Picture this: you’re out on the river trail ready to attempt a new PR training time for a run that is usually pretty challenging for you. You’re well-hydrated, your muscles are warmed up, and the weather is picturesque. You have your new favorite shoes on that you were fitted for a couple of weeks ago. You start your pump-up playlist and get going and just a half-mile in; you can feel your socks slowly creeping down your heels into your shoes. Not wanting to slow the roll you have going, you leave it to fix later. Pushing through to mile 2, you start to feel like there’s a little cotton-cloaked animal writhing around under your heel. You begrudgingly stop to fix them, but at mile 3 not only have the critters returned to torment your feet, they might as well have taken a dip in the river they’re so damp. You can already feel the sensation of lotion and band-aid adhesive on the blisters that are starting to surface, and what started as the perfect day for running ended with you walking the last mile back to your car because of your...SOCKS?!
While a little dramatic, this scenario is more common and realistic than one might think. It’s hard to imagine that such a small item can make such a huge difference in your activity, but a well-fitting sock made of the proper materials can make all the difference in the world.
The reason why the sock materials are so important is because cotton-based products saturate with moisture in the shoe, which leads to higher degrees of irritation than synthetic or other natural-fiber socks. Cotton is great and comfy to wear as a casual material, but it’s not really cut out to be a top-choice performance fiber. Poly-blends, nylon and performance wool should be your best friends! That’s because they are more efficient at wicking away moisture and heat from your feet than cotton, which gives you more comfort on contact with your skin and a low-moisture environment to prevent blisters.
Those are the features of any good performance sock, but there are other factors to think about. There’s a sock for every need and preference out there. Can you clear a room whenever your shoes come off? A few models such as the Feetures Merino wool socks and the Balega Silver socks even have antimicrobial properties to prevent bacteria growth, making your socks odor-free. Do you run trails or ever have problems with your toes rubbing together? There’s even the funny-looking-yet-ultra-comfy Injinji toe socks that separate your toes within your shoes to prevent irritation, especially in high-moisture environments like trails or rainy days. Trail-lovers can also benefit from a taller sock to prevent abrasions from debris coming up off the uneven surfaces, as well as keeping that same debris from falling down into your socks. A few other factors can impact your choice, like the padding and thickness of your socks and how fitted you like them to be. More cushion is sometimes preferred for longer distances, but overall it’s up to your personal preference!