Running Socks Vs. Regular Socks: What’s the difference?

You’ve walked into a running-specialty store when you saw socks that are $10 more than your regular pair of athletic socks. Now you’re wondering what is the difference between running socks and regular socks and if they’re worth the investment.

The key difference between running socks and regular socks is the type of material they use. Running socks are made of synthetic fibers that repel moisture while regular socks are made of cotton that absorbs moisture. In addition, running socks generally fit better than regular socks.

But that’s not all. There are more differences between the two types of socks that make one superior to the other. Ahead, we will look at those differences in more detail. I will also give you my recommended running socks to help you narrow down your choices.

The Differences Between Running Socks And Regular Socks

Before you grab those cheap socks you used to wear in PE classes back when you’re in high school, it’s worth taking a look at what you’re actually giving up for not spending that extra $10 getting a pair of running socks.

Before I dive into detail explaining the differences between them, I’d like to give you the summary of what we’re going to talk about in a table format comparing them side by side so you can take a look at them eye to eye.

FeaturesRegular SocksRunning Socks
Material Usually made of cotton Made of moisture-wicking synthetic fabric like polyester, acrylic, and wool
Fit Usually free-size; sometimes has excess fabric when worn Bought in different sizes; snug around the foot
Technology Nothing specific for running Has extra cushion, protection, and support.
Shape Unisex; the left and the right sock are virtually the same; it’s shaped like a tube Pairs are specific to the left and right foot for more specific fitting.
Comfort They hold on to sweat, they’re hot, and they’re prone to chafing. Keeps your foot dry and fresh longer; Protects your foot from blisters and hotspots; you can choose to wear cool, and more breathable socks for hot days and thick and warm socks for cold days.

The Material

Let’s first talk about the material. Your regular socks are usually made of cotton. Although they’re great for comfort during your long days at work or when you’re out shopping, they’re the worst when you use them for running (more on this later).

Running socks, on the other hand, use a different kind of fabric. The kind that is ideal for conditions where you’re sweating, and moving constantly. They’re built with synthetic fabric, usually a blend of a special kind of polyester, nylon, elastane, and wool.

These fabrics simply have better moisture-wicking properties that will help your feet feel fresh, and dry throughout your run. They also have better thermoregulation properties than cotton.

The Fit

If you haven’t noticed, most of your regular socks come in free size. That means, one size fits all. While that’s okay when you’re using it for casual wear, that isn’t okay when you’re running.

When running, you’d like to get rid of excess fabric as much as possible. That’s why it’s best to wear snug-fitting socks when you go out for a run.

Since running socks are sold in different sizes, you can assure that your socks hug tight to your foot.

The Technology

This is wear running socks blow regular socks out of the water.

Aside from the charcoal technology that some regular socks have, there aren’t really any other features that regular socks have that could help with running.

Running socks, on the other hand, are built with various features that are specific to what a runner needs.

Take the Salomon socks, for example. Since you usually land on your toes when you’re running up a mountain, Salomon socks have built-in tiny rubbers in the toe area that provides grip in the toes which feel really good when you’re running uphill. It prevents your foot from sliding inside your shoes.

Other than that, different manufacturers of running socks offer different technology such as extra cushioning that helps absorb more impact when running, arch support, and extra padding on common blister-prone areas.

The Anatomic Shape

Regular socks are built virtually the same. It’s shaped like a tube and it’s interchangeable. Meaning, you can use the left sock on the right foot and vice versa which, right away, tells you that regular socks don’t follow the anatomic shape of the foot that result in more excess fabric.

On the other hand, most pairs of running socks are specific to each foot. You can’t interchange them. The shape of the left sock closely follows the shape of the left foot and vice versa resulting in a snugger fitting sock.

In addition, most running socks are gender-specific, so you’ll always have the perfect socks regardless of the size of your foot.

The Comfort

Lastly, and quite frankly, the most important is the overall comfort.

Regular socks may be comfortable when you’re wearing them casually, but they aren’t nearly as comfortable as running socks when you use them for running.

Running socks are made to keep as much moisture as possible reduce chafing, and provide padding to blister-prone areas making them the socks of choice for running.

Why Cotton Socks Aren’t Made For Running

You might be wondering, what’s so bad about cotton socks and running that almost every runner hates them. To be honest, they’re not so bad in the first few miles. I mean, I hardly noticed any difference.

But where you’ll start noticing that cotton socks aren’t really made for running is around the 5-mile mark where your foot starts to get drenched in sweat and you start feeling the friction.

Continue running a few more miles and you might start to feel uncomfortably warm in your feet because the wet socks decrease the breathability to your feet.

Then, you might feel some hot spots or sensitive areas from the constant friction between your foot and the socks that could eventually lead to blisters.

Side note: If you haven’t felt running with blisters, you’ll never understand how that little watery bump in your foot can throw you off your pace so bad.

Running is a very repetitive sport, that’s why chafing, blisters, and all sorts of discomforts are very common. Cotton may be great for casual wear, But it isn’t made to handle an activity like running. They absorb too much sweat, they have poor thermoregulation properties, and they just cause too much friction which is the main culprit for chafing and blisters.

Wearing cotton socks could also be one of the reasons why your shoes and feet smell awful. A warm and moist environment is the ideal site for bacterial build-up. That said, creating that environment by wearing cotton socks would eventually lead to a foul odor.

By the way, if you’re having problems with smelly shoes, here are 3 steps to get rid of them.

Do Running Socks Really Make A Difference?

Before I knew that there was a specific sock for running, I used to run in cotton socks for all my runs.

What I can say based on personal experience is wearing running socks won’t make any difference in terms of speed and endurance if you hadn’t put in the work.

I believe, consistent practice, good running form, and building up your mileage is the only way to be a better runner. And even if you’ve never worn running-specific socks, as long as you’ve put in the effort, you’d still be fine with wearing regular socks.

However, running socks can affect your running indirectly. Let me explain…

Have you experienced running when something as harmless as a piece of paper or tape that’s stuck inside your shoe? It may not directly affect your speed and your form but it will definitely throw you off your focus.

Running with regular socks feels the same way. You may not notice it right from the beginning, when you go to that 2nd half of the long run, you’d start to feel little discomforts in your feet that could distract you from running the race.

It could be as little as the wetness of your socks, the decrease in breathability, or the little friction that you feel in some areas of your feet.

If you’re not used to dealing with discomforts, then it could very well affect your performance. That said, if it is within your budget to spend a little more on a pair of socks, I would definitely recommend that you buy at least three pairs of running socks.

I also made an article teaching you how to choose the right running socks. Be sure to check it out.

My Favorite Running Socks

If you want to take a quicker approach and just use the same socks I use, here are my recommended running socks for different situations:

Nicho Mauricio

Running wasn't always my favorite sport. I was a CrossFit athlete and I loved every bit of it. But since the pandemic began, I was forced to stay away from the gym and train at home instead. Things got boring. That's when I decided to trail run with my friends. I instantly got hooked. So I started training and researching all things running. As a beginner, I want to buy only the best running gear and do only the best practices. This blog is where I share what I've learned in my journey and my experiences as a runner.

Recent Posts