You’re on your daily run and within the first mile, you feel your socks bunch up. You try to ignore the sensation for as long as you can until it becomes a complete distraction. Then you’re forced to stop running, fix your socks, and try to resume your pace. It would be a whole lot easier to skip the socks altogether when running, but is it advisable?
You can run without socks if you want, but all the sweat and bacteria your feet accumulate gets trapped within the shoes. Also, without the protection that socks offer, blisters are more likely. Wearing the right kinds of socks for running, such as compression socks, can eliminate sock bunching.
In this guide, we’ll look at both the pros and cons of running without socks so you can decide if this style of running is right for you. If you’re curious, we’ll also talk more about compression socks, which can make your socks much less of an interruption on your runs.
The Advantages of Running Without Socks
Anytime you hit your favorite running trail or take part in a race, many of your fellow runners might be going sockless. It’s just that you’d never know unless you looked at their feet. Here are some of the perks of ditching the socks while you run.
No Need to Spend Money on Socks
A pair of compression socks can cost $30, which is more money than you usually like to spend on socks. When you run sockless, you can save your $30 and use it for something else, like that new water bottle you’ve been eyeing up or some post-run snacks.
If you’re the forgetful type, you’ll also quite appreciate how foregoing the socks gives you one less thing to remember to grab in the morning or evening before you start your run.
Might Augment Shoe Fit
Lots of runners swear by barefoot running shoes, which are supposed to increase the flexibility of your feet. This style of shoe cuts down on how much material is between your bare feet and the ground. If you too are a fan of barefoot running shoes, then you’d know this footwear often isn’t made to wear with socks.
Other styles of running shoes might also be better sockless. If you’re shopping for new running shoes and you’re not sure if you can go sockless in them, look for a few key features. The shoes should have no seams around the uppers to limit foot friction. The tongue will be soft and thin if it’s there at all. Should the tongue be puffy and large, that means you need socks to wear those shoes.
Most running shoes that don’t require socks will also feature knit or mesh throughout. These materials wick moisture and maintain breathability, both of which are crucially important when there’s nothing between your feet and the shoe.
If your shoes are barefoot-style or otherwise meant to be worn sockless, then using them the proper way will ensure a great fit. You might feel like your shoes fit better than wearing other sneakers with socks.
Besides the breathable materials themselves, your feet will also be able to breathe when you run without shoes because they’re so unencumbered. There’s something so nice and freeing about slipping your feet into a pair of shoes without socks for the very first time. Your toes can flex, space apart, and wiggle. It’s great!
Could Increase Running Speed
Runners will go to all sorts of lengths to make themselves more aerodynamic on the track. Some runners shave their body hair. Others will limit the clothing layers they wear even in colder weather. You might decide to ditch the socks because hey, they’re a layer and they could be slowing you down.
If you switch to barefoot running shoes, which often weigh just ounces per shoe, then your feet are now more lightweight than they are when wearing traditional running shoes with socks. You’ll be more aerodynamic, which could have minuscule benefits on your running speed. Still, even a minuscule speed boost is a speed boost, so you’ll take it!
The Disadvantages of Running Without Socks
As great as running sockless can be for a subset of athletes, many more runners decide to always keep their socks on. Here are some convincing reasons why.
Higher Likelihood of Blisters, Especially During Longer Runs
Don’t get us wrong, you can develop blisters running with socks just as you can without them. It’s just that skipping your socks definitely increases your chances of getting blisters. To understand why, you only have to know how blisters form on the skin.
Blisters appear due to heat and/or friction, such as incessant rubbing. A blister itself is a fluid pocket on your skin’s upper layer, which is known as the epidermis. The bubble that forms prevents the second, third, etc. layer of skin from being damaged by the force that’s torn away the skin on the epidermis.
As we said, the friction between sock and foot can cause blisters, so running sockless can prevent blisters in that way. Yet your bare foot and the shoe can also rub, especially if your running shoes aren’t designed for sockless running. The blisters that can result are even more painful because of the unforgiving hard shell of your shoe compared to the softness of a sock.
The longer you run, the more you increase the friction in your shoes. You could take off your shoes after a sockless run and be greeted with bleeding blisters all over your feet!
More Bacterial Spread
All the moisture-wicking and breathable mesh in the world can’t prevent your feet from sweating when you run. It’s inevitable. Bacteria happen to love moist, warm spaces such as the inside of your running shoes, and so they will propagate. You can’t see this happening, but you will notice it since your shoes will smell terrible (more on this in a moment).
In 2019, lifestyle site Highsnobiety published an article on the rate of bacterial spread when you wear shoes without socks. This article isn’t about running, which means the number of bacteria in these shoes is just from walking around.
If there’s that how many bacteria were in a pair of shoes worn without socks when the person was walking, imagine how much more bacteria your running shoes would have. You’d have to double if not triple the quantities. Gross!
Your Shoes Get Dirtier Faster
Sweat isn’t just bad since it circulates bacteria, but it can also wreck the appearance of your new running shoes. If you’ve ever seen sweat dry on a white t-shirt, you know how sweat stains can appear yellow. The same can be true of your running shoes. It’s always a shame when your shoes look dingy a few weeks after buying them.
Did you know that of all the parts of your body, your feet have the most sweat glands? That means your shoes have the potential to get very stinky fast.
When you wear socks, they will contain most of your sweat, acting as a buffer so your shoes are less soaked. Without that barrier, all the sweat swims in your shoes, which makes running rather difficult. You’ll also have to deal with nose-pinching odors that don’t come out easily, if ever. You might have to throw your shoes away early because the smell will get to be too much.
Besides absorbing sweat, the purpose of socks is to protect the feet. When you run without socks, you’re losing out on the cushioning and padding they provide. This won’t cause any detrimental effects after a run or two, but if you run sockless often enough, you could have more aches and pains throughout your body.
So, Should You Run Without Socks?
Knowing what you do now, is it a good idea to run without wearing socks? It depends!
If it’s a short run, then there’s not much harm in ditching the socks. Your feet will sweat, but enough friction likely won’t build up that you’ll have to worry about blisters. The shoe odors shouldn’t be too offensive either. That said, make sure you treat your shoes with an antibacterial spray or cleaner when you get home.
For longer runs and especially for races and marathons, you always want to wear socks. That’s also true when breaking in shoes. The rigidity of your new running shoes is enough that even wearing socks with them can make for an uncomfortable experience for a few hours. Instead of trying to run in your shoes while breaking them in, wear them around the house or office.
If you do want to skip socks, here are some tips that will spare your feet.
Petroleum Jelly Is Your Friend
You might not have to pack socks in your running gear bag, but you will need petroleum jelly and lots of it. Before your run, apply the jelly on all parts of your foot that will touch/rub against your shoes when running. Petroleum jelly reduces chafing so your feet won’t get painful blisters even without socks.
Or Use Duct Tape
No petroleum jelly? No problem! In exchange, some runners will put duct tape on their feet, wrapping the tape around the balls of their feet and their toes especially. Taping your toes together can limit their flexibility, which can in turn affect your running stance. You will also have to deal with the sticky residue from the tape once you finally peel it off.
At this point, you’re better off wearing socks in our opinion than covering your feet in duct tape, but it’s an option nevertheless.
Sprinkle Some Talcum Powder
As we said before, your feet will always sweat when you’re engaged in vigorous activity, but you can limit how far the moisture spreads. You only need talcum powder, which can absorb the sweat and thus reduce discoloration, wetness, and odors. The drier your shoes, the less chafing and blistering.
Why Runners Need Compression Socks
Why do so many runners want to run sockless in the first place? It goes back to what we said in the intro. Sometimes socks can be very annoying. They have seams over the toes that can feel painful when you’re on mile five of your run.
As we mentioned, socks tend to bunch and slide at the worst possible times. You can either ignore the issue or stop and fix your socks. Yet each time you stop, you’re cutting into your overall running time, hindering your performance. Your socks also tend to smell, and they end up being soaking wet by the time you’re done running.
With all those issues, it’s easy to vilify socks, but it’s not the socks themselves that are the problem. It’s the type of socks you’re wearing.
If you’re running in anything but compression socks, then maybe you are better off sockless. Cotton socks can shift in your shoes, and they cannot absorb sweat, so your feet just get soaked, further exacerbating the slippage issue.
Compression socks are tall socks worn up around your knees. They’re meant to fit tightly so they put pressure around your ankles and legs, which increases your circulation and can even lessen swelling.
The features of compression socks include:
- Arch support
- Anti-odor technology
- Antibacterial technology
- No seams
Yes, a good pair of compression socks can cost up to $30, but they’ll last you for months at a time (or longer) if you take good care of yours. Even better is that wearing compression socks will let you avoid issues such as uncomfortable seams, moisture absorption, and sock bunching without going sockless, which we established before can be risky for your health.
Our Favorite Socks
Rockay Anti-Blister Running Socks for both men and women are some of the best we have used. They use 100% recycled materials, clean our oceans and offer a lifetime warranty. If you are having a hard time finding comfortable socks, start with Rokay.
Running sockless certainly has its appeal, especially if you wrestle with your socks every time you go for a run. Yet unless you’re wearing barefoot running shoes, most footwear is intended for use with socks. Skipping the socks can lead to blisters, foot odors, and sweat-stained shoes.
If you hate running with socks, you’re likely using the wrong types of socks for a run. Rather than wear the first pair of cotton socks you pull out of your drawer, try compression socks instead. These socks are designed to minimize odors and maximize comfort.
You’re about to go on a run, so you grabbed your running shoes, running socks, and some comfortable, moisture-wicking clothing. You’ve got everything you need, right? Not necessarily. You have to make sure you protect your noggin too, preferably with a running hat. Why wear a running hat?
In running, the shoes you wear are everything. You could have the most endurance and stamina in the world, yet if your feet are sore from ill-fitting shoes, your performance will be negatively affected. Choosing your running shoes should not be a decision made lightly then. Instead, you want to take your time and do your research. What should you look for in the perfect running shoe?