Whether you’re an ultra-runner or you dabble in a weekly park run, the best compression socks for running could help you run better and recover faster. Studies have shown that slipping into the right pair of socks can help your muscles work harder for longer and repair faster after a run. So if you want those kind of marginal gains, here are the best pairs to put on your feet right now.
Apart from helping your lower legs feel more oxygenated during your runs, compression socks for running can also hold your ankle in a firmer position, reducing the risk of ankle sprains. This doesn't mean you can just forget paying attention to your running technique, but a bit of extra protection never hurts.
Incidentally, if you want something less compressing for your feet, we also have a guide to the best running socks, sport socks that provide less or no compression at all. Complete your running gear by getting the best running shoes (or the best women's running shoes, specifically), the best headphones for running and best running watch too. Or just have a gander. Up to you.
How to buy the best compression socks for running and sports
There are a few important things to consider before buying a pair of compression socks. Not least of which is what they actually are and how they work.
The idea of compression socks is that they act as an extra layer of protection on the body, applying pressure to specific areas to help the return of blood back to the heart. This allegedly has the side-effect of lowering lactic acid production and even increasing VO2 max.
What does that mean for us? Well, in addition to making your lower legs look extra colourful, compression socks make blood flow more efficiently – it's the same reason people wear them during flights, to help prevent DVT (or deep vein thrombosis).
Most socks apply what we call gradient pressure, which means less pressure is applied to the leg the higher up you get. However, because different people have different shaped legs and feet, as well as different levels of circulation, you need to look for socks that apply pressure at the right level, to the areas that are going to help you.
The level of compression varies too. If a brand lists the grade of compression (rated in mmHg) it’s a good sign you’re getting real compression rather than something that’s just a bit tighter. Many brands don’t provide this information
You’ll find a range of different fabrics. Some will combine compression with thermal layering to keep your feet warm, others use moisture wicking technology to do the opposite. So it’s important to think about when and where you’re most likely to use them.
It’s also worth thinking about thickness and how they’re going to feel in your running shoes. All the compression in the world won’t help you if you’ve got blisters because your shoe-sock combo has eaten up all the wiggle room for your toes.
To get the best fit, measure your calf circumference at its widest, you will need this number (in either centimetres or inches) to find the best fitting compression sock for your legs.
The best compression socks for running, in order
2XU have long been one of the leaders in compression gear. That’s because they pack an enormous amount into their products. With support specifically designed for plantar fascia, arch and ankle optimisation along with blister prevention, cushioning to support push off and heel impact as well as antibacterial and anti-odour technology, you can see why the Vectr Cushion socks are a great option if you want to tick all imaginable compression-related boxes.
If you care about the planet as much as your feet, you should get Rockay socks. The Rockay Vigor, for example, not only applies ample amount of pressure in all the right areas (graduated compression 16-23 mmHg) but it's also made using Econyl Regenerated Nylon yarns. These yarns are made of recycled ocean plastic and therefore super sustainable.
Another technology is used in the Rockay Vigor Compression Socks to aid sustainability: the Polygiene treated socks need less washing as long as they are laid out to dry in between use. Polygiene absorbs odour-causing bacteria and as long as the socks are dry, it will do it's job. Less washing = more environmentally friendly socks.
The Rockay Vigor Graduated Compression Socks' compression level is on the tight side, but not in a bad way. They are also on the high side of the scale so the socks run all the way up to knee-high. Despite offering loads of compression, the Vigor still has breathable mesh zones for extra breathability. These socks really have it all.
Developed specifically for runners, the CEP Run Socks 3.0 has improved on all features, compared to its previous iteration: the improved compression profile gets less tight the further up you go, holding the feet/ankles the most.
It also has improved moisture management thanks to the Feran ICP finish that promotes moisture wicking. Coupled up with a breathable running shoe, like the On Cloudflow 2019, the CEP Run Socks 3.0 can effectively keep your feet dry.
Comfort is further enhanced using the Smart Dry Yarn and HeiQ smart temp technology that will keep the feet insulated yet cool. The CEP Run Socks 3.0 are made of 85% polyamide and 15% spandex so this is not a merino wool garment but these socks will make your feet feel fresh nevertheless, mile after mile.
The CEP Run Socks 3.0 also uses filament fibres for improved durability. The only downside of these otherwise excellent socks is the price: premium features still come at a premium price, unfortunately.
Do you prefer even compression all the way through your knee-high compression socks, not the gradual compression variety? Are you looking for stabilisation and improved blood flow? Do you need those calves to ready for a sprint, even after running a 10k?
If the answers to the above questions are a resounding yes, then you'd love the Swiftwick Aspire 12. Swiftwick socks are renowned for their moisture-management and sweat-wicking properties – hence the name 'Swiftwick' – and the Aspire 12 indeed does a food job in removing the sweat away from your lower legs.
Thanks to the very firm compression the Swiftwick Aspire 12 provides, these socks can efficiently reduce fatigue and improve performance, although given the high pressure in the socks, people who haven't used compression socks before might find it a bit too tight.
The Swiftwick Aspire 12 is especially recommended for long distance running and even for non-performance related activities too, like flying.
The Runderwear Compression Socks for running use graduated compression from the foot upwards to help stimulate blood flow which aids fast recovery and increases performance - ideal for distances up to ultra marathon.
These socks also provide excellent support and have a highly-moisture wicking technical fabric for added comfort.
Most compression wear is designed to help circulation throughout the body, but the Falke Impulse also aim to help influence your overall posture. Whether you pronate or supinate, the socks boast targeted sensors that stimulate receptors under the skin that can influence the way you run. Nodules on the sole of the foot work to correct your overall posture, while those on the outer calf protect against supination and pronation. They also have humidity regulation, fast drying and support for optimum comfort. A premium option, in every sense.
X-Bionic, the team behind X-Socks, are masters at creating technical fabrics for temperature control so it’s no surprise that this sock – with medium level graduated compression from ankle to knee – is a good all-rounder with a clever cooling design that pays particular attention to increasing air flow through the fabric. Perfect for runners who suffer from sweaty feet or mainly run in hot conditions, if you can cut the moisture in the sock you reduce the blister risk.
As well as having a good level of cushioning in the areas that you need it, the range comes in an impressive selection of colours that should fit any run club/race kit you need to colour-match.
Unless all your running socks are compression socks, chances are the ones you invest in are going to see a lot of miles, which could make for some smelly footwear. Vitalsox want to prevent that unpleasantness, with DryStat fabric that inhibits the bacteria growth that causes those nasty odours.
Unlike other socks, the compression also starts at the foot and not the ankle, with varied level of pressure across the sock to maximise circulation benefits across the whole of your lower limb. They also don’t require you to measure your calf for perfect fit, thanks to a four-way stretch fabric that accommodates all runners.