There are a ton of options out there for running socks, and the fiber content, fit, and cushioning level can vary a lot from brand to brand. So we’ve put together a list of some of our favorites, and separated them into two categories based on the cuff height (“No Show / Low-Cut” vs. “Quarter”).
We’ve then arranged the socks in order of cushioning — from lightest to heaviest — and I’ve listed my own perception of the level of cushioning since one brand’s “Light” cushion is sometimes the same as another’s “Medium.”
Another note: we consider all the products listed here to be good socks — none were excessively sloppy in fit or caused any blistering issues, so if you’re coming from a standard cotton sock, we think you’d be happy in any of them.
So the goal of this list isn’t to say which sock is best, but rather to provide some comparisons and references for the next time you’re looking to get a new pair.
NO SHOW / LOW-CUT
FITS Ultralight Runner – No Show
Fiber Content: 66% Merino Wool / 27% Nylon / 5% Polyester / 2% Lycra® Spandex
Height: No Show
Like all FITS socks we’ve used, the Ultralight Runner No Show has a nice fit that is very snug without being constrictive, and can be worn for several runs before stinking due to its high wool content. Even without extensive mesh panels like the Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Micro, the FITS Ultralight Runner No Show is still a very breathable sock that’s great for hot runs and those looking for a no-show sock that won’t slip down while running.
Darn Tough Vertex Tab No Show Ultralight
Fiber Content: 53% Nylon / 41% Merino Wool / 6% Lycra® Spandex
Height: No Show (with tab)
This sock is very similar to the FITS Ultralight Runner No Show above — they both fit pretty snug throughout and I’ve never had any issues with them falling down in my shoe. The Darn Tough Vertex Tab No Show Ultralight has a higher nylon content, and seems to smell a bit faster than the FITS but offers slightly more support (particularly around the arch) and has a more breathable mesh on the upper.
Balega Ultralight No Show
Fiber Content: 78% Drynamix Polyester, 20% Nylon, 2% Elastane
Height: No Show (with tab)
The Balega Ultralight No Show basically feels like the synthetic version of the FITS Ultralight Runner No Show. The Balega Ultralight No Show has a very snug fit and the microfiber sections on the toe and heel slide very easily in shoes, which should help prevent blisters. Since it’s all synthetic, the Balega Ultralight No Show wicks moisture better than the socks here with higher wool content, but also smells pretty nasty after each run. So if you prioritize wicking and breathability over odor resistance, the Balega Ultralight No Show is a great option (and it comes in at a better price than the wool options).
Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Micro
Fiber Content: 48% Merino Wool, 48% Nylon, 4% Elastane
Height: No Show (with tab)
Like all the Smartwool socks here, the PhD Run Ultra Light Micro has the most snug fit, and feels the most elastic. It’s not the most supportive sock — that snug fit isn’t tight per se, but if you don’t require a ton of compression from your socks and just want a great fitting, very breathable sock, the PhD Run Ultra Light Micro is a great choice.
Point6 Running Pop Ultra Light No Show Tab
Fiber Content: 56% Merino Wool / 40% Nylon / 4% Spandex
Height: No Show (with tab)
The Running Pop Ultra Light No Show Tab feels extremely similar to the FITS Ultralight Runner No Show, with the only differences being a slightly looser fit (I didn’t find it to be noticeable while running), and a bit more breathability thanks to a more open mesh on the top of the foot.
Altra Running Sock — Low Cut
Fiber Content: 98% Polyester, 2% Spandex
MSRP: $24.99 for 3-pack ($8.33 per pair)
Altra’s Low-Cut running socks are the most cost-effective options here. They don’t have the tightest fit and are not the most breathable, but for the money, they’re still very high-performing socks. One thing to note is that these socks are designed with Altra’s “FootShape toe box,” which means that the socks don’t taper as much as the other options in this roundup. This is done in an effort to let your toes splay out a bit more while running. As a result, these socks match well with Altra’s running shoes, which are designed with the same FootShape toe box.
FITS Light Runner – Low
Fiber Content: 73% Merino Wool / 21% Nylon / 4% Polyester / Lycra 2%
This sock shares all the same characteristics as the FITS Ultralight Runner No Show, but adds cushioning in the toe and heel, and features the slightly higher “low-cut” cuff height (about 2 cm higher than the “no-show” version) which some might prefer over a no-show. FITS’ “Light” cushioning on the Light Runner Low is more substantial than Smartwool’s “Light” cushioning, and is just a bit thinner than the Balega Hidden Comfort (see next). The Light Runner Low’s high wool content means you can wear this sock for several runs before feeling the need to wash them.
Balega Hidden Comfort
Fiber Content: 84% Drynamix Polyester / 11% Nylon / 3% Neofil / 2% Elastane
Height: No Show (with tab)
The Balega Hidden Comfort stands out from the socks above in a number of ways. First, it’s the only cushioned no-show sock here, and unlike many of the cushioned socks in this review, that extra material runs the entire length of the sock underfoot, providing a very plush feel. Second, it’s all synthetic, so don’t expect these to last very long before smelling, but if you’re washing your socks after every run anyways, this obviously won’t be a problem. Finally, it’s the cheapest sock in this review at $13, which might make it more enticing, especially if you tend to wear through a lot of socks every year.
Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Mini
Fiber Content: 48% Merino Wool / 47% Nylon / 5% Elastane
This sock is essentially the quarter-height version of the Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Micro above, and features the same best-in-class fit and breathability. As with the other Smartwool socks here, it’s not the most supportive, but it is a great option if you’re looking for a quarter-height sock and want the precise fit and feel of a non-cushioned sock.
Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Mini
Fiber Content: 55 % Merino Wool / 42 % Nylon / 3% Elastane
Want the snug fit and breathability of Smartwool’s Ultra Light socks but need a bit of cushioning? Look no further. Featuring the same fit and breathable upper of the other Smartwool socks here, the PhD Run Light Elite Mini adds a bit of cushioning, but its stated “Light” cushioning is the most minimal here — it feels noticeably less plush than the “Light” cushioning from FITS.
Wigwam Ultra Cool Lite Low
Fiber Content: 41% Stretch Nylon, 30% Polyester, 19% X2O® Acrylic, 6% Spandex, 4% Tencel®
Height: Low Cut / Quarter
The Wigwam Ultra Cool Lite Low is a sock that wicks moisture very well and comes in at a great price. It’s just slightly more cushioned than the Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Mini, and is a good option for those looking for a lightly cushioned synthetic running sock. It doesn’t have the most precise fit, but I haven’t experienced any issues while running in it. Lastly, the Wigwam Ultra Cool Lite Low has a cuff height that sits somewhere between the low-cut and quarter-height socks here, which I’ve appreciated most on milder trails where I don’t need all the sand / rock coverage of a higher quarter-height sock like the FITS Performance Trail, but still want a bit more coverage than the low-cut or no-show options here.
Point6 Active Life Extra Light Mini-Crew
Fiber Content: 61% Merino Wool / 36% Nylon / 3% Spandex
Not directly marketed to runners, the Active Life Extra Light Mini-Crew is a great everyday sock that you can certainly wear on a run. It’s fit isn’t as tight as the other socks here, but I still had no problem with slippage or blisters while running in this sock. It’s cushioning is pretty similar to the Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Mini. In summary, if you want a comfortable, not-too-tight sock that won’t feel out of place on a run, the Point6 Active Life Extra Light Mini-Crew is worth a look.
Darn Tough Vertex 1/4 Sock Ultra-Light Cushion
Fiber Content: 50% Merino Wool / 47% Nylon / 3% Lycra® Spandex
The Vertex ¼ Sock Ultra-Light Cushion essentially feels like a slightly more supportive and cushioned version of the Smartwool PhD Run Light Elite Mini. Its elastic is a bit tighter (particularly around the arch and forefoot) and its cushioning just slightly thicker.
Wigwam Rebel Fusion Quarter II
Fiber Content: OUTER: 70% Stretch Nylon, 28% Merino Wool, 2% Spandex LINER: 100% Olefin
This sock is unique in that it uses merino wool fibers on the outside of the sock, while the inner “liner” is made from synthetic olefin. The result? It wicks moisture away from my feet a bit better than the standard merino socks here, but also fends off odor a bit better than the fully synthetic socks. The Rebel Fusion Quarter II has the least precise fit of the quarter-height socks, which makes me more inclined to use it for shorter runs, or for hikes. But if you don’t need a super snug fit and want some of the performance characteristics of both synthetic and wool socks, the Wigwam Rebel Fusion Quarter II is certainly worth a look.
Balega Enduro V-Tech Quarter
Fiber Content: 75% Drynamix Polyester / 23 % Nylon / 2% Elastane
Balega claims their V-Tech construction “perfectly matches the contours of your foot without constricting it,” and this was certainly the sock that struck me as being the most supportive. It’s cushioning in the toe and heel feels similar to the FITS Light Runner Low, and like the Balega Hidden Comfort, the Enduro V-Tech Quarter smells faster than the other socks here, but comes in at a significantly lower price.
Balega Blister Resist Quarter
Fiber Content: 49% Drynamix Polyester / 16% Mohair / 16% Wool / 8% Acrylic / 4% Nylon / 3% Microfiber / 3% Neofil / 2% Elastane
The Blister Resist Quarter is the first sock I’ve used that utilizes Mohair fibers in its construction. If you’ve ever used Mohair climbing skins, you know that the fiber is very slippery, and that’s the idea behind this anti-blister sock. It certainly creates less friction than the other socks here, and I actually found it too slippery to use with some of my higher-volume running shoes (it caused my foot to move around too much inside the shoe, though I never got any blisters). However, if you have had issues with friction blisters in the past, these are definitely worth a look. I have been lucky enough not to have any problems with blisters while running, but I did lend these to a friend who has had problems with blisters, and he’s reported that the Blister Resist Quarter alleviated his blister issues.
FITS Performance Trail – Quarter
Fiber Content: 58% Merino Wool / 32% Nylon / 7% Polyester / 3% Lycra® Spandex
The FITS Performance Trail Quarter has been my favorite medium-cushion running sock for years. It has a snug, supportive fit, and more cushion than any other quarter-height sock here (though the “Light-Medium” cushioned socks above aren’t that far behind). It lasts for days without smelling, and I still haven’t worn a complete hole through any of my pairs, even after a few hundred miles (though the wool cushioning is definitely worn down, the elastic still hasn’t torn through completely). My favorite feature is the tall, thick, ribbed cuff — it prevents any rocks from getting in the sock and makes it a better option once the weather gets cold (though the breathable upper portion makes it a perfectly fine option for year-round use). If you’re looking for a bit less cushioning and more breathability, FITS also makes a “Light Performance Trail Quarter” that’s a bit thinner throughout, but still shares the same thick cuff.