Considerations When Choosing Athletic Socks

Considerations When Choosing Athletic Socks

You may not think of them this way, but socks are athletic equipment. The right socks can help prevent blisters, provide cushioning, warm or cool the feet, and retain or repel moisture. Let’s take a closer look at considerations when choosing athletic socks.

Know the Lingo

When researching athletic socks, you’ll come across some words you may not have thought about before, at least not relative to socks, such as:

  • Hydrophobic – How can socks be afraid of water? When talking about socks, “hydrophobic” means non-absorptive. Socks made of hydrophobic materials won’t soak up and retain sweat. This is a good thing, as we’ll discuss below.
  • Hydrophilic – OK, now we find out there are socks that love water? Actually, yes. Natural fibers are much more prone to retaining moisture than synthetics.
  • Wicking – With socks, this refers to the ability to draw moisture away from the surface of the foot and move it to the outer surface of the sock, where it should have the ability to evaporate. But there’s a catch, which we’ll discuss below.
  • Compression and swelling – Not of the feet or calves, but of the sock fiber. Socks that soak up and retain moisture will swell, and they’ll take up space that otherwise could admit air to assist evaporation.

Know the Fabrics

Many of us grew up using cotton crew socks inside our gym shoes. As it turns out, cotton isn’t such a great choice for athletes. Advances in synthetic fibers have made these materials the fabrics of choice for athletes. Here’s a rundown of various sock fabrics and their properties:

  • Cotton – While comfortable and relatively cheap, it’s very hydrophilic and doesn’t retain its shape.
  • Wool – Warm, but also hydrophilic, wool can blend with synthetics to reduce, but not eliminate, the tendency to absorb moisture and swell up.
  • Synthetic – Synthetics are more hydrophobic, and they have good wicking properties.

The construction of the fiber and the weave of the sock itself makes a difference. CoolMax® fibers have special channels woven into a cross-sectional design, which provides more area on the fiber for moisture to move through, and thus, it has more exposure for evaporation.

Some kinds of synthetic fibers, such as polypropylene, dislike moisture so much that they may not even take up enough of it to wick it away. Athletic socks should strike a balance, and they ideally should land in a mid-range of hydrophobic qualities. Acrylic falls within this range.

Natural fibers, by contrast, soak up much more water and swell up. Then, body weight and the structure of the shoe compress these fibers more than synthetics, so you end up with a soaked, swollen, squished sock that doesn’t want to let go of the moisture and doesn’t have much air around it to allow for evaporation.

The kind of fabric in the sock also makes a difference in the ability to prevent blisters. According to a report published by the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, studies conducted back in the ‘90s by the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army found that using two layers of socks (synthetic liner covered by a wool-synthetic blend) helped prevent blisters.

You can read more about different sock materials in this earlier post.

Pair Your Pair with Shoes That Breathe

Synthetic fibers are great at wicking moisture away from your feet, but if your shoes are airtight, the moisture doesn’t have anywhere to go. Your athletic shoes should either be breathable (as in it has a mesh upper) or hydrophilic, drawing moisture from the hydrophobic synthetic sock.

Make sure the shoes fit well too. Even the finest socks may struggle to protect your feet from blisters if your shoes are too tight because they’ll rub against your ankle bone or jam up your toes. Try on shoes while wearing the socks made of the fabric and weight (or thickness) you’re considering to see how they work together.

Which Sock for Which Sport

Your choice of socks will obviously have a lot to do with what sport you play or what athletic activity you pursue. This is where you consider the design, length, and cushioning properties of the sock. You should also think about cushioning if you need additional arch support from the sock, fit, and seams. Some sport-specific considerations when choosing athletic socks may include:

  • Baseball: To stirrup or not to stirrup, that is the question. Teams may require certain styles and colors, but you should have some leeway in choosing socks that stirrups go on over. Whether or not you wear stirrups, baseball socks are usually long enough to go over the calf.
  • Basketball: These also go over the calf. For basketball, you’ll also consider how the sock stays in place and doesn’t bunch up or move around when pivoting, stopping quickly, or jumping.
  • Cycling: Thinner, well-fitting synthetic socks that won’t sag or bunch up will keep your focus on performance, not what’s going on inside the shoes.
  • Golf: You’ll have to do a lot of walking, usually in fairly warm weather, so wicking and cushioning will be important.
  • Hiking: You definitely want socks that are taller than your boot. Consider warmth for cold-weather hikes, or cooling if you hike in the summer. Cushioning is important for hikers, so you won’t want to go too thin or light. For full-day hikes, bring several pairs to switch as conditions may change.
  • Running: Cushioning and weight are the main concerns here. Some runners prefer ultra-light socks, while others feel better with more cushioning and thickness.
  • Skiing, Snowboarding, Ice-skating: Warmth and fit will be your top concern. You’ll need socks thick enough to prevent the boots from digging in, but not so thick that they jam up your feet.

As we’ve seen, there’s a lot to think about when choosing socks for your specific sport. But you don’t have to sacrifice style and a sense of fun. Socks for many different sports are available in customized versions. You can play with color and stripes, and even get socks with your player number on them. Browse our inventory of twin city athletic socks and take a look at customization options to find just the right sock for you.

Considerations When Choosing Athletic Socks infographic

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