How to Choose the Right Running Socks

Person seated ground wearing no show running socks and putting on running shoes

There are a few non-negotiables when it comes to running. And posting on Strava isn’t one of them. Two that are, though, are choosing the right pair of socks and the right pair of shoes. Running is inherently simple in that all you really need is a good pair of each. The rest then, including how far and which direction you run, is entirely up to you.

At Darn Tough, we believe a $150 pair of running shoes is only as good as the socks you pair them with. Whether you’re crushing mountain ultras or racing your local 5k, the same applies to everyone who toes the line. It’s not uncommon for runners to spend countless hours researching, trying on, and testing a pair of shoes before they buy them. So, why shouldn’t you take that same approach when buying socks?

In this post, we’re going to cover how you should go about choosing the right pair of running socks. We’ll discuss the importance of running socks, what key features to look for, and what about Darn Tough Running socks make them the gold standard for every runner, from beginner level to elite professional.

The Importance of Running Socks

Two runners headed down the streets of a city

Much like you’d wear a specific type of sock for skiing or snowboarding, the same idea applies for running. Running socks are important in that they’re specifically designed to enhance performance and protect your feet in running shoes. The more time you spend running, the more important it is for you to choose the right pair of socks. It’s that simple.

You might be able to get away with not wearing run-specific socks, and that’s fine. But if you’re serious about your craft – which if you made it this far you clearly are – then we encourage you to keep reading.

Runaway Favorite Features

We knit a lot of socks for various end-uses, but not every Darn Tough sock is the same. They are mostly made of the same material, and we knit all of them with specific features we believe are essential to a high-performance sock (more on that here). But what is it that differentiates our Run socks from the other pairs we knit?

In your pursuit of setting new PRs, there are four main features to consider that our Run socks offer, including:

  • Durability
  • Breathability
  • Lightweight
  • Merino Wool
  • Performance Fit

To gain a better understanding of what these features do, let’s dive in and discuss the benefits of each, starting with durability.

Runner wearing bright pink socks for running, paused to catch her breath

Even More Durable

The best running socks are durable and knit to withstand the rigors of trail-running and road running alike. We knit our socks with enhanced durability in high-wear zones – specifically in the soles and up the Achilles – for a resiliency that you can trust across all types of terrain.

Naturally durable and tougher than most fabrics, Merino Wool is confidence-inspiring and offers protection with every step and against every root, rock, and rugged trail.

Breathable Mesh

The beauty of Merino Wool is its ability to wick moisture and keep your feet dry after they get wet, and we complement that natural ability with our stitches.

Our Run socks are strategically knit with pockets of breathable mesh to help promote dry feet, even if the trail you’re running down looks and feels more like a river. This staple running feature helps prevent blisters and thwart hotspots before they surface, keeping your feet light and dry for every mile, and then some.

Like a Feather

Darn Tough Running socks are available in two weights: Ultra-Lightweight and Lightweight. The keyword being ‘light,’ as it appears mutually.

Feet mid-air wearing ultralight running socks from Darn Tough with tortoise and the hare designs

Both styles of socks are lightweight for reasons you’ll appreciate as early as mile one, and they won’t ever feel like they’re weighing you down. They are sleek, soft to the touch, yet form fitting for a next-to-skin-feel that’s simply unparalleled.

Wearing these, you’ll feel like you’re floating, or better yet, flying, be it straight to the finish or up the next climb, with ease.

Merino Wool for the Win

If there’s one recurring feature in all our Run socks, it’s Merino Wool. Merino is a key contributor to high-performance running socks, and it’s arguably the singular most important ingredient that helps elevate our Run socks to superior levels.

We’ve written exhaustively about the natural wonders of Merino Wool in other posts, so we won’t get too ahead of the pack discussing it here. But it’s important to call out the vital features of what makes Merino Wool the ideal, if not the world’s best, fabric for knitting high-performance Run socks.

A few reasons we run in Merino Wool: it’s naturally durable, comfortable, moisture-wicking, thermoregulating, and odor-resistant. And unlike your grandma’s wool, what we knit isn’t itchy and won’t irritate your skin.

We also knit a variety of our Run socks using Coolmax synthetic fibers, which naturally imitate Merino Wool but are vegan... in case you were wondering.

Performance Fit

We’ve heard rumors about people mislabeling our socks as Darn Tight. Really, they just lack the proper education. But that’s on us to change.

What they’re experiencing, and what we’ve curated over years of testing and design, is actually called Performance Fit. This continual, unrelenting fit with arch support is one of the key features that differentiates our sock from your average Run sock.

Our Performance Fit is more than just a feeling – it’s an equation of sought-after attributes that runners crave (like a banana after a long run). Not to be confused with tightness, our Performance Fit is a combination of moisture-wicking, temperature regulating, and form-fitting features that come together (might we add without seams) to help prevent blisters and hotspots.

Consider Your Running Shoes

Runner seated on bench adjusting their shoes wearing blue run socks

Like we mentioned in the beginning of this post, your running shoes are only as good as the socks you pair them with. But you still want good shoes. Now, we’re not going to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing shoes, but we would like to touch on the two types of running shoes that are the most common.

If you’re in the market for running shoes, you’re invariably going to be choosing between one of two styles: road runners and trail runners.

Nowadays, you’re even likely to stumble across a hybrid variation, but traditionally you’ll be deciding between road running shoes (ones with flatter, smoother soles) and trail running shoes (ones with bigger, softer lugs for traction). A hybrid running shoe will incorporate unique features of each, providing a solid, all-around look and feel that’s best suited for dipping between roads and running up trails.

But whichever style best fits you, it’s important to first find the right pair of socks to partner with that footwear. E.g. a good rule of thumb is your socks should never be shorter than your shoes. 

How to Choose Running Socks

Now that we’ve covered what features to look for in every running sock, how do you go about choosing the right one?

First, there are a few things to consider when searching for the perfect pair: including sock height, cushion, and weight. To help you decide, let’s dive in and breakdown each, starting with sock heights.

Sock Heights

We knit three variations of sock heights for our Run category:

  • No Show Tab
  • Quarter Sock
  • Micro Crew

This trifecta of heights offers a range of choices for every runner which vary depending on training schedules, shoe selection, and the weather.

To learn more about each, let’s jump in and discuss what distinguishes one from the other, starting with out shortest height, the No Show Tab.

No Show Tab

Our No Show Tab socks might not show up on camera, but plan on them showing up on race day. And they’re so light you won’t even feel them.

Ideal for speed workouts or flying around the track, our No Show Tabs pair well with road running shoes, or spikes, offering a next-to-skin sensation for serious runners chasing their next PR.

The tab above the heel offers extra protection for your Achilles and makes these socks easy to pull on and slip off in between sessions.

Quarter Sock

The Quarter is the only sock height of its kind that can power through tough terrain without slipping. A hybrid style knit to help you conquer both the roads and trails with ease, we prefer the Quarter for workouts that often hinge on the idea of unpredictability.

With a fit that protects you right above the ankles, our Quarter is a versatile option for runners who don’t necessarily have a route planned but are ready for anything.

Micro Crew

The Micro Crew is a worthy running partner that offers lower-leg protection, enhanced durability, and superior style for runners of every level. It’s our bread-and-butter sock height that’s fit for everything, from long road sections to rugged alpine trails.

Runner pressing against a wall to stretch before heading out

And once you pull them up, you’ll be set for miles. Plan on getting a few pairs of these, because they truly run the gamut, both of style and performance.

Cushion vs. No Cushion

This choice comes down to preference, but it’s helpful to know that both cushioned and non-cushioned socks have their own unique advantages.

Cushion Socks

If cushion is something you’re into, we offer socks that add the right amount for extra protection on race day. Added durability for impact comfort on rugged trails makes every outing more enjoyable, and that’s just one thing cushion does. It also softens your footfall, protects your soles, and adds bounce to otherwise rigid or unflinching terrain.

Many runners appreciate the bit more absorption, heel padding, and extra durability cushion provides on days when you’re pushing the pace. Not that you need cushion to go the extra mile, but it does help if you’re out tackling rugged trails with lots of roots. Which, if you’re familiar with running in Vermont, is almost impossible to avoid.

Added cushion provides a softer touch on even the toughest of terrain, but still maintains a low profile to not add any unwanted bulk — compared to the cushion in our Hike socks, the cushion in our Run socks is super light and airy.

Trail runner leaping over rocks and roots

No Cushion Socks

Cushion is not necessary though, as evident by our line of no cushion socks. We once heard our Run No Show no cushion sock called a "ghost of a sock" ...and we think that's pretty accurate. 

If you're running in warmer weather, a pair of socks with no added cushion might be better for you. They help you feel the ground with every foot strike and are some of the lightest, most breathable socks that we knit for runners.

Sock Weights

We knit our Run socks exclusively in Ultra-Lightweight and Lightweight styles for reasons every runner can appreciate – they're soft, supportive, but not too bulky, offering comfort that lasts long into your toughest workouts. With your needs in mind, let’s dissect each option to determine which sock height is best suited for your running style.

Ultra-Lightweight

Wearing our Ultra-Lightweight Run socks is the closest thing to being barefoot, minus the risk. These are some of the lightest, most durable socks we knit for runners and are indisputably the best running socks for hot weather. They wrap to your skin and hold their fit for miles and miles, enabling you to dial in every foot strike with control and precision.

Lightweight

Ideal for cooler temperatures, our Lightweight Run socks are never guilty of weighing or slowing you down. They’re the best cold weather running socks and a great choice for runners who know to pick Merino, no matter the season.

If you’re after a pair of soft running socks that actively protect your feet, prevent blisters, and add bounce to every step, our Lightweight knits are some of the best in the industry.

Styles & Colors

Runner on a trail coming around a corner in stylish running socks

If you’re familiar with how we knit socks, then you know how much time we put towards product design. Of all the features that make our socks unique, chief among them might be the one that ultimately draws you to a particular sock: the design, or in some cases, the color.

Noteworthy styles like the Frontrunner and Toco Loco Micro Crews are two that instantly pop, while colors like Lava, Space Gray, Violet, and Aqua add value and a distinct vividness to the line that you won’t find elsewhere.

To be clear, sock designs and colors don’t add much technical value, other than flashy appeal, but it’s a key differentiator if you’re searching for socks that speak to your personality. Although, one of our good friends, Josh, swears he runs faster in black socks.

Other Uses

Runner stand on ground stretching their calves and wearing black running socks

We take great pride in manufacturing the best sock for runners. But the truth is, not everyone who wears them is a runner. In fact, we’ve seen our Run socks used for many purposes, and worn by folks participating in many activities, including walking, gardening, even chilling at home.

Our No Show Tab Run socks are among the most popular styles for everyday use. Similarly, our Element socks are a top choice for mountain bikers and golfers. We encourage wearers to find the sock that best suits their needs, based on its features and tech, instead of solely wearing it because of what’s written on its label.

Really, it’s just important for runners to find a sock that’s best for their feet. Not that we’d necessarily recommend you kickstart your running career wearing a pair of our Lifestyle socks (not that you couldn’t PR in a pair of Spey Fly’s). But if you’re looking for a heftier sock, let’s say for winter running, our Hike socks are a viable option.

New to Running?

If you’re new to the sport, here are the sock styles that we at Darn Tough recommend starting with in each of the following arenas, be that in the wild or at home/the gym:

  • Trail Running — For newbie trail runners on the hunt for comfort, you can’t go wrong with either the Prism Micro Crew or Element Quarter. Lightweight with Cushion, these tech-heavy Run socks offer enhanced durability in key areas like the Achilles, cushion underfoot, and breathable mesh for top foot breathability.
  • Road Running — Our classic No Show Tab Run socks with cushion are suitable for new-to-the-road runners in search of comfort and durability. This Ultra-Lightweight knit is ideal for crushing miles on the pavement, thanks to its inclusion of terry-loop cushioning to protect the bottom of the foot.
  • Treadmill Running — Running on the treadmill isn’t always fun but can be if you’re rocking the right pair of socks. For gym workouts and runs at home when the weather is gloomy, we recommend a pair of our No Show Tab Run socks without cushion, or our Stride Micro Crew. Both are Ultra-Lightweight and breathe exceptionally well, especially if you’re stuck chasing your goals in a hot basement or gym.
  • Marathon / Long Distance Running — Long distance runners will appreciate the advancements in tech as offered by our Element No Show Tab socks. Increased durability in the heel and up the Achilles gives you support through 26.2, and then some. Plus, a performance fit holds strong for as long as your feet keep moving. Some might think it's short on looks, sure, but don’t be surprised when this sock takes you the long way home.
  • Cold Weather / Winter Running — For battling the elements of winter, we recommend none other than the Element Micro Crew. One of the tallest, warmest, and most protective Run socks we offer, this Lightweight knit still feels light but leans heavy on comfort to ensure your feet stay warm as you trudge through the snow. They’re thermoregulating, too, so even if your socks get wet, your feet will stay dry and warm.

Two runners crossing a bridge as they run on a snowy winter day

Choosing the Best Running Socks

The best running socks are the ones that fit your feet the best. They’re going to be the most comfortable and most durable socks for your specific needs, whatever that entails for you.

Your preference is key. But given the facts and the features we pointed out, we hope you’re able to find a pair that’s right for you. Road running, trail running, or just jogging on the treadmill… our socks got you covered.

Run for your life, if you must, just make sure you’re wearing a pair of Darn Tough’s. The most comfortable, durable, and best-fitting socks for runners – and you can post that on Strava for the world to see.

Two runners coming toward the camera going full speed