The best socks (summer edition)
After researching dozens and testing 20 pairs of socks in a locked-down London heatwave, we found the Defeet Aireator 5″ D‑Logo (Double Cuff) to be the best socks for casual use in the summer heat. We also found the Balega Hidden Comfort to be the best running socks — regardless of temperature.
Best for casual summer use
DeFeet Aireator 5” D-Logo Double Cuff
Thin and airy yet substantial and hard wearing. A distinctive texture adds to their technical charm. Made ethically in the USA.
The DeFeet Aireator 5″ D‑Logo (Double Cuff) were thin and airy, yet reassuringly substantial-feeling socks. Their compressive fit and light material kept our feet cool in 30°C+ (86°F+), humid weather. They strike a balance between lightness of material and cushioning, with a more dense material on the underside of the foot. The DeFeet socks were the only light feeling pair of socks that didn’t become sheer when stretched over foot. The texture on the Aireator is peculiar, varying by panel, and has a coarseness and density not seen in other socks we tested. The texture does give them a technical edge that other socks didn’t have, and that may turn off some.
DeFeet are well known in the cycling community, and with those credentials comes a couple of features. They never fall down and are designed for a compressive fit to squeeze inside road cycling shoes. They are also hard wearing. I’ve seen pairs last more than a year with no significant signs of wear and tear, although the black band on our 1 inch model did fade somewhat after a few washes and wears.
The Aireator is available in a wide range of lengths, from 1 to 6 inches, in 1 inch increments. They are available in a dizzying variety of colourways and patterns. Many of these colourways are terrible and kitschy. Highlights include sushi, doughnuts, and a unicorn on a bike in space, lowlights include “do epic shit”, and “big balls.” However we strongly advise sticking with the solid options.
It’s hard not to like DeFeet as a company. They were founded in North Carolina in 1992 by Shane Cooper, who remains CEO today. The company is still independent today too. Defeet’s socks are manufactured in their own factory in Hildebran, North Carolina in the US. Their polyester is made from recycled plastic bottles, and they have made efforts to reduce the amount of water their polyester yarn dying process consumes (more information on their manufacturing and sustainability here). Their wool is local to the USA and fully traceable. More recently Defeet published an equality statement which, to me, didn’t smack of the corporate non-speak that we’ve come to expect from brands today.
The Aireators aren’t perfect. Their thinness combined with their somewhat course texture means they don’t cope well on runs. 5 kilometre runs or shorter were passable, but longer than that resulted in some blistering — in my case on the inside of my foot. Don’t go running marathons in these.
The Balega Hidden Comfort socks are an internet darling for good reason: They stood above all others as running socks in our testing. No matter how far we ran in them, they exhibited stellar blister resistance and comfort. They were reliable, and durable. I’ve had pairs for upwards of two years — two years of multiple runs and washes per week — and they’re still holding up well, except for some light pilling. If I am getting ready for a run I instinctively reach for the Balegas.
The Balegas are on the thicker side compared to many other socks we tested. So much so that we were initially a little put off. However, anything thinner we tested ended up giving blisters in longer or hotter runs. Although they are thicker, the compromise in thickness is ultimately worth the gain in cushioning and long-term comfort. The material wicked sweat well and dried out quickly after removing your shoes post run.
Balega manufactures their socks in Cape Town, South Africa. Beyond reducing water consumption by “up to 50%”, Balega does not appear to have made huge efforts in improving its sustainability. It’s also disheartening to see Balega is owned by a big company that is in turn owned by a private equity firm, but it’s hard to argue with a product this good.
What to look for
Material: The most important aspect and a defining factor of a sock. For socks worn in the heat, lightness and airiness are desirable. There are a large variety of materials used in socks such as cotton, wool, nylon, polyamide, and elastane among others. Cotten and linen do not perform well in hot, sweaty conditions, get wet easily and take a long time to dry. Given the more technical nature of many of these socks they tend to use synthetic fibres.
Cushioning: How much padding separates your foot from the (insole of the) shoe. The level of cushioning is inversely proportional to the thickness of the sock — the lighter the sock material, the less cushioning there is.
Blister resistance: A combination of cushioning, texture and density of weave/material and placement of panels on the sock (if any). This mostly came into play when it came to running, particularly in distances longer than 5 kilometres.
Sweat wicking: How well the sock removed perspiration from your foot. A key point of consideration for a pair of summer socks and a couple of other use cases such as wearing boots.
Time to dry: How fast the socks will dry if they get wet — mainly with sweat but also when they get washed. Especially relevant in summer.
Compression: How compressive or tight fitting the socks are. Striking a balance is hard — too loose and the sock falls down, too tight and it becomes uncomfortable.
Seams: Where different panels of the sock attach to one another. These seams can sometimes cause irritation if they are not high quality or are in awkward places where they will be felt on your foot. Particular attention should be paid to the toe box. This wasn’t an issue in most of the socks we tested.
Origin: Where the socks are made. Many premium socks are made in developed countries. Cheaper socks tended to be made in Asia. Socks’ origins were more diverse than our other guides.
Transparency: How forthcoming the company that makes the socks is about their factory conditions. Being made in a developed country doesn’t automatically mean a factory’s conditions are good, and being made in a developing country doesn’t necessarily mean their conditions are poor. We used Good On You, a fashion brand transparency directory, to augment our research.
Company history: Has the brand been bought and sold, or is it independent? If a company has been acquired, who acquired it, and what other companies are in the acquirer’s portfolio? All things equal, preference is given to independent brands.
Cut/length: How high the sock comes up on the leg. We looked at two main cuts: ankle and calf (or “crew”) cuts.
Aesthetics: Designs, graphics, logos, colours — we hate them all. Strong preference was given to socks with minimal details and available in plain colours.
Durability: Socks were worn on many walks of varying length, and on multiple 5 and 10 kilometre runs. They were washed on hot and air dried multiple times.
Price: Other than at the very cheap end, there was surprisingly little variation in pricing for mid to high-end socks. Most pairs tested fell between $12 and $20.
Purpose: Many socks are created with specific purposes in mind, such as running, cycling, hiking, and so on. We didn’t have preconceived notions about what purpose would work best for summer (casual use or sports use), so we tested a range.
Availability: We favoured socks in stock year round, that were part of a permanent collection, and available internationally. Notably a few brands were USA specific and were difficult to acquire outside the States.
How we tested
A lot has been written online about socks, so we started there. 6 subreddits provided most of the recommendations: r/malefashionadvice (post 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), r/running (post), r/advancedrunning (post), r/youshouldknow (post), r/cycling (post), and r/bicycling (post 1, post 2). We also researched what people were searching for on Google (mostly Nike). From these we compiled a short list of socks we wanted to buy and test. We bought every pair with our own money.
We weren’t sure what type of sock would work well in summer conditions, so we tried a range of different types of socks. That meant trying socks made for a range of different sports and purposes: running, cycling, hiking, etc.
We concentrated on two main cuts of sock, a mid calf (~5 inch) and an ankle cut. We tried to test at least these two from each brand, but that wasn’t always possible.
The socks we tested were worn on long and short walks in the London summer. Temperature varied wildly, but it did include a 35°C (95°F) heat wave! On these long walks, we judged how cool or hot feet felt, how comfortable feet remained over the course of the walk, and if there was any rubbing against the inside of the shoes worn. It should be noted that for the walking tests, socks were mostly worn with sneakers (specifically the Novesta Star Master — runner up in our best low-top canvas sneakers guide).
Socks were also tested for running on short to medium distances of 5 – 15 kilometres. If socks tested well at those distances, they were tested on longer runs of around 20 kilometres. For running, socks were primarily judged first for their blister resistance, secondly for their ability to keep feet feeling cool and thirdly for their ability to dry quickly after becoming wet.
Socks were washed multiple times in hot washes with detergent and fabric softener (probably against manufacturer guidelines, but who has time for that) and air dried.
All socks that were tested were rotated through over the course of two to three months, and continue to be tested today. We will update this guide if anything noteworthy comes up in the future.
The Balega Ultralight Crew socks are part of Balega's lightest range, and they certainly were light and airy feeling on foot. They were comfortable on the foot, and had decent blister resistance (I actually ran a 5 kilometer personal best in them). Their lightness did make them feel less supportive than other socks, and they exhibited a strange, chemical smell out of the box but that faded after the first wash. Unfortunately, the Balega Ultralight Crew get a failing grade on aesthetics. They are horrendously ugly, with bizarre, pseudo-technical patterns on the foot area. At least these designs are relegated to the foot and remain mostly unseen with sneakers on. Make no mistake, this is a good, lightweight sock. But the sub par looks took them out of the running for us.
The CDLP Bamboo Socks came in a beautiful off-white colour and with minimal styling that really appealed to us. The bamboo material maintained a dry feeling even after long walks. Unfortunately however, the socks had an annoying tendency to fall down over time, giving them an untidy look, which was a deal breaker for us.
The CEP Compression Low Cut Socks 3.0 were unsurprisingly very compressive. They were on the lighter side of socks we tested. They didn't have enough cushioning for decent length runs, and their blister resistance wasn't great. They have their logo placed obnoxiously on the top of the (ankle length) sock, meaning half of the logo will peak over your shoe. Interestingly, the socks are manufactured in Germany, the only pair in our testing to originate from there. CEP is a subsidiary of a medical company called Medi, who specialise in compression wear for medical situations.
The Darn Tough Coolmax Vertex No Show Tab Ultra-Light Cushion is comparable in many ways to our top pick for best running socks, the Balega Hidden Comfort. They tested nearly as well as our top pick, and cost $1 more. They are thicker than we would have preferred in a sock for use in the heat, especially considering they are marketed as "ultra-light". All that aside, they were very comfortable, quite compressive (in a reassuring way), well made, and dried quickly. If the Balega Hidden Comfort socks are out of stock, consider these instead.
Darn Tough's Element Crew Light Cushion were some of the hardest socks in our shortlist to track down in Europe, being sold out almost everywhere. We found them thick for "light" socks, overly so for summer wear. They were thick enough that they could cause issue in some shoes, particularly tighter fitting sneakers. We liked their retro tennis sock styling though.
The DeFeet Aireater 1" Speede Sock was originally one of our top picks, being the lower cut cousin of our top pick. We later discovered that the availability of this model was poor in some areas. Additionally DeFeet do not appear to be offering this model in solid colourways anymore. For these reasons we removed it as a pick.
The Feetures Elite Ultra Light Running Sock – No Show Tab were incredibly tight fitting, especially considering we bought the large size, and when they come out of a wash you may think they will never fit on your feet again. But when you do squeeze your pins into these socks you'll be greeted by one of the lightest socks in our testing. They are so light that every crevice and seam in your shoe will be felt. This means they offer essentially zero cushioning and blister resistance. They also had a frilly tab around the ankle opening which is meant to be used as a tab to pull on and off the socks but ends up making them feel akin to a little girl's socks.
The Icebreaker Multisport Ultra Light Micro Socks were not available in white, which was a bit of a downer to start on. They are an extremely light and airy feeling sock that wicks sweat and dries very quickly. They did fit large, and we would advise sizing down (I am a UK10 and bought a large, but would advise a medium). In fact they are so light that I could plainly see my toes through the material when I wore the socks! This lack of material meant the cushioning left a lot to be desired, and worried us in regards to durability (although they have had no issues in our testing to date).
Alongside our running pick, the Inijiji Ultra Run No-Show are another darling of internet fitness communities. For those not in the know, they are toe socks, meaning each of your individual toes are wrapped in material, like a glove for your feet. This is said to prevent you from getting blisters. Personally I found the sensation of toe socks off-putting and strange. The sock material was high quality, with good blister resistance on par with our top running pick. The padding was good and the sock has a somewhat compressive feeling that was reassuring and supportive. Putting on the Inijijis was fiddly, and when taking them off I thought I was going to rip my toes off as they gripped my toes tightly. Additionally the toe sizing didn't line up well with the length of my toes, some being too short and others too long (maybe I have weird toes though). Finally, and I would argue more importantly, they look terrible both because of the toe sock design but also because of the tacky graphics plastered on the sock. You will be judged for wearing these. Having said that, if you want to channel your big dad energy on a run, these are the socks for you.
The Muji Right Angle Rib Stitch Short Socks were a beacon of minimal design in a sea of overlogo-ed, over branded, garish socks. They have a beautiful, understated style. They look great. However we didn't find them well suited to warmer weather, and they didn't stand out in terms of quality or performance. Muji talk about how their socks have a "right-angled" design, but in practice the benefit was subtle at best. These socks are rock bottom in terms of pricing. But with this comes some questionable (or at least opaque) manufacturing practices. For reference, Good On You rates Muji as "not good enough" in its company directory.
The Nike Sportswear Essential socks were much too thick and warm for summer. Our feet remained hot from the moment they were put on and it was a relief to take them off. They also felt wet when feet were particularly sweaty. We did appreciate their retro and relatively minimal styling however. Due to misplacing the label the socks came with, we have been unable to determine the country of origin. Fashion transparency database Good On You rate Nike as "it's a start".
The Organic Basics SilverTech Active Ankle Socks were scratchy feeling and were sheer when worn (I could see my toes through the material), which quickly discounted them. However the branding, design, packaging and presentation were brilliant, and we loved the mission, sustainability and transparency that Organic Basics showed.
The best pair of tennis style socks we tested were the Organic Basics SilverTech Active Tennis Socks. They were much more comfortable and soft feeling than the other pairs of tennis style socks we tried. However they were too thick to recommend as a summer sock, and we feel cotton is a poor choice of material for this too. Organic Basics did an amazing job in presenting their brand and mission, which we are big fans of.
The Smartwool Phd Run socks are a medium weight sock we tested. They were too warm feeling for hot weather, although they were also very soft and dried quickly when wet. We really didn't like the design on our pair: a red smartwool logo on the back at the top of the sock, and grey panels on the ankle and toe area really disrupted the otherwise white sock.
The Swiftwick Aspire One socks were a good all round pair of socks available in a huge range of cuff lengths. They were fairly light feeling, reassuringly compressive and comfortable, and had relatively restrained styling. The cuff is well designed with not excess material, and kept the sock up. The red "L" and "R" lettering on each sock is a nice detail. However the Switwick just doesn't compare in terms of comfort or performance to our running pick, and wasn't as comfortable as our casual pick.
The Uniqlo Pile Socks were some of the thickest in our testing. This gave them very high amounts of cushioning which was pleasant. However their material caused feet to sweat profusely and didn't let out any of the moisture generated.
Uniqlo's Pile Mesh Short Socks were thick and large fitting. The large fit meant they weren't particularly comfortable when worn in tighter fitting sneakers. We found them to be quite hot feeling, causing feet to sweat more than usual and making the socks uncomfortable. As with Uniqlo's other socks, we did like their minimal detailing and their affordable pricing.