Everything you need to know about buying running socks

Thick or thin? When should you use compression socks? How can I eliminate odours? Find out all this and more with our guide to the joy of sox

Everything you need to know about buying running socks
(Image credit: CEP)

Like all of your kit, running socks are now so packed full of technology it can be hard to know what type to invest in. We look at some of the features you should be looking for, and why

It wasn’t that long ago when investing in a pair of Ron Hill socks that cost more than £5 not only made you feel like a pro, but would give you a high-end product to show the rest of the world you were a ‘real’ runner.

The technology in the best socks for running has moved on dramatically over the last 10 years. Now you can consider whether you want thick or thin socks, natural fibres or synthetic, compression, seamless or waterproof socks. Buying your running socks has become so much more complicated. To help you, we aim to bust some of the myths around the best socks to buy and arm you with all the best information to keep your feet dry, warm, odour-free, supported, and of course, comfortable.

Unlike your trainers, which will tend to be a half or full size larger than your foot size, to allow your feet to expand as they get hot, you’ll want to buy socks that fit your feet. This is crucial to ensure your feet remain free of the uncomfortable chafing that can quickly become unbearable blisters, especially during longer runs and marathons. Running in socks that are too small or too large will end in tears, literally.

Caring for your socks

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

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If you’re spending up to £20 or more on one item of clothing for your training you want it to last as long as possible. Avoid putting your socks in the tumble dryer so they don’t shrink, and don’t use fabric conditioner when you wash them as this clogs the material, reducing breathability. Try not to wear your running socks all day every day, despite how comfortable they feel. This will make them wear out quicker. Socks that are slightly more expensive, with thicker padded zones around the heel and toe box, will be more durable.

Breathability is key

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

(Image credit: Future)

One sure way to reduce the chance of hotspots and blisters is to invest in socks made from a breathable fabric that quickly wicks away your sweat, as well as keeping your skin dry. Cotton socks won’t do this. Extra padding in key areas (toes, Achilles tendon, heel), support around the arch of your foot, and a seamless design will all contribute to greater protection for sensitive foot areas. A left and a right sock is also essential to ensure an ergonomic fit, and if the option is there always go for a men’s or women’s specific fit.

Should I wear thick or thin socks?

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

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Whether you love your socks thick or thin is very personal; some runners just love the plush feeling of thicker fabric. Thinner socks are ideal for trainers that are less roomy and for hotter conditions. The first brand to come up with a double layer sock was 1000 Mile, and once you run in their socks you can’t deny that this double layer almost eliminates all chances of getting chafing and blisters. They feel thicker, but this gives both comfort and extra cushioning, with ventilation zones to still ensure optimum breathability. Socks that reach high above your ankle will keep the brambles off on trail runs, whereas invisible or no-show socks are often chosen by track and road runners seeking to make minimal gains by reducing weight.

Why wear compression socks?

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

(Image credit: Future)

Compression technology aims to promote performance and recovery, mainly through a tighter, targeted fit encouraging greater blood flow back towards your heart. This improvement in circulation helps to remove waste products from your muscles quicker. You’ll find compression socks really hug your feet, and usually your ankles and calves as well as many are knee high. It can be a faff to get them on and off, but the fit is supposed to be tight; if you do invest in these they are also useful to wear during travel, and brilliant for recovery days post marathon. They are much more supportive than ordinary socks. CEP compression socks are clever, using infrared technology in their fabric to use your own body heat to stimulate recovery.

How can I eliminate sock odour?

Foot care products for runners

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Socks that are constructed from wool fibres, such as Merino, utilise the ability of these fibres to naturally eliminate odours on the feet. Not only are these socks extremely soft to wear, giving another level of comfort, they also naturally dry fast too. If you spend lots of long miles on the trails investing in these more expensive socks for winter adventures is worth it. Some brands, such as Balega, use silver ions to coat their fabric, preventing the germs that cause odour on your feet from thriving.

And where can I get all this at a reasonable price?

Foot care products for runners

(Image credit: Monkey Sox)

There’s a one-stop shop where you can get most of what you need to be a runner, including good socks, at a very reasonable price, and that’s Decathlon. You can get trainer, compression and Merino Kalenji socks, thick, thin, eco and organic all for under £10. You’ll be surprised by the quality. Checkout Sports Direct too, and you can bag yourself a two-pack for a fiver. Cheaper socks may not last as long as more expensive ones, but tend to still perform as well and have similar features: padded zones, ventilation panels and odour neutralising fibres.

Anything else?

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

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Well, yes, actually… I want my socks to have some form of reflective logo on the Achilles section so that they flash up in low light conditions to oncoming cars. Proviz do excellent high-viz socks, and most brands are now ensuring some form of rear reflectivity to provide this extra level of safety. If a waterproof sock is essential to your training, or work life if you spend lots of time outdoors in colder months, Sealskinz socks have a waterproof hydrophobic membrane as well as a Merino wool interior. You’re getting the double whammy of dry and warm feet.

The greatest gift…

Everything you need to know about buying running socks

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In case you hadn’t noticed, Christmas is getting closer, and while socks as a traditional present may have us all groaning, the right pair of running socks is a gift that keeps on giving. While more expensive running socks have us all umming and ahhing about whether we should /really/ pay that much for one pair of socks for ourselves, giving the runner in your life a good quality pair of technical running socks will ensure their feet will be thanking you in to their spring marathon training. If you want to make them fun go for a pair from Monkey Sox, Happy Stride, Stance, Injinji, Smartwool or Versus. And if you are a ‘real’ runner, then you should have a least one pair of Ron Hill’s legendary Hilly socks tucked away in your drawer. Just like 30 years ago, when your Ron Hill socks made you feel special, today’s offerings from this legendary brand feature Polygiene to eliminate odours, superior cushioning and excellent breathability. Technology has moved on, but Ron Hill remains a brand that you never move away from when you’re thinking of buying your running socks. They may be the smallest item of your kit, but the right running sock will make every stride happier.

Tina Chantrey
Tina Chantrey

Tina is fitness editor for Women’s Running magazine and published two books in 2020, The Little Book of Zen and Reflexology: Your Personal Guide. She is a UKA running coach, England Athletics Mental Health Champion and has her own running group, #runTLC. Follow her on Instagram @runtlc.uk