Is a $12+ running sock worth it?
A running sock roundup? You may ask, what’s the point? Do a search for shoe reviews, and you will literally find thousands of people chatting, blogging, reviewing, testing, and opinionating about all things EVA foam, seamless uppers, Heel Toe Drops, minimalism, cushioning, etc. The sock gets the shaft, so we wanted to get a collective look at some options that you can take to your local running shop.
It will be hard to truly test the longevity of each and every one of these socks. The quality I’m sure, is above and beyond and sure to last several seasons. These socks are high tech, pricier, and sport features that blow away those tube socks or your 6 for $14.99 pack from your local discount retailer. A good sock can and will make a world of difference, and it doesn’t matter if you are running 2 miles, 26.2, or 100.
My feet are obviously different than yours, so please take note of all the wonderful features these socks have. Then use that information based on your feet, running style, and training regiment to make a choice that will work for you.
Feetures High Performance Light cushion No Show Tab – MSRP: $11.99
Simple, light, and not to tight. These fit my foot really comfortably. I took them on my weekly 5k tempo run, and no issues whatsoever. The Feetures High Performance Socks also provided a very comfortable ride during a 12 mile longer run. These socks are still really soft even after a handful of runs and subsequent washes. I wore them with the same pair of shoes that I ran in on a longer run a few weeks before. On the previous run with a no-name sock, I did experience a bit of rubbing in between my big toe and second toe. Not this time, as I pushed a decent pace throughout my run on a mix of gravel and path as well as some dirt single track. A lot of bang for your buck for a simple yet effective sock.
Feetures Elite Ultra Light No Show Tab – MSRP: $14.99
Super sweet, light, and thin. I have grown accustomed to wearing thinner socks, and these have not disappointed. A very nice and snug fit for my 10.5/11 size foot (I got the Large). The great thing here is the anatomical fit with a ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ sock for an even more comfortable ride. I really don’t know why most high performance socks don’t come with this option. For that $12+ sock, you should be treated to a more comfortable and correct fit. If you have racing flats, I would recommend these as a solid training and racing companion. A unique feature of these socks is the presence of a Power Arch (see photo) which delivers targeted compression to a critical area. Keeps the arches compressed, and lets the toes splay nicely.
Falke RU Energizing – Ergonomic Sport System – MSRP: $39
This is a serious competition sock for running. It’s funny how we equate technical with a German made product, but it is so true in this case. It looks and feels very precise. I have many passions, and as a triathlete I have tried my fair share of compression socks. My calves are pretty big, and most are quite tight on me. I wore these for several hours including a very intense speed session workout, and I never felt that tightness or pressure. That’s a good thing as I could feel them doing their thing to aid in blood flow, and recovery afterwards.
The bottom sock part is typical of what you’d expect a running sock to be with a reinforced bottom and heel cushion (not too thick), and it then morphs or provides a gradual compression into the ankle and calves. These are anatomically correct as they are labeled ‘R’ and ‘L’. The top band or hem is considered a ‘Comfort Top’. I do have to say that these are quite long. They came up to about mid knee on me, and I’m 6′-1″. I just folded the hem over once, and I had no issues.
Balega Enduro 2 Crew – MSRP: $12.00
I usually don’t wear the taller/Crew socks, but threw this one into the mix as a good option for tackling diverse terrain. If you are looking for something with protective cushioning for impact resistance to last you for the long haul, the Enduro lives up to its name. These were probably some of the thicker socks I tried. Along the foothills here in Colorado, there are numerous single track trails with a lot of technical boulder sections, and scrub brush which will tend to grab your ankles and lower legs. The length of these will definitely help protect you. I would suggest grabbing a more colorful pair then my white ones as they are permanently stained a reddish grey. It won’t effect their performance, just aesthetics. If you desire something thicker this is definitely a great sock for you.
Balega Ultralight No Show- MSRP: $12.00
Balega is all about promoting their Second Skin Fit and Blister Resist which will prevent sheer friction blisters. Now, I am not one to suffer many blisters while running, but notice the yellow patches on the picture above. Those are super thin and located in places where blisters can occur. I have to give them props as they do fit really well.
I really like the skin fit ultra-light features. I put these guys to the test for a 6 mile tempo run with my light racing flats, and was not disappointed. Over time, I have trended towards minimalism….even in my socks. Thin is in, and these provided enough coverage and support to carry me through my runs without any rubbing or hotspots. The Ultra Light comes about because of the ultrafine hi-tech performance yarns on a high needle count knitting machine. This provides the sheerest, lightest sock on the planet all the while still providing the necessary protection. Their Blister Resist technology is a blend of Drynamix and natural Mohair wool that creates a blister barrier.
Balega Blister Resist No Show – MSRP:$13.00
I’ll get into the technical details that make up this sock (much of it was already mentioned in the above Balega Sock), but the name alone just asks for it to be given a proper “run” for its money. I went on a 10 day trip, and decided to just bring these socks to let them take on the brunt of the various runs I was going to take. I like to do my sightseeing while running, so my easy and long runs were accomplished wearing these Blister Resist socks. The speed workouts didn’t get the luxury of sightseeing, but the socks were given a serious test.
I’d say these socks fall into the slightly more supportive or cushioned socks. If you want a sock that provides adequate protection (and no blisters), then these are a really good option. One of my longer runs occurred on a somewhat warmer day, and my feet were pretty hot. I like these socks. They are comfortable provide good cushioning especially when I am wearing a more minimal shoe, but I will reserve these for cooler or winter runs because of their thickness.
Smartwool PhD Run – Light Cushion Socks – MSRP: $17.95
First test; I wore them walking around an industry convention show for a very long day. These are thicker and provided superior support and cushioning. Second test; an easy run around the neighborhood, and decided to go to the rec. center jumped on the treadmill to garner some additional mileage. That was a big mistake on my part. My feet got quite warm in the heated gym as I was pushing the pace a bit. Finally, I had the perfect opportunity to run them in about 6-8” of snow while wearing my trail shoes and my running snowshoes. The powder was flying, my shoes ultimately got wet, but my feet were warm and dry throughout my 6 mile snow scamper. The features of this shoe really worked their magic.
Even though these are a ‘light cushion’ sock, they have nice cushioning and with their make-up of 70% wool are really meant for colder winter conditions. I have now thrown them on for various sub freezing and snow covered runs, and they perform admirably. If you want warmth and a little bit of padding these Smartwool PhD Run socks provide for a very snug and comfortable fit.
FITS Men’s Ultra Light Runner No Show – Merino Wool – MSRP: $14.99
FITS is the oldest sock mill in the United States. In business since 1902, they have 4 very unique design and manufacturing patents. As their name would suggest, they really focus on the Fit of the sock. They have an intricate knitting technique which is vital in creating a distinct fit and feel. I have slightly wider feet, and they fit pretty well, except for that my toes did feel slightly pinched, but over time they have started to ‘mold’ to my feet.
I do want to stress the point that you do want to follow their sizing chart for figuring out what size you need. I have an average athletic build at 6’-1” and 165 pounds. I mainly wear a size Medium in apparel, and a size 11 shoe. According to their chart I would need an XL size sock. I find it hard to order anything XL, so I went with a Large…. They do fit, albeit a little snug, so I probably should have ‘listened’ to their recommendations more seriously.
These are a low cut as the ‘No show’ in the title clearly states. In the past I used to always like a higher ankle sock because I tend to catch my ankle with the sole of my shoes. Mainly, when running on inconsistent terrain like the trail, but also because I usually push a stroller while trying to control a rambunctious Pup. I have come around a bit on the school of thought as I am liking these for shorter fast workout sessions. They are thinner yet provide a good barrier between the foot and shoe. I like the simplicity of these socks. Nothing to heavy or thick, but just the right amount of padding.
Fits Women’s Light Runner No show – Merino Wool – MSRP: $15.99
The Fits Light runner no show socks are ankle socks with a full contact fit. I was surprised how much different a little bit of thickness of the socks made on my runs. Although these are called ‘Light’, they do have a fair bit of cushioning. I wore these on my shorter runs 3-5 miles and never had any problems with blisters, bunching of fabric or rubbing. When I wore the light socks on an 11 mile snowshoe race, I probably should have worn something a little thinner. The distance, irregular terrain, snow, and shoe shifting probably played a role. Although the light socks kept my feet dry, over the course of the 11 miles I noticed a slight friction rub caused by the extra thickness on the light sock. If you are purely intending to use these on your runs, I would highly recommend these with the extra cushioning. The extra merino wool makes it feathery soft and pleasant all around.
FITS Ultra Light Trail QTR – MSRP: $16.99
I wasted no time throwing these into the mix. I wore them around casually for a day, and noticed a nice and snug fit. Not ideal for everyday use, but at least I got them to conform to my foot a bit. I was entered in an 11.4 mile snowshoe race, and didn’t want anything too thick to provide for a more natural feel with my more minimal shoe that I used with my snowshoes. The conditions were hard packed, so not a lot of loose powder to traverse. I sometimes wear a shoe liner to aid in keeping my feet dry longer, but my feet are bound to get wet and it just comes with the territory. I really don’t notice it until I am done anyway. No matter how light or advanced your snowshoe is, the ‘claws’ will push through your shoes a bit especially in the hard packed snow conditions we encountered. After 2+ hours of intense competition, my feet came out unscathed. I can’t say as much for my quads.
Another high alpine trail run with some pretty extreme mix of rock, ice, and snow put my shoes to the test. Since, I was really scrambling, scaling, and going up some extreme inclines and descents, my socks also needed to provide enough protection yet not be too cushiony to make me feel like I was ‘floating’ or sliding in my shoes. A good solid versatile sock for whatever you want to throw at it.
Darn Tough Vermont Endurance 1/4 Sock Ultra Light Non-Cushion MSRP: $16.00
I would officially like to call these the Jeep Wrangler or Toyota Landcruiser of running socks. I know, kind of an ‘out there’ comparison, but hear me out. Simple, classic, durable, able to tackle a wide variety of terrain, yet with sophistication in their make-up to fit many a feet out there. The ultra high stitch count creates a very streamlined fit as well as comfort. This sock is great for the hot summer months as well as the chilly winter months due to its fine gauge Merino Wool make-up. It’s fast drying, breathable, and it’s a no stink sock thanks to the Merino with its ability to repel odor and bacteria. And the cool thing is these can also double as a solid cycling sock which will come in handy, so I ran and rode in these socks. They have a consistent feel to them, but are plenty tough to withstand longer mileage training sessions.
Darn Tough Vermont Endurance Micro Crew Ultra Light Non Cushion – MSRP: $16.00
Put these on and they do feel Tough, Durable, and long lasting. Nothing really fancy as far as visible design features as the fine gauge knitting and Merino Wool will do the trick to keep you comfortable and sweat free. Moisture wicking from the Merino Wool which pulls moisture away from your skin to dry faster. It’s also Anti-microbial which naturally repels bacteria and odor. I’ll surely test that to the max.
They feel so confident about the toughness and durability of their socks, because the say “if you can wear these socks out, we’ll replace them. Free of charge. No questions asked. For life.” Now that should give you some piece of mind, and I will really try to put these through their paces to test their claim. Now that’s an Unconditional Lifetime Guarantee. This is a ‘Performance Fit’ which means the socks stay put without any slipping, bunching, blisters, or hot spots.
Lorpen T3 Trail Running Light – MSRP: $12.95
The Lorpen Trail Running Light does have some partial cushioning in the heel and toe. On the Lorpen scale of thickness it’s a 2 out of 4. You can definitely feel a little bit of padding. I personally wouldn’t want any more, but if you do like additional softness it’s good to know there are options. This is a versatile sock great as a year round option. The fabric make-up will provide some warmth (especially when the blood starts pumping), allows it to breathe, and provide protection at the ankles. This sock has an air mesh which allows you to dump the heat so to speak, but generally creates great breathability. The really cool thing about this sock is its T3 Spider Net technology. It’s kind of a web stretched out over the top that connects the heel pad, toe box, and bottom to prevent shifting to keep the sock in its place. A lot of bang for your buck.
Lorpen T3 Trail Running Ultra Light – MSRP $10.95
This is becoming a regular in my sock rotation. Running 5-7 days per week has me very excited to actually be saying that I have a rock rotation. You can really see the T3 Spider Net on the top of the foot. It literally connects all the important parts and pieces for a comfortable yet secure fit. This is a great feature especially for the more technical trails and descents that have the potential for shifting inside your shoe. The white dotted areas are the Air Mesh to provide airflow to keep the feet dry and cool. We are heading into Spring and have seen some pretty warm temperatures, but I can’t wait for the heat of summer to really test the Lorpen T3 Trail Running Ultralight.
Injinji Performance 2.0 Original Weight – MSRP$12.00
You have probably heard of those “toe socks”, but unlike it’s wildly talked about distant cousin, the Vibram FiveFingers, these aren’t as visible. You’d be surprised though at how many people are actually wearing these out on the roads and trails. It’s following may still be small, but it is an ardent crowd of hardcore runners that give the Injinji a very good name. The Performance 2.0 RUN OW is the middle of the road thickness for Injinji. I would classify this as a great all around sock that would work well for most runners. Obviously, the fabric between the toe thing will have to work for you. Before you jump to conclusions, it was recommended to me to get a few runs in before making a decision. The anatomical 5 Toe Design does properly align the toes to prevent blisters all the while promoting proper posture and balance. This sock has 2 mesh top panels to provide ventilation and breathability which in turn will keep your feet cool and dry. I pretty much liked these socks right out of the box. The ability for my toes to naturally splay out gave me great grip, stability, and push-off in my shoes. I do have a slightly wider forefoot, and my shoes do have adequate room to be able to let my toes do its thing without shifting or movement. I think with time, I will get to like this more and more. You have to have at least one of these to throw into the mix, I think.
Swiftwick Sustain One Black – MSRP $12.99
Swiftwick calls it ‘managed compression’. These socks are different then all the others in that they do have more compression and a third of this sock is comprised of Repreve. This is the first sock ever to use Repreve which is a post-industrial recycled nylon. A very earth friendly product. Yes, they provide some compression like the full calf compression socks you see out there, but they aren’t uncomfortably tight. They fit really well, they are not cushiony, and its a smooth layer between foot and shoe. The footbed is sculptured with a seamless toe. The Swiftwick Sustain One is a great sock for hot weather as it wicks away any moisture and sweat. I wore these mainly for my Speed session and hard 3-5 mile tempo runs. This is when my feet take the biggest brunt because I am wearing my minimal shoes, and am pounding the pavement. I had no issues with hotspots which is new for me and I am very excited about that. A good buy for all the features and benefits.
Plenty of options and features are on display here. I am convinced that these socks do help to provide better support, compression, breathability, and sweat wicking capabilities. I can also guarantee that these will last much longer than a cheaper alternative. Hence, in the end, buying a high priced sock may be a much better option. A blister caused by rubbing or wet feet during a long run or race will cause some serious discomfort and issues. Try putting a price on that!