The Best Running Socks of 2021

Replace your old worn-out cotton with some of our favorites

May 17, 2021 12:38 pm
The Best Running Socks of 2021

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When we pay so much attention to the importance of a quality running shoe, it can be easy to forget that socks are equally as capable of dictating the quality of our run. Granted, running socks weren’t always up to much — every cotton pair resembled a worn washcloth over time. But these days, the best running socks are highly technical, durable and designed to actually fit a human’s foot.

When searching for the best socks for running, consider synthetics such as nylon, polyester and spandex. These offer great value and durability, plus they’re less likely to cause blisters. For runners seeking a natural fiber, we highly recommend merino wool. It’s resistant to odors, highly breathable and regulates temperature year-round (especially in the cold).

A runner’s sock is more than its primary fabric. Also consider sock height, which is typically a matter of aesthetic preference, unless you’re looking for additional coverage on the trail. The most popular styles are no-show, ankle, crew mid-calf socks. Crew socks are a popular choice nowadays, but their benefits over any other sock height are minimal.

Running socks are designed with varying levels of thickness to offer more support or fill extra space within a shoe. For a softer ride, pair your shoe with a thicker sock that absorbs more impact from the road or trail. The same can be said in reverse for those seeking minimal support. We suggest using your sock as a means of fine-tuning the fit of your shoe, adding thicker coverage if it feels loose and vice versa.

With all that being said, here are some of our favorites.

The Best Running Socks

Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Crew Socks in black and red
Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite

Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Crew Socks

Even the best running socks change with the seasons, but Smartwool’s PhD Run Light Elite Crew Sock offers consistency. Made from a combination of merino wool and nylon, it easily wicks moisture through thicker cushioning and fits like a glove. Credit goes to Smartwool’s 4D Elite Fit System that flexes the sock comfortably at the ankle — it’s not a gimmick — and to the seamless toe construction. The thicker cushion adds support and comfort over long runs, and it doesn’t take up too much room in the shoe. Plus, all that merino wool defends the fabric against unwanted funk. We could easily wear these over multiple days without running the risk of offending others. Added cushioning takes longer to dry, so we recommend avoiding these on muddy trails or rainy days. The PhD Run Light Elite comes in crew and low cuts.

Swiftwick Aspire Four Running Sock in lagoon blue
Swiftwick Aspire Four

Swiftwick Aspire Four Socks

There are times when the best running socks aren’t really running socks at all. But given their popularity among our office adventurers, we had to include the Swiftwick Aspire Four in our lineup. Technically a popular cycling sock, we’ve come to love the Aspire for its blend of synthetics; they offer blister-free comfort, promote airflow and have a habit of remaining soft and dry. The fabric is a little thinner, but compression and light cushioning are still notable. Consider pairing these with a shoe that fits just right or a set of racing flats. The toe seam is present, but not overly so when you’re moving through the motions, and the double-cuff construction hugs the calf to lock out dirt and debris.

Balega Hidden Comfort Running Sock in blue and green
Balega Hidden Comfort

Balega Hidden Comfort Socks

Only a select number of brands on this list are dedicated exclusively to designing socks, and Balega is one of our favorites. Whenever we’re sure to spend a lot of time on our feet, we reach for their Hidden Comfort no-show socks to keep our soles satisfied. A noticeable cushion absorbs heavy impact and offers support, but at no point do our feet feel trapped in excess fabric. Drynamix fibers pair with ventilated panels to boost airflow, ensuring our feet won’t overheat during a run. The toe and heel tab are seamless and reinforced, reducing the likelihood of blisters in notorious hotspots. We’re normally apprehensive when it comes to wearing no-show socks over long distances, but added elastane along the ankle provides additional no-slip security. The designs are vibrant and lively, which gives us an excuse to buy a few pairs at a time.

Bombas Performance Running Socks in navy stripes
Bombas Performance

Bombas Performance Running Socks

Back in 2014, Bombas unconventionally entered the sock game by pitching the company to Shark Tank investors. Fueled by a desire to do good, one brand new pair of socks was donated for every pair purchased, a practice that continues to this day. That commitment makes it all the easier for us to sport the Performance Running Ankle Sock. Featuring a lightweight and strategically cushioned heel, the blend of polyester and nylon is specifically contoured to fit the left and right foot. As a result, the cut, stitching and padding follows the shape of each foot to deliver a tailored ride. Airflow vents regulate temperature and moisture to prevent overheating as your pace improves, and the seamless toe and y-stitched heel eliminate potential irritation. Featuring some of the best designs in the industry, you may as well buy a three-pack.

Darn Tough Ultra-Lightweight Running Socks in green
Darn Tough Ultra-Lightweight
Darn Tough

Darn Tough Ultra-Lightweight Running Socks

Running socks are likely to wear thin the more you tack on the miles, but Darn Tough lives up to their name with socks that are guaranteed for life. The Run Ultra-Light may sound fragile given the name, but it surprised even us with a merino wool construction that feels indestructible. Part of that durability comes courtesy of the sock’s high stitch count, a feature that enhances softness to the point where we forget it’s on. Another reason is the merino wool, which dries quickly and naturally fights odors to promote all-day comfort. Darn Tough arranged the fabric to add cushioning underfoot, a feature that we noticed on unforgiving surfaces, and the sock is seamless to reduce potential irritation. We recommend these on trail runs for their light cushioning, overall comfort and toughness.

Feetures Elite Light Cushion Mini Crew in sunset colors
Feetures Elite Light Crew

Feetures Elite Light Cushion Mini Crew

In the same fashion as our beloved Bombas, Feetures have an anatomical design with left and right socks to deliver the perfect fit. Targeted compression through the foot and lower leg adds support and has the added benefit of sealing out dirt. The high thread count makes the fabric feel slick out of the box, but this sensitivity dissolves after a run or two. Strategic venting along the upper are positioned in accordance with your shoe to dissipate heat, and the five-inch cuff is perfect not only for running, but cycling and casual wear as well.

On Running Low Sock in shadow and mulberry
On Running Low
On Running Low

On Running Low Sock

Swiss brand On Running draws inspiration from their roots to deliver apparel that’s stylish and functional. Available in High, Mid and Low models, we prefer the latter for warm weather and competition. On’s attention to detail and workmanship is obvious in more ways than one; left and right variants deliver a proper fit, fabrics are ultra-soft and the pattern alone is enough to draw us in. The below-ankle design is supported by elastane along the cuff, keeping the socks in place over countless miles. And when the temperatures change, we’re happy to switch things up with the Mid or High to lock in heat and seal out debris.

Injinji Run Midweight Mini-Crew Running Socks
Injinji Run Midweight Mini-Crew

Injinji Run Midweight Mini-Crew Running Socks

Between-the-toe blisters plague countless long-distance runners, creating a demand for running socks with compartments for toes. While several brands deliver on this distinctive design, Injinji gets it right with terry cushioning between each toe, eliminating blisters and hotspots. Once your toes can move freely without rubbing, runs improve dramatically over short and long distances alike. Skeptics are quick to assume the added fabric will constrain the toe box, but each digit remains free to splay upon foot strike. Beyond the obvious benefits, Injinji finishes the sock with protective cushioning and a mesh top for enhanced comfort and moisture control. Those who wear split-toed shoes or Vibram Five Fingers (is anyone out there?) will find optimal comfort and protection.

Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Anklet Socks in superior blue
Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Anklet

Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Anklet Socks

Running purists are quick to boot Patagonia from contention for the best running socks, perhaps because the brand isn’t devoted exclusively to running. Unfortunately for those purists, Patagonia has a knack for blending technical fabrics that make our feet happy. Underneath, the sock arch acts as a brace, absorbing impact while adding support. Above, the engineered pattern boosts airflow to prevent overheating. Backed by Patagonia’s legendary lifetime warranty, we might as well ditch our shoes and run in these instead.

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