Running socks are often overlooked when it comes to running gear. Newcomers and even some more experienced runners tend to place a lot of emphasis on shoes but don’t give a second thought to the socks that they wear with them.
The truth is that running socks are just as important as running shoes when if comes to comfortable and injury free running. Even professional shoes can still cause blisters if worn with the incorrect socks.
A good running sock will be specifically designed to reduce chafing, impact and provide the most comfortable run possible. Running socks often flaunt a number of features but the most important things to look out for are fast wicking fabric, padding and reinforcement.
Fast wicking fabric
The ability of a running sock to wick away sweat cannot be understated. Most everyday socks are made from cotton which is comfortable when dry but readily absorbs and holds moisture. This isn’t typically a problem walking around the office or even going to the gym, however once you start running more than a few kilometres foot sweat starts to become an issue. Wet socks trap moisture next to your foot and are one of the most frequent cause of blisters which will turn any run into a nightmare in next to no time. This is even more important if you are planning to run frequently or run in warm weather.
There are a variety of materials that are used to reduce moisture absorption ranging from synthetics, like nylon and polyester, to Merino wool. Transferring the moisture from your foot to the shoe where it evaporates rather than trapping it next to your skin helps to prevent blisters and ensures a more comfortable run. An added benefit of Merino wool is that it also has antibacterial properties that will reduce the smell. Personally I generally put my socks straight into the wash after a run and don’t reuse them without washing so don’t really get bothered by the smell but it’s a nice to have bonus feature.
Running socks will often have additional padding under the heal area and under the ball of the foot. This padding helps to cushion the impact from running and works in conjunction with the cushioning of the running shoe to reduce the shock of impact which can cause injury. If you do still find that you are picking up injuries, another way to reduce impact is to work on your cadence. If your running cadence is too slow it means that you are spending too long in the air which in turn results in a heavier footfall and larger impact. Measure the number of strides you take in a minute (many smart watches will measure this for you). If you have a running cadence of less that 160 strides a minute, you may need to work on increasing your cadence.
In addition to having more padding under the heel and ball or the foot there is often less padding or a more breathable material used on the top of the sock which helps to wick moisture away from the foot. You’ll also notice that there are no large seams, by avoiding seams there is less chance of anything rubbing and causing irritation.
Running socks are made to put up with high mileage and are tougher than cotton socks. The synthetic materials that are used are fairly slippery and don’t rub on the inside of the shoe which means that there is less wear and tear and results in a longer sock life (think of the stretchy material that is used in Spanx or cycling gear).
As well as being more likely to rub the actual material is more robust than cotton, you’ll find that cotton socks often wear through near the big toe or by the heel and the moisture combined with the sliding inside your shoe can cause pilling.
All of this means that even though running socks may cost a bit more than cotton socks, they will last a lot longer and let you enjoy your running without blisters which is well worth the money.