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They might not be made of carbon fiber or particularly aerodynamic or Bluetooth enabled (yet), but socks are arguably more important than anything that gets tested in a windtunnel or connects to your phone. If your smartwatch goes down (or the service it connects to!), you might be frustrated, but that’s arguably a first-world problem. If your socks fail you halfway through a marathon or a long run, that’s when things get real. Triathletes in particular ask lot of their running socks—sometimes we put them on way too quickly, sometimes we put them on wet, sometimes we wear mismatched ones because we woke up late and didn’t hear the alarm and didn’t have time to even think about socks before flying out the door to race across Manhattan going the wrong way down one-way streets to the transition area and then the start line. Not that this has happened to me…I’m just saying. In other words, a good pair of socks is basically worth its weight in gold, and for triathletes, the best ultralight socks are the ones that we can put on quickly with minimal “consequences” later in the day. Let’s take a look at a few important ultralight sock qualities, and then check out some picks from our run-crazy expert friends, Jonathan Beverly and Molly Hanson from PodiumRunner.
Max Is Out
The old school strategy of going with big cushioning to prevent blisters and “fill your shoe” is no longer valid. While you may want thicker socks for running in the winter, the material in most modern shoes should no longer need supplementation when it comes to cushioning or avoiding seams. If you’re getting blisters or discomfort with thin socks, it’s a shoe problem, and there’s probably something out there that’s better for you.
Hot Feet = Angry Feet
Not only are we starting to get away from thick socks with lots of cushioning because they’re unnecessary, sometimes they can even cause problems—particularly if you run in a hot area that’s particularly humid. Just like they say in the Army, you’ve got to keep your feet dry—otherwise you’re inviting a host of problems into your footwear. The best ultralight socks for triathletes will keep your feet cooler, preventing the old sweat foot and heading off blisters (and foot stink) at the pass. Of course, not everyone loves thin socks in the winter, but even as temperatures dip, it might be worth trying something thinner than you’re used to to see if any issues are being caused by feet that get too hot, sweat, and then get cold or blister-y.
Don’t Like Sockless Racing? Thin Is In
While lots of short-course triathletes love to race sockless, many long-coursers aren’t prepared for that “natural feeling” over hours of running. The best ultralight socks for triathletes are thinner ones that give you some barrier between a shoe’s seams and your foot (or in case you don’t cinch your shoes up just right, as I’ve done). Better yet, if you’re on a hot course and you like dumping water or ice on your head, you’ve got to be prepared for the inevitable “trickle-down effect.” Don’t be that guy or gal clomping around in fat, heavy socks after every aid station.
Now onto some picks for the best ultralight socks for triathletes, as reviewed by PodiumRunner’s Jonathan Beverly and Molly Hanson:
The Best Ultralight Socks: Swiftwick Aspire 0
Swiftwick’s super low cut, super lightweight sock uses mesh to create a compression feel that totally wraps around your foot. “The thin, narrow cuff sits just below the ankle with enough compression to not slink down the foot, and the moisture-wicking, engineered-pattern knit equates to maximal airflow ventilation that kept our feet cool and dry on even the stickiest, 80+ degree days,” Hanson said. While it’s a decidedly lightweight sock that breathes well, a combination of nylon, olefin, and spandex still gives it a hint of cushioning.
The Best Ultralight Socks: Bombas Performance Running Ankle Sock
Funky colors aside, the construction of these left-right specific (for foot-specific arch support) socks does a great job of wicking away moisture—super important for triathletes who sweat a ton or are heavy race-day drink dumpers. “Yarned together with polyester and cotton, they strategically cushioned our testers’ feet, left/right arch-support system included, for optimal performance and minimal interference,” Hanson said. Our testers loved the unique look of the weave, and the seamless toe did wonders to prevent blisters. Best of all? Bombas partners with homeless shelters to do a buy-one, give-one program.
The Best Ultralight Socks: Darn Tough Vertex No Show Tab Ultra-Light
Just like its name says, these are some tough socks. Made in the U.S.A. (Vermont to be exact), these thin—but densely-woven—socks are a big favorite amongst the high-mileage crowd. This, plus Darn Tough’s amazing lifetime guarantee, means that long-course triathletes who are abusive on their footwear and feet should give Darn Tough a try. Testers said that this pair specifically, “feels structured, like it is supporting all of my foot, in a way that feels like it is an invisible part of the shoe.” While this no-show cut was a favorite, this model also comes in ¼ height and over-the-calf with compression.
The Best Ultralight Socks: Feetures Elite Ultra Light
Feetures is another brand with an amazing lifetime guarantee and U.S. craftsmanship, but they’re best known for going thinner than thin and mixing sock technology with compression features. Just like the Bombas, the Elite Ultra Lights are foot specific with compressive ribs running across the arch for support—amazing if you have a history of plantar pain. Testers liked how perfectly the socks’ shape matched up and mapped their feet—an important quality when hurriedly throwing these on in transition. A high front tab also protects feet from weird tongues that might get tangled while rushing through T2.
The Best Ultralight Socks: Balega Ultralight No Show
While some of the other socks on this list focus on technology and bells and whistles, Balega focuses on fit, with a snug heel cup to pocket your foot and prevent movement inside the shoe. A tightly woven pattern with a high stitch count makes the fit feel even more impressive, and the meshlike top panel helps feet breathe. “You don’t even know they are there,” testers said.
The Best Ultralight Socks: Voormi Run Sock
Though by far the highest on the price scale, this multilayered sock does an amazing job of wicking while keeping super thin and light. The secret here is Voormi’s use of multiple layers that draw moisture away from the foot, out to the top to evaporate and use a different panel on the bottom to help give foot support. Testers said that these were great socks, not only for running, but also for wearing post-run, due to the soft and odor-fighting Merino outer layer.