Cycling Socks: A Buyer's Guide

Cycling Socks: A Buyer's Guide

A seemingly small and insignificant bit of kit, the humble pair of socks can, in fact, make all the difference to your enjoyment of an activity. Cycling, walking and running are just three examples of pastimes that are made significantly more fun by choosing the right socks. However, many of us do not realise their value until we have taken a gamble on an unsuitable pair and found ourselves unable to focus on anything other than getting home as fast as possible to remove the offending garments and tend to the damage wrought on our poor feet.

When it comes to cycling, your choice of socks is essential because your feet and legs are the hardest working parts of the body and kitting them out in the wrong gear will be at best a bit uncomfortable and at worst really painful. There are a number of factors you need to consider when selecting cycling socks, so we have come up with this handy buyer’s guide to help you make sock choices that are so wise you can spend time enjoying the scenery or chasing down new PBs without giving your socks a second thought.

Proviz Cycling Socks - Grey Merino and Pink Classic

Sock Styles

Type ‘cycling socks’ into your favourite internet search engine and you will be overwhelmed by an array of different lengths, thicknesses, colours and patterns from which to choose. Before you start scrolling through and making judgements based on colour and style preference, think about the type of sock you want and use filters to remove some of the unsuitable choices from your results. For example, if you need lightweight summer socks, filter out the thermal winter socks and if you find short socks more comfortable than mid-calf length ones, then remove them from your list of options. This will prevent you from being distracted by snazzy designs of the wrong specification and will focus your search more effectively.  If you are keen to maintain your sartorial elegance when out on your bike, you can filter your results so that you only see colour options that are a potential match with your favourite cycling jersey and shorts combo.

Sock Sizing

Ideally, your cycling socks should fit tightly and smoothly to avoid any material bunching up and making your cycling shoes feel uncomfortable, which could lead to painful pressure points. It is therefore important that you buy the correct size sock for your feet. 

Sock Cuff Length

Despite what you may hear from sticklers in the cycling community, there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the length of your sock cuffs. Whether you prefer short ‘no-show’ socks that sit below the ankle or longer mid-calf length socks is a matter of personal taste. Just remember that taller socks may offer valuable support to your Achilles area, which really short socks are not be able to provide. Having said that, if you do not feel that you need this added support, short socks could be cooler and therefore more comfortable in warmer weather. It is generally accepted in the cycling community that longer compression socks are more effective when worn after (rather than during) a long, gruelling ride to help your lower leg muscles recover, so you don’t need to worry about looking like Britney Spears circa 1998 in racy knee socks when you head out on your bike.

Sock Comfort

If you regularly cycle for 30 minutes or more, you may have noticed that your hard-working feet are developing aches and painful hot-spots. This is often to do with ill-fitting cycling shoes or poorly positioned cleats, but investing in socks designed specifically for cyclists may help you to cycle more comfortably too. Cycling socks are manufactured to provide targeted support where it’s needed, with many pairs featuring a tighter band around the mid-foot to support the arch and instep. Cycling socks also tend to be more cushioned or reinforced at the heel, sole and toe to help you avoid blisters and reduce impact.

Waterproof Cycling Socks

Whether you are out on the trails in the worst wintry weather or tackling a regular commute where waiting for the weather to improve is not an option, it’s worth investing in a pair of waterproof cycling socks. Even the best cycling shoes will leak in really heavy or sustained rainfall, so avoid discomfort and painful blisters by wearing a pair of decent waterproof socks too. It’s worth noting that most waterproof socks are a three-layer construction, so will be thicker than ordinary socks. It is important to purchase ones that stretch well and fit snugly to your feet.

The best waterproof socks are made with a hydrophilic membrane, a microporus layer that prevents the ingress of water droplets but allows for the evaporation of moisture from inside.

Breathable Cycling Socks

Regulating the moisture build up around your feet is crucial for cycling. Neglecting to wick away sweat and rain can result in painful rubbing and blistering and excessive heat retention in effort sessions or warmer conditions and excessive heat loss in cold weather. Traditionally, achieving effective breathability came with a trade off in waterproofing, but these days hydrophilic membranes such as GORE-TEX allow us to create 100% waterproof garments (including socks) that are also fully breathable.

Socks as Safety Feet-ures (cue the Terrible Pun Claxon)

Your safety as a cyclist on the road is paramount, so while your socks should be offering you support in all the right places and helping you to regulate your temperature (either by keeping your feet toasty warm in winter or helping to cool them down in the summer) they could also be working to keep you visible to other road users, both during the day and at night. For this reason it is worth considering technical cycling socks that also feature high viz or reflective detailing. 

Top 10 Cycling Socks for 2021

Now that you know what you need to consider when searching for your next pair of cycling socks, we can share our pick of some of the best cycling socks on the market. This list is a great place to start shopping for your new favourite pair, whether you are looking for thermal winter cycling socks or lightweight ones to keep your feet cool in the height of summer.

 Rapha Deep Winter Cycling Socks

Rapha Deep Winter Socks

Best for – Anyone who doesn’t want to let the coldest winter weather stop them from getting out on the bike.

Why we love them – They are a bit longer than the mid-calf length socks favoured by many cyclists and this offers you a bit of extra protection from the cold. These merino-blend Argyle socks feature wind-resistant sections at the shin and toe and a padded main footbed to insulate your feet against seriously cold conditions.

Price - £25

Grumpy Monkey Cycling Socks - Premium Prints - Ultra Violet 

Premium Prints Range @ Grumpy Monkey Socks

Best for – Image conscious cycling enthusiasts with a passion for fashion

Why we love them – Marketed as ‘party on top and business below’ Grumpy Monkey’s range of snazzy cycling socks will not only give you the most stylish feet in your cycling club, they will also protect your heels and toes, support your arches and help keep your feet dry and comfortable.

Price - £14.99

Sealskinz All-Weather Mid-Length Socks 

Sealskinz All-Weather Mid-Length Socks

Best for – No-nonsense cyclists looking for an all-weather performance sock in a sensible range of colours.

Why we love them – Modest in colour but not in performance, these all-weather socks have a clever hydrophilic membrane, which is both 100% waterproof and extremely breathable. If you are looking for a premium quality cycling sock to keep your feet cool and dry, whatever the weather, these are the socks for you.

Price - £35

Sportful Mate Cycling Socks

Best for – Cyclists who want a co-ordinating performance sock and also suffer with smelly feet

Why we love them – They are reasonably priced, offer a bit of arch support and have been treated with Cupron to help combat foot odour.

Price - £15

DeFeet Aireators

DeFeet Aireator Socks

Best for – Their thin, breathable construction makes Aireators perfect for warm weather rides where staying cool is your main priority. 

Why we love them – Proudly manufactured in the US since the early 90s, DeFeet are the self-proclaimed gold standard for cycling socks. Aireators are the original DeFeet sock and they come in a range of designs, colours and cuff specifications to suit every taste and requirement. They are also made with recycled polyester, so they are kinder to the planet too.

Price – from £5.60

Please note: The DeFeet website is currently not shipping directly to consumers in the UK due to Brexit, but you can find a pair of Aireators on websites such as Wiggle and i-ride

Le Col Tech Wool Cycling Socks 

Le Col Tech Wool Cycling Socks

Best for – Thrifty cycling enthusiast looking for premium lightweight socks to keep their feet warm on all those wintry cycle rides.

Why we love them – You get a lot of tech for your money with these Le Col socks. Made from a durable, high-density blend of merino wool, acrylic and nylon, they have a high warmth-to-weight ratio and feature a comfortable terry sole.

Price - £15

Endura Coolmax Race Socks

Endura Coolmax Race Socks

Best for – Money-conscious cyclists who love racing and want technical kit that won’t break the bank. Always casting about for a bargain, these speed demons would rather spend their hard-earned cash on race entries than unnecessarily pricey kit.

Why we love them – Made with Coolmax yarn to enhance their breathability, these technical racing socks come as a pack of three pairs.

Price - £15.99 for a triple pack

Proviz Classic Mid-Length Cycling Sock - Yellow 

Proviz Classic Stripe Cycling Socks

Best for – Safety conscious cyclists looking for a pair of technical cycling socks for spring/summer rides.

Why we love them – A colourful finishing touch to your cycling get-up these striped mid-length cycle socks are available in high viz yellow or pink, to help you stay visible to other road users. They are made from super thin and highly breathable blend of nylon and lycra and the sock seams are on the outside to keep your feet as comfortable as possible.

Price – £17.99

NB - Cyclists looking for warmer socks with reflective detailing for rides in more wintry conditions, where visibility is poor, should opt for the Classic Merino Cycling Socks instead.

Stolen Goat Coolmax Socks

Best for – New cyclists looking for pretty socks that perform technically but don’t cost too much.

Why we love them - If you are looking for a reliable all-round pair of socks that blend style, affordability and technical features, you can’t really go wrong with a colourful pair of Coolmax socks from Stolen Goat. Ideal for spring and summer bike rides, they are lightweight, durable and breathable.

Price - £9.99

Pongo London Cosi Cycling Socks  

Pongo London Cosi Cycling Socks

Best for – Both road and off-road cyclists looking for a “transition sock” for spring and autumn rides in changeable conditions.

Why we love them – These versatile, ultra-comfy socks feature a padded & quilted front section to keep your toes warm and technical mesh for breathability. This makes them the perfect sock for seasonal transition and those rides where we seem to experience four seasons in a single day.

Pongo is a small, London-based business that takes pride in crafting its products in small batches to exacting artisanal standards.

Price - £20

*All images used are the property of the brands they depict and permission to include them has been obtained by the author prior to publication. 

Article by Anthony Langly-Smith
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