Different Types of Socks: A Complete-ish Guide

Many styles of Darn Tough socks hanging on a wall in the mill

There are a lot of types of socks; trust us, we know. Working at a sock company, you quickly learn that there are so many different types of socks, with no shortage of ways to group and categorize them. And with such a variety, it can be overwhelming to understand your options.

To make things a little bit easier, we made a (mostly) comprehensive, no-nonsense downloadable guide on all types of socks. We also have a comprehensive guide on How to Choose Socks, if that’s what you’re looking for.

Socks By Height

Infographic showing all sock height and length options, from no show to over the calf

One of the first and most common ways to categorize socks into different types is to consider them by their heights. It makes sense, as finding your footwear often dictates how tall or short you want your sock to be. Generally speaking, you can group socks into four height groups (though we knit way more than that):

  • No Show socks
  • Ankle socks
  • Crew socks
  • Knee High socks

Let’s consider these from shortest to tallest.

No Show socks are exactly what they sound like — these are socks designed to be invisible when your shoes are on, and typically those shoes are low-tops. Though they come in a range of options, the rule of thumb for no show socks is they rise no higher than your ankle.

At Darn Tough, we knit no shows ranging from Invisible (for a truly no-sock look in even your boat shoes) to No Show Tab running socks, which rise to just below the ankle and have tabs for a secure, no-blister fit. No show socks are often a go-to for casual and athletic settings, perfect for footwear ranging from dress shoes to sneakers.

Next up, we hear a lot about ankle socks. The definition around this sock type is a bit more hazy than no shows, but if the sock sits right below, on, or just over your ankle, probably a safe bet to call it an ankle sock.

Now, you won’t see any socks labeled “ankle sock” on our site, but safe to say we’ve got you covered. We knit two different types of ankle-reaching socks. Our Quarter height is perfect for low cut hiking boots and the similar Shorty height gives a nice flair in ankle height boots. These are some of the most common heights for casual socks.

Model sitting on the porch in Animal Haus Crew Socks

The Crew sock category is arguably the most popular and most famous sock height. The sock multi-pack your parents used to keep your toes covered all through childhood? Yeah, those were probably crew socks.

Traditional crew socks sit around mid-calf, though the exact length may vary from company to company. At Darn Tough, we knit crew socks… and we also knit several other heights in the mid-calf leg range, something for every. These range from sitting just below the calf muscle, like our Micro Crew height, to well past the calf mid-way point, like our Boot Socks, and everything in between.

Runner sitting, pulling up Element Micro Crew socks and getting ready to put shoes on

Finally we have knee high socks. At Darn Tough, we call these Over-the-Calf socks - both names get at the definition. This type of sock covers your entire calf and ends just below your knee cap. They’re the preferred height for many sports, extremely cold days, or extra tall boots. These are the best .

There is a sock height for every occasion, and each height has its benefits. If you want to learn more about the different heights in socks and when you would want to wear each height, check out our comprehensive sock height guide.

Socks By Weight

Infographic showing Darn Tough sock weight/thickness options from ultralight to heavyweight

Arguably one of the most important ways we categorize socks is by weight. In this case, the weight of the sock doesn’t refer to numbers on a scale but instead the relative thickness of the yarn used to knit it, impacting the warmth and on-foot-feel. Generally the thicker the yarn is, the warmer the sock will be.

There are four types of weights that socks get categorized as:

  • Ultra-Lightweight (or Ultralight) socks
  • Lightweight socks
  • Midweight socks
  • Heavyweight socks

Let’s talk about these from lightest to heaviest.

Ultralight Socks are the thinnest and lightest socks out there — a ghost of a sock. The thinner fabric allows for ventilation, making these the most breathable sock weights. These are often used for running or working out, but they work great for anyone who wants an incredibly thin sock to keep things light on their feet.

Next up, we have Lightweight socks. Lightweight socks are often used as dress socks to go with a dress shoe. Due to the versatility of this sock weight, they are also great for everyday socks or casual socks.

Spools of yarn at the Darn Tough mill

Midweight socks offer the right feel and comfort for year-round wear and can be worn on most days (especially if they are Merino Wool). Midweight is Darn Tough’s most popular weight for hiking socks, and it’s what we use in the 1466, our best selling sock.

Finally, we have Heavyweight socks. Heavyweight socks are the thickest and warmest socks out there. These are made for the coldest days and most extreme conditions… or for that slipper sock feel. Many people opt for heavyweight socks for activities like mountaineering or hunting.

For the best results, choose the sock weight that fits your needs and preferences. To learn more about different sock weights and when each one is best, check out our complete guide to sock weights.

Socks By Material

Many different colors of yarn from Darn Tough socks

An important yet often forgotten factor when shopping for socks is material. Many people just walk into the store and buy socks in the height and color they like. If you take one thing away from this guide, remember this: the materials the sock is made of and the features associated with those materials matters. Here are some common sock fabric types:

Let’s break down these materials.

In our experience, Merino Wool is the best material to have in a sock. It’s extremely durable, moisture wicking, thermoregulating, and odor eliminating. Don’t believe us? Ask the Merino sheep who have been wearing, hiking in, and testing Merino Wool for over 10,000 years!

If you don’t want to use wool, there are other options that try to mimic the properties of Merino Wool. There are synthetic polyester options which have many similar benefits to Merino Wool, but are only mimicking what Merino does naturally.

At Darn Tough, we make select socks out of Coolmax and Thermolite to provide thermoregulating, moisture wicking, vegan sock options.

Model standing on a wooden porch outside in the Darn Tough Zuni Coolmax Socks

Finally, we have the cheapest and perhaps common option, which is cotton. Though it is usually cheaper than the other materials, this is a case where you get what you pay for. Cotton socks are not odor resistant, have a shorter lifespan, and don’t wick moisture.

While we believe Merino Wool is the best material to have your socks knit with, there are a ton of other fabric options out there. If you’re interested, you can read more about Merino Wool vs. other sock materials.

Socks By Cushion

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

Also called padding, cushion is extra material knit into the sock (or areas of the sock) via terry loops. Choosing the amount of cushion comes down to preference and activity type. When you’re on your feet for miles or hours, it can be nice to have some extra cushion for comfort. Here are a the main types of sock cushion options:

  • No Cushion socks
  • Cushion socks
  • Full Cushion socks

Let’s talk about these from lightest cushion to maximum cushion.

No Cushion socks have no padding or cushion to reduce the impact on your feet. The lack of extra fabric from the terry loops keep things light, breathable, and low profile.

Cushion socks have terry loops running along the bottom of the foot and in high impact areas. These offer a good balance between cushion benefits and breathability. You can further break this down into three types:

  • Standard Cushion - the ATV of cushioning profiles with cushion underfoot, over the toe, and up the heel, good for thru-hiking and cruising around town.
  • Contoured Cushion - we sculpt the Terry loop placement for a precise match to your activity, including Terry loops extending up the Achilles. 
  • Targeted Cushion - Terry loops added beyond underfoot for specific scenarios. For example, we make a work sock that has extra cushion in the toe to prevent numbness from steel toe boots. We also make ski socks with padded shins for extra comfort on the mountain.

Full Cushion socks have terry loops running throughout the entire sock to create a super padded sock that protects your feet as much as possible, adding warmth, comfort, and durability.

Model sitting with feet hanging out of trunk in Function X socks next to Snowboard boots

Is cushion right for you? You can learn more about what cushioning is and the different types in our Complete Guide to Sock Cushion

Socks By Activity

When it comes to different types of socks, we’re firm believers that the most technical footwear will only get you so far without an equally technical sock — just one reason we knit activity-specific socks.

While most of our socks can be worn on most days, we do combine our technical features to cater to specific activities. The categories of activities we make socks for include:

  • Hiking socks
  • Running socks
  • Lifestyle socks
  • Hunting socks
  • Snow socks
  • Tactical socks
  • Work socks

Our most popular category of socks is our Hike sock category. Hiking socks are designed for durability and to complement your trail footwear, keeping your feet dry, comfy, and blister-free. These socks come in all different types ranging from no show to over-the-calf height and lightweight to heavyweight.

Model sitting on top of a mountain looking at a mountain range in Darn Tough Bear Town Socks

Running socks are often made from lightweight and ultra-lightweight yarns, keeping things airy in running sneakers. We knit ours in heights ranging from no-show to crew, for everything from trail runs to road races.

You won’t hear many people looking for Lifestyle socks; by name — but if you’ve ever just needed socks, this type is probably what you meant. Lifestyle socks are the socks you wear every day, and can be split into two categories: dress socks and casual socks. Whether a particular sock is best paired with your Crocs or Oxfords often comes down to the sock’s design (though we say formal occasions are a great time for statement socks).

Hunting socks are made to be rugged and hold up to tough conditions, while keeping your feet warm and sweat-free. Our hunting socks come in different weights for every season and feature cushion around the calf to protect against boot lace pressure.

Hunters sitting in the bed of a truck in their Darn Tough Hunt Socks

Snow socks are designed for winter sports, often skiing and snowboarding. These are generally low-profile socks, which helps prevent unwanted pressure inside the sports’ highly technical boots. Darn Tough knits these in Over-the-Calf styles, with the exception of the nordic ski socks, which are lower to accommodate cross country ski boots, snowshoes, and ice skates.

Tactical socks are designed to meet the requirements of US military branches so they can be worn with uniforms, from PT to combat. Darn Tough’s tactical socks are Berry compliant and available in military spec colors.

Finally, we have Work sockswhich are made to be durable, comfortable, and protective for those spending long days in heavy duty footwear, like leather boots and rubber boots.

Worker with ripped pants sitting in the Men's Steely Work socks

Socks By Pattern

Now it’s time for everyone’s favorite part… patterns! While it won’t affect performance or comfort, sock designs are a great way to show off your style and express your personality. As an added bonus, socks with unique patterns are much easier to match in the wash.

There are thousands of different sock patterns out there and unlimited possibilities for future sock patterns, but here are a few of our favorite types:

  • Solid socks (and colorblock)
  • Stripe socks
  • Animals socks
  • Nature socks
  • Holiday socks
  • Halloween socks
  • Americana socks
  • Abstract socks

If you’re looking for something classic and minimal, our Solid and Colorblock socks are a go-to for any occasion, featuring just one or two colors, they're sock-drawer staples. These classic socks are simple in pattern, but packed with features.

The best time to wear a Striped sock is all the time. You can almost never go wrong wearing stripes. Whether you’re dressed casual or formal, these socks will get the job done.

Now for one of our favorite types of socks – Animal socks. These are some of our favorite to design; there are so many ideas to choose from. Who doesn’t want a gorilla eating a banana in a banana hammock or a raccoon stealing jelly sandwiches on their socks? And which you pick might say something about your personality

Woman walking on a trail in Blundstones and Darn Tough Animal Haus Socks

Our Nature socks are inspired by the scenes people see when they outdoors in Darn Tough socks. From mountains to flowers to lurking sea monsters, you never know what you will find in nature (or on our nature socks).

Holiday socks feature designs and colors inspired by all things winter and festive. These socks are a great pick for matching family photo opps.

Who says trick or treating isn’t hiking? Enhance your favorite Halloween costume with a spooky set of Halloween socks, from mystical stripes to mythical creatures in dark forests.

Americana socks are great when you want to show your colors and patriotism. We are proud to be an American company whose products are designed, tested, and manufactured in the USA; these red, white, and blue socks share our pride and help others do the same.

Man shoveling snow in boots and Darn Tough Captain Stripe Over-the-Calf Socks

If you’re the type of person who likes to walk around looking like a MoMA exhibit, our Abstract socks are the socks for you. Jokes aside, these patterns are funky and unique and will be sure to turn heads.

Coming up with new patterns, designs and scenes to put on socks is one of the most fun things we get to do here at Darn Tough. If you want to learn a little more about the design process, follow along in Sock 201: How to Design and Develop Socks.

Other Common Sock Types

There are types of socks we don’t make, and we'd be remiss not to mention them. We rely on our extensive research and development process to determine what the best sock heights are and what we should carry in our line. And there are few we choose not to make. To name a few:

  • Toe socks
  • Sock liners
  • Compression socks
  • Thigh High socks

Toe socks are socks that encase each of your toes individually. Here at Darn Tough, we've found that toe socks are not necessary to prevent blisters if you've got the right socks and a shoe with ample toe room.

Similar to toe socks, we find that sock liners are unnecessary if you have properly fitting boots and Merino Wool socks with a Performance Fit. Our in-house sock and hiking expert did a great job explaining why you probably don’t need them.

We used to knit Compression Socks; however, our rigorous product testing revealed what we felt was an unacceptable level inconsistency in compression. We knew that if we couldn't guarantee these as the most comfortable, most durable, best fitting graduated light compression socks out there… then we had to reconsider.

We don’t make Thigh High socks; for our tallest socks, you’ll want Over-the-Calf. Our focus at Darn Tough is on knitting high performance socks for specific activities, and we find sock needs for those activities stay at or below the knee, like the accompanying footwear.

Socks for Everyone

Shot of a sock drawer filled with Darn Tough socks

That wraps up this complete-ish sock guide. We won’t deny it’s a lot of socks – DarnTough.com is home to well over 1,000 different socks — but we strive to offer the best socks for every foot. If you’d like additional helping choosing the right socks, we put together a helpful sock quiz to point you in the right direction.

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