Even in a sport as simple as running, it’s easy to get carried away with gear. Yet one of the most vital pieces of running gear is, likely, the cheapest: socks.
Socks may be one of the least-visible pieces of your running kit, and as a result they are often overlooked. But anyone who has ever had blistered or chafed feet can attest that a good sock is a necessity.
So, what exactly makes a good sock? Here’s our breakdown.
Why Are Socks So Important?
The main purpose of running socks is to protect your feet against blisters, which form because of friction between your foot and your shoe (the top layer of skin separates from deeper layers, and the space in between fills with fluid). Socks provide a cushioned layer between your skin and the rough interior of the shoe.
Just as important: socks wick moisture to help keep your feet dry, to further prevent blisters. A wet sock is useless because a) wet skin is more prone to blister formation, and b) wet socks are more abrasive and create more friction.
Blisters aside, socks can also add a bit of extra support to fatigue-prone areas of the feet, through compression and cushion.
What to look for in a technical running sock
Fit / Think of socks like your skin— you don’t want any wrinkles or loose, saggy bits. A loose-fitting sock will likely breed blisters and discomfort.
Cushion / Cushion can help absorb impact forces. Most good running socks lay the cushioning out in specific, high-impact areas like the heel and the ball of the foot. How much or little cushion you prefer is entirely a personal choice.
Thickness / You may prefer a thicker sock in cold weather, or for long runs that involve a lot of pounding. A thinner sock might work best in warmer temps or on particularly wet runs. Our advice: try out a few different styles and figure out what works best for you in various conditions.
Materials / Any running sock worth its salt will be made of some kind of wicking material—either synthetic fibers like nylon or polyester, or natural fibers like merino wool—that carries moisture away from your skin as you sweat, and dries quickly.
Seams / Before committing to a pair of socks, try them on to make sure they don’t have any seams that will rub you the wrong way.
Support / Do your arches get tired? Do your ankles swell in the heat? Foot-mapping and compression materials, placed strategically throughout some socks, can help add support and promote blood flow to fatigued muscles.
Blisters: How to manage them
The most important part of blister prevention is keeping your feet cool and dry. Warm and/or wet skin is much more susceptible to blistering. If you know you tend to get blisters in a certain area, cover the area with medical tape or duct tape to proactively protect against rubbing.
Treating hot spots
An area that is on its way to becoming a blister is called a hot spot. These areas may look red or feel tender or irritated to the touch. Apply lubricant to reduce the friction and prevent the hot spot from worsening into a blister. Also consider drying your feet and changing into fresh socks.
Opinions range on whether or not to pop a blister. Often, during a race or long run, it is best to pop the blister in a clean and controlled way, rather than risking infection if it pops in your shoe and gets dirty. Use an alcohol swab to clean the blistered area. Poke a small hole in the blister with a sterile needle and squeeze out the fluid. Leave the skin flap of the drained blister intact, as it will help to protect the area while new skin grows underneath. Bandage the blister before putting your shoe back on, so dirt can’t get in. If you don’t want to pop your blister, consider creating a raised ring of Moleskin around it, to prevent more rubbing.