It’s tempting to trim your mileage as winter sets in, but the idea of not running just because it’s cold outside is absurd. You’re a runner, so of course you’re going to keep running. You’re going to log your miles in the snow and the freezing rain, and when the freezing rain/snow turns to slush, you’ll press on. Being a runner doesn’t change just because it’s cold: All you need to do is build the right kit to keep you warm and dry when the weather turns arctic. And a good winter kit begins with your socks, the base protection for your feet. We’ve picked some of our favorite winter running socks, but first, a few things you should consider when choosing that all-important first layer.
Just like you’d typically want to avoid cotton socks for warm-weather running, same goes for winter. Most manufacturers turn to merino wool for their winter socks. It’s thinner and softer than your typical wool and has the ability to wick moisture away from your skin while also trapping air between the fibers to help insulate you against the cold. While merino is incredibly comfortable, it’s not particularly durable, so brands typically blend it with a synthetic material like polyester to boost its longevity. But the best thing about merino wool is that its temperature-regulating properties make it a good option for warm-weather running too, so don’t stuff these socks in the back of the drawer when spring thaws the trails. Think of think of these as “all-weather” socks.
To Waterproof or Not to Waterproof?
You can find plenty of waterproof running socks out there, and we recommend a couple in this list. But they’re meant for only the most extreme weather. The typical waterproof sock sandwiches a waterproof layer between two knit fabrics. And while they’re breathable, they’re not as breathable as straight merino wool/polyester socks, so they’ll trap heat. This is great when it’s 2 degrees and you’re running through streams. It’s overkill when it’s 33 degrees and sunny.
No-show bootie, ankle-length, mid-calf, knee socks: Most brands give you multiple options for length, even with their winter-minded models. It’s largely a personal choice, but consider a couple of things before deciding. Will knee socks cover enough skin to allow you to run in shorts through the winter? If you run in tights and go with bootie socks, will there be a gap between the fabrics around your ankle? Just think about how much skin you want exposed. And remember, some manufacturers make really great-looking (or straight-up weird) tall socks, and winter is the perfect time to break them out.
How We Tested
Every pair of socks on this list has been thoroughly vetted by our editors. Our team of experienced testers spent many hours and miles running and racing on the road and trail, and in cold and wet weather, wearing these socks. We evaluated them on performance, price, comfort, value, warmth, and durability to compile this list.
DryMax Cold Weather
These tall socks rise above your calf to protect your lower leg in the worst conditions. DryMax also gives the front shin an extra layer of insulation to stymie wind chill. A proprietary, dual-layer fiber transfers sweat to the outside of the sock, so the inside never gets soaked. Meanwhile, the seamless toe box and arch and ankle band help reduce the chance of getting blisters.
Lily Trotters Compression Socks
We gave Lily Trotters a 2020 Gear of the Year award out of respect for the socks’ ability to slide on and off easily while still providing plenty of supportive squeeze. With 15-20 mmHG of graduated compression, they stay firmly in place while you’re running—without gripping your calves so hard you want to peel them off the second you’ve stopped your watch. When worn with tights, their knee-high length gives you an added layer of warmth without any bulk. And the S’mitten patterns are great for winter, with a cozy seasonal vibe that feels at home in a holiday 5K or lounging by the fire.
Feetures Merino 10
Mixing almost equal amounts of nylon, rayon, and merino wool, this lightweight sock insulates without taking up too much space in your shoe. The “targeted compression” band in the arch gives you a little support and helps keep things in place. And the anatomical design means there are dedicated socks for your right and left feet, providing a better fit. Choose your level of cushion (ultra light or full cushion) and coverage (no show up to crew).
Rnnr Crew Performance Running Sock
Whether it’s due to the current boom on crafting in quarantine or just the cyclical nature of trends, “tie dye” is back in this season. In pastel colors or black-and-white, these tie-dyed crew socks look stylish as heck while keeping your feet blister-free and happy. Made from a medium-weight fabric with light cushioning through the footbed, they certainly won’t keep your toes from turning into ice-cold bricks on single-digit days. But for those sunny, 30-degree afternoons that make you remember that winter running is the best running, they’re plenty cozy and warm.
Wigwam Synchroknit Surpass Lightweight Mid-Crew
The biggest winter footwear challenge is to keep the blood flowing to your feet without overcrowding or overheating them with ski sock–level bulk. It’s a fine line that these Wigwam socks are able to capably traverse on all but the coldest, windiest days. Warm but lightweight, the socks are made of a polyester blend that dries quickly and feels soft against the skin. They’re cushioned where you need the comfort at the heel and toe, but stripped down through the arch for a tighter, better fit that feels like a gentle foot massage. Moderate compression through the mid-calf gives you a sense of added support. They’re thick enough that you won’t want to wear them in summer, but ideal for early-morning runs during the rest of the year.
Bridgedale Waterproof Stormsocks
If it’s completely dreary out and there are super-low temps and lots of slop or creeks in your path, pull out the big guns. Bridgedale’s Waterproof Stormsock keeps your toes toasty in the worst conditions. The three-layer system has a primarily merino interior layer that wicks moisture and capitalizes on the wool’s softness. Next is a breathable waterproof membrane, followed by a durable nylon outer layer. Lycra keeps the Stormsock snug and contoured, while a terry pad offers dense cushion underfoot. But maybe the best aspect of this sock is that Bridgedale offers it in different weights (light, mid, and heavy) so you can purchase one tailored to the conditions you most often run in.
Fits Performance Trail
Some runners will add gaiters to their kit if they’re often faced with mud or slush. No need if you’re wearing the Performance Trail sock, which has a high cuff “scree guard” designed to keep the elements out. The Performance Trail is built from a slightly heavier wool for colder temps, but still has mesh zones for added breathability. Even with the thicker wool, the sock has a snug, contoured fit that won’t bust the seams of your trainers.
Smartwool PhD Run Cold Weather Mid Crew
Built to stay in place, and with a women’s-specific fit for that gender’s version, this generously weighted, 55 percent merino wool, 42 percent nylon and 3 percent elastane sock provides a winter-friendly blend of warmth, comfort, and running performance. And the machine-washable, antimicrobial, no-itch wool is also a huge bonus. The mid-crew height works well with tights, while the zoned construction helps with moisture management and venting.
Showers Pass Crosspoint Waterproof Wool Crew
If wet slush is your winter-running Kryptonite, having a good set of waterproof socks is the antidote. And Portland-based Showers Pass makes one of the most effective we’ve tested. The Crosspoint has plenty of protection so you can hop through a stream without risking soggy feet. The knit exterior gives it the feel of a normal sock, while a breathable waterproof membrane blocks out the elements. Add to that the wicking properties of merino wool, plus a reinforced toe and heel, and you’ve got the ultimate snowpocalypse-ready footwear. Just remember to save the Crosspoint for only your coldest runs—it’s pretty warm in temperatures above freezing.
Swiftwick Pursuit Ultralight
These luxurious-feeling socks captured a 2020 Gear of the Year award and the hearts (or at least the heart-eyed emojis) of our staff for their comfort and versatility. Made of a lightweight merino wool that feels cool in warm weather, cozy when it’s cold, and soft and dry against your feet no matter the conditions, they’re the perfect all-season sock. True to the Ultralight name, the socks’ fabric feels warm without any bulk, so your feet won’t become crowded or numb once you’ve laced up your shoes. And the socks come in four height options, from the no-show Zeros to the calf-high Sevens, so it’s easy to find a pair that fits your style and need for winter coverage.
Feetures Elite Light Cushion Mini Crew
For runs in just-above-freezing weather, we love these lightly compressive crew-length socks from Feetures. While they’re not the thickest socks, the taller cut seals out cold and wind, and the nylon-spandex material is densely woven and cozy enough to keep the blood flowing through temps in the 30s and 40s. The Elite Lights also have a streamlined anatomical fit that hugs your feet and a seamless toe that won’t give you blisters. Test editor Morgan Petruny praised their “buttery smooth and soft” fabric in particular. “I was a little worried at first because the material felt a little slick, and that usually means I end up sliding around in my shoe, but I didn’t have that problem at all,” she said.
Darn Tough Vertex Run Micro Crew Ultra-Light Cushion
By now you’ve likely noticed that we’re big fans of merino. The Vertex Ultra Light is another favorite sock made from this soft wool blend, which brings warmth and quick-drying coziness to your feet without feeling heavy, scratchy, or bulky. Morgan Petruny from our test team praised the socks’ high quality and durability. She says she’s been regularly running in a pair for almost three years, and only recently has a little hole started to form at the toe. Luckily Darn Tough has a lifetime guarantee, and will send a replacement pair if they wear out. The socks are available in a crew length or a no-show version, if you like a little airflow around the ankle.
Gore Wear M Thermo Mid
Made from a warm, durable wool blend that both insulates and wicks sweat, this sock has extra support where you need it (at the toe and heel) and less fabric where you don’t. Staying put while you’re in motion is the Thermo Mid’s best feature, thanks to firm material and a grip band around the midfoot, which means you’ll never have to deal with sock slippage or a sagging cuff. It also has few seams for a cozier, blister-resistant fit. More than almost any other sock in this roundup, this one can be worn year-round.
Balega Enduro V-Tech Crew
Improved for the fall and winter season, this specialty run staple is snug around the arch but roomy in the front so as to not constrict splaying toes. The mid-weight Enduro V-Tech, now with elastane for better fit and support, pairs cushioning and warmth with contoured compression, breathability, and moisture management. Balega put compression bands in the top of the sock for structure and support. Ventilation panels, a seamless toe, and a reinforced, deep heel pocket add to the comfort.
Injinji Ultra Run Crew
Giving each toe its own separate home, Injinji socks protect against blisters caused by skin-on-skin friction. Though they take some getting used to and a little extra time to put on, many runners swear by the natural feeling they lend. The Ultra Run Crew has a mesh top for breathability and venting, protective and cushioning terry in the toes and underfoot, and added arch support, all in a blend of CoolMax, nylon, and Lycra for performance and moisture control.
Bombas Performance Running Socks
I initially feared these running socks from Bombas might be too thick for comfortable running when I pulled them on. But they slid easily into my shoe and felt pillowy soft underfoot without rubbing or clumping at the toe, due to strategic padding through the heel and a more compressive arch. There’s also some ventilation through the midsection, thanks to what Bombas calls its “Hex Tec” construction and a lightweight “Honeycomb” knit. But the warm poly-tech fabric felt stifling on a humid, 50-degree run and heavenly on a 30-degree one—so this is definitely a winter staple and not an all-season running sock (though we did nominate the quarter-length version for our list of best running socks overall). In case you need another reason for your feet to feel happy inside these socks, the brand matches every pair sold with a donated pair.
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