One thing I am closet passionate about is wool socks. In fact I am bananas about all wool clothing even though I live in a tropical environment. Wool socks are amazing for running, including in hot weather, and should be part of every runner's toolkit... even for casual runners. This basic pair of clothing can be a game changer for many as they provide a significant performance boost over other socks and remove real distractions. Socks that are made of wool and purpose-fit for running--especially in hot weather--are totally misunderstood and undervalued. In this article I will dispel the many misunderstandings, chat about why wool running socks are great, and provide recommendations based on personal use.
Those who are in the know, know. So if that is you then just skip to the next section. For those whose sole association to wool is thick itchy wool sweaters, grab a cup of coffee and let's have a chat. I get it - if I heard 'wool socks', I would also imagine my winter sweaters, good for minus 10° weather, cut in to the shape of socks. Thick, itchy, sweater socks. Booooom! That is me blowing that notion up. I put wool socks in the category of amazing things like: enormous airplanes that weigh a billion pounds but can fly, mini plastic frisbees (called contact lenses) to lay on your eyeballs (!) that make us see 20/20, little rectangular objects (called cell phones) that enable us to connect with anyone anywhere and without cords, and last ultra-thin TVs - I mean how is it possible to even make that happen??? Ok maybe I am exaggerating a bit by including them with these heavyweights but I still think wool socks are amazing. And what amazes me most is that it is pure nature that serves up this fine piece of natural engineering, not synthetic engineering. You probably already know this but the wool in these socks comes from sheep like the below, which has its wool sheered. It is humane and renewable.
Wool socks come in many varieties such as hiking, dress, and running. Wool running socks come in many thicknesses from ultra thin to thick and good ones are not itchy. I live in a tropical climate so do a lot of warm weather running and thus I run with thin or ultra thin wool socks - only! Also I look for merino wool and it is ok to get a blend of wool and synthetic as long as there is sufficient wool in the mix. Once I went wool, I never went back and I play all of my sports in wool socks.
Here is shy wool running socks are superior in every aspect:
- They wick away moisture in an amazing way.
- They are difficult to make smell because wools like merino are antibacterial and anti-microbacterial (thanks to the lanolin they contain).
- They are super durable in that they hold their shape and last a long time. Wool fibers are super pliable and remember their natural position, so the sock keeps its fit and position even with a lot of foot movement.
- They regulate temperature in an amazing manner both in hot and cold weather.
- They retain warmth even while wet.
- They are renewable.
- They are machine-washable, anti-wrinkle, anti-static (helps repel dust).
- I personally believe they mitigate blisters due to a combination of the above contributing factors
When I go in to running stores where I live and ask for wool running socks, I often get blank stares. Serious runners down here have never tried them and also think they are just too hot - like running in a sweater. The latter is absolutely not true. I also lived up North for a long time and while wool socks have a following up there I just found way too many people who didn't know about the benefits or didn't wear them for running.
Above is a sample from my private collection and like a fine wine, these socks get better with age. LOL. Left to right goes from thicker to thinner and I choose which ones I use depending on the condition and activity I do.
One of the cons of wool running socks is that they can be expensive. They are probably 1.5 to 2x more expensive than the average technical running sock and probably 3 to 4 times more expensive than the generic running sock. My guess is that price is a prohibitor. I mean why should I pay $15 for a single pair of running socks? As much as I love wool running socks, it is still hard to shell out that money for something perceived should only cost $1 to $3 per pair. Traditionally we have been trained to look at socks as a fairly disposable item. However, I still have all of my wool running socks since I purchased them and many are 5+ years old and in great shape. The extra money is well worth the benefits described above and in the long run, if I am replacing inferior technical socks more often, the math works out similar. So why not get more benefit for the same money? Wool socks don't have a higher cost because they are better but rather because they come from sheep so the fiber is more limited and labor intensive.
I have run numerous half marathons and greater distances in both hot and cold weather with my wool running socks. I have also run with regular socks and running specific technical socks. My wool running socks outperform the others in both climates, whether I am training, racing or just going on a relaxing run.
Not saying I would, but if I wanted I could run in the same pair without washing them on multiple back to back runs without odor or compromise in comfort or performance. Serious hikers and mountaineers wear wool base layers for this same reason - they can literally go weeks without changing or washing a wool base layer.
These 'serious' adventurers also wear wool for its temperature regulating and moisture management abilities. I am a heavy sweater. No, I do not wear heavy sweaters when I run. I sweat a lot on my runs so wicking performance is extremely important for the comfort of my run and for the longevity of my expensive running shoes. This is one of the biggest difference areas and x-factors with wool running socks. During my run I never get the soppy wet sock feel as with other socks. No sock will keep your feet 100% dry but this is as close to it as you will get. It is even hard to describe the performance here because it is neither dry nor soaked and you don't have a damp feel either. It just manages the moisture well and your feet don't turn to prunes because they are so breathable.
I typically wear low cut ankle socks when I run and during my run, my wool running socks do not slip down my feet under my heel like other socks might. Also I just don't get as many blisters as I would compared to other types of socks. I attribute this to several reasons: wool running socks have a secure fit throughout the run minimizing friction from moving fabric, the fabric is flexible though so it moves with your stride motion and doesn't rub against it, and last with superior moisture management your skin remains more durable.
I Bought my Wife a Pair
Romantic, right? She wears them still and I don't see her run in anything but them. Mic drop. These are 4 years old, still have their form, elasticity, color, etc, and do not have any odor.
There are bunch of brands out there that sell Merino, Alpaca, or other wool socks. My preferred brand for running is Smartwool. Here are one of my favorite pairs that are also several years old and still feel and perform great!
Smartwool makes really nice purpose-fit socks for running and other sports. For running they include a lot of nice features and have a great fit that stays in place. As mentioned above I have run in them for years over different distances and they hold up great. Smartwool specializes in wool socks so you can't go wrong. There is also a company in Vermont that I like called Darn Tough and I use their socks more for hiking and mountain biking. I hope to try their running specific socks soon. If you buy wool socks for running, make sure they are made for running and you will be much happier with them. Often you will find that the brands make the following:
- running - ultra light and / or ultra elite
- running - light
- running - regular
- performance - multi-sport. These may also come in different weights.
Unless you are running in the snow, I recommend light or ultra-lights but it is a personal preference on how much extra cushion you want, how much you sweat, etc. I have seen the non-light wool to have significant cushion and thickness which for me is too bouncy and hot.