Trail running is one of today's fastest-growing sports, with an estimated 20 million runners worldwide—up from just under 4 million in 2012. If that trend continues, another 3 million runners will leave the pavement behind by next year in search of tight weaving single track and gravel trails.
And who can blame them! Nothing beats running through nature, braving the elements to boost adrenaline and connect with our primal selves. We are, as Christopher McDougall put it, "Born to Run."
With such a boom in activity, trail running has seen some major technological developments in performance wear. From vests and compression clothing to running socks and shoes—there is a version specifically designed for trails.
But what's the difference—really—between good old regular running socks and trail running socks? And what are the best running socks for you?
We'll break down the key distinctions between trail socks and running socks. Here's what to look for when buying the best sock for your running style.
The most obvious difference, at first glance, between traditional running socks and trail running socks is the visual style.
Trail running socks come up higher on the ankle to offer protection from the elements. Depending on your trail, that could be anything from dirt and mud to loose sand and gravel or even twigs and brush.
The higher ankle cuff keeps this various debris from getting under the sock and making for unpleasant scraps or chafing.
If you're primarily running on the pavement, you don't need this extra protective fabric and may favor the lower profile of a regular running sock.
Another difference is that trail socks are more often offered in darker shades since lighter colors stain more easily. Those bright and bold colors that are so trendy with track and road running shoes start to look dingey real fast when put up to the elements of the trail.
So if color-coordinating is your thing, make sure you look for running shoes and socks that will pair well with the extra dirt that comes with hitting the ol' dusty trail.
Looking for men's trail running socks or women's trail running socks? The good news is there's no difference, functionally speaking. Just find a pair in the size and color you like, and you're good to go.
In addition to the ankle height for extra protection, running socks and trail socks will have differences in cushioning and fit to reflect the different demands of trail running and running on pavement.
Running on trails means encountering uneven surfaces. From rocks and tree roots to sand and slippery boulders at creek crossings.
This can fatigue the foot more quickly, as the muscle fascia is making constant micro-adjustments to stabilize you through your run. All that shifting of impact will mean the foot needs more support up through the ankle.
The best socks for running on trails will have that in the form of compression and in-step support to keep the foot from getting fatigued on long runs through shifting terrain. If you're looking for trail running socks in Australia, check out these LÉ BENT trail socks that fit the bill.
By contrast, when running on flat roads, your foot will be dealing with hard, repetitive impacts that send shockwaves up the foot through the legs. For this type of running, cushioning at the forefoot and heel will provide the shock absorption you'll want over long hours pounding the pavement.
Comfort and Feel
If you're going to be in pain, it should be the "I just had an amazing run, and my muscles are sore" type of pain. Not the "my feet are covered in blisters, and I'm this close to chopping them off" type of pain.
Whether on the road or trails, a good sock should feel comfortable during a hard run. Comfort comes down to two things: materials and design.
For centuries, wool has been the material of choice for performance clothing. This is because of its unique ability to keep the wearer either warm or cool in different environmental conditions.
Today, there are a plethora of synthetic fabrics that blend natural materials like bamboo to increase the sock's comfort and performance while retaining the wool's moisture-wicking and temperature-regulating properties.
The best running socks like these from LÉ BENT are made of quality materials that don't chafe and can wick away moisture and keep your feet at the right temperature. Choosing the right sock for the season goes a long way to making your most brutal summer and winter runs more bearable.
In addition to starting with quality materials, a good design is key. Cushion and support where you want it, and no extra bunching fabric where you don't.
Comfortable running socks are essential to keep your feet from forming blisters. It’s important to keep your feet dry, but this is not always possible when crossing creeks and demolishing puddles on a trail run, so it’s important to wear a material such as a Merino and Bamboo Rayon blend that performs just as well when wet.
Get the Right Running Socks
Now that you know the differences between running socks and trail socks, which is right for you?
Are you putting in the hours at your gym's treadmill? Are you braving the rain and mud for your fix of the runner's high?
What's important is that you're getting out there. As they say, run your own race.
Looking for running socks in Australia? Whether you're looking for men's running socks or women's running socks, LÉ BENT has some of the best trail socks you can buy, as well as high-quality performance apparel for all your outdoor activities.