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How to Choose the Right Socks

Box with different colorful socks, closeup
New Africa/Shutterstock

Socks: they’re the ultimate unwanted Christmas present, or tedious necessity buy. But, wearing the right pair of socks can help your feet stay healthy and comfortable.

Wearing the same socks from work to hiking and everything in between can leave you with sore feet, blisters, and other avoidable problems. Instead, you should choose the right socks for you, depending on when and where you plan to wear them.

We’re here to teach you how to buy socks that meet your needs. Before you know it, you might even start getting excited about shopping for socks! Here are the top things to consider when making your choice.

Material

Socks exist to keep your feet comfortable while wearing shoes. However, the wrong material won’t protect your feet effectively.

Your feet contain lots of sweat glands: about 250,000, to be exact. That’s why your feet tend to get sweaty so fast, and why the wrong fabric can do so much harm. If your socks absorb moisture from your feet instead of wicking it away, you’ll get chafing and blisters.

While cotton seems like a nice, natural fabric, it’s best avoided in socks. Cotton soaks up moisture, creating the unpleasant sensation of damp feet. And damp fabric rubbing against your skin is a surefire way to get a blister. Only wear cotton socks if you’re sure you won’t be working up a sweat.

Many people opt for synthetic fabrics which are comfortable, durable, and moisture-wicking instead. Acrylic or nylon socks are good, versatile options.

For those who prefer natural fabrics, bamboo or merino wool works well. Bamboo breathes nicely so it won’t trap moisture on your feet, and it’s also a natural antibacterial. Merino wool is a very breathable type of wool that’s soft, never scratchy.

Consider how warm you’ll need to be, too. A thick sock made of a material like merino will keep you warmer than thin bamboo, for example. You can also layer a silk liner sock underneath for added warmth.

Purpose

Couple with socks and woolen stockings watching movies or series on tv in winter.
Tero Vesalainen/Shutterstock

Next, you’ll need to consider your purpose when you choose a pair of socks.

If you’re looking for something to wear to work at your office job, an inexpensive cotton sock will be fine. But if you plan on going jogging, you’ll want to avoid cotton and pick something that wicks moisture instead.

Are you looking for athletic socks? In addition to the right material, make sure they also offer padding in the heel and ball of the foot to help you stay comfortable. You might choose more or less padding depending on your preference.

For more intense activities, like snowboarding or backpacking, you’ll need a super-thick, durable sock. Luckily, you can find specialty socks for all kinds of different activities. The more intensely physical the activity, the more thought you should give to choosing properly designed socks.

Fit

If you’ve never given a second thought to how your socks fit, you’re not alone. However, it’s a good idea to look for socks that fit well—they’ll both look and feel better.

Your socks should feel snug against your feet, without extra fabric to create blister-causing friction. But you also don’t want them to be so tight that they’re putting strain on your toes. Make sure the seams aren’t placed where they’ll rub or chafe on your feet.

If you have issues with your arches, you can find socks that offer a reinforced, tight arch area to help add support. However, your socks can’t take the place of a good arch-supporting shoe.

You’ll also need to consider how the socks affect your shoe fit. Make sure to try on your socks with the shoes you plan to wear them with. If your shoes are already tight, you won’t be able to squeeze into them with a pair of thick socks. But if the shoes are a little loose, then thick socks can help them fit better.

If you plan on hiking or doing other physical activity, look for a sock that extends past the top of your shoes or boots. Otherwise, your footwear will rub on your feet or ankles painfully.

Look

Kids wearing colorful rainbow socks
FamVeld/Shutterstock

Finally, you can think about how you want your socks to look.

When choosing socks for active purposes like working out, make sure to consider function over form. It’s more important that they do what you need them to than that they look good. Plus, with so many different styles available, you’re sure to find a pair that has both the quality and the look you need.

If you’re choosing socks for more casual purposes, you can put more weight on how they look. Choosing the best-looking socks is largely a matter of personal style. For example, some people prefer to wear their sneakers with no-show socks, while others might style sneakers with bright, visible socks for a bold look.

Just make sure that if you work in a strictly professional environment, your work socks are appropriately professional. This usually means choosing socks that match the color of your slacks.

With these factors in mind, you can say goodbye to sweaty, itchy, or uncomfortable socks for good. Your feet will appreciate it!

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a Seattle-based writer and editor with a Master's in Writing Studies from Saint Joseph's University. Her work has appeared in publications like Racked, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and Rum Punch Press. She was awarded a 2017 Writing Between the Vines residency.  Read Full Bio »

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