Athletic socks come in a variety of styles and materials from cotton to wool and everything in between.
Why Not Cotton Socks?Cotton socks are not recommended for most athletes, especially runners, because they tend to retain moisture when you sweat. Not only that, but cotton can easily lose its shape and stretch or compress in your shoes. Wearing cotton in an athletic shoe often leads to a clammy, wet foot with a high potential for blisters and infections. When is comes to your feet, remember that a dark, warm, moist environment is perfect for the growth of fungous. To avoid problems, keep your feet cool and dry.
What About Wool Socks?Wool does have benefits, especially for cold-weather exercise. It is a warm natural fiber that provides cushioning, and retains heat when wet. However, it does retain moisture and can take a long time to dry. New wool blends, like Smartwool, combine the best properties of wool with synthetic materials to help keep the foot dry, as well as insulated.
Why Choose A "Wicking" Athletic Sock?These days, most athletes will choose a sock that is made of hydrophobic fibers. Hydrophobic materials tend to repel water and are typically used in the newer athletic socks. In addition to being hydrophobic, synthetic fibers made from CoolMax®, Drymax®, Smartwool and polypropylene actually have tiny channels that wick the moisture from your foot to the outer layer of the sock where it can evaporate more easily.
CoolMax and Smartwool socks also retain their shape fairly well, they don't stretch and bunch up in your shoes, they can be machine washed and dried and are considered shrink resistant.
The downside to these socks is that they often cost quite a bit more than natural fibers like cotton and wool.
Weave and Cushioning in Athletic SocksIn addition to the type of fiber the sock is made from, you also can choose the type of weave and other support materials used in the sock. A tight, dense weave pattern creates more cushioning in a sock. Some socks will add additional cushioning around the heel, or the ball of the foot by incorporating other fibers into those areas. Most athletic socks also have a bit of stretch because they add elastic material including nylon or Lycra® spandex.
If you wear a sock made from a wicking material on your foot, don't forget that you also need to allow that moisture to escape through the shoe. Wearing a wicking athletic sock inside a shoe or boot that doesn't breathe may backfire by keeping moisture close to your foot.
Compare Prices on Recommended Athletic Socks
Kirk M. Herring, DPM, MS, FACFAOM. How Socks Make The Feet. American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society, Sept. 2008.