While socks are one item of clothing that most people will likely have an abundance of, it’s worth investing in some cycle- or running-specific ones. These will utilise materials, designs and features that take into account the demands of exercise, and may also offer additional protection against wind and rain, helping to keep your feet dry and comfortable in cold conditions.
Meanwhile they will also be made of materials that offer much better technical performance than standard cotton socks.
Read on to find out more about the different types of socks that are available and to find a pair that is right for you.
Which cycling socks are right for you?
As with all cycling- or sports-specific clothing, there are different types of socks designed for optimum performance under various conditions, and they type you choose will largely be determined by when you want to use them and what performance priorities you value. A thick, waterproof and thermally insulated pair of socks, for example, will help to keep your feet dry and warm in the winter, but will be overkill in the summer months when you need short, lightweight socks that help to keep your feet from overheating. You may well find that a selection of season-appropriate socks is the best option.
Some of the main things to consider when purchasing a pair of socks are:
• Materials: Socks can be made of either natural materials such as wool or cotton, or man-made textiles including Lycra, nylon or a blend of multiple fibres. For sporting and technical wear, synthetic fibres are generally preferred as they are engineered to offer excellent breathability, insulation and wicking (the ability to draw moisture from the skin to the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate) properties. In general, cotton socks are not suitable for exercise as they tend to absorb moisture and become saturated, leaving your feet damp and uncomfortable – save the cotton socks for the street or skate park. While thick wool socks are also generally only suitable for lower-exertion activities (such as walking or fishing), Merino wool is an excellent material for sports socks, having natural breathability and wicking properties as well as being resistant to the buildup of odour and bacteria.
• Length: Sport socks are generally offered in long (extending up the shin), mid (extending above the ankle) or low/trainer cuts. Longer socks will offer more protection against cold during the winter but will be too hot in the summer, when shorter socks will help keep you cool.
• Waterproofing: Few things are more irritating on a long winter ride than cold, wet feet, so a pair of waterproof socks is a valuable addition to the cyclist’s wardrobe. Worn in conjunction with a pair of waterproof overshoes they should keep your feet dry and comfortable.
• Thermal qualities: Socks with thermal insulation properties – the ability to trap a layer of air next to your skin, where it can warm up – are also a winter staple. You should be aware, however, that insulation comes at the expense of breathability. Socks with different levels of thermal insulation are available – from those suitable for Arctic exploration to others that just offer that extra degree of warmth – so choose according to the conditions and the level of exertion you expect, or you run the risk of overheating.
• Moisture management: As above, all synthetic and some natural fibres (Merino wool in particular, cotton not so much) are valued for their wicking properties, that is, their ability to draw moisture away from the skin and allow it to evaporate. This is an essential consideration if you don’t want your feet to become saturated with sweat from exertion.
Some socks designed specifically for cycling may also have additional features such as extra padding in the heel area, stretch panels under the arch of the foot and silicon gripper bands above the ankle.
Finally, compression socks – which extend up to the top of the calf – are popular among many runners, with the compression effect helping to increase blood flow to the lower leg muscles, improving performance and aiding recovery after training or competition.