Are running socks worth it, or can you just use your ordinary socks?

lower legs in long running socks and footwear
Should I run in running specific socks, or just wear ordinary socks? (Image credit: Getty Images)

Every runner has had a bad day with their socks. Perhaps, you've suffered blisters due to ill-fitting socks, or you have had socks that constantly slip down over your heel. Then there are socks that make your feet hot, or do not keep them warm enough. The chances are, however you have favourite socks for running, too. But what makes your best running socks the ones you pull out of your sock drawer? For me, the socks that I always choose for running are running-specific socks.

Running socks, like ski socks, hiking socks and cycling socks, are designed to offer comfort and performance for the specific sport. There are different types of socks for running, but the common theme is that the designers have considered the needs of runners.

runners and different socks

What type of socks do you wear for running? (Image credit: Getty Images)

Running socks compared to ordinary socks

Running socks include both comfort and performance features, such as being seamless. Socks with seams will often cause irritations, especially at the toes. This is where many running socks differ from ordinary socks.

Running socks come in a range of sizes and fits, for men, women and children, as well as being made in different fabric thicknesses. The aim of a running sock is to fit neatly on the foot so there is no movement or friction that could cause rubs and blisters. They should not be so thick that they feel too bulky in your running footwear.

Some running socks have individual toe pockets with the aim of reducing skin rubs when running long distances. Other running socks might be twin-layered, again with the goal of keeping rubs to a minimum

Many good quality running socks also have cushioning  in different areas of the foot, such as at the heel and underfoot, as well as an elasticated support around the mid-foot. All these features are meant to provide greater comfort when running many miles.

Ordinary socks and running socks will often be sold in different fabrics and thicknesses, but a special focus of socks for runners is making sure feet do not suffer with too much moisture from sweat. For this reason, you will often find running socks are made with a natural wool mix, such as merino. In contrast, many more ordinary socks are made in cotton or nylon mix materials and this can easily cause your feet to become damp, which will lead to poor hygiene and blisters if you wear them for running.

trail running socks and footwear

Running socks should offer greater comfort and performance  than your everyday socks (Image credit: Getty Images)

There are various lengths of running socks, but you can be hopeful that whichever ones you choose, so long as they are in the right size, they will not slip down or wrinkle into your footwear. The best choice is a running sock with an ankle. Avoid ordinary so-called trainer socks because these are best kept for general lifestyle wear. Whenever I have run in “trainer” socks I end up with my heels exposed.

Running socks also include what is known as compression socks. These are said to help with reducing muscle fatigue and cramps when running long distances. You will see some ordinary socks – usually fashionable socks – that rise up the calf to a similar height but it’s unlikely they will provide the same specific compression of running compression socks. 

Many running socks also suggest they are made to be durable and long lasting. They might be made with enhanced fabrics or with features that prevent holes being worn through, for example, at the toes or heels even after many hundreds of miles. 

Then there are waterproof socks. They are sold for runners, hikers and more ordinary wear, such as for Wellington boots in the garden. You can expect a waterproof running sock to be a good fit in your running shoes and with good levels of breathability. 

Another thing to note when comparing running socks and ordinary socks is price. The former are probably the pricer - and often by a long way.

At the end of the day you may well find a pair of ordinary socks that work well for you when running, but it’s more likely you will end up favouring running specific socks because they are made to give greater comfort and performance for runners. I think it’s worth spending more for a good quality running sock and I usually find they have a better fit and good longevity compared to my more ordinary socks, which I reserve for general lifestyle wear. 

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.