So you’ve finally liberated your feet from the sweaty confines of trail running shoes and discovered the joys of barefoot running shoes. Traditional shoes really don’t work for all feet, and with barefoot running, you can enjoy more unencumbered movement and better trail feel. But should you wear socks with barefoot shoes? Or does that defeat the purpose of barefoot running?
Obviously, we think anyway, if you’ve gone for a true barefoot shoe like the Vibram FiveFingers V-Trail 2.0, rather than just a zero drop sneaker, you’re not easily going to be able to consider socks with your running shoes, since your shoes have pouches for your toes and wearing them with toe socks seems a little ludicrous, if not impossible. But if you’ve opted for barefoot shoes that more closely mimic traditional shoes, such as the Altra Superior 4.5, you might be wondering if you need to wear socks with them.
The pros of wearing socks with barefoot shoes
Let’s start with some of the advantages of wearing socks with barefoot shoes, which may result in happier feet and shoes on the trail.
1. It’s less stinky
When you run wearing socks, it’s your socks that soak up most of the sweat. When you get home, the socks go in the wash and your shoes air out, remaining largely odor-free. But remove the socks from the equation and the inner of your shoes absorbs all that stinky bacteria, meaning smelly shoes.
Keeping your shoes and running gear less stinky isn’t just a kind thing to do for those with whom you live, it also means you don’t have to wash your shoes as frequently, increasing their shelf life.
2. Socks wick sweat
One of the main arguments for wearing socks when you’re running is that, if they’re made from the right moisture-wicking material, socks draw perspiration away from your skin. This means cooler feet in warm weather, less of that gross, clammy feeling, and it can mean less friction between your foot and your shoe.
3. You enjoy extra cushioning
Speaking of friction, a good pair of running socks also provide a layer of extra cushioning, resulting in less rubbing and opportunities for blisters to form, which is great for longer runs.
4. It’s warmer
Come the colder months, your barefoot shoes alone might not provide sufficient protection when you’re running along frozen ground and through icy grass. A pair of socks that are made using a merino wool blend can help to keep your feet and toes warmer in winter.
The cons of wearing socks with barefoot shoes
Though there are some benefits to wearing socks with barefoot shoes, there are also some arguments against the practice, though you’ll really need to try it for yourself to see if these are true for you.
1. You lose sensitivity
If the very reason that you’re wearing barefoot shoes to begin with is because you want to feel the trail more under foot, you are going to lose some of that sensitivity and ‘ground feel,’ even with thin socks.
2. You sacrifice some breathability
Even though we’re always emphasizing the importance of wearing socks made from breathable materials, one thing is true – adding another layer to your feet will restrict some breathability. Barefoot shoes are usually highly breathable, featuring lots of mesh in the uppers, and even a breathable sock made from bamboo will mean your feet get a little sweatier than without.
3. Your movement may be restricted
Even a really well-fitting pair of socks that are designed for performance do hinder the movement of your feet. They draw your toes closer together, and make it a little more difficult to spread them and use your foot muscles for good grip and stability. Wearing barefoot shoes without socks offers the most natural movement of your feet and toes.
Should you wear socks with barefoot shoes?
As you can see, there are arguments for and against wearing socks with barefoot shoes, and the best tactic is probably to try both and see what works best for you. If you’re going to wear socks with your barefoot shoes, the most important thing is to get the right kind. Take a look at the best trail running socks we’ve tested for starters, and seek something ultra lightweight and thin, ideally made from a blend of merino and synthetic materials to boost sweat wicking, such as the Darn Tough No Show Tab Ultra-Lightweight Merino Wool socks.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.