This is a user review and comparison of 10 different types of compression socks. Over the years, I’ve purchased and used all the different socks reviewed here. There is a lot of variation between these socks. I’ll summarize my experience with them and what their negative and positive attributes are.
Recently, there are a lot of claims made about the benefits of compression socks. It helps to simplify the claims into three major ones:
- Prevention of Blood Pooling in Feet and Calves Resulting in Less Fatigue
- Reduction of Muscle Vibration Resulting in Less Fatigue
- Improved Body Position Sense and Awareness of Feet Resulting in Better Proprioception
In my experience, the claims regarding reduction of fatigue are hard to justify. I do not think my endurance or running speed is much different with compression socks as compared to regular socks. So don’t expect any speed or endurance magic from compression socks.
The claim regarding improved proprioception (body position sense) is valid. I’ve noticed that I am more aware of my lower legs and feet when wearing compression socks. This gives me a sense of security and surefootedness. This is especially important and noticeable on rugged trails. Improved footing and foot coordination is the main advantage of compression socks on terrain such as that found on the Ridge Run course. So expect better foot placement when running in tricky terrain while using compression socks.
The biggest negative is probably the increased weight of compression socks over traditional crew style running socks. There is just more material in compression socks making them heavier. The higher the level of compression also translates into more weight since Lycra is a fairly heavy material. The weight difference is only an once or two which is not really that significant.
Another negative I have noticed is that I experience a bit of Achilles tendon irritation when wearing compression socks for extended (multi hour) duration. The more compression – the more heel irritation. Whether or not you will experience this is hard to say, but I have heard from other people that this is their experience also.
An obvious advantage is that the knee high compression socks keep your lower legs warm. On semi cold days you can get by with wearing compression socks and thigh length shorts instead of full length pants which can constrain the knees and leg movement.
Knee high compression socks can protect you from scratching up your calves, when running through brush or rocky terrain.
Avoid Compression Sleeves for Events or Workouts Lasting Longer than 1 Hour
Compression Sleeves are compression tubes that fit over your calf but do not have a foot. They may have a stirrup that fits under the foot. Supposedly they have the benefit of reducing muscle vibration and the resulting fatigue in the calf. Unfortunately when worn for more than an hour at a time, they act like a tourniquet trapping blood in the foot causing swelling. Personally, I see very little value in calf sleeves.
(Update Spring 2014) Lately, my appreciation of compression sleeves has increased a bit. As the heels and toes of my compression socks wear out, I recycle them into compression sleeves by cutting off the foot portion. I have been wearing these footless compression socks (pseudo compression sleeves) during training and even in a half marathon race. I did experience a little foot puffiness at the end of the half marathon (one and a half hours), but not serious enough to cause problems. Fluid pooling in the feet when wearing compression sleeves for over an hour seems to be an individual thing. Some people experience severe problems and others don’t have much trouble.
The following table compares and rates the 10 different compression socks for various categories. The only hard objective number is the weight in ounces per pair. The other categories are rated subjectively as low, medium and high.
The Progression category describes the level of variation of compression from foot to knee. Compression at the foot should be higher than the level of compression at the knee. Low means little variation in compression between the foot and the knee. High means the foot has much more compression than the knee.
Low price ranges from $5 to $20 a pair. Medium price ranges from $20 to $45 per pair. And high price would be $45.00 and up.
The cost can vary significantly depending upon where you purchase them. I’ve found the best prices on eBay or at RunningWarehouse.com. The most expensive pair was the Zoot Recovery – costing nearly the same as a pair of shoes. Every now and then RunningWarehouse.com has some special sales and you can save significantly on the Zoot socks. The cheapest were the Generic socks and the Oxy socks bought on eBay.
This sock is what is sold as a therapeutic sock for patients with circulation problems or who lack mobility. They are the lowest cost of all the socks, but they do not go all the way up to the knee. They are fairly uniform high compression. These socks are not that suitable for running.
Nike should be able to make a better sock than this. They are comfortable, but fairly thick and not really a compression sock. They have a compression band around the instep. Perhaps it adds a bit of support to the arch. They tend to slide down when running because they do not go all the way up to the knee and they are fairly low compression.
This was the original running compression sock. This is similar to what Paula Radcliffe was using back 10 years ago when she was at her prime and triggered initial interest in compression socks. They are high compression, but do not have as much progression from foot to calf as the newer brands such as 2XU, cep, Zoot. So they fit a bit looser in the foot.
Quite a few years ago now, I used these in the Ridge Run as liners under a pair of Smart Wool socks. The combination worked quite well.
This sock has less compression then the original Oxy sock, but it has a typical cushioned foot bottom found on most running socks. They are comfortable and durable. If I could, I would add just a touch more compression to these. These are my favorite sock for running the Ridge with. I’ve never gotten blisters with them. I think I have run the last 4 or 5 Ridge Runs in these socks.
These are like the Oxy cushioned, but without the looped cushion foot bed. Consequently they are not as comfortable or as suitable for running. These are better as a sock for traveling in or in situations where you have to sit or stand for long periods of time. They aren’t was warm as the cushioned Oxy sock and are probably my favorite as a dress sock or a travel sock.
The cep sock fits quite tight in the foot and requires a special technique for putting them on. They are high and come all the way up to the knee. This keeps them from sliding down. The foot does not have much cushioning. Their particular type of synthetic material makes them prone to generating blisters.
This sock is like a thicker version of the cep sock. It is a bit more comfortable, but offers the same compression characteristics. It also requires a special technique for puting them on. Either the cep or the 2XU socks come with instructions on how to put them on quickly and easily. I also have a compression Tri-Suit from 2XU. These socks match the suit and they are my wear of choice for indoor treadmill workouts.
This sock is similar to the cep and the 2XU, but the material is a bit thinner and blister prone. It is not as high and they tend to slide down when running. Because they are thin and light, they are my favorite for racing in a 5K or 10K road race. To keep them from sliding down, I put a little sticky stuff (gel) on my calf and that keeps them up.
This sock is thicker, taller and more comfortable then the Zoot Ultra. They stay up better than the Zoot Ultra. They are intended for wearing after a workout, but they would be a good sock for training in cold weather. These are my favorite high compression and high progression socks.
These socks look pretty interesting with lots of different patterns on them. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture while wearing them. It gives the impression that they offer sophisticated technology, but it is mostly show. They are comfy and their texture makes them stay up pretty good.
Compression Sock Update 2014
Here is some descriptive experience I have had with the above listed socks over the last couple years.
In regards to durability, the CEP and the Sugio are prone to getting runs in their fabric. Runs as in the kind of runs you get in a pair of nylons. This weakens their compression and becomes unsightly. Given this, I would not buy these socks again. I tried repairing a run in the CEP socks, but it did not hold up and another run soon formed.
The fabric of the Zoot Ultra and Recovery socks gets stiff over time. Perhaps it is from the way I wash them. I machine wash them using the permanent press cycle (warm wash water, cold rinse water). I then put them in the dryer for just a couple minutes of tumbling. Not to dry them, but to soften them up. I then hang them up to dry indoors to avoid direct sun. Perhaps a bit of fabric softener would help? This is pure speculation, as I do not use fabric softener. They still function, but they are just not as comfy and get a little scratchy. The 2XU socks also have also gotten stiffer, but not as much as the Zoot.
The Oxy socks have held up better to wear and washing than all the others. They have remained soft and comfy and have not experienced any runs in the fabric. Unfortunately, they just do not have the same amount of compression as the others.