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Ask A Gear Guru: What Shoes Work Best For Running Sockless?

Ready to shave seconds off your transition? Time to consider running sockless in your race-day shoes.

Like tri suits, visors, and a conspicuous lack of body hair, running sockless is a tri tradition that appears inscrutable from the outside but makes a ton of sense once you’re in the thick of it. Not only does putting on socks take up precious time in transition (and can be super frustrating), but running sockless can be a good way to beat the heat. However, just like everything, there’s an art to this science, and not every pair of shoes is made equally in the eyes of the (blister-ridden) sockless shoe god. Below we’ve got a handful of tips and a handful of sockless running shoe picks. Kick off your socks and read on!

Think It Through

While you may already be thinking, “Yes! I want to go sockless! Chris seems super smart, and I’m sold!” Hold your horses. First, carefully weigh the pros and cons of going sockless: How much time will it realistically save you? Are you running a 5K or a 10K or a marathon? Will the time savings be offset by crippling blisters or the need to readjust your sockless running shoes every few miles? Be realistic, too, about your goals: Are you focusing on PR’ing or getting a spot at AG nationals or Kona? Are you trying to hit the podium? Are you just trying to finish? We have a ton of great shoeless tips and sockless running shoe picks below that can make the experience not only bearable but fantastic, but just make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons (not just because Chris said so…).

Water Is Your Friend (Sometimes)

Depending on the swim location, you could be running barefoot through sand or dirt or small rocks. Common sense dictates that any of that stuff that stays on your foot when you shove it, sockless, into your cycling shoe (or even if you’re wearing socks…), could make its way into your running shoes, where it matters more. Some sand in socks can be annoying; some sand in sockless running shoes can be tragic. Many transition areas have showers or hoses as you run through to help, but don’t bank on that. Bring a bucket or even an extra water bottle (or make your own DIY portable shower!), and you’ll have a clean set of puppies before you go skin on shoe. That said, you’ll have to be a little more mindful of pouring water over you during the race, as the absorptive buffer that socks provide won’t be there to save your skin, and blisters literally feed off water.

Powder Power

While cleaning your feet pre-sockless shoe shove is important, as I mentioned above, keeping your feet dry is also key. Toweling off is a fine start, but to save even more time (and to be even more sure), use talcum powder to coat the inside of both your bike and your run shoes. Not only will the talcum powder prevent extra moisture that leads to blisters, but it’ll also help get your foot in and out of the shoe faster.

Preparation is Everything

If you’re truly concerned about time in transition, you should already be thinking about this, but make sure your race-day setup is absolutely flawless and well thought-out. Open your shoes completely, put talcum powder in them, loosen the laces. Rather than the stock laces, you may want elastic laces, but when running sockless, it’s extra important that your shoes are tight and snug. Extra play by sloppy or loose lacing can cause problems fast, and having to retie or adjust your shoes on the run will kill any potential time savings you earned by skipping socks.

Pick The Right Sockless Running Shoe

Not all shoes work great for sockless running, and not every foot is made the same. While we’ve got some good picks below, based on features and experience, these are just best guesses. You won’t know if running sockless in a pair of shoes will work for you until you actually do it. And just like anything, you don’t want to learn hard lessons on race day that you could have learned while training. Be sure you try running sockless for at least your race distance a few times before race day. That said, the shoes below are either made for sockless running or happen to have the features that make them a smooth fit:

The Best Sockless Running Shoes

New Balance Fresh Foam 1080v11

$150, newbalance.com; 9.3oz. (men), 8.1oz (women); 8mm drop

Not only does this pair have super (super) cushy foam for lots of absorption and propulsion, but the mesh upper is ideal for sockless running. The extended heel tab seemingly begs for you to slip a talcum-covered foot in, and the mesh creates a low-seam fit that actually feels just like a sock itself. New Balance also used their noggin by putting in a smooth inner toe cap to prevent rubbing at the end of your toes.

Hoka Carbon X 2

$180, hokaoneone.com; 8.4oz. (men), 7oz. (women); 5mm drop

Advertised as an endurance racer, the Carbon X 2 may focus on propulsion, thanks to its carbon fiber plate, but it’s also a shoe that keeps sockless triathletes in mind. Again, Hoka uses a mesh upper to keep cool and reduce blister-causing seams. The seam-free heel and extended heel tab are also super important for those looking to save seconds without destroying their feet or having to readjust the fit constantly during an event. Bonus: We like the low-profile tongue for a close fit that prevents bunching when put on in a hurry.

Zoot Ultra TT

$135, zootsports.com; 7.3oz. (men), 6.3oz. (women); 3mm drop

Zoot is a tri-first brand that has taken a conspicuous pause from the shoe game up until recently. Fortunately, they’re back with a triathlete’s dream for the sockless running shoe. The Ultra TT has a cushy foot opening to provide softness and to prevent water entry while running (and dumping water). Better yet, Zoot has installed water exit points around the shoe to make sure any water that does get into the Ultra TT doesn’t stay there. Little features like included elastic speed laces and the smoothest, largest internal toe cap we’ve seen really round out this sockless wonder.

Nike React Infinity Run Flyknit 2

$160, nike.com; 10.65oz. (men), 8.6oz. (women); 9mm drop

Though the original Infinity Run seemed like a good choice for sockless running on its face—what with its entirely one-piece flywire mesh tongue-plus-upper—it had some issues. The biggest being that the nearly unfinished foot opening could cause ankle rubbing on sockless skin. The new version of the Infinity Run still has the piles of cushion that the original did, but now boasts a (thankfully) revamped ankle collar that should be more sockless friendly—along with the flyknit upper that was already bare-skin compatible. Elsewhere, the one-piece construction is a good fit for those looking to skip the socks in transition. Bonus: A tri-friendly heel loop helps.

Asics Metaracer

$200, asics.com; 6.7oz. (men), 5.5oz. (women); 9mm drop

For all-out speed in a race-day-only flat, the Metaracer not only earned high marks from our testers, but it’s a great choice for a superlight, super-propulsive carbon-plated sockless running shoe. The mesh upper has few seams (though the heel has more seams than others on this list), and it’s specially designed to cool your foot as you run. A cool foot means a dry foot, and a dry foot means fewer blisters and rubbing. Sadly there’s no extended heel tab or heel loop on this svelte pair, but speed often comes at a cost.