How to choose the best socks for walking

Without a comfortable, well-fitting pair of socks, even the best walking shoes won’t be comfortable to walk 10,000 steps in. Socks are often overlooked, but they add additional cushioning, help regulate foot temperature, and can even help your shoes fit better. Even performance walking socks are cheap compared to shoes, so there’s really no excuse to get a great-fitting pair of socks that helps avoid foot pain and issues and keeps you walking long distances.

We’ll cover how to find the right pair of socks, 4 factors to look for when choosing a sock, and special considerations for summer (and winter) socks!

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Getting socks fitted

Pulling up socks during a walk or run
Monica Click / Shutterstock

Your socks should feel snug on your feet, without feeling very tight or painful. You don’t want bunched up fabric in the toes or heel from socks that are ill-fitting or too large, as it can chafe and lead to blisters. The ring of fabric at the top of the sock should also be loose enough that it doesn’t dig into your ankles or calves. Most socks will stretch a bit over time, but they should still fit snug and not tight when first tried on.

Unlike trying on shoes, you usually can’t try on socks at a store for hygienic reasons. You can still get a sense of fit in a few different ways. While many walking socks are sized S/M/L, etc, they should have a guide with corresponding shoe sizes for each. Performance socks usually have tighter ranges than basic socks, so you’re more likely to find yourself in between. Check online on sites like Amazon for reviews – many people will give tips on sizing and whether to go up or down a size when in doubt. Socks are relatively cheap, so you can always make your best guess, buy a pair and try it on. It’s usually a good idea to go for the smaller size if you’re really not sure, as socks may stretch out a bit after repeated use.

If you get shoes or other gear at a dedicated walking or running store, ask a salesperson if they have a favorite walking sock. They’ll usually be honest about what they like best and can provide a real-world testimonial. You can always get 1 pair to try, and if you like it buy additional pairs online.

Why the right socks are so important

Most serious walkers know that a good pair of walking shoes is the single most important piece of walking equipment. A good pair of socks, however, will enhance the fit of your shoes, keep your feet cool in summer and warm in winter, and can give you extra cushion and support. While a good pair of shoes can cost you $50-$100 or more, a dedicated pair of walking socks might only cost you $10. There’s no really no excuse for a serious walker to not make a small investment in a few pairs of walking socks.

Choose the right sock for you

Sock length explanations illustration
Lazuin / Shutterstock

Many factors go into choosing the right pair of walking socks. If you’re a serious walker, you should have a few pairs of walking socks. This allows you to wash your socks after every walk, and ensure they’re fully dry before wearing them. Having a few different variants also allows you to change up the material and feel of your socks depending on the walk and how you feel each day.


While cotton is cheap and light, cotton socks are not great for athletic pursuits like walking. Cotton tends to absorb and retain water, which can leave you walking in wet feet. That not only feels terrible, but it can lead to blisters if you’re walking long distances. Avoid cotton socks when possible! Many performance walking socks are made from merino wool, which is actually soft, comfortable and itch-free. It also keeps your feet cool in summer and warm in winter, while doing a fair job of wicking moisture away from your feet. Synthetic fibers are even better at wicking moisture away from your body, but they may not be as comfortable as wool.


The thicker your walking sock, the more cushion it will generally provide for your feet. Some socks are specially designed for added cushion on the sole, and can make even older shoes feel wonderful on your feet. Thick socks tend to be warmer, however, so super cushioned socks may not be great for summer. You’ll also need to take into account fit – shoes that fit great in a thin sock may be too tight in a thicker, cushioned sock.


Socks come in all lengths, from no show socks that aren’t visible in shoes to knee-high socks that cover your calves. While sock length is partly down to personal preference, it does have a function as well. Very short or no-show socks can often leave your ankles exposed, which can lead to chafing with some shoes. High socks can be hot in the summer, but summer-weight high socks can often keep you fairly cool. If mosquitos are an issue in your area, higher socks can protect your lower legs and may be cooler than wearing long pants.


Compression socks are tight-fitting socks that put gentle pressure on your feet and lower legs. Compression socks promote blood flow out of your feet and back up to your heart, which can help reduce swelling of your feet and legs. If you have leg or feet issues, talk to your doctor about whether compression socks would be a benefit. Some people like the feeling of compression on their feet, while others may feel it’s tight and distracting. Make sure your compression socks aren’t TOO tight, which can cut off circulation and hurt your feet. You may need to do some research to get the right fit, especially because most socks can’t be tried on before you buy.

The right sock for the right season

Comfortable walking shoes and socks
Adam Melnyk / Shutterstock

While all-purpose socks are ok in a pinch, if you’re a serious walker you should invest in seasonal socks for hot and cold weather. You’ll feel warmer in winter, cooler in summer, and you’ll be able to walk farther when your feet are comfortable.

Socks for warm weather

Warm weather socks are usually shorter and thinner than all-weather socks so that your feet can stay cool. While thin socks tend to have less cushioning, you can find summer socks with additional padding in the sole area to protect your feet. Most people wear crew length or shorter socks in summer, but if you’ll be hiking in tall grass or if mosquitoes are an issue where you live you can look for lighter higher socks as well.

Hot weather shoes are often very light, with holes and vents to let air in and moisture out. If summer nights get cold where you live, remember that very light socks can leave your feet somewhat cold. Thin socks may also leave your shoes feeling a bit large, so if you’re buying new summer walking or running shoes try to wear lighter socks when you try them on for a better fit.

While cotton is a light fabric, it tends to retain moisture. In the summer heat, your socks can get wet from sweat which is no fun for your feet. Light wool socks are actually a good choice to keep your feet cool and dry as well as synthetics and some cotton/synthetic blends.

Socks for cold weather

Good cold weather socks are not merely just thicker than normal socks. Look for cold weather stocks that help wick moisture away from your skin, as well as those that don’t get damp and cold as easily. Winter socks should extend higher up your leg to prevent cold air seeping in the gap between your shoes and pants. You’ll also want to take into account how warm your winter shoes are. Warm socks can make a big difference in many shoe types, but even the warmest socks can’t keep you warm in winter if you’re wearing vented summer running shoes.

Keep in mind that thicker socks will make your shoes fit tighter, which can squeeze your feet and cut off circulation in cold weather. If you’re buying a new pair of cold-weather shoes, make sure to wear thick socks when you try them on! When buying new winter socks for an older pair of shoes, take into account how tight your shoes already fit. If they’re already snug, there are thinner cold weather socks available that might work better.

Wool is a natural choice for winter socks. Wool is also naturally anti-microbial, which can help your socks (and shoes) smell better. Wool/synthetic blends or all synthetic socks are also good choices for a warm sock that doesn’t retain moisture. Avoid cotton socks, which can absorb water, get soaked and leave your feet cold.

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