Get access to everything we publish when you sign up for Outside+.
Socks are a highly personal choice in running. Do you prefer a super-padded version to avoid blisters, or something so thin you can feel every groove in the bottom of your shoes? Do you like knee-high compression for stability or no-show ankle socks to feel the breeze along your calves?
For as many runner preferences as there are out there, there’s a sock option. Our team tested a full slate of options and recorded what they liked and what they didn’t. The result is this comprehensive list. No matter what you like in a sock, we’ve got a recommendation for you.
Pros: Stance’s fabric is seamless and super light, and these crew socks are tall enough to protect you from scratches and debris. The fabric is breathable in hot weather and won’t bunch up in your shoe, and the seamless design means no blisters.
Cons: These socks are probably too light for extremely cold or wet weather. With minimal padding in the toe and heel, they may not keep feet warm enough when temperatures really dip.
Bonus: If you like expressing your personality through your socks, start here. Their brand collaborations and pop culture options are unmatched, from Star Wars and the Avengers to Dr. Seuss and holiday themes.
Pros: These babies are tough as nails and evenly padded for great support in all terrain. Their wool blend material kept our testers’ feet extra warm in temperatures well below freezing while maximizing moisture control. The top cuff is just snug enough to keep them from sliding down, and their height is ideal for covering up that pesky strip of ankle skin above the top of your shoe. Testers also found they worked great in hiking boots, making them a versatile choice.
Cons: The extra padding and durable material could be too thick for some shoes, especially if you like to race in a snugger fit. They’re also on the expensive end of the sock spectrum.
Pros: These socks from Smartwool have a great balance of padding and warmth without being too much. Our testers found that some other options from the brand simply had too much “fluff,” dulling the feel of technical terrain and sometimes slipping in their shoes. The Everyday Crew struck the right balance. (As a note, they aren’t specifically designed for running performance, but Smartwool has tons of options for run-specific socks. We just loved these ones!)
Cons: If worn in muddy, snowy or rainy weather, testers found they got heavy and could lead to hot spots or blisters.
Bonus: Smartwool’s sock finder will help you narrow down the best option for you with just a few questions.
$48 for 2 pairs
Pros: Like the name implies, Darn Tough makes socks that can hold up to mountainous scree and the gnarliest bushes, gravel and brambles. Ribbing all the way up the ankle means they stay exactly where they’re meant to be.
Cons: Testers found the material less soft and cushy than some other options, making these a great choice when technical performance is the number one priority, but less effective for post-run foot pampering.
Pros: These socks are an affordable and sleek option for racing. Our team found them a great fit for fast, less-technical terrain or speed workouts on the track or road. They’re ideal for athletes who don’t like taller socks, providing a no-show option that won’t slip down into your shoes. Minimal cushioning gives a better ability to feel shoes and terrain.
Cons: These socks are very light, so don’t wear them with brand new shoes or race in them without testing them out first. If you get debris in your shoes, you’ll probably feel it through these socks.
Bonus: Balega has a commitment to using their profits for good: they support both local and international humanitarian efforts benefiting individuals with disabilities, veterans, and other marginalized groups.
Pros: These super snug compression socks give great support during races, and their practicality extends to pre-race travel and post-race recovery. Our assistant editor found that they helped her frequently-rolled ankles feel less painful and more supported both during and post-run. One of the more expensive options, they’re also durable (members of our team have pairs they’ve kept for almost a decade.)
Cons: Compression isn’t for everyone, and if you aren’t a fan, you’ll likely find these too snug.
Bonus: they have a store finder to help you find local retailers of their products!
RELATED: Should I Wear Compression Gear?
Pros: A perfect anatomical wrap around the foot and ankle and an affordable option. One of those pairs of socks you find yourself rifling around in your sock drawer to find because they just feel so right and breathable. The seams are placed strategically so as to not cause any unsavory rubbing.
Cons: Durability was an issue, due to them being quite minimal. Holes developed in the toe sooner than we’d hoped.
Pros: Okay, so these aren’t exclusively designed for high performance trail running, but they are incredibly versatile across multiple disciplines and have become one of our favorite socks. Ever. Using responsibly-sourced wool and Patagonia’s highest standards of production, these socks remain extremely durable and take a ton of use before they start smelling funny. Bottom line: If we only wore one pair of socks for the rest of our lives, these would be a strong contender.
Cons: For warmer weather, these might be too toasty. Since they aren’t specifically running-designed, be sure to test them in long runs or workouts before racing in them, as they might not deliver cushion exactly where you want it.
At Trail Runner, we have a policy of showing no preference based on brand in our gear testing. We are not compensated by brands for testing or consideration, and we do not guarantee inclusion of a product in our coverage. Our testers live in the Rocky Mountain west and are both recreational and competitive runners. This list includes gear that we receive from brands for testing as well as our own personal favorites from decades of running.