They're the unsung hero of the trail runner’s kit list – put on a pair of the best trail running socks and you’ll immediately notice a tangible difference in the way your feet feel when you’re out there running.
It’s one thing investing in a great new pair of super comfortable trail running shoes, but if you then go and pull on a pair of cheap and nasty socks, your feet are still likely to suffer from all sorts of painful problems when you start pounding the paths.
Equally, if you’ve been plodding around paths in an ill-fitting pair of substandard shoes, you probably know all about the discomfort that can cause – including great big bloody blisters and blackened toenails – although you may have unwittingly been blaming your shoes, or even your poor feet, for such issues.
The advanced designs and excellent fabrics used in the best trail running socks, many tailor-made for off-road and ultra running, mean they can offer you warmth, protection from ferocious flora and fauna, muscle and tendon support and antibacterial / anti-odor properties – in other words, they're a trail running essential.
There are lots of running socks out there, but we have put a selection of the finest to the test to help steer you towards the best trail running socks for you.
The best trail running socks available right now
Darn Tough No Show Tab Ultra-Lightweight Merino Wool socks
Comfortable, hard-wearing and high performing, these trail running socks might be invisible, but their benefits are very obvious on the trail
RRP: $16 (US) / £17 (UK) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Sizes: Men’s M–XXL; Women’s S–L | Materials: Merino Wool (48%), Nylon (48%), Lycra Spandex 4% | Length: Ankle (no show) | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 40g / 1.4oz Colors:** Men’s: Eclipse / Black / Fatigue / White / Burgundy; Women’s: Ash / Black / White / Baltic / Gray | Compatibility: Best suited to trail and mixed-terrain running in warmer conditions
Unless you’re wearing a extremely low profile running shoe, you won’t really see these socks (as the name suggests), so they won’t protect you from things like stinging plants, brambles or ticks, and are better suited to the warmer months, but there’s lots going on beneath the surface. The design and fine-gauge knitted material cradles the foot really well, regardless of the lack of left/right specificity, and the seams are entirely undetectable. Once pulled on, they stay firmly in place. As Darn Tough proudly proclaim at every opportunity, their socks are still made in Vermont, and they are constructed with lots of attention to detail and extremely well quality controlled. Available in cushioned (for extra bounce) and non-cushioned (superlight, with more trail feel) versions, these near-as-damn-it half-merino socks offer performance and comfort in equal measure. The wool brings various things to the party, all of which are very useful in a sports sock, including temperature regulation (providing warmth when you need it, but keeping you cool when things get hot – regardless of whether they’re wet or dry), antimicrobial properties (which keeps the pong away), moisture-wicking and quick-drying capabilities. And for its part, the nylon supplies the robustness and durability – something that Darn Tough are confident enough about to offer a lifetime guarantee.
Jack Wolfskin Cross Trail Classic Cut
Intelligently designed and well made, these socks are made for the trails
RRP: $20 (US) / £16 (UK)/ €16 (EU) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Polyamide (68%), Polyester (17%), Polypropylene (13%), Elastane (2%) | Length: Classic crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 47g /1.7oz | Colors: White / Black | Compatibility: Designed and created to run on trails across any distance an in most conditions
A comfortable and supportive sock, tailor made for trail runners and developed in collaboration with X-Technology especially for endurance sports, the Cross Trails include some interesting design features. They are highly breathable thanks to a system of vents and strategic placement of mesh fabric on the instep, and there are also spacer pads across the forefoot to create a gap between foot and shoe, encouraging a bit of airflow and reducing rubbing. There’s extra padding and support around all the places where problems can so often arise, including the ankle, Achilles tendon and toe, and the ‘biosplit’ footbed features padding and ventilation zones to relieve pressure on sole of foot at high stress areas. An archband supports the ankle as well, in order to promote a good stance. The materials are all synthetic, which isn’t great for the environment, but they are breathable, performance orientated and very durable.
Gore M Thermo Mid socks
Versatile performer, with good thermal properties for cold-weather running
RRP: $30 (US) / £23 (UK)/ €23 (EU) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Polyamide (48%), wool (24%), acrylic (24%), elastane (4%) | Length: Mid Crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 48g/1.7oz | Colors: Black & graphite grey / White & black | Compatibility: Versatile sock, good for running in all conditions and seasons
This versatile mid-length crew sock, with left- and right-foot specificity (indicated under the heel) has a very snug and supportive fit, and can be worn for trail or road running, or while cycling. Intended for cooler weather wear, they offer excellent thermal performance when it is chilly out, but because they are a quarter-made from wool they’re quite dynamic too, and won’t cook your feet even when it’s warm. The material also wicks moisture well and has some natural anti-odor properties. The comfort mapping construction means that the fabric is thicker where it needs to be. Accordingly, there is additional protection around the Achilles tendon, and more buffering for long-suffering toes and heels – which makes the sock feel more durable as well. The sock stays put very well, no matter how long you’re out, partly thanks to a grip band around the midfoot, and the feel is comfortable, with no noticeable seams.
Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool toe sock
Extremely versatile, the original toe sock performs at the highest level out on the trails
RRP: $21 (US) / £24.50 (UK) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: NuWool (43%) Acrylic (43%), Nylon (12%) Lycra (2%) | Length: Crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 62g / 2.2oz | Sizes: S–M–L–XL | Colors: Charcoal / Oatmeal | Compatibility: Excellent for all trails in any conditions
Injinji pioneered the toe sock and we have been wearing various iterations of this sock for over 8 years now, and have always been very impressed with the performance. With your toes being separated from one another, the level of skin-on-skin rubbing is reduced, massively lowering the risk of blisters in this potentially problematic area. This design also lets your feet and toes move in the way they are supposed to (natural splay), albeit within the confines of a shoe (obviously if your running shoe has a narrow toebox, this won’t work as well). Depending on your feet, it can take some time to get these on properly, but the comfort levels make it worthwhile. Arguably, a toe sock is slightly less warm than a normal sock – just as gloves aren’t as warm as mittens – but the Nuwool fabric used in these socks has excellent thermal properties. Other features include midweight padding cushions, and some arch support. The cuff is designed to stay firmly in place, keeping out dirt and debris from the trail. A large area of mesh across the forefoot allows air to your feet – it will be interesting to see how durable this element is, but we have run 50km-plus in them, washing them after each outing, and haven’t noticed any concerning issues yet. In fact, they seem extremely robust.
Inov-8 speed sock high
Solidly supportive synthetic sock
RRP (twin pack): $24 (US) / £18 (UK)/ €20 (EU) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Nylon, Spandex | Length: high crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 20g/0.7oz | Sizes: S–M–L | Colors: Black & grey **Compatibility:** A very versatile sock that performs well on and off trails, in any conditions
A hard-working and versatile outdoor-active sock (good for running, cycling, walking with a hiking shoe), the Inov-8 Speeds are extremely durable and priced sensibly. The first thing to note is that they are very supportive – the fit is tight, to the point of compression, which aids blood circulation when you’re working hard and reduces foot swelling. These socks are left/right foot specific, and this is clearly indicated on forefoot, next to the size, so you don’t have to faff about in the half light of dawn before a morning run trying to work out which foot to pull what sock on. They feature extra padding around the heel and underfoot, which cuts down on the chances of you suffering sores and blisters. Materials are entirely synthetic, which isn’t so brilliant from an environmental point of view, but they will last ages and they wick moisture brilliantly.
1000 Mile Run Socklet
Comfortable short sock, perfect for warmer weather running
RRP (twin pack): £13 (UK) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Nylon (97%), elastane (3%) | Length: Mini crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): g / oz | Sizes: Men’s M–L–XL; Women’s S–M | Colors: Men’s Kingfisher blue / Navy blue, Women’s Pink & lavender / Steel & blue (one of each in every twin pack) **Compatibility:** A great sock for spring, summer and early autumn/fall running
The 1000 Mile Run Socklet features extra padding in various areas to better protect your feet from the stresses of running. This is most pronounced around the Achilles, where there’s a big fat-lip of material to cushion the oft-problematic tendon, but there are also padded zones on the heel, toes and ball of the foot. Sections of ventilation mesh have been employed along the top of the foot, which helps noticeably with breathability, and these socks seem so well made that these areas still seem robust despite their lightness. Other useful features include arch bracing, which feels supportive and helps keep the sock in place, a Y-shape heel for a better fit, and flat toe seam, to reduce irritation and rubbing on pinkies. Although made mostly from nylon (not brilliant from an environmental point of view) these socks are very breathable, wick moisture well and don’t feel super synthetic – they’re actually very soft and comfortable. Will they last 1000 miles? Well, we haven’t run quite that far in them yet, but we have ticked off over 100km without any signs of wear and tear presenting themselves, and they do seem genuinely durable.
Falke Run RU4 sock
An all-rounder of a running sock with medium padding
RRP: $18 (US) / £17 (UK)/ €18 (EU) | Gender specificity: Men’s | Materials: Polypropylene (45%), cotton (35%), Polyamide (20%) | Length: High-ankle crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 45g /1.6oz | Colors: Sulfur / Sulphur / White / White & Cobalt / Black / Athletic blue / Magenta **Compatibility:** A good three-season running sock for all kinds of terrain.
A sporty sock with a lightweight cool feel, which you can comfortably wear while trail running, road running or cycling across three seasons, the versatile RU4 Falke sock features medium-thickness padding. The moderate cushioning supplies some protection, softening the stress of repeated impact and reducing the risk of blisters, while not increasing the bulk or profile of the garment. These socks are left/right foot specific, and this is clearly indicated on the uppers, by the ball of the foot, so you don’t need to search all over the place looking for what hoof to put which sock on. They are comfortable, well contoured to the shape of your foot, with a nicely shaped toe box area, and the mix of materials work well to maintain this shape after repeated use and washes. The thermal properties are only modest, but they do wick moisture well, and the classic crew cut takes the sock up over the ankle, offering decent protection from low-lying nettles and other irritants.
Smartwool PHD Run Cold Weather mid crew
Magic merino socks, fit for trail use all year round (despite the name)
RRP: $22 (US) / £20 (UK)/ €21 (EU) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Merino Wool (56%), Nylon (41%), Elastane (3%) | Length: Crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 50g / 1.8oz | Sizes: Men’s M–L–XL; Women’s S–M–L | Colors: Neptune Blue / Black & grey / Red & black | Compatibility: A very versatile sock for trail- and mixed-terrain running all year round
There are some strong clues to the intended purpose of the Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew socks in the name, but we would argue that they are actually much more versatile than they sound – they’re good for running year round, not just in the colder months, and although they have a run-specific profile, they’re great for mountain biking and hiking too. Made mostly from merino wool, these socks benefit from all the assets of that amazing material, which is highly breathable, wicks moisture brilliantly, keeps you cool when it’s hot and war when conditions are cold, and contains natural anti bacterial and anti pong properties – the latter being particularly good in a sock. The addition of nylon makes them more durable (Smartwool, call the cocktail ‘Indestructawool’), which is good considering they’re not super cheap, and the elastane element means they hold they shape and support your foot where it matters. On top of that, there’s extra cushioning on the ball and heel of the foot, where you need it most, body mapped mesh zones for enhanced venting, and a ‘virtually seamless toe’ for max comfort levels. They are not left/right specific, but that really doesn’t seem to matter much.
Craghoppers Nosilife Adventure socks
Supportive, ergonomically styled socks with inbuilt anti-insect treatment
RRP: £16 (UK) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Cotton (67%), polyester (19% ), polyamide (12%), elastane (2%) | Length: Crew | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 62g / 2.2oz | Colors: Dark navy / Parka green | Compatibility: Best suited to trail running/hiking in areas where there are lots of biting insects
Part of Craghopper’s NosiLife lightweight adventure collection, these versatile multiuse socks are infused with an agent offering apparently permanent protection against biting insects, which makes them perfect for running (or hiking) in places where such irritants are prevalent, from Scotland to Australia and everywhere in between. They are also relatively long socks, so the protection extends up your shin and calf, although this does make them quite warm to wear in hot conditions. You don’t need to be scampering around on mosquito-plagued trails to feel the benefit of these comfortable socks, though. They’re particularly supportive around the ankle and across the forefoot, where there is a series of vents. They also offer extra cushioning around the sole, toe, heel and ankle. They are crew length, and feature a double cuff, so they stay up nicely.
Bamboo sport socks
Comfortable, high-performing socks that are friendly to your feet, wallet and the planet
RRP (2-pack): $ (US) / £10 (UK)/ € (EU) | Gender specificity: Unisex | Materials: Viscose Bamboo (53%), Organic Cotton (30%) Recycled Polyamide (15%) Elastane (2%) | Weight (men’s large, per pair): 39g/1.4oz | Colors: Navy / Amber | Compatibility: A good summer running sock for all kinds of terrain
As a natural material, bamboo is much more environmentally friendly than synthetic fabrics, and it’s also fine for vegan runners to wear. Here it is blended with organic cotton, grown without insecticides, and the whole manufacturing process uses far less water than industry usual (Bam say purchasing these specific socks over most alternatives is equivalent to saving 25.5 days of drinking water). Bamboo isn’t just a Panda snack, spun into yarn it is a dynamic, comfortable fabric with lots of naturally occurring properties that work particularly well with active apparel, including excellent breathability, moisture-wicking capability and anti-stink attributes. As a 100% natural fibre, it will also biodegrade after your sock’s lifespan is over - although these socks are pretty robust, so you should get plenty of runs done in them. It is absorbent too, as is the organic cotton it is blended with, so it’s not as light as some synthetic material when wet, when it will also lose some thermal properties (although this is a not a cold-weather design anyway). This is a low-cut sock with a terry cushion sole and an extra-padded tab at the back to protect your heel and ankle against rubbing on the cuff of whatever trail running shoe you pair them with them. Other features include added mesh section for extra breathability. The sports sock is less specced out than Bam’s technical running socks, which feature rib compression around the arch and a reinforced toe box, but this more relaxed and comfortable design is rated as better for longer distance runs.
How to choose the best trail running socks for you
Feet are the single most important part of the body for runners, and even if you’re into ‘barefoot’ running, how you treat them and what you clad them in is vitally important. Trail runners look for a slightly different set of features in a sock than their road running cousins, because of the gnarlier terrain, increased potential of encountering wet, muddy and generally more challenging conditions, and possibility of bushing against stinging flora and biting fauna. Following are some factors we recommend taking into account to help you choose the best trail running socks for you.
There’s a lot to ponder under this heading. The best trail running socks are breathable, warm (when they need to be), wick sweat away, last for a good amount of time without stinking your sock draw out, look ace and are good for the planet. It’s hard to get all of these qualities in one sock, though, because materials all offer different qualities. Natural fabrics such as wool and bamboo boast great thermal qualities, wick well, feel great and don’t pong (too much) – and they’re more environmentally friendly, partly because they’re grown and not made as a byproduct of the fossil fuel industry, and partly because they biodegrade at the end of their life. But they’re not as durable as manmade materials. Cotton feels lovely in summer, but offers no warmth whatsoever when it’s wet and cold outside. Synthetic poly products dry incredibly quickly, still perform when wet, and last for ages (in fact, they’ll outlive all of us), but they don’t feel as nice next to your skin and one day they will take over the entire planet if we keep buying them. The best choice really is to go for socks made with a mix of materials – although these can be more pricey. If you run trails regularly, it’s worth getting a garment that will make that experience more enjoyable.
You need to consider seasonality here, and the kind of terrain you are running through. Obviously, cold weather runs are more endurable when you’re better covered up, but a longer sock can also provide more support (for tendons, joints and muscles) and protection (against prickly and stinging plants, and things such as ticks) all year round, even when it’s warmer. But if you’re running open or sandy trails in mostly good conditions, an ankle sock or socklet can be the most pleasant choice.
Padding and cushioning
The best trail running socks offer that little bit extra, in terms of protection for the various long-suffering parts of your foot against the stresses of repeated foot strike when running, and the constant rubbing wearing a trail shoe can cause. A bit of cushioning on the heel, toe area, sole, ankle, and around the Achilles tendon can really make a difference. These elements can increase the price of the sock, but if it’s going to stop you getting potentially activity-stopping blisters and blackened toenails, it’s definitely worth it. Thicker material in these areas will also increase the lifespan of the sock, so you’ll get your money’s worth in the end.
Other design elements
When a sock has left/right specificity, it implies that each sock has a more contoured fit for each foot. This can absolutely be the case, and the majority of socks covered here do include one left- and one right-footed sock. But it shouldn’t be the deal breaker that turns the best trail running sock into an also-ran – in reality, the difference feels fairly negligible, and when you’re trying to get out the door for a dawn run, it can be a pain if it’s not immediately obvious which sock is for which foot. We have put the wrong one on the wrong foot before now, and we didn’t fall over any more than usual. The exception to that rule is, of course, the toe socks, where you definitely need to get them the right way around.
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