Too often we’re seduced by the lower price of a product that invariably costs more over the long haul. – Bill Howard
What is the single most important piece of equipment for runners? If you said shoes, you’re close – and like many of your fellow pavement pounders, you’ve probably invested a good deal of time and money in finding the perfect pair. But as the only source of protection between your feet and a potentially run-crippling blister, socks can mean the difference between a triumphant or terrible outing, even in the highest-quality footwear.
I wrote previously about spring’s best socks for runners, but with a mind-boggling number of options available, how do you figure out which is best? Gus Blythe, founder of Drymax Sport Socks, was kind enough to weigh in on a few of the common myths about sport socks and what to look for when buying your next pair; he’s made it a mission to keep athletes’ feet happy and give them one less thing to worry about when training and racing.
Sock Myth #1: What you see is what you get
Contrary to what most of us probably think, socks are no longer used as decorative ornaments or as a way of helping to compensate for the imperfections inside of shoes; rather, they are standalone pieces of equipment and should be evaluated as such. Simply put, pretty socks that are built to be easy on the eyes could very well have the potential to be hard on the feet. It’s important to remember that feet are blind when shopping, says Blythe. After all, how much will you care about the color or logo on your socks mid-race?
Sock Myth #2: Soft in your hands means good to your feet
Yes, when I’m sock shopping “soft” is one of the top criteria on my list – but what feels heavenly at first touch doesn’t necessarily indicate high quality, so dive deeper and look at what the sock is made of to be sure you’re not being sold smoke and mirrors. “Many manufacturers use a fabric softener so their socks feel soft on the shelf to your hands,” says Blythe. These socks will work better after they are washed once, but may feel different afterwards, as opposed to brands such as Drymax, which Blythe says are softener-free and race-ready out of the package.
Sock Myth #3: One style fits all
Unfortunately, just as there is no hard and fast formula for choosing the ideal running shoe (I’ve shifted loyalty among several different brands since taking up the sport more than a decade and a half ago), choosing a type of sock tends to be part art, part science – so prepare to experiment a bit in order to find a good fit. For example, if you wear orthotics or insoles, you will probably need to look for a thinner sock with more protection in potential trouble spots, whereas a runner with narrow feet might want a bulkier sock to keep feet from shifting in shoes. Regardless of your situation, remember that every foot is different, and what works for one person may not work for the next, so take into account these personal preferences when shopping.
Sock Myth #4: Price is an indicator of quality
When buying socks, it’s better to think in terms of value instead of price. And even though we’ve been trained as shoppers to equate high price with high quality, it’s more important to consider the fabric and features versus getting caught up in the marketing magic. So fewer bells and whistles might work for a quick workout or light cross-training, but do your homework if you’re looking for socks that will last for the long haul. Alas, there are no shortcuts, and what you skimp on at the register your feet could end up paying for in the end: “If you think you can find the best sock by looking at price or by the best-known brand, you are wrong,” says Blythe. “It’s foolish to pay too much for a sock, but it’s worse to pay too little.”
Sock Myth #5: You’re not a real athlete if you don’t get blisters
In the past, it used to be that the ultra-distance runner who was able to run onward despite having horrible blisters won the race. Thanks today’s new sock fabrics and technologies, though, athletes can continue to push their limits, only now they’re racing smarter, not just harder. That means taking proper precautions to prevent blisters in the first place, which requires feet to be kept as dry as possible. And while many kinds of socks can provide adequate protection for a few miles, the addition of sweat and repetitive movements over many miles, plus shifting up and down hills, makes blister prevention an increasingly difficult task for non-specialized socks, says Blythe. “Choose your socks wisely,” he cautions. “Your feet depend on it.”
Stock up on socks locally at Athletic Performance in San Jose, which specializes in running shoes, apparel and accessories.