Runners obsess over every detail of a running shoe to make sure they have comfort dialed for every step. But many of us will still jam an old cotton sock between that pricey shoe and our foot. The humble sock, however, plays an important role in keeping you dry and warm (or cool).
Check out info below on five of the top performers from our testing. Keep scrolling for all 13 of the best pairs to buy, plus expert tips and info on what to look for so you can avoid irritation on any run.
First off, avoid cotton at all costs. Sure, you could safely make it through a 3-mile recovery run in a pair that came from a 12-pack, but on hot or wet days you’ll find cotton absorbs an incredible amount of water and easily causes blisters. Merino wool, on the other hand, is a fiber you can wear year-round thanks to its ability to regulate temperature, move moisture, and resist odors. You’ll find it used in many pairs of performance socks. Most, however, use a mix of synthetic fabrics—nylon, polyester, and spandex—which offers good value and durability, plus prevents irritation.
Height and Cushioning
The thickness of a sock can do two things: make each step feel a little softer and take up some of the extra room within a shoe. If you like a soft shoe, pair it with a sock that has thick cushioning underfoot for a supremely plush experience. And we often suggest a thick or thin sock to adjust the fit of a shoe. For example, if your pair fits a little loose—but not enough to up a half-size—opt for a thicker sock to take up some of that volume.
Unless you’re hitting the trail (where a taller sock will help keep dirt away from your skin and fend off grass and brush scrapes), sock length is a matter of personal style. Crew-length socks have made a comeback in recent years, but the cut offers little performance value—although one could argue that the sock is unable to slide into your shoe like a no-show length sometimes can.
Cuff Height and Cushion Breakdown
- No-show: Top of cuff sits below the ankle bone and is barely visible above the collar of a running shoe
- Ankle: Top of cuff sits right on (or slightly below) the ankle bone
- Quarter: Top of cuff fully covers the ankle bone
- Crew: Top of cuff sits just at (or slightly below) the middle of the calf
- No cushion: No additional padding has been added to the sock fabric
- Light cushion: Sock fabric feels thicker underfoot, but maintains a pronounced feel for the inside of a shoe
- Medium cushion: Additional padding underfoot is noticeable takes up slightly more space inside of a shoe
- Max cushion: Underfoot padding is thick, plush, and immediately apparent
How We Tested
Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles running year-round to evaluate how these socks fared in a variety of conditions—from hot and humid track workouts to bitter cold runs through the snow to rainy slogs on the trail. We also noted how well they held up between multiple wears and washes. In addition to gathering detailed on-foot impressions, we used a vertical moisture-wicking test to objectively assess how well each sock handled sweat and moisture. To do it, we cut 6-inch-long by 1-inch-wide strips from the socks’ fabric and suspended them from a support stand with one end in blue-dyed water. We then measured the amount of time it took for the water to migrate roughly two inches up each fabric strip.
The pairs we’ve included in this list are some of the top performers across all of our tests, and we’ve indicated the qualities or conditions in which a specific sock excelled. That said, every sock here strikes a good balance of odor control, moisture management, comfort, durability, and value for your runs.
Cuff height: Zero, one, two, four, seven, twelve (inches above ankle)
Opinions were mixed on the Aspire Zero’s height (which barely peeks out from your shoe) for cold-weather runs, but our testers raved about the taller Aspire Four. This sock from Swiftwick is a triple-threat that packs in hidden ventilation, cushioning, and stability. A unique combo of fabrics (nylon, olefin, and spandex) and varying compressive weaves make it especially stable around the ankle, while its Goldilocks cushioning adds softness without feeling mushy. Plus, testers said the sock remained surprisingly light—and just as supportive—even when soaked by the end of drizzly long runs. “The snug compression gives me a little extra support when I’m worried about rolling an ankle on uneven ground,” one tester said. The Aspire can feel a bit slick inside looser-fitting trainers; however, we noticed this only on tight U-turns at the midpoint of out-and-back runs, and when cruising down steep hills. (If you need a super grippy sock for circuit training or agility drills with lots of lateral movements, grab the Flite XT Five instead.)
—Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance—
Injinji Ultra Run
Cuff heights: No-show, quarter, crew
For one of our testers, between-the-toe blisters were inevitable on long runs—until she took a chance on this pair of Injinjis that wrap each toe in its own sleeve. Made from a blend of polyester, nylon, and a pinch of Lycra, the sock is smooth but not slippery; your toes can glide next to each other without rubbing. Even toe sock skeptics were converted by this pair. “I always thought toe socks were a solution to a non-problem,” said one tester. “As someone who hasn’t struggled with blisters between my toes, I never saw the need—but now I completely get it. I thought they would cause a cramped fit in the forefoot of my trainers, but the opposite was true. The material allowed my toes to move freely, letting each digit splay individually.” The only negatives were that the toe-sock style took us longer to wiggle into, and some testers found the pinky toes a little baggy.
—BEST SIZING SOLUTION—
Kane 11 Bedford
Cuff height: Quarter
One of our testers, who wears running shoes in a women’s size 9 or 9.5 depending on the brand, was consistently stuck on the line between the typical sock sizing ranges. Large usually left her with a baggy heel fit, medium meant she’d have the same amount of space delegated to a women’s size 7. (Another men’s size 12.5 tester with wide feet occasionally found himself outside available sizing all together.) Both runners felt seen by Kane 11, a brand that makes its socks in specific men’s and women’s sizes, just like shoes. And it follows through on that promise—we felt a noticeable difference between each option. Of the multiple styles we tried, testers gravitated most to pairs made with K-Sport yarn, such as the men’s and women’s Bolt and the women’s Bedford. Depending on the model, the sock’s K-Sport fabric uses slightly different proportions of polyester, nylon, and spandex. “This amount of cushioning, which I would say is on the lighter end of medium, is my favorite for running year-round,” one Bolt tester said. “It’s airy, wicks sweat well, and the grid-like top panel supports my arch well.” Despite some early signs of wear (in the form of loose threads and stitching that got wedged between our toes), the material itself has so far shown itself resilient against any holes.
—BEST YEAR-ROUND OPTION—
Gear & Accessories
Cuff heights: Zero, one, four, seven (inches above ankle)
Cushioning: None (light also available)
Admittedly, the conversations we have at Runner’s World—even virtually—aren’t your usual water-cooler gossip. But during an online chat between test editors, this was the sock that immediately sparked an uproar, with three runners and cyclists using the 100 emoji to declare their fondness for them. Swiftwick uses an all-season merino wool that makes the Pursuit Ultralight feel cool when it’s warm, warm when it’s cool, and always soft and dry. We especially liked how well the thin material kept odor down between washes, and felt just thick enough for comfort, so the sock fits well in both daily trainers and snugger racing flats. (If you want a bit more padding, spring for the cushioned Pursuit.) While it didn’t cause any blisters or rubbing, the toe seam does protrude slightly.
—BEST FOR LONG RUNS—
Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance
Cuff height: Crew
If you’re a believer in ultra-running R&D and sock doping (aka, the notion that snazzy socks make you feel faster), you’ll love the PhD Pro Endurance crew. Smartwool asked ultra-legend Rob Krar to dream up the perfect pair for long-distance runners, and so this rugged sock was born. It uses a combination of merino wool, nylon, and elastane with light cushioning underfoot, but also offers softer padding around the ankle and Achilles. In addition to the vibrant prints, we love it for keeping our feet dry and comfortable in every season; we’ve worn a pair for winter runs and summer races, and through a full year of testing, the Pro Endurance has excelled in all conditions. However, for those especially frigid or snowy long runs come January, we like the men’s and women’s PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew even more. It kept our toes toasty (but not sweaty) and stayed in place under running tights.
Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Micro
Cuff heights: No-show, quarter, crew
Even socks with thicker cushioning can efficiently wick sweat away from your skin, which helps prevents blisters from forming on your feet. Just take this plush Smartwool pair, for example—it was the top performer overall in our moisture-wicking test. Made from a soft, cozy blend of merino wool, nylon, and spandex, it was also one of the most comfortable we tested, with targeted underfoot cushioning that didn’t feel bulky or take up too much room in our shoes. Plus, the 52 percent wool construction really cuts down on stink. We found that even after four wears back-to-back, the sock smelled immensely better than standard cotton or polyester models that endured the same sweaty treatment. The only downside was that the Smartwool’s thicker cushioning took longer to dry once it got wet in our follow-up tests, so it’s not the best sock to wear on rainy runs when you’ll be splashing through puddles.
Asics Cushioned Low Cut
Cuff height: No-show
Most multipack socks feel soft and comfortable out of the package, but many lose their original texture after a handful of sweaty runs and washes. Not so with these Asics. The simple budget sock surprised us with its durability and long-lasting stretchy softness that rivaled those with a much bigger price tag. Made from mostly polyester with just a pinch of nylon and spandex, it offers some cushion underfoot without using any cotton. You won’t get any fun prints or patterns here, but our testers gladly traded a few style points for the breathable mesh paneling, adequate moisture-wicking, and light arch compression. Just don’t wear these twice in a row; our testers found that the sock can hold some odor and feels baggy in the heel after a double-wear.
—BEST FOR SMELLY FEET—
Cuff height: No-show
Running shoes are breeding grounds for bacteria, which of course means your socks are going to stink. While wool will cut down on the odors, you can also boost comfort and smell fresh with this pair from Balega. The sock’s moisture-wicking fibers are covered in silver ions to help kill germs. We found the sock remains stink-free, even after multiple wearings between washes (yes, we know this is gross, but we still do it). Runners will also like the thicker cushioning underfoot, and the breathable top panel kept us cool during an extended bout of muggy 90-plus degree days. Available in a slew of neon options, it’ll add a pop of color to your next virtual race—why not be bold and go with bright lilac and watermelon? We just wish the Silver was available in more cuff heights.
Darn Tough Run Ultra-Light Cushion
Cuff heights: No-show, quarter
Cushioning: Medium (also available without cushioning)
Performance socks aren’t cheap, but rest easy knowing that if you ever poke your big toe through this merino sock you’ll get a replacement pair for free. But it’s unlikely you will wear this sock down; we found it to be the most durable, lightweight wool model. Darn Tough uses a high stitch count for the Run Ultra-Light, so it’s velvety soft against your foot and wraps the arch with just enough compression for a secure fit and a smidge of extra support. “I have a purple and green pair of Darn Tough socks that I’ve been wearing for almost three years, and they’re still as cushy as they were on the first run,” said one tester. “They’re my go-to for 20-milers during marathon training because they stay put and don’t bunch or slide, even when I’m moving for hours and my feet start to swell.” One tester who had a little extra space around the pinky toe thought left-right specificity could make the fit even better.
On Running High
Cuff heights: Ankle, quarter, crew
Swiss company On Running builds apparel that’s all about performance but doesn’t sacrifice style. It’s a runner’s equivalent to Rapha cycling gear, by comparison. That means with models like the High, you’re getting premium materials and workmanship with attention to the details (like a left-and-right specific fit, stylish color-blocking up the Achilles, and a specialized poly-elastane blended fabric). “My heart skipped a beat when I thought I lost one in the wash,” one tester said. “They’re my all-time favorite—soft and stretchy, with just enough cushioning and compression.” The technical mesh panels hold enough warmth in the winter—but also resist feeling swampy when it gets warmer—and the toe seam lays flat and smooth, so it won’t cause irritation when crammed into a low-volume toe box. (Don’t worry if you’re not into high socks; there are lower cuts for both men and women, too.)
—SNUG, NO-SLIP FIT—
Mesh panels ventillate well
Cushioning: Light (ultra-light and max also available)
We’ve long loved Feetures’s socks because of their dedicated left and right fits and seamless construction. Together, those two aspects dialed in fit and comfort with no baggy toes or irritating seams, but the material itself was always really slippery inside a shoe. Now, the Elite line is built with Tencel fibers and has a very high 200-needle thread count for that same comfortable fit without the sliding. The deep heel pocket and snug wrap around the arch ensure the sock stays in place on your foot; none of our testers reported any slipping around in their shoes on runs. Even runners who preferred no-cushion socks were won over by Feetures’s cushier offerings. “The inner padding is super soft and a little fuzzy, but overall the sock is still snug, secure, and lightly compressive,” one tester said of the max-cushion Elite. “It feels like a cozy cabin sock meets performance running.”
Cuff height: Ankle
Cushioning: Medium (max also available)
Rockay is a new kid on the block in the world of running socks, but the brand has quickly become a standout with its commitments to performance and use of eco-friendly materials. The Accelerate is made of 100-percent recycled plastics taken from the oceans in its premium nylon construction, and an anti-odor Polygiene treatment is specifically applied to let you wear the socks multiple times between washes, so you’re also using less water and energy. It was surprisingly soft on our feet despite its thinness, with a weave that provides nice compression over the arch. An elastic ring just below the ankle holds the sock up better than most no-show running pairs we’ve tested. “Usually I stay away from ankle socks because they end up sliding down into my shoes,” one tester said. “But the Accelerate stayed put, and its stretchy top band even seemed to help keep loose gravel from getting inside the sock.”
Bombas Performance Running Merino
Cuff heights: Ankle, quarter, crew
A staple of any “best socks” list, Bombas impresses our team. We like this merino wool version of the brand’s Performance Running sock even more than the standard because it swaps out the cotton blend for a mix of wool and nylon. That makes it a bit pricier, but we think it’s worth it for the improved durability, funk-fighting prowess, and buttery softness on foot. “I wish I had a pair to wear every day,” said one tester. “I loved the extra cushioning in the heel and toe with more compression around my arch.” Credit the plush-zoned cushioning, designed for boosting comfort without causing any unwanted “squish” on touchdown. The midsection of the sock uses Bombas’s signature snug honeycomb knit, which adds support while still feeling airy and light. We especially love that the brand matches every purchase with a donated pair to someone affected by homelessness.