Fall brings cool weather, colorful trails, and a harvest of new running socks to explore them with. For the most part, the themes this autumn are thinner socks and taller ankle heights – and some of our choices below have their own colorful flair to celebrate the changing of the seasons.
The original wool sock company continues to develop new styles in their PhD Run collection, as evidenced by this pattern crew. It uses the company’s Indestructawool construction system to combine thin fabric with reinforcement in high impact areas for increased durability. A blend of 49% merino wool, 47% nylon, and 4% elastane is designed with mesh ventilation zones for breathability and Smartwool’s customary 4-degree Elite Fit criss-crossed elastic bands in the midfoot to wrap the foot and keep a secure fit. We love the patterning on these socks, and the light cushioning is ideal for providing comfort on midrange distance runs.
Drymax offers two variations on their traditional HyperThin running socks, which are similar in construction but distinguished by their color schemes: the darker gray with lime green and anthracite striping is named for Jim Walmsley, while the lighter gray with pink is for Stephanie Howe Violett. Both are full crew height and very thin, with a ventilated top foot and dual layer sweat removal fabric throughout. There is minimal cushioning underfoot, and we had noticeable wear in the toe box area after a multi-hour run, so fabric durability could be an issue if a lot of grit permeates your shoes. However, they are excellent at moisture removal and minimizing friction, and they are among the thinnest socks available this fall.
To be honest, we’ve had durability issues with Balega socks in the past – which is why we were intrigued to try the new Blister Resist sock, which uses mohair, a yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat that is known for its resiliency. Material construction of the Blister Resist combines 28% mohair with 57% Drynamix fibers that pull moisture off the skin. 2% elastane comprises an arch support band at the midfoot for improved fit. These socks have an extra deep heel pocket and substantial padding in the heel, forefoot, and toe box -they are the most heavily padded sock in this roundup. They feel quite plush against the skin and hold their fit well during activity. Durability of the main compartments on the Blister Resist sock has proven solid, with minimal signs of wear after high mileage – but we’ve had a small bit of fraying at the top of the crew collar after a handful of wash cycles.
We’re torn between our favorite Darn Tough sock this fall, as they have standout models in a couple of product lines. The designated running sock is the Vertex, a stripped-down micro crew (just shorter than standard crew height) that still provides moderate cushioning underfoot. It has a 50% merino – 45% nylon – 5% lycra spandex combination with a performance fit that’s snug throughout the entire foot and pulls moisture off the skin quickly. Seamless construction is especially comfortable in the forefoot, and the high merino content makes the Vertex an effective option for odor resistance.
Darn Tough’s Endurance category is made for rugged, intense, multi-task activities such as obstacle racing, and the Press Crew Light Cushion is equally capable of handling ultra distance trail running very dependably. Fabric construction is slightly different than the Vertex, with 52% nylon – 43% merino – 5% lycra spandex, but most of the other features are the same, such as the performance fit, rapid wicking, and smooth seamless construction. This is described as a light cushion sock on the product page, but we found it provided plenty of protection and comfort on all-day outings, and the overall feel of the Press Crew is remarkably soft considering its strong durability.
FITS Performance Trail Quarter Crew – $18.99
This quarter crew style has a higher than normal cuff, landing somewhere between a quarter and a full crew. It has thicker construction at the cuff to act as a scree guard, while the lower half of the sock is thinner and more ventilated. The overall fit of this sock is “gently snug,” and stays secure to the contours of the midfoot during technical running. Increased cushioning in the heel, forefoot, and toe box provide enhanced durability and comfort, and with the highest merino content in this roundup – 58%, along with 32% nylon and 10% polyester/lycra – the Performance Trail is extremely effective at moisture wicking and natural odor control.
Steigen is an Australian company that has gradually infiltrated the United States market; they originally created thin track socks designed to give the sensation of wearing no socks at all. To that end, there is no cushioning in any Steigen socks – they believe that if you’re using your socks for cushioning, you have the wrong shoes on. Another unique construction element is the high lycra content: all Steigen socks are made with 20% high-quality Italian lycra and 80% nylon. The resulting fabric simultaneously has high stretch capability and a secure fit; consequently, Steigen socks only come in “one size fits all” but can accommodate a full range of foot sizes. The only difference in the brand’s sock models is color and ankle height; we patriotically chose the Stars and Stripes, but you can opt for the Aussie flag or any number of bright (and non-geopolitical) options. We found these socks to initially feel slick on the bottom during fast running, and they’re not as warm as wool alternatives for cold-weather running, but they are impressively durable for such a thin overall fabric.
Our final entry is positioned as a combination of therapeutic and performance sock, with targeted and graduated compression along the bottom of the foot as well as the Achilles tendon. It only comes in a quarter crew height, and cushioning is very light underfoot. This sock feels quite tight in comparison to all the others here – but it’s that tightness that helps provide pain relief, and the compression system lifts and helps stabilize the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon during weight bearing. These socks are left/right specific and have deeply pocketed heels, so choosing the right size is important to make sure the compression areas hit the intended tissues directly. Material construction of 88% nylon and 12% spandex give the Plantar Fasciitis Relief Sock a somewhat slick feel underfoot, but moisture wicking and durability are impressive.
All of the socks described above are now available online or through specialty running retailers.