Our Sock Cushions: A Complete-ish Guide

Infographic showing the different types of sock cushioning, from no cushion to targeted cushion to full cushion

Work to play, we rely on our feet all day. You might think of cushioning as a bit of a thank you, as well as an investment in keeping your body happy from the knee down. And we’ve diversified from straight-up “Cushioned” into multiple types of activity-specific padding.

By now you might’ve heard that we’re big on durability, fit, comfort, and function — go ahead and add perfecting cushioning and where it’s placed to our ongoing quest to make the world’s best socks.

There’s always the option to go without, and we’re not saying you’d be rude to your feet to head that direction. But before we get to that topic, we’re going to drop into a complete-ish guide on just what cushioning is, how we make it, and what the benefits are for each type cushioning type we offer. And it starts with Terry loops.

Download Darn Tough's quick reference guide to the different types of socks here.

Terry and the Loops

Image showing a closeup of a single loop of thread - a Terry loop

Terry loops might sound like a cross between a 70’s band and 90’s breakfast cereal. Put down the record player and milk, and get quasi-technical with us for a moment.

Terry loops are the building blocks of making cushion socks — flip a pair of cushioned (aka padded) Darn Tough socks inside out, and you’ll see thicker knitting created by pulling the yarn to make a loop between each stitch.

Take out a magnifying glass, and you’ll see that there’s actual loops in there. If you find something like an episode of “Fraggle Rock” going on while you’re inspecting, it’s a sign that you need to wash those socks (Merino Wool can go longer than cotton without a trip to the hamper, but not that long).

The denser knitting created by Terry loops forms natural cushioning, produces air pockets for added insulation, and introduces more Merino to wick away moisture. Look at a bathroom towel, and you’ll see the same knitting pattern in play.

Types of Sock Cushioning

Close up of the inside of a sock, one part covered in Terry loops and the other part not

Call them padded socks, or just socks with thick fabric, there’s no wrong way to describe what’s going on in a pair of cushioned socks. Just like there’s no wrong choice about which type of cushioning (or not at all) to go with. That said, we design our socks for specific activities, and cushioning is a big part of that equation.

Maybe you’ve heard us wax on about the three levels of No Cushion, Cushion, and Full Cushion, but though those are a starting point, they aren't even the full list of how far we go to design the best experience for your feet. We’re here to bring some more detail to each cushion profile and what it’s best suited for.

No Cushion

Person tying sneakers on over no cushion darn tough running socks

We’re including this one here because it’s a chicken or egg situation. Can’t have cushioning without not having cushioning, right? Yeah, socks can be philosophical, too.

Like the category name implies, these socks have all the Darn Tough magic, with no added cushion. No Cushion socks are go-to’s for many activities where you want maximum feel and minimal plush.

From runners who want a direct connection to the ground underneath them, to skiers and riders seeking a light and tight boot fit, or just folks who take an ultralight or minimalist approach to footwear, No Cushion is an easy win.

Check it out in the Run No Show Tab or the RFL Over-the-Calf Ski socks.

Standard Cushion

Inside out sock with Terry loop cushioning visible

Our cushion socks add soft Terry loops underfoot, over the toe, and up the back of the heel and ankle. This Standard Cushion profile found on many of our cushioned socks boosts comfort and durability across all activities.

Designed to meet the rugged demands of hiking, this is the ATV of cushioning profiles — if it’s good enough for thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, it’s probably going to do you well cruising around town also.

You can find this cushion profile in our top-selling 1466 Hiker Micro Crew, or in cushioned lifestyle socks like the Sun Pedal Crew.

Contoured Cushion

Feet wearing purple socks that have contoured sock cushioning

Our Lifetime Guarantee is our value standard, and it also provides a trove of real-life feedback. The warranty department is where we gather data on wear patterns, which helps us determine what footwear and activities might call for a different cushioning approach.

With Contoured Cushioning, we sculpt the shape of the cushioning for a precise match to your activity and the footwear involved. You’ll still find the Terry loops underfoot and over the toe, like in our Standard Cushioning profile, but you’ll also see differences. The loops might extend higher up the heel into the Achilles or curve over the ankle bone.

Contoured Cushion socks are engineered to prevent blisters, ease fatigue, and boost durability in areas we’ve learned are high wear. It’s part of what makes this cushion profile a great match for Light Hiking, as well as all our Ski & Ride and Run socks.

Targeted Cushioning

Terry loops forming a padding shin, shown both right side out and inside out

Sometimes we find there’s a case for Terry loops beyond just underfoot. When activities call for a specific padding solution, Targeted Cushioning socks hone in on critical zones.

The benefit here is specific to the what the shop folks might call your “use case,” aka, drilling down to exactly what and where you’ll be wearing your socks. We’ll put targeted cushioning wherever we think it’s needed, but a few common examples include:

Feet wearing works socks with a full cushion toe box

The goal of placing cushioning where it’s needed comes back to the goal of making the best socks for each specific purpose.

Worth noting that many of our Targeted Cushioning socks are built around another cushioning profile — ski socks, for example, start with Contoured Cushioning, then a select few bring in Targeted Cushioning to create that shin pad.

Full Cushion

Full cush, across the board. It’s another form of cushioned socks, but here you’ll find those Terry loops nigh-on everywhere. When being wrapped in comfort and warmth is the only way to go, this level of cushioning delivers the goods.

From keeping a mountaineering trek moving under a heavy load, staking out your quarry with a rifle or bow in extreme weather, or just skipping the slippers because your socks can do that too, this is your stop on the cushioning train.

Find it in the Mountaineering socks and our Heavyweight Hunting socks, to name a few.

Two pairs of feet looking very cozy in full cushion socks

To Cush or Not to Cush

No need for Shakespeare Sparknotes. We’ll make it simple since we want you to go forth and wear the socks that work best for your feet and your lifestyle.

Any variety of cushioned socks (Standard, Contoured, and Full) will elevate softness and comfort, not to mention boost moisture wicking performance for more intensive activities and footwear.

Full days on the job, day hikes, breaking in uncomfortable shoes and boots, adding impact protection for running, skateboarding, or skiing stiff and unforgiving surfaces are just a few scenarios we could argue you’d benefit from more cush.

Then we’ve got our Targeted Cushioning socks, which benefit a specific activity and footwear. The benefits for those are pretty on the nose, and we stand by them.

No Cushion socks give you total foot feel, and the slimmest profile. When your footwear is dialed and the conditions are forgiving, you’ll find plenty of situations to wear No Cushion as well — training at the gym, running, looking slick at the office party, nordic skiing, and even skiing and snowboarding, if your boots fit real good.

We get that the Cushion or No Cushion debate is real, because we have different preferences and perspectives on this as well. You know us though— we broke down all the pros and cons here.

But What About Those Terry Loops...

A white sock inside out to show the tiny loops of thread forming the cushion

If you’re still wondering “how can all this cushioning science come down to loops,” you’re not alone. Bottom line, Terry is a pattern created by either weaving (old school) or knitting (newer school) continuous loops from microfibers.

From where we stand, more loops = more Merino, and the magic of this naturally wicking, warm, and durable fiber is something we’ve stood behind since the beginning.

Terry has been widely used since the late 1840’s, and is now made from cotton, fleece, Merino Wool, or a broad variety of other fibers. What you’ll find in our socks is closest to terry cloth.

We won’t get in to all the, ahem, ins and outs of this loop-based, super-soft knitting pattern today (perhaps an explainer for the future), but it’s shows up in multiple variations depending on the product — be it a sock, a bath towel, or your favorite set of sweatpants.

There’s the scoop on Cushioning. If you're looking for more scoops on types of socks, start here