feet and your style of running.
Hopefully, the recommendations in this post will narrow down your choice of which socks to buy.
Key features of great socks for running
The socks on this list all meet the criteria outlined below. For a pair of socks to be great for running, they must:
be comfortable – whether you run ultra marathons or fast-paced 5ks, on roads or on trails, it’s important to have socks that are comfortable to wear for the duration.
If you’re not feeling comfortable while doing the thing you love, then something’s going wrong somewhere.
be sweat-wicking and help prevent blisters – sweat is a big contributor to blisters formation.
Blisters are usually caused by friction, whether that’s from your sweaty toes rubbing against one another, your feet slipping around in a badly fitting shoe, or a poorly designed shoe digging into your feet causing a pressure point.
Performance socks can help with the first and second one of those causes.
We have some great articles on blister prevention if you’re currently suffering from them and want to read our tips on treating them.
be breathable – there’s nothing worse than overheating feet. With all the work that your feet have to do while running, there’s no surprise that they heat up over time, especially seeing as they’re encased in your shoes, that themselves have varying degrees of breathability.
As your blood circulates, the heat from your feet travels right the way through your body, which can have a detrimental effect on your overall energy levels and perceived state of mind.
This is why so often during a mountain trail ultra marathon I find myself soaking my feet (shoes and all) in streams, rivers, or puddles, and minutes later I have a new lease on life and can continue to the finish line feeling refreshed.
have sufficient cushioning – cushioning in the places that receive the most force/pressure makes all the difference to overall comfort but also the durability of your socks.
have some degree of compression/support – compression in the right places adds support to your feet and the muscles that get you where you’re trying to go.
Be lightweight. Nobody wants to run in a chunky sock, so go for a lightweight sock – which will be the case if you choose any pair on this list.
All of the above means that to be suitable for running, the socks have the following 4 features in common:
- Fabric – Be made from breathable, sweat-wicking fabric. For this reason, most of the best running socks are made from fabrics that have these properties, including merino wool, polyester and wool blends. Whatever you do, steer clear of wearing cotton socks (or any cotton apparel for running, for that matter), as cotton is notoriously bad for retaining moisture.
- Fit – Stretch and fit snugly around your feet so they don’t move around
- Toe seam – Have minimal seams, or be ‘seam-free’ to reduce the possibility of seams rubbing when you run
- Sizes – Come in a good range of sizes for both men and women, to ensure you can find a pair to fit comfortably.
Different styles of socks for running
Socks designed for running come in a wide range of different men’s and women’s styles. The main variations you’ll come across are:
LENGTHS – from ‘no-show’ tab socks to ankle length, crew, over-the-calf and knee-high varieties.
No-show tab socks are very popular with road runners and for summer running when you’re wearing shorts or a running skirt. For trail running, tab socks can be fine but more prone to allowing trail debris to enter your sock around the ankle.
For this reason, crew and ankle socks are popular among trail runners who also appreciate the added protection around the ankles. Some people also swear by knee high socks, which are also an option offered by most brands
CUSHIONING – from light cushion socks (or ‘minimal’ socks) to thicker socks with extra cushioning. Cushioning can help prevent any light rubbing that may happen within your shoes as you run, as well as generally aiding the comfort of your feet when running, especially over longer distances.
If you are a trail runner and wear crew, mini-crew (also known as quarter socks) or ankle socks, these can also help protect your lower legs and ankles from trail debris, scratches and picking up hitchhikers such as ticks when you brush past grasses, for example.
However, too much cushioning can make the socks warmer to wear, and may make your shoes fit too tight because your socks are thicker, so a thin sock may be a good choice if your shoes are already pretty snug on your feet.
A thicker sock will also take longer to dry out. For these reasons, generally, it’s best to stick with a thinner sock, which has the ‘middle’ level of sock cushioning – nothing too thick or padded, and nothing too minimal.
COMPRESSION – most running sock styles have a degree of light compression, which means that they fit snugly on your feet but don’t actually compress them.
At the other end of the spectrum, you can buy dedicated compression socks, which may be useful for running in warmer climates or longer ultra distances where your feet and lower legs may be more likely to swell – compression socks can help reduce how much this happens.
TOE SOCKS – such as those sold by sock brand Injinji are gaining popularity among runners, especially those who have had issues with their toes rubbing on each other within the running sock, when they run.
As toe socks have fabric between each toe, this prevents your toes from rubbing against one another. They’re also popular among zero-drop barefoot-style runners who like to allow their toes to splay out within the shoe, but still want the added comfort benefits of wearing socks in their running shoe.
DOUBLE LAYERED socks for blister prevention – if you struggle with blisters on your feet when running, you may consider trying a double layered running sock and seeing if that helps.
With that said, generally, if you’re turning to this style then you’re treating a symptom rather than the cause of the blisters themselves, so we would suggest instead looking at your other running gear and style of running – and see if this post which considers gait as a cause of blisters can help you get to (and fix) the root cause of the problem.
MEN’S AND WOMEN’S SOCKS FOR RUNNING – in our experience, all the best running sock brands sell men’s and women’s sizes and styles, and it’s best from a sizing perspective to choose the sock that suits your size the best.
With that said, we don’t find there to be much difference between men’s and women’s sock fits, so it doesn’t matter all that much if you want a particular design, for example, that’s marketed at the other gender.
What to do if you get blisters from running
As mentioned above, you may be reading this post because you’re looking for ways to stop getting blisters when running – and making sure you’re wearing the right socks is definitely one of the first things to consider.
If you experience blisters from running, on a recurring basis, it’s worth also walking yourself through some ‘diagnostics’ to work out what the cause of the blisters is. Read this post to learn more about the causes of running blisters and how to fix them.
So I bought the feetures on your recommendation, but they completely show while I wear shoes. I personally don’t understand how a product can label itself no show and be an ankle sock. Why would you put these in this category if you tried them out?
All running socks labelled ‘no-show’ tab have a visible rear tab and frontage – this is to stop chaffing from your shoes when you run. A badly chosen name for a product, I agree – but that’s what it is. I wear these socks all the time, and they belong in the no-show category because they’re no-show tab running socks.
It sounds like you’re looking for ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ running socks. I wouldn’t recommend running in that style personally though, as you’ll open yourself up to the possibility of blisters.