The 12 Best Athletic Socks to Buy in 2020

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The socks you wear can have a huge impact on your performance, no matter your sport of choice. Great athletic socks improve your performance by being the right mixture of comfortable, breathable, supportive, and dry. Playing in wet socks or socks that make your feet hot will distract you and slow you down.

What separates an athletic sock from any other sock on the market? In this guide, you can read about the features and designs that go into a great athletic sock, and get tips on how to choose the right athletic sock for your needs. Then, you can browse through our picks for the best athletic socks for 2020.

How to Choose the Best Athletic Socks

The most important factors to consider when shopping for athletic socks are the material, the length, and which design features discussed above are included. The right choice will depend on the specific sport or activity you’re doing and any special feet concerns you have. In this section, we’ll take a quick look at what kind of options you’ll find for each of these factors:

Material

The material of the sock will have a significant influence on comfort and breathability. Cotton and natural fibers tend to be better for cushioning and moisture-wicking. Synthetic fibers like polyester or spandex tend to be better for compression and for staying in place. This makes them a good choice for those who are prone to blisters or who need added ankle or arch support.

For more information on the pros and cons of cotton and synthetic materials, see our in-depth breakdown on cotton vs. synthetic socks below.

Length

Socks can range in length from below the ankle all the way up to above the knee. Some sports have specific sock length requirements. For example, soccer and football require OTC (over the calf) socks like these soccer socks from Nike. Longer socks can also be useful for cyclists, especially during cold weather rides.

Shorter socks are more lightweight and offer a wider range of movement. They’re better for runners, yoga practitioners, and others who need more flexibility around their ankles.

The key advantage that a longer sock offers is a secure fit. With crew cut or OTC socks, you won’t have to deal with your socks falling off your feet mid-run or mid-game. The tradeoff is that sizing becomes more important. A long sock that is too small will be too constricting. If it’s too large, it’ll sag and increase the risk of blisters.

With shorter socks, size ranges are a little more flexible because it only has to wrap around the foot. They are also less bulky, making them great for any activity that requires speed. The key tradeoff is that they’re more likely to slide down your foot if they are poorly made.

Now that you know more about what differentiates an athletic sock from other socks, take a look at some of our favorite athletic socks for 2020. We’ve divided the list into our top picks for unisex socks, men’s socks, and women’s socks.

Top 5 Best Unisex Athletic Socks 2020

1. Best Overall Pick: PAPLUS Ankle Compression Sock

Why we like it: With ankle compression, mesh paneling, and a non-slip design, this is a great all-purpose sock that will meet most athlete’s needs.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle length
  • Compression

These socks from Paplus improve blood flow, regulate temperature, and keep feet dry without some of the drawbacks that are common to compression features or breathability. They are well constructed to last longer than many athletic socks, even for more extreme athletes.

Material and Design

The quality of this construction is evident in the details. The compression design helps with blood flow without being so tight that it pinches your feet. The sole features a breathable yet comfortable ridged panel that adds additional airflow along with some light padding for support.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These socks are thin to make them more breathable and more flexible. This makes them great for biking, yoga, dance, or any other sport where lightweight and breathability are the key features needed.

However, runners and weight trainers may be less satisfied with the minimal shock absorption. For those who want added shock absorption from their socks, a more cushioned option like the Under Armour socks might be a better choice.

Feet Concerns

These will make any foot feel comfortable and supported, but they are especially beneficial to those who are prone to foot odor. The additional aeration on the bottom of the sock sets it apart from the rest on this point.

Most socks include breathable panels only along the top or sides of the sock. By creating all-around airflow for your entire foot, sweat and odor have nowhere to collect and buildup. The compression will also help soothe foot fatigue, plantar fasciitis or illness-related circulation problems and swelling.

Pros
  • Compression design is great for a variety of foot conditions
  • Breathable sole keeps feet dry and odor-free
  • Ideal for sports that require thinner, more flexible socks
Cons
  • Not much shock absorption

2. Best Premium Pick: Balega Hidden Comfort No-Show Running Socks

Why we like it: The plush sole paired with the seamless toe closure and the mesh upper panel create the optimal environment for your foot so you won’t be distracted by discomfort.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle length
  • Cushioned Sole

The bright colors and high-tech design combine to make a sock that both feels incredible and looks attractive. These socks boast premium materials and premium construction for a long-lasting, high-performing product that will make every foot happy.

Material and Design

For socks this comfortable and supportive, you usually can’t expect to also get a no-show design. Yet these low-cut running socks offer just that. In addition to the cute design and variety of color options, the sock also uses a proprietary drynamix fabric that wicks away moisture and increase air flow around your foot.

Other great features include the seamless toe box, the deep heel pocket, and the 200 thread count plush sole. Taken altogether, this is one of the most luxurious athletic socks you could ask for.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These were built with runners in mind, but the features included make them ideal for any activity where impact or friction are problems, whether that’s hiking, frisbee, basketball, or mountain climbing.

The high thread count allows for a plush, cushiony feel with less bulk. This is because the increased density can create more cushion with fewer gaps between fibers, so less material is used to create the same level of cushioning that lower thread count socks can only achieve by using extra-thick materials.

Feet Concerns

The streamlined and seamless design is totally frictionless, so this sock is ideal for preventing blisters. The cushioning also makes them suitable for preventing foot fatigue and soothing plantar fasciitis.

Another feature we appreciate is the wider variety of sizing options. While most socks come in just two or three different sizes, these have four options. Even so, the sizes do run a little large. You may need to size down, especially if your foot is on the smaller side of the size range each option is meant for.

Pros
  • High thread count cushioned soles
  • Proprietary drynamix fabric for better moisture wicking and air flow
  • Frictionless design protects feet from blisters
  • Deep heel pockets for a better fit and less risk of heel wear
Cons
  • Sizes run large

3. Most Supportive: Under Armour Unisex Adult Charged Cotton 2.0 Crew Socks

Why we like it: The crew cut design and the dynamic arch support help make this one of the best socks for soothing plantar fasciitis and preventing foot fatigue.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Cotton blend
  • Crew cut
  • Arch support

These cotton blend crew cut socks are the ideal choice for your gym workouts, basketball games, or cross-fit training. They have thick padding in strategic locations to absorb impact and prevent foot fatigue without adding more bulk than necessary. The result is a plush, moisture-wicking design that keeps feet comfortable and odor-free.

Material and Design

With 76% cotton, these socks are extra soft and incredible at wicking away moisture while creating a naturally breathable and cool environment for your foot. The cushioning wraps around your foot to create maximum support and comfort.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These are heavy-duty socks that were made for weightlifters, mountain climbers, and anybody else who needs a sock that can protect their feet from strain and support their ankles to decrease the risk of injury.

Feet Concerns

These socks are ideal for those who suffer from foot fatigue or excess sweat. The cushioning provides support and padding that keeps your arches in a safe position, even if you’re lifting weights. Meanwhile, the high cotton content is both moisture-wicking and quick-drying to keep your feet dry no matter how intense the workout is.

For those with very wide or muscular calves, especially men, the opening of these combined with the higher elastic content than other crew cut socks, can be uncomfortably narrow. They are best suited to medium or slightly larger than average calves. For a crew cut that can fit larger calves without pinching, try these Gold Toe socks.

To get more use out of these socks, we recommend hand washing or at least using the delicate cycle and then air drying. With regular machine washing, the sock material will start to pill quickly, leaving fibers all over your feet and shoes as well as reducing the overall plushness.

Pros
  • Cotton is naturally efficient at wicking away moisture
  • Fast drying
  • Great arch support
Cons
  • May be too tight on larger calves
  • Machine washing not recommended

4. Best Budget Pick: CelerSport Ankle Athletic Running Socks

Why we like it: The soft cotton blend and modern design features create a sock that is ideal for running or weightlifting.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Cotton blend
  • Ankle length
  • Mesh top

This six-pack of breathable yet comfortable socks is surprisingly affordable, given how many well-designed features are included. You’ll find compression in the arches and ankles, extra cushioning around the toes and heel, and a full mesh panel across the top of your foot for maximum breathability.

Material and Design

Natural fibers and modern design aren’t often found together. This is what sets these cotton blend socks with modern features like mesh panels and compression apart from the rest.

The 88% cotton blend allows the design to offer more cushioning without reducing airflow and making your feet too hot. The mesh panels provide added airflow to an already very breathable sock, and the compression in the arches and ankle improve blood flow and prevent injuries from overuse.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These make excellent socks for yoga or dance where you want flexibility but need arch support. The frictionless design and fast-drying material would also make them great hiking socks.
They have a smooth outer construction that can cause your foot to slide around in your shoe if your shoe isn’t a snug fit. For socks that are a little more resilient and machine-safe, you might consider this sock from Saucony, which offers better outer grip.

Feet Concerns

These are best suited to anyone who struggles with foot odor or excess sweating as you just can’t beat this breathability. The cushioning and compression also make them a good choice for those with plantar fasciitis or who deal with foot fatigue.

Due to the high cotton content, it’s not recommended to wash these in hot water or put them in a dryer. It could cause so much shrinkage that they no longer fit properly. For the best results, hand wash them. If you want to use the machine, make sure to set it to cold. Definitely let them air dry rather than using the dryer.

Pros
  • Incredibly breathable design
  • 88% cotton for plush comfort and more breathability
  • Frictionless design
Cons
  • Machine washing not recommended
  • Somewhat slippery on the outside

5. Best for Contact Sports: Nike Academy Over-the-Calf Soccer Socks

Why we like it: These OTC soccer socks feature compression support in the ankle and arch, making them a great pick for any contact support.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Over the Calf
  • Left/Right specific design

These OTC socks from Nike are some of the best long athletic socks you could ask for. They offer compression in the calf and arches to help blood flow, making you a more agile and responsive player. They also use DRI-Fit fabric to keep you dry for your entire game, no matter what soccer shoes you are wearing.

Material and Design

The lightweight synthetic blend molds to the contours of your calves and feet while providing light compression to help boost circulation. Even though they’re synthetic, the moisture-wicking DRI-FIT design ensures you stay dry and comfortable throughout your game or workout.

One of the most unique features of these socks are the designated right and left foot designs. Each sock is made to contour perfectly to the slight differences in the shape and angles of each foot. This allows for more support while minimizing the risk of pinching or friction.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These have been designed specifically for soccer and other sports that require long socks to protect the entire calf. They could also be used by runners or cyclists during cooler months. The extra length will keep you warmer and the light compression will keep your blood circulating, minimizing the risk of injuries that come with exercising on cold muscles.

As well designed as these socks are, they aren’t as versatile as many of the other socks on our list. They may be too bulky for runners except during your winter runs. The cushioned foot may also be too thick to offer the flexibility needed for dancing or yoga.

So for multi-talented athletes who do more than one sport, you might prefer a more versatile sock like these Adida’s crew cut socks. Some soccer players might also find the compression features to tight. You’ll either need to size up or just opt for an OTC sock with no compression.

Feet Concerns

They’re a good pick for those who are prone to sweat or odor. The moisture-wicking fabric will keep your feet dry, and the synthetic material will prevent athlete’s foot and foot odor. The compression features in this sock will improve circulation, but it isn’t enough to meet the needs of anyone who needs compression socks for medical reasons.

Pros
  • Designated right and left socks for a better fit
  • Light compression for improved circulation
  • DRI-FIT fabric keeps feet and legs dry
Cons
  • Limited use
  • Compression might be too tight for some

Top 4 Best Men’s Athletic Socks 2020

1. Best Men’s Athletic Socks: Saucony Men’s Bolt Performance No-Show Socks

Why we like it: These moisture-wicking socks provide a great balance between support and flexibility.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle length
  • Moisture wicking

These affordable yet high-quality ankle socks for men have all the high-tech features you need to perform your best, whether that’s on the track or in the gym. The socks feature moisture-wicking fabric, mesh vents, and great arch support.

Material and Design

These synthetic socks are mostly polyester with a small amount of rubber in the compression zones to provide support. This makes them machine washable and long-lasting. They’re also slip-resistant and moisture-wicking.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These are best for any activity that prioritizes speed, agility, or flexibility. Runners, dancers, gymnasts, and similar athletes will find these socks perfect for their needs. The only activity where these might not be ideal is biking. The cushioning might make them a little thicker than what you need on a bike.

Feet Concerns

The compression arches in these socks is made with rubber, making them effective enough for soothing plantar fasciitis and preventing foot fatigue. The cushioned sole provides additional relief for both conditions. However, while it is moisture-wicking, it’s not as well-ventilated as other socks. For those who need good temperature control, these may not cut it.

One feature that would have been nice to see is a seamless toe. The seam that is present in these socks can create friction around your toes, making them less suitable for longer runs or for those who have blister-prone feet. In your case, a more protective and seamless design like the Balega socks may be more suitable.

Pros
  • Stabilizing compression zones in the arches
  • Cushioned sole
  • Moisture wicking fabric
Cons
  • Not the most breathable
  • Lacks a seamless toe design

2. Best Men’s Crew Cut Athletic Socks: Adidas Men’s Athletic Cushioned Crew Socks

Why we like it: Strength trainers and CrossFit fanatics alike will appreciate the padded soles and moisture wicking design on these crew cut socks.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Crew cut
  • Compression

For those who need great cushioning but without the risk of overheating your feet like most thick socks do, these crew cut socks from Adidas are a great solution. They feature a breathable design and moisture wicking fabric that will keep your feet dry and cool throughout your workout.

Material and Design

These moisture-wicking synthetic socks are durable and long-lasting when cared for properly. They feature zoned compression in the arches and extra cushioning in the sole to improve stability and comfort for athletes.

The care instructions on these socks warn that you should use the low setting on your dryer. Given how widely temperatures can vary from one dryer to another, we recommend that you don’t even risk the low setting. The materials in these socks could warp if exposed to too high heat. Instead, just wash them as you normally would and then let them air dry.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These socks are best for weightlifters, hikers, mountain climbers and any other athlete whose main concerns are stability and support during endurance workouts. The soles and arches of your feet have all the cushioning and support they need to keep you stable and balanced, whether you’re lifting weights or scaling a mountain.

Feet Concerns

The comfort and support these socks offer make them ideal for anyone who struggles with painful or tired feet after a workout. They don’t offer medical-grade compression, but they will improve circulation and prevent strains. So, they may not soothe existing pain from plantar fasciitis, but they can prevent a new flare-up from happening.

Pros
  • Mild compression great for preventing injury
  • Cushioned soles prevent foot fatigue
  • Improve stability and balance
Cons
  • Not dryer safe

3. Best Moisture-Wicking Design: Cooplus Men’s Ankle Socks

Why we like it: Keep your feet perfectly dry with the moisture-wicking material and breathable mesh paneling on these socks.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle Length
  • Moisture wicking

The cushioned soles are made of moisture-wicking polyester to keep feet dry and odor-free. The breathable design also helps keep feet cool to minimize sweat in the first place. With this combination of features, Cooplus has designed some of the best socks for people who are prone to sweaty or hot feet while working out.

Material and Design

These synthetic ankle socks feature wide mesh panels, moisture wicking fabric, and elastic arch support. The ankle tab also prevents slipping and minimizes friction. It’s a great general purpose design for a wide variety of sports.

Ideal Sport or Activity

For your regular morning run or a cross training day at the gym, these socks are up to the job. They’ll also work for yoga, dance, or other sports that require flexibility. However, for extreme or endurance sports like long-distance running or mountain climbing, these socks may wear out quickly.

They perform great when new but can wear out quickly with extreme use. If you need something a little more heavy-duty, you might prefer PAPLUS socks.

Feet Concerns

These are great for people who are usually prone to blisters or who get hot feet. The non-slip design will help prevent blisters, while the high breathability of the design will keep your feet both dry and cool.

Pros
  • Ventilation offers great temperature control
  • Non-slip design prevents friction
  • Great for people who are prone to blisters
Cons
  • Wear out quickly with extreme use

4. Most Comfortable Men’s Athletic Socks: Gold Toe Men’s 656s Cotton Crew Athletic Sock

Why we like it: With cushioning that extends around the foot and optimal moisture control, these socks are built for comfortable, long-term wear.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Cotton Blend
  • Crew Cut
  • Cushioned sole

These classic gold toe crew cut socks were designed with hard work in mind. They’re meant for workers who are on their feet all day and need something that provides support and cushioning to prevent foot fatigue while also keeping their feet dry. These features also work well for athletes who do a lot of weight training or endurance sports.

Material and Design

These socks boast 81% cotton, making them plush and comfortable while still having just enough synthetic materials to help preserve the form-fitting shape of the sock. The result is a low-friction design that keeps feet cool, dry, and comfortable.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These crew cut cotton socks are best suited to sports that require stability and balance above all. This includes weightlifting, hiking, and even ultimate frisbee. Your ankles and arches get the support and cushioning they need to prevent injuries during deadlifts, jumps, or rock scrambling.

As perfect as these socks are for weight trainers or endurance athletes, they are too bulky for a lot of sports. Sprinters, cyclists, and yoga practitioners, in particular, will find that these don’t offer the flexibility or maximum breathability that they need to do their best.

Feet Concerns

Those who struggle with foot fatigue or hot and sweaty feet will benefit the most from these naturally breathable and cushioned cotton socks. While the high cotton content makes these socks unbelievably soft, it does come with drawbacks.

Anyone who is prone to foot odor or athlete’s foot will not do well in these socks. The natural fibers make a great breeding ground for fungi and odor-causing bacteria. You’d be better off with a synthetic crew cut like this unisex set from Under Armour.

Pros
  • Plush, cushioned sole
  • Naturally breathable and dry cotton
  • Offers great stability and balance
Cons
  • Too bulky for some sports
  • Not ideal for those prone to athlete’s foot or foot odor

Top 3 Best Women’s Athletic Socks 2020

1. Best Women’s Athletic Socks: BERING Women’s Performance Athletic Running Socks

Why we like it: This premium synthetic blend features a high-tech design that keeps your feet dry, cool, and comfortable all day.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle Length
  • Cushioned sole

With a slip-resistant heel tab, a full mesh upper and a padded sole, these are some of the most versatile athletic socks for women on the market. You get all the advanced design features you want in a size range better adapted to your foot.

Material and Design

With a high rubber content, these are some of the best compression socks an athlete could find. This extra compression is provided around the arches and the ankle. To make them even more impressive, the thicker padding and strong compression don’t come with the usual drawback of decreased breathability. The entire top of the sock is a thinner, ventilated design that increases airflow.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These padded yet breathable socks will provide exactly what you need for a complete gym workout from a HIIT run on the treadmill to your weight training or cross-training workouts. These are a great all-around athletic sock that will be comfortable no matter what activity you choose to do.

With that in mind, the plush cushioning is thick compared to other ankle-length socks which may make it too bulky for cyclists or for anyone prone to sweaty feet. While the mesh does offer good breathability, it still may not be enough for some. For those who need their socks to be as lightweight as possible, these performance socks from Saucony might be the better choice.

Feet Concerns

These socks will effectively prevent flare ups of plantar fasciitis and can even help soothe any existing pain. They’ll improve circulation while keeping feet cool and dry. The frictionless design also prevents blisters. They’re a good choice no matter what problems you tend to have with your feet.

Pros
  • Great blister protection design
  • Ideal for weight training and endurance running
  • Provides stability without sacrificing flexibility
  • Highly breathable design offers good temperature control
Cons
  • May be too thick for some sports

2. Most Breathable Women’s Athletic Socks: Saucony Women’s Performance Heel Tab Athletic Socks

Why we like it: With its lightweight material, mesh paneling and strategic cushion placement, these socks are super breathable and work for a variety of sports.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Ankle Length
  • Moisture wicking

This eight-pack of comfortable, lightweight ankle socks will keep your feet dry and cool for a long time. The mesh upper panel, moisture-wicking design and non-slip heel give you all the essential features you need to give your best performance.

Material and Design

The polyester and spandex blend used here is very lightweight, especially on the upper portion which is made of a ventilated mesh fabric. There is some light cushioning in the sole, but not so much that it adds excess bulk inside your shoe. The heel tab and fitted design reduces friction.

Ideal Sport or Activity

Cyclists will appreciate the balance between cushioning and lightweight design in these socks. You get some padding around the heel and toe but not so much that the sock becomes bulky. The lack of compression design will also appeal to cyclists. Those who do yoga or Pilates will also appreciate the flexibility this design allows for. Your arches and ankles are free to move as needed to achieve the perfect upward bow pose.

Feet Concerns

These are best for people whose main concern is temperature control or friction. If you’re prone to hot or sweaty feet or you tend to get blisters, these socks will minimize those problems.
One issue is in the sizing. Like most socks, they come in small, medium, or large with each size corresponding to a range of shoe sizes such as sizes 5-10. For those on the smaller side of that range, the sock can end up being a little loose in the toe area.

This is due to a less elastic design to make for more comfort and breathability. The tradeoff is that they don’t “stretch to fit” as well as more elastic socks do. So, a size 5-10 sock will fit snugly for those who typically wear a size 8.5-10. But for those in the 5-8 range, you’ll deal with a little extra fabric in the toe box. For something that works better for smaller feet, consider the CelerSport socks, which offer a stretch to fit design.

Pros
  • Frictionless design prevents blisters
  • Lightweight, breathable construction
  • Great for biking, yoga, or dance
Cons
  • May be a little long on smaller feet

3. Best Women’s Crew Cut Athletic Socks: Dickies Women’s Dritech Advanced Moisture Wicking Crew Sock

Why we like it: For those who want the extra padding and support that a crew cut can offer but find men’s or unisex options too bulky, these women’s crew cut socks are a great alternative.

Editor’s Rating:

Quick Facts

  • Synthetic
  • Crew Cut
  • Arch Support

These synthetic crew cut socks offer breathability, a padded sole, and arch compression. These features make them great for weightlifting, CrossFit, or endurance activities like hiking or long-distance running. You can avoid foot fatigue and minimize the risk of overtraining injuries.

Material and Design

The synthetic blend features effective rubber compression zones in the arches along with ventilation along the top of the foot. The cushioning in the sole is strategically placed under the heel and toe bed only. This provides the padding you need without adding excess bulk in places where you don’t need it.

Ideal Sport or Activity

These crew cut socks provide the support and cushioning you need to lift weights, hike, or rock climb. You can keep your ankles and arches stable and reduce the risk of injury while also enjoying the performance boost offered by the compression zones.

Feet Concerns

If men’s or unisex crew cut socks are too loose around the ankles, these make a great alternative. The top of the sock is a little narrower so that it can provide that secure but not too snug fit on thinner calves.

For women with wider calves or ankles, however, that narrow fit might end up being too constricting. If you size up to get the right width for your calf, you end up with too large of a foot box which could cause blisters from the friction.

Another drawback is shrinkage. If you machine wash your socks, make sure to use cold water and air dry them to avoid shrinkage. Alternatively, order the next size up to allow for that shrinkage. If you’d prefer socks that are safe to wash in your machine, you might prefer these BERING socks.

Pros
  • Strategic cushioned zones minimize bulkiness
  • Rubberized arch compression helps improve circulation and soothe pain
  • Improves stability and balance
Cons
  • Narrower opening not suited to wider calf widths
  • Need to purchase with shrinkage in mind

What to Look for in Your Athletic Socks

It might come as no surprise that one of the most important factors when choosing athletic socks is what you’ll be doing in them. The best socks for running won’t necessarily be the best socks for cycling. However, any foot problems you’re prone to will also have a big influence on your decision.

Whatever problems you’re prone to are even more likely to happen if you’re physically active. If you’re already prone to blisters, for example, increased physical activity will only increase your risk of getting blisters. Getting socks that can help prevent or reduce the discomfort of common foot problems will be important.

Sport or Activity

Different sports affect your feet in different ways. Runners are more at risk of impact-related foot injuries than cyclists, for example. Football players need more ankle support than yoga enthusiasts.

While there are too many sports and activities to cover all of them in this guide, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular ones and provide some more general insights that should help you, even if your particular sport isn’t described below.

Running

For runners, the chief concern is impact and friction. The shock of each step can injure your heels and joints, so shock absorption is key. With each step, your foot will also move and change shape. It flattens down and widens on impact and then contracts again when your foot lifts off the ground.

Because of these mechanics, you need a sock like this one from Saucony that offers cushioning and contoured support. The cushioning on the sole will help absorb some of that impact, keeping it away from your heels and joints. The compression contouring on the arch will help minimize the friction that can result from the way your foot moves as you run.

Sports

Different sports create different demands on your feet. Any sport that involves a lot of running, like soccer, football, or rugby, will present some of the same challenges that runners experience. Other challenges include the following:

Pivoting and Jumping

In basketball, football, or any sport that requires a lot of pivoting around your opponents or jumping up and down, the risk of ankle injuries is high. In this case, your key priorities are ankle support and shock absorption.

Hard Surfaces

Playing sports on hard surfaces like a basketball court or an asphalt or concrete path can increase the amount of shock from each foot impact. You need more cushioning in your sock to deal with this.

Walking and Standing

In sports like golf, cricket, and baseball, there’s a lot more prolonged standing. This doesn’t create a lot of shock but it can create strain as the weight of your body bears down on the same points in your foot rather than shifting.

For this, you need extra arch support such as found in these arch compression socks to prevent the foot fatigue that can come with prolonged walking or standing.

Hiking

When hiking, you’ll have similar concerns as athletes who engage in a lot of walking or standing. Namely, foot fatigue. Depending on the season, warmth and staying dry will also be a concern.

As a result, you generally need longer socks with extra cushioning. The length and cushioning will provide additional support that prevents foot fatigue. You should also opt for natural fibers, as found in these cotton crew cut socks because natural fibers can retain heat better, even when wet.

Cycling

For cyclists, shock absorption and foot fatigue are not major concerns. In fact, you want something lightweight and less constricting. Avoid compression socks unless you have a medical need for them.

As you pedal and your blood starts pumping, compression socks can start to feel tight around your ankles or the arches of your feet. This can create an uncomfortable throbbing in your feet that will distract you from your ride.

You want to avoid excess cushioning, especially in the toe box, for the same reason. Your socks should be lightweight and breathable enough to feel like they’re barely there at all. So something with a lot of mesh panels like these Saucony socks will be your best bet.

Yoga and Pilates

Any exercise that involves a lot of stretching or holding positions will need a sock that is both supportive and capable of staying in place even as you move around. Ankle compression will help stabilize your ankle and prevent sprains. Arch compression can help provide support that allows you to comfortably stretch your foot.

Cushioning can be nice but too much of it will end up restricting your foot’s natural movement. In a flexibility-focused activity, you need your full range of movement. Get something with great compression features and slight cushioning like these ankle socks.

Strength Training

If you’re lifting weights, cushioning is your top priority. Your feet will be required to support a lot of extra weight while keeping you stable enough to complete your reps. Choose socks with as much cushioning in the soles as possible without being too bulky.

You should also prioritize a crew cut over a below the ankle design. This can help stabilize your ankles somewhat and lower the risk of sprains or strains that can happen when you lift too much weight or do so too fast.

Feet Concerns

The material and design that you choose will depend just as much on your feet as it will on the activity you plan to do while wearing the socks. In this section, we’ll look at some common foot problems that people experience and how they’ll influence your sock selection:

Blisters

Blisters form in environments that are damp and full of friction. This happens when your socks don’t fit and don’t wick away moisture fast enough. If you chronically get blisters but your feet seem to stay dry, you might be buying socks that are too large for your feet or low-quality socks that don’t hold their shape well.

To reduce friction and moisture, consider moisture wicking socks with extra padding around the areas where you tend to get blisters. These socks with extra ankle padding and a moisture wicking design are a great example of socks that would work well for people who tend to get blisters on their heels and ankles.

Friction is also reduced by better contoured socks that are designed to the specific shape of each foot. While most sock pairs can be worn on either foot, some come with specific left and right foot socks.

These OTC soccer socks are a great example of that. By providing left and right socks, each one is better suited to the slight differences in the contours of each foot, reducing friction and the blisters that might result from it.

Foot Odor

Foot odor is caused by a combination of sweat and bacteria buildup. That smell is not coming from your feet but the bacteria that are on them. To reduce odor, you need to make it more difficult for bacteria to grow. Their two favorite things are heat and humidity. So keeping your feet dry and cool is key.

That means moisture wicking socks like these Cooplus socks with plenty of mesh panels for improved breathability are your best bet for reducing foot odor.

Athlete’s Foot and Other Infections

Athlete’s foot is a common fungal infection. Like bacteria, fungi love heat and humidity. Unlike bacteria, fungi can actually take root on the surface of your skin or in the fibers of some socks. This means you can’t simply rinse it off, giving it an opportunity to grow even if you practice good hygiene.

If you find that you keep getting athlete’s foot, no matter how often you wash your socks or your feet, the culprit might be your natural fiber socks. Cotton and wool are very hospitable to fungi, especially when wet. Since they don’t dry as quickly as synthetic fibers, they stay wet long enough for those spores to take root and grow.

Switching to synthetic options like these fast-drying socks will reduce your risk of athlete’s foot by removing the conditions that help fungi grow. Synthetic fibers are not as hospitable and don’t stay damp long enough for spores to really take root.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a kind of chronic pain that can occur in the heel, arch, or even top of the foot. It’s a kind of stabbing pain in these areas that tends to be worse in the morning and then gradually decrease as you move around and warm up.

It can be caused by a number of things but those who do activities that place a lot of stress on your feet or expose it to a lot of repeated shock are most at risk. This includes running, dancing, and most sports.

One of the biggest problems with plantar fasciitis is the risk that you’ll compensate for the pain by changing the way you move, which could lead to knee, hip, or back problems.

Because of this, it’s important to get socks that will help soothe the pain as well as prevent it from worsening. The best socks for plantar fasciitis include extra cushioning along the sole to improve shock absorption.

They should also have compression in the ankle, calf, or arch to provide support, reduce movement, and reduce swelling. Compression socks like these running socks will reduce inflammation and minimize pain which reduces the risk of you compensating for the pain with a change in posture or gait.

Cotton vs. Synthetic Socks

It’s easy to assume that cotton, a natural fiber, would be a better material for socks but the answer isn’t so clear cut. There are some important downsides to cotton that may make it the worse of the two options for some athletes. The best fabric for your feet depends on your priorities and unique needs.

Instead of picking one material and calling it the best, let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of both cotton and synthetic socks:

The Pros and Cons of Cotton

Cotton is a great choice for people with sensitive skin or whose top priority is extra cushioning to absorb shock better. Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the pros and cons of cotton socks:

The Pros

  • Softer and more plush
  • More breathable
  • Gentle on sensitive skin
  • Environmentally friendly

These advantages make cotton socks the best choice for those who are primarily looking for extra cushioning on the soles of their feet. The natural fibers are also less irritating to sensitive skin. If you tend to get heat rashes on your feet when wearing synthetic socks, it may be the synthetic fibers causing the problem. Cotton could be the solution.

For eco-friendly shoppers out there, cotton is a great choice. Not only does it maintain its quality and functionality longer than synthetics, it also won’t leech any harmful microplastics into the water when you wash them. When it is finally time to toss them, they’ll biodegrade quickly, without leaving behind any harmful or toxic chemicals.

The Cons

  • Stretch out and lose their shape quickly
  • Promotes fungal and bacterial growth
  • Traps sweat

You can minimize these cons with proper care. Handwash your cotton socks instead of machine washing them. Lay them out on a flat surface to dry, so they dry in their correct shape. Above all, wash them often to prevent fungal or bacterial growth. If you are prone to infections, washing immediately after use is ideal.

If you prefer the benefits of a natural fiber but don’t want to deal with some of these downsides, look for a cotton blend like these socks from CelerSport. By blending the cotton with a small number of synthetic fibers, the sock is able to better hold its shape, reducing your risk of blisters.

The Pros and Cons of Synthetic Materials

Synthetics are a great pick for those who need more support from their socks or who are prone to blisters and infections. Here’s a breakdown of the pros and cons that come with synthetic socks:

The Pros

  • Hold shape better
  • Dry out faster
  • Prevent fungal and bacterial growth

For anyone who is prone to blisters, athlete’s foot, or other uncomfortable foot problems, synthetic is the safer choice. The improved ability to hold its shape will reduce blister-causing friction.

The inability of fungus to take root in synthetic fibers will reduce the severity of athlete’s foot and may even stop you from getting it altogether. The fact that they don’t hold moisture for long helps keep your feet dry, even if you are prone to excess sweating. So these can also reduce odor and other problems caused by excess sweat.

The Cons

  • Not breathable
  • Not environmentally friendly
  • Don’t retain heat when wet

If you get a synthetic sock, you need to look for a pair with mesh panels like these socks from Saucony. Without mesh panels, synthetic socks will not breathe well enough to remain comfortable, no matter what activity you’re doing.

While synthetics don’t breathe on their own, they also don’t retain heat well when wet. This can make them a bad choice for hikers who need something that can stay warm, even if they get a little sweaty. They also aren’t ideal for cold-weather sports like skiing or snowboarding.

For those who want to minimize their environmental footprint, synthetics are also a bad choice. Acrylic, polyester, and other manmade fibers are petroleum-based plastics and each time you wash them, small bits of those plastic fibers will leech into the water, go down your drain and make their way into the ocean and back into the water supply that comes out of your tap.

There are many dangers to the increasing amount of microplastics in the water, and if you’d rather not contribute to that, natural fibers like cotton or wool are a better choice.

Athletic Socks Keep Your Feet Healthy

While running shoes get most of the attention, socks are just as important for keeping your feet supported and safe from injury. When designed well, they can help absorb additional moisture, regulate blood flow, and provide other important benefits for your feet. Here are some of the specific advantages a good athletic sock can offer that regular socks can’t:

Moisture Wicking

No matter what your sport or activity, sweat is likely going to be a concern. If you don’t have moisture-wicking socks, that sweat will stick to your feet. The longer sweat stays on your feet, the more you’re at risk of athlete’s foot or other fungal and bacterial infections. Even if you don’t get an infection, sweaty feet are more likely to produce an unpleasant odor. So, it’s not ideal in any scenario.

Every sock we’ve selected for our list of recommendations offers a moisture-wicking design but if you are especially prone to odors or infection, you might want one with even more powerful drying features like these Dritech socks.

Compression

Compression socks use spandex, rubber, or other elastic materials woven into specific points along the sock. These points are chosen to either optimize blood flow or provide additional support.

For example, socks with arch compression like these BERING socks give your arches a little extra support to prevent foot fatigue. This is helpful in activities that require a lot of extended time on your feet like golf or hiking.

Other socks, like these PAPLUS socks have the compression material located around the ankle. This helps encourage circulation in the entire foot, which can reduce the risk of injury and improve your performance.

Cushioning

Some athletic socks are built with additional padding on the sole or around the ankle. This cushion helps with shock absorption and reducing movement inside the shoe to decrease the risk of injury.

It’s an important feature for runners or athletes whose sport of choice involves a lot of running. It can also be helpful for athletes who do a lot of pivoting and jumping, such as basketball players or football players.

Final Word

The best athletic sock is one that is supportive without being constricting, cushioned without causing your feet to get hot, and breathable without being too thin. Within each of those features, you should tailor your choice to your needs.

Runners need more cushioning than cyclists, for example. Athletes who are prone to blisters need tighter socks that won’t slide around. To help make the selection easier, rank each of the features you read about in this guide in your own custom order of priority. Use that to determine which athletic socks will best fit your feet!