Running socks may seem like a fairly straightforward product, but a shoddy model can leave you blistered within a mile of your marathon. Even if your socks don't allow blisters to develop, they might not provide you with the comfort that you could have with the right pair of running socks.
The level of cushioning your socks have is largely dictated by your preferences. Socks that are super thick might affect the fit of your shoes, whereas socks that are too thin might not be comfortable, and may end up rubbing your feet the wrong way. Look for socks that have at least some padding at the points of contact your feet will have with the ground. These points are called impact zones, and can be the most battered parts of your feet. You should also consider buying socks with a small amount of cushioning at the back of your foot where you're most likely to develop blisters.
Running socks may look similar to regular socks, but from the cushioning to the placement of the elastic, there are big differences. A good pair of running socks will have spandex in all the right parts to keep them from slipping as you run. Socks that stay in place mean they won't slide down and expose the back of your foot to your running shoe.
Your socks could have all the elastic in the world, but it won't matter if they don't properly cover your feet. This depends largely on what kind of running shoe you have. A traditional running shoe may call for a sock that covers your ankle, while a minimalist shoe may only require a crew sock. Most products will provide photos of the sock on a foot, which allows you to eyeball where the top of the sock will hit your foot or ankle.
Another surefire way to get blisters is to use cotton socks. Cotton holds moisture, and since your feet sweat, you'll be running on damp socks. Not only can this be uncomfortable, it also contributes to rubbing, which usually leads to blisters. Look for running socks made from wool, synthetic materials, or a blend of the two materials to help keep your feet drier and more comfortable.
Another factor to consider when purchasing running socks is the amount of warmth you want to get from them. Your feet likely heat up when you're running, but if you have poor circulation or are running in cold conditions, you may want to opt for a thicker sock made of wool for additional warmth. Aside from the warmth aspect of the materials, you could also choose higher-cut socks that protect more of your ankle from wind chill.
Similarly, while thin cotton socks may seem tempting when you're heading out on a ten-miler in the middle of July, choosing low cut synthetic socks will be the better choice in the long run.
A pair of socks that is too small will hinder your circulation, and a pair of socks that is too big will rub and cause sores. EMS carries specific sizes for every foot so you don't end up with the wrong pair. Ask one of our specially trained Foot Gurus to find the right size sock for you.
New technologies have enabled some socks to come with a nifty extra: odor control. Merino wool naturally resists odor, so socks made with it—whether 100% or as a blend—will have this feature. Odor control may seem frivolous, but it can actually extend the life of your shoes, lessening the chance that you'll have to throw them out prematurely due to their smell.
For Minimalist Shoes
Many minimalist runners choose to run without socks, but that's not your only option. If you want some extra warmth or padding to ease the transition to minimalist shoes, consider getting a pair of ultralight socks in a synthetic material. Runners who wear Vibram FiveFingers can wear socks as well—Injinji makes a toe sock that provides all the benefits of running socks with the fit of a minimalist shoe.
For Long Runs
Marathon runners, ultrarunners, and anyone who enjoys a lengthy jog will appreciate socks that are barely there. Durability is key for socks that can go the distance, as is extra elasticity. You want socks that will be as comfortable in the final mile as they were in the first, so look for ultralight socks that are guaranteed to hold their shape.
For Trail Running
Trail runners, or anyone looking to do a mud run, should consider socks that can withstand a lot of moisture and have a little extra padding at the impact zones. However, if you enjoy trail running for the extra connection to the ground that you get, consider getting ultralight socks with wicking power. Also, crew socks can shield your ankles from flying rocks, mud, and other debris, which can be a welcome extra on a long trail run.
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