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Why do Trail Runners Wear Long Socks?

Why do Trail Runners Wear Long Socks?

When you show up to a trail race, it is not hard to miss the large number of runners wearing long socks. As a new runner, it easy to feel like you are missing out on the trend or a secret in the community. Even though many swear by the use of long socks, there are differing opinions and mixed results from studies conducted on the use of long socks used by runners.

So, why do trail runners wear long socks? Trail runners choose to wear long socks for protection and for compression. Longer socks protect runners from potential abrasions, and the compression socks can reduce the force absorbed by muscles working while running.

Not all running socks are created equal though. Next, we’ll dive into the differences and how you can choose the best style for you.

Long Compression Style Running Socks

Compression socks were originally used to treat people that had medical issues, such as diabetes, leg ulcers, leg swelling, varicose veins, and other ailments. They improve blood flow for people that particularly have poor circulation. With these socks being known for enhancing oxygen delivery, it did not take long for these long compression socks to enter the world of running.

One of the biggest reasons runners will tow the start line with long compression socks is because they are known for improving performance. It is thought that the socks aid balance and proprioception.

Numerous studies have had mixed results, and the reality of if they actually improve performance is unknown. It is important to recognize that even the belief that these socks increase performance, impacts the runner’s perception, and at the end of the day can improve the runner’s performance.

Many trail runners wear compression socks during events to prevent cramping and swelling. They even reduce excess movement of calf muscles, decrease lactic acid, and increase oxygen delivery. Although there have been limited studies on the topic when it comes to running what are the actual benefits for runners.

Not only are compressions socks worn by a number of runners during races, but a lot of people in the community use long compression socks for recovery after a hard run or race. After a run there can be damage to the muscles and inflammation. As recovery rates differ between athletes, long compression socks can increase blood flow which disperses lactic acid.

In turn they can decrease soreness, muscle damage, inflammation, and delay muscle fatigue. Compression socks are useful for people suffering and recovering from ailments, including achilles tendonitis, calf strains, and shin splints.

With various studies and mixed results on the compression socks, many runners continually swear by them. Wearing compression socks for races or for recovery cannot hurt a runner. The biggest con to buy these socks tend to be the price for just one pair.

Long Socks as Protection

Trail running brings on more challenges versus road running because of the terrain and environment. There are many trails out there that are rugged and not perfectly maintained. Trail runners use long socks to protect themselves from scratches, bruising, and even poison ivy. The socks also prevent dirt and debris getting on the runners legs, and instead on the sleeve.

In some areas, not only can the terrain cause injury, but there is risk of running into ticks. People that live in areas prone to having more ticks throughout the year, wear long socks because they can protect their legs from them. It is a lot easier to wear longer socks than spending the time to remove them later.

Lastly, long socks can protect runners during the cooler, winter months. They provide additional warmth for runners, and are a great alternative for people that prefer wearing shorts instead of leggings or tights.

Is it Better to Run with Long or Short Socks?

Wearing long or short socks, really depends on the terrain, location, and distance for the race. Shorter socks tend to be softer, which give runners added comfort when running.

2019 Leadville 100 Trail Run

While longer socks are not nearly as good at preventing blisters and swelling in the feet. Blisters can put a runner out of a race, which is why many runners participating in longer distances prefer shorter socks since they are more comfortable.

When the terrain is rough and not well maintained, longer socks can be a better choice. They will protect runners from scratches, bruises, cuts, and other obstacles that are thrown their way. Thorns, stinging nettle, and burrs are common in certain areas and destroy a runners legs even when there is no bushwacking involved. Longer socks can greatly protect participants and are a good choice in the colder months.

At the end of the day it is up to the runner and their preference. There are many variables to why one choice might be better than the other. Colder, rugged terrain, and shorter races might have runners more likely to opt for longer socks. While warmer weather, wet courses, and longer races may make a runner prefer shorter socks for that day.

Personal Preference

No matter the distance, the terrain, or location I almost always choose short socks over longer socks. The socks are softer, and many of the current trail running socks have added support for the feet. When it comes to gear, keeping simple and comfortable is the best way to go. Shorter socks are less constricting to run in and easy to put on. 

I also prefer short socks when it comes to wet muddy conditions during the race. Once the socks get wet, blisters can become a real problem. As I mentioned before, blisters can take you out of a race, but also chasing down cutoff can end a longer race.

Taking off wet, long compression socks during a race can waste so much time. Doing that at each aid station adds up and can cost a runner a finishing medal or buckle.

If I do wear a compression socks while running, it is usually a calf or above the ankle version. Personally, I have not recognized the benefits to these version of compression socks, but they are fun to wear and keep the dust off the ankles.

However, I do use long compression socks and calf compression sleeves after longer weekend runs and ultramarathons. When my legs are sore, the compression socks reduce the swelling and inflammation.  

There is also an added comfort from the constriction of the socks. Long compressions socks are an essential part of my recovery plan. Even without concrete studies, I notice a faster recovery time when I use them for days after the race. I have also relied on compression socks in the past when I have gotten injured or had shin splints.

Do Compression Socks Help with Long Distance running?

Regular long socks or even long compression socks are not the best choice for long races. Even though there are benefits of reducing excess movement and lactic acid, there are not many studies that have concrete evidence on these benefits and running. It is important to understand the pros and cons of longer socks before shelling out $50 to $60 on just one pair.

Long socks are known to make the legs very hot after wearing them for a long period of time, which can reduce the performance of your running. The longer the distance, especially if the race is in a humid environment, runners are at the risk of blisters. Longer socks are not very good at preventing blisters in the feet and can collect moisture depending on the brand.

When it comes to long races, you want quality socks that are going to be comfortable being in for hours. Quality socks can have additional grip and aid stabilization of the foot within the shoe. Shorter socks tend to have extra support in the foot.

There are many runners that prefer the longer socks no matter what, and do see benefits. When it comes to longer races there are some significant cons to choosing the longer socks during a longer run, like blistering, lack of comfortability, and can actually lower performance due to the increase in leg heat. 

Best Long Socks for Trail Running

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For runners looking for a long sock that protects them from cuts, bruises, poison ivy, and ticks, I highly recommend Nike Soccer Socks. This might be shocking to hear soccer socks being recommended for running. Nike Soccer Socks are not heavy and do the trick for protecting yourself from various terrain that is brought by trail running.

Nike soccer socks also tend to be a lot cheaper than other long socks that are targeted towards runners. They  protect runners from potential abrasions without being too constricting or hot to run in. Soccer players run hours training and playing in these socks, which makes them not such a surprising choice at the end of the day.

Best Compression Socks for Trail Running

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My go to compression socks and calf sleeves for trail running is Pro Compression Marathon socks. The company offers a variety of compressions socks that are long, calf, low ankle, and even calf sleeves. I always pack my long compression socks to throw on right after a long race.

The brand has many fun designs that make them not only helpful but stylish to run in. Pro Compression’s long socks are pretty comfortable and have moisture control. The moisture control is helpful when it is hot and prevent your feet from getting wet from perspiration.


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