A Runner's Guide to Running Socks for Runners

 istockphoto.com

istockphoto.com

You would think, dear reader, that nothing could be simpler than a sock. What is a sock, after all, but a fabric condom for your foot, a protective barrier between skin and shoe? Just grab a pair, slip 'em on, and go... Right?

Oh, reader. Reader, reader, reader. Sometimes you are so naïve it's adorable.

Socks are far from simple. Like, really far. Today's socks are highly complex and come in a dizzying array of styles, made from a stunning variety of materials, designed for a vomitous number of activities.

Here is everything you need to know.

Q: As a runner, why do I need socks? Isn't the whole "wear socks" thing just propaganda from Big Sock?
A: No, runners really do need to wear socks. Otherwise, after a few miles your feet will turn to hamburger.

That sounds horrible, yet delicious.
Oh, there is nothing delicious about it. Believe me.

How many different types and brands of running socks exist?
One website lists at least 25 brands of running socks and 16 "sock types," including cold-weather socks, knee-high socks, maximum-cushion socks, no-show socks, tab socks, and trail-running socks.

That's an awful lot of socks.
You said it.

Do I really need special socks for trail running?
No.

Do I need sport-specific socks for running at all?
No.

But all these ads say—
I know what the ads say. And I'm saying, if the socks fit and are comfortable, they're fine. They don't have to be special fancy running socks.

Easy for you to say. You probably have a drawer full of special fancy running socks.
That is true. I do have a drawer full of special fancy running socks. It's also true that I often run in socks like these, because I'm already wearing them and too lazy to change:

 Mark remy

Mark remy

That looks ridiculous.
One of the nice things about getting older is that you stop giving a crap about things like socks, and what people think of your socks. 

Because the closer you get to death, the more precious your remaining time seems, and you don't want to waste any of it worrying about trifles?
Exactly. So cram it.

Are cotton socks as bad as I've heard?
Yes. As we note in 7 Things Every New Runner MUST Have:

Don't even think of running in cotton socks. Cotton socks will make your feet bleed internally, then swell and eventually burst, sending bits of EVA foam and shards of bone flying toward anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. Instead choose socks made of merino wool or synthetics.

If you have cotton socks at home, burn them immediately.

Wow. Really?
No. Not really. Despite what you've heard elsewhere, cotton socks are fine for short runs. If you're going more than a few miles, though, wool or synthetics really are a smarter choice. Especially if it's raining.

I'm seeing a lot of "anatomically shaped" socks, designed specifically for the left and right foot—are those any better than traditional socks?
No. They're dumb and a needless complication and emblematic of everything that's wrong with running today.

In other words...
...these sock makers can take their anatomic shapes and cram them, yes.

How about those "toe socks," the ones with individual compartments for each of your toes?
You mean the ones that provide "a restriction free environment," so that "your toes are able to become activated, providing you with increased dexterity, tactile sensitivity and allowing them to perform as they were intended"?

Yes.
How do you think I feel about those?

And compression socks?
Dude. Please.

So I just read about these $199 Sensoria Fitness Socks, which are "infused with proprietary 100% textile sensors" and "paired with a Bluetooth Smart cool and detachable anklet that not only delivers superior accuracy in step counting, speed, calories—"
If you continue talking about this product I will punch myself in the face over and over, with both fists, until I lose consciousness. 

OK. I also enjoy hunting. Do I need special socks for that?
You certainly do, and the good people at SmartWool are here to help. Their new PhD Hunt socks feature these details (really), "each specified to (a) hunter’s needs"...

  • Virtually Seamless™ toe to prevent blisters and chafing
  • 4 Degree Elite Fit system for a stay-put fit
  • Strategically placed, gender-specific ventilation zones
  • Luxurious terry loop knit for breathability and moisture management
  • 21-micron fiber knit for ultimate next-to-skin comfort
  • Light, medium and heavy cushioning for a range of conditions
  • Taller crews and silhouettes for each hunt activity
  • Patented Indestructawool™ technology for durability

We tested the PhD Hunt socks in the Dumb Runner Lab and found that they are seven times huntier than non-hunting socks:

How Hunty Are They?

Can't argue with data like that.

What if I'm out for a run in my running socks and I spot an elk that I want to shoot?
In that scenario obviously you would have to stop and change your socks. Quick, too, before the elk gets away. 

What do I do with my gun while I'm changing my socks?
For firearm-related questions, please refer to Running With Your Gun: FAQ.

But what if the elk does get away and I have to run after him? Do they make socks that are designed for hunting while running?
Not yet, dear reader. Not yet.