Posted by: Joe English | March 31, 2008

Training: Picking the right running socks

Did you know that socks are a key piece of your running equipment? Sometimes an after-thought, a lot of runners throw on just “whatever” socks are in their drawer without even thinking about it. But your socks act as essential protection for the skin on your feet, which turns out to be a pretty important thing.

While your shoes primarily provide cushion and impact protection to your feet and lower-legs, your socks are the interface between your feet and the shoes around them. If you pick the wrong sock, you end up with skin issues, like blisters, that can quite literally halt you in your tracks.

Take a peek at these feet:
Trashed feet
Photo: Icky feet after a muddy run with the wrong socks

Those are the backs of my feet after a long run this weekend and you can learn something from one of my mistakes.

When I arrived to do my run this weekend, I found that I had the wrong socks in my bag — a pair that I would generally wear for walking around, but not for running. I needed to get my run in, so I figured I would try running with these socks and see what would happen. What you’re seeing is that the sock line around my heel was too low and let the shoe rub on the exposed skin on the back of my Achilles tendons. The problem was made worse by rain and mud, which added a wet scrubbing kind of like a scouring pad to the whole equation.

So how can you avoid issues like this. Here are a few simple guidelines:

1) Avoid socks made from cotton — cotton socks are not good for running. In fact, cotton is not a good material for most running gear. Cotton is very absorbent and when it gets it turns heavy and turns abrasive. Choose running socks that are made out of a synthetic material, such as polyester, which will pull moisture away from your skin and won’t turn into a scratchy material that will scrape and rub against your feet.

2) Make sure that your socks fit — if your socks are too big, they can bunch up or slide around. Any time that you have something sliding against your skin, especially if the skin is wet, you’re going to have problems: blisters, chaffing and irritation. Socks should fit correctly, especially around the heel and under the arch of the foot, and shouldn’t slide around.

3) Make sure that the sock covers your foot completely — as illustrated above, if the sock line is too low in either the front under the tongue of the shoe, or in the back of the heel, parts of the shoe can rub the skin, turning them into a yucky, painful, hamburger like material.

4) Keep your socks dry if you can — on some long runs, you may want to consider leaving a change of socks in your aid station bag or using water-proof running shoes if you’ll be running in very wet conditions. As you skin gets wet, it gets very soft and as your socks get wet, the conditions for blisters get ripe. Changing into dry socks at some point along the way, may save you from painful blisters.

5) Pick a sock of the correct thickness — running socks come in varying thicknesses. Many of the top selling socks are very thin, providing a snug fit around the foot and a sock that doesn’t move around at all. Other socks will have padding in certain parts, such as around the heel or on the side of the big toe. It is important to pick out a sock that fits correctly in your shoes, providing protection to any troubled areas you might have on your feet.

6) Take action if your socks aren’t right — As I demonstrated for you, not taking action to correct a bad sock choice is not a good idea. If you feel something rubbing, sliding or bunching up, take corrective action: change your socks, put a blister pad on an area that’s blistering, or even stop running if you must. The alternative can be pretty painful.

Picking the right socks is like an inexpensive form of health insurance for your feet: when you have the right socks on, you’re going to be much less likely to suffer from blisters and chaffing on your long runs. Take good care of those feet runners!

Coach Joe English, Portland Oregon, USA
Running Advice and News



  1. […] turn into a scratchy material that will scrape and rub against your feet. More guidelines at Running Advice and News Share and Enjoy: If you liked this, you may want to subscribe to the RSS feed and get […]

  2. […] Socks – I had no idea that socks were so important! The socks you wear while running can make or break you. I learned this the hard way during my 12 mile training run last week. I traded my usual cotton […]

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