How to Choose the Right Sports Socks for Each Activity?


October 4, 2022


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How to choose the right sports socks

Do your feet sweat easily or, on the contrary, are your extremities always cold? Are you always a little lost in the sports socks department when it comes to finding the best pair to wear during your next activity? Find out here what you need to know to make sure your feet are in the right shoes, whether for hiking, cycling, cross-country skiing, running or even for hunting and fishing.

In this article, you will discover the criteria to consider, which sock to wear according to your chosen activity, as well as professional advice:

  1. Five Key Criteria to Consider
  2. Hiking Socks
  3. Cycling Socks
  4. Cross-country Ski Socks
  5. Running Socks
  6. Hunting Socks
  7. Practical Tips

Five Key Criteria to Consider

If colours or patterns are important selection criteria for day-to-day city socks, they are completely secondary for sports socks which should be as breathable and comfortable as possible. It is therefore essential to focus your attention on these five purely technical elements:

The Material

This is one of the criteria that will determine the comfort, breathability and warmth of your feet. The most common materials are polyester, nylon, cotton, merino wool, or synthetic fibres. There are also blends (for example: nylon and elastane) that take advantage of the properties of several materials. Favour recycled or responsibly and ethically sourced materials for the well-being of the planet.

The Size

Of course, there is no need to specify the importance of choosing a pair of the right size to avoid possible creases (and therefore friction with the shoe) or compressed toes. Women’s models often offer a choice of smaller sizes and a fit for slimmer feet.

The Height

This is an important element depending on your activity and your preferences. The higher sports socks are, the better they will protect your calves from possible insects, scratches, and cold bites.

The Thickness

Study the general thickness of the sock (from very light to very thick), but also its cushioning at the impact zones (especially for runners).

The Seams

The fewer the seams, the lesser the chances of chafing (therefore blisters) and toe/heel discomfort. This is especially the case for runners and those who often experience cold feet (because the thickness of the sock is thinner at the seams, which generally allows more air to circulate).

Hiking Socks

When hiking, you are seeking above all the comfort and breathability of your socks so that your feet can carry you to the end of the trail. Remember to favour materials such as merino wool or synthetic fibres which have the advantage of drying quickly. Merino wool also has the property of easily absorbing sweat while directing it outwards, limiting bacteria and therefore odours.

Also consider the stretch characteristics of the sock fabric so that your feet are well moulded, as well as the cushioning in the toe and heel zones.

In terms of height, it may be more comfortable to opt for mid-calf hiking socks that cover your shin well (at the tightening of the laces) if your hiking boots are high.

Important criteria: material, thickness, height
Brands to consider: Smartwool, Icebreaker, Darn Tough, Lorpen

Hiking Socks

Cycling Socks

For cycling, you are looking above all for breathability, comfort and durability of the fabric that makes up your socks. It can therefore be interesting to opt for multiple materials with a soft reinforcement at the toes and the heel. This will increase the durability against the repeated pedalling movements, for example. An upper section made from micro-mesh helps promote ventilation.

There are also cycling socks that have silicone support bands on the inside to prevent the sock from moving. The previous seam tips also apply to avoid creating unnecessary friction.

Important criteria: material, thickness, seams
Brands to consider: Craft, Sportful, Maloja, Castelli

Cycling Accessories

Cross-country Ski Socks

When cross-country skiing, you are primarily looking to keep your feet warm, but not too warm. Even though most boots are very well insulated, it is important to keep a good balance between warmth and breathability thanks to materials such as merino wool or certain technical synthetics.

As with cycling socks, some models offer a hybrid composition with a reinforcement at the front of the foot to counter the effect of friction and wear, as well as a lighter material on the top of the foot to allow perspiration to escape.

Elastic bands are sometimes also added to the ankle and under the arch of the foot to prevent the bottom from slipping on the foot.

Important criteria: material, height, thickness
Brands to consider: Boréalis, Lowa, Smartwool, Icebreaker

Cross-country Ski Clothing

Running Socks

When running, you are looking for breathability and comfort above all else, whether it is a 5K run training around your home, a marathon or a long-distance trail run. Runners who wish to favour the lightness of their socks can opt for second skin models, composed of extremely light and soft materials such as nylon and polyester. Those who perspire a lot should consider absorbent materials such as merino wool, which also has antibacterial properties.

In any case, it is crucial to think about shock absorption by opting for significant cushioning in the heel. Delicate feet that run very long distances can also select seamless models.

Finally, in terms of height, runners have their own preferences. If you are running on-trail or even off-trail, mid-calf running socks can protect you from scratches from low-lying vegetation you are running through.

If you want to learn more about how to choose the right running shoes and running socks, read our article on the 5 essential accessories for trail running.

Important criteria: material, height, thickness, seams
Brands to consider: Asics, Smartwool, Icebreaker

Running Accessories

Hunting Socks

During a hunting trip, you are above all looking for comfort, warmth, and protection. Select models with extra heavy construction, loop-pile fabric, for example, to protect your feet from the cold when you are immobile for long hours in your cache. Remember that the finer the knit, the more robust and comfortable the sock will be. When hunting in colder weather, you can also opt for heated socks, which provide maximum comfort and promote blood circulation in the feet and toes even when movement is limited.

In terms of materials, it is obviously recommended to opt for wool, classic or merino, to seek warmth and breathability. As for height, aim for mid-calf models or even higher so that branches you walk through do not scrape your lower legs.

Important criteria: material, height, thickness, seams
Brands to consider: Browning, Darn Tough, Sail

Hunting Socks

Practical Tips

  • Avoid cotton socks at all costs in winter. This material tends to retain moisture and therefore makes the feet cold.
  • It is not recommended to wear two socks on top of each other to keep warm. This may create creases and friction between the two layers. Prefer a single pair of socks, but very warm (and breathable).
  • Avoid wearing your sports shoes without socks. As mentioned above, socks have the ability to absorb sweat. Without them, you risk bathing your feet in moisture, which promotes blisters.
  • If your feet often get cold or if you spend a great amount of time outdoors, heated socks are also available to help you stay warm for several hours.
  • During an activity lasting several hours or even a day, such as hiking or cross-country skiing, remember to change your socks at midday so that your feet always remain clean and dry.
  • Lastly, do not try to save money on socks, they are just as important as shoes or a coat to maximize your comfort during a sporting activity.


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