As a trail runner, I obsess about what I put on my feet. And it’s not just what touches the ground that is important to maintaining or improving my health and performance; I also put a lot of focus on what touches my skin. So I always find myself trying new styles of socks — with different weights, cushioning, and compression — to try to find the best trail socks for my mountain runs.
I live along the Blue Ridge Mountains, so that informs my decision for which socks to pick for a particular run. Oftentimes, I’m encountering:
Humid or otherwise wet conditions: I want something that’ll wick moisture from my feet. The skin on your feet is never going to be as vulnerable as when it’s damp and struggling to dry itself. It’s a recipe for blisters/hot spots.
Uneven, technical terrain: There are trip hazards all over the forests of the East, with shallow roots poking up and ready to grab you and rocks awkwardly splayed along a path — especially during a nighttime run. I want something that’ll help with stability throughout my foot and keep my soles cushioned while also offering compression through my arch and up my calf.
Debris: Whether it’s small rocks and dirt, to sandy sections along river banks, debris seems to always be looking for a way in. A sock that forms well to my foot and has appropriate, but not suffocating, elasticity through the calf and at the cuff, is important to keeping my foot clean and abrasion-free.
Heavy usage: Yes, they have to be durable! If they’re not, they don’t deserve consideration.
There are a wealth of socks on the market to choose from, and trail socks are markedly different than road running socks. Ahead of making these picks, I wanted to narrow the field down to concise and worthwhile selections. And I wanted to go beyond what you might find in a local running store, where Feetures and Balega seem to rein supreme on shelves. I put at least 20 miles on each of more than a dozen different types of socks during testing, almost all from different brands. As I’ve learned from being engaged with socks for so long, one brand can have a true winner of a sock with one style, but another version from the same brand can be a total dud.
I’ve already written extensively about choosing a great hiking sock, so hopefully you’ll be able to gain some insights — and perhaps make a new discovery — here in the amazing selection of some of the best trail running socks that are available for the season:
1. Rockay Razer Trail Running Socks
Denmark-based Rockay came onto the scene in 2018 and has been scooping up major recognition ever since. And we’ve been close on their heels most of that time, writing about not only the great running socks that the company delivers, but also how well they do in terms of corporate sustainability and branching into other areas of running apparel.
The Rockay Razer is a trail-focused crew sock constructed from Econyl regenerated nylon, a recycled material that uses fishing nets and other ocean waste. The Razer has midsole compression as well as cushioning built into the ball and heel, and the structure of the sock offers superior stability for runners. (There is no sock on this list that feels as good in terms of arch compression, especially if you’re dealing with a bout of plantar fasciitis.)
The company uses a 200-needle thread count to give the yarn a wonderfully buttery feel. That feature also allows for a denser construction (aiding durability, especially in trail socks) and provides good stretch and recovery due to tighter tension. The top of the sock balances the ease of circulation with enough snugness to keep dirt and debris from getting inside. The sock as a whole is virtually seamless and has breathable mesh zones on the top and an anti-odor coating. It is closest you’ll come to having functional anti-blister construction in a sock.
2. Smartwool PhD Pro Endurance Crew Socks
Smartwool’s PhD Pro Endurance line is available in specific women’s and men’s versions, along with the opportunity for some pretty stylish prints that include floral patters, landscapes and geometric designs. The women’s version of this sock was new for 2020, while the men’s version came out in 2019 (we wrote reviews of the Pro Endurance socks here in the spring of 2020, covering both the Endurance and Ultra Light versions).
The men’s PhD Pro Endurance was created with the help of ultra-runner Rob Krar, and his vision for it, namely the minimal and targeted sole cushioning and a new malleolus ankle cushion, had been translated into a women-specific design with the hopes of helping on our toughest and most rugged trail runs. While there’s a lot of overlap between the men’s and women’s versions (and both are simply amazing socks), the women’s PhD Pro Endurance is cut slimmer than the men’s, helping it to hug the heel well without being too tight.
Smartwool puts a lot of effort into the flexibility around the ankle with its 4-Degree Elite Fit System, and it offers good movement without sacrificing the stability that we’ve gotten used to with other socks. The durability of this sock is partly thanks to Smartwool’s patent-pending Indestructawool construction method, a technology that has found its way into so many of the company’s footwear products. The sock is 49 percent Merino wool, and it’s blended with nylon, elastane and polyester.
3. Drymax Lite Trail Running Crew Socks
The first time I ever wore these socks on the trail was a difficult rainy and muddy day (as the photo shows) — and that’s also the day I fell in love with them. I discovered these Drymaxes through a trail-running group that I’m a part of, and I’m so glad that I did. Even though they’re billed as “lite,” they are a little thicker than others on this list, so I’ve found that they excel during the chillier temps in my area, without sacrificing the wicking abilities I need in a good sock.
Designed to take on the most epic of trails, Drymax’s Lite Trail Socks feel comfortable and, dare I say, even plush. The company’s advancements in knitting techniques have resulted in seamless toe and the elimination of yarn ends next to the foot that might cause irritation or blisters.
4. Swiftwick ASPIRE FOUR Trail Running Socks
I’m not sure if “silky minimalism” is a real phrase, but that’s the best way to describe the ASPIRE FOUR trail socks. Their nylon-dominant blend makes them the most comfortable socks on this list, with a smoothness that resonates all around the foot. But they’re also very lightweight, and coupled with their comfort, it’s easy to forget that you have socks on at all.
Of course, that means there are sacrifices, namely in terms of cushioning. But for folks who don’t need a lot of cushioning in their footwear, or are looking for a lot of ground contact on race day or a lot of responsiveness, these are a good choice.
The Olefin Fiber these socks are made with wicks moisture and sweat with ease, and firm compression can be felt throughout the entirety of the sock. It had a seamless toe, and the fit of this sock helps to make bunching, voids and blisters nonexistant.
5. XOSKIN 5.0 Crew Sock
There isn’t an ultra-running forum in the world that you can go on without people gushing about their XOSKIN socks. These are the socks that are built for the 100- or 200-milers, and they’re the ones most lauded as keeping blisters and hot spots away better than any other over those distances.
These socks used XOSKIN’s RAPIDriCOPPER technology, which wicks and dries very rapidly while reducing the co-efficient of friction on the skin surface because of the unique USPTO Patented PTFE molecules built into the yarn. The USPTO Patented Copper yarn reduces bacteria and promotes healthier skin texture, skin tone and overall a healthier environment for the skin surface.
The 5.0s have anatomically shaped left and right foot designs to maximize comfort, targeted tendon and ankle compression zone and an adjusting cuff for firm hold.
Ryan Tipps is Managing Editor for ActionHub and has years of experience in a variety of digital and print media. Ryan lives along the Blue Ridge Mountains, is an avid hiker, backpacker and runner and has been a part of the wilderness search and rescue community since 2005.
Feature image courtesy of Rockay
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