Best Compression Socks: Banish Tired & Achy Legs While on the Trail

Compression socks
Written by Bradley Page

You’ve probably seen them on the trail, at the park, or anywhere people are kicking up their heels in the name of walking, running, or hiking: compression socks are quickly becoming necessities among the active, and you may already consider them essentials yourself.

Traditionally used by diabetics, pilots, and flight attendants for their ability to stimulate blood flow and increase circulation, compression socks offer benefits that have been widely embraced by many on the go.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the highest rated compression socks on the market to give you a leg up (har har) on choosing the best compression socks for you.

Compress to Impress: What’s the Benefit of Compression?

Just as compression socks are vital in stimulating circulation in the legs of diabetics, they perform the same important function in the legs of trail runners and hikers.

In addition to enhancing blood flow, compression socks also reduce blood lactate concentration (translation: they can prevent you from getting sore if you overdo it), and—on a more basic note—these typically knee-high socks protect your legs from the elements and any errant nettles or thorn bushes you might encounter on the trail.

The experts don’t agree on whether compression socks actually increase performance, but the benefit of increased circulation and soreness prevention is a definite advantage when it comes to any demanding physical activity.

Today’s compression socks come in a wide variety of cuts, styles, and fabrics that guarantee you will find the perfect fit and function for whatever you ask your legs to do in the great outdoors.

Compression Socks: What to Look For

In shopping for your first pair—or maybe your twentieth replacement pair—of compression socks, there are a few basic elements to keep in mind

  • Fabric: Compression socks come in a wide variety of fabrics and fabric blends. Be sure to choose one that is friendly to your skin but also provides moisture-wicking properties to keep things dry and (relatively) fresh. Some brands offer anti-bacterial fabrics (including merino wool) to battle the imminent stink.
  • Graduated Compression: Many compression socks offer graduated compression, which means the socks are tighter around the foot and ankle and looser around the calf, allowing for higher venous return (better blood flow) which will keep your legs feeling energized and less fatigued throughout the day.
  • Cut: You may think of compression socks as always being those knee-high numbers you’ve seen on the trail, but manufacturers offer multiple varieties when it comes to the cut of the sock. Based on your personal needs, you might find that a mid-calf, ankle-high, or no-show (foot only) sock works just fine for you.
  • Design: Compression socks come in a wide array of colors and styles, and that’s not just to cater to your vanity. Brightly colored and/or reflective socks are smart accessories to sport outside when the light is low or roads are nearby.

Now let’s take a look at some of the market’s best compression socks!

Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks

Zensax Compresion Socks

Weight: 1 pound

Specific features: Graduated compression, seamless toe, anatomical fit, ultra-zone ribbing for arch and ankle stabilization, and a polyamide and elastane blend.

Best use: This compression sock is designed for running, cycling, hiking, or everyday wear.

You won’t find a more thoughtfully designed pair of compression socks than the Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks.

Whether you’re running, cycling, hiking, or just relying on the Zensah Tech+ for everyday compression wear, these graduated compression socks allow for optimal venous return, and offer a seamless toe and anatomical fit to prevent any discomfort by way of blisters or chafing.

The ultra-zone ribbing in these socks provides ultimate ankle stabilization and arch support (as much as can be expected from a sock, anyway). Fatigue,soreness, and shin splits are no match for this sock, which works constantly to combat the causes of each throughout the duration of your chosen activity.

These compression cocks are made in Italy from a blend of polyamide and elastane with 200-needle count construction to provide you with ultimate  comfort and superior quality. The sizing of these socks is based on shoe size (U.S.), so if you know your shoe size, you’re ready to order the most comfortable compression socks you’ve ever owned.

Related: Zensah Ultra Compression Leg Sleeves offer relief from painful shin splints and ultimate calf support without the full coverage of a sock. You can wear these sleeves during any type of activity, from running the trail to running errands and beyond.

Check the price on Amazon

CEP Men’s Progressive+ 2.0 Compression Run Socks

CEP Men's Socks

Weight: 8 ounces

Specific features: Constructed of an 85 per cent polyamide and 15 per cent spandex blend, and provide microfiber technology, an extra-flat toe, anatomical fit, hydrophilic design, open-pore mesh structure, anti-bacterial properties, gender-specific sizing, and 18mmHg consistent compression over the calf.

Best use: These socks are perfectly engineered to meet the needs of the regular runner/trail runner.

The CEP Men’s Progressive 2.0 Socks are made by the experts: medi, the German company that owns CEP, is a world leader in the design and manufacturing of compression socks, so you know you are in good hands (…feet?) when you buy a pair of their high-quality socks.

These graduated medi-compression socks have an entire laundry list of features, including 18 mmHg of consistent compression over the calf, a snug anatomical fit, heat and moisture management thanks to open-mesh structure and hydrophilic design, and a halo top-band that magically keeps the socks in place without constricting the leg.

These socks provide as much support as possible for the muscles and joints to ensure maximum circulation and prevention against soreness and cramps, adding to your performance on the court of the trail. The lightweight construction of this sock is thanks to its high-end synthetic blend of 85 per cent nylon (polyamide) and 15 per cent spandex.

Related: The CEP Men’s Progressive+ 2.0 Night Run Socks will give you high visibility for those late-afternoon runs that stretch into the evening, with neon and reflectors that ensure you will be safe in the dark, in addition to having air channels, an Achilles tendon protector, and all the benefits that CEP compression socks have to offer.

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SmartWool Men’s PhD Compression Socks

SmartWoold PHD Run Socks

Weight: 8 ounces

Specific features: Mesh ventilation zones for breathability and moisture management, a two-elastic blend for ultimate stretch and recovery, Relia-Wool technology, 20-30 mmHg graduated compression, 200-needle construction, and minimal cushion for support without bulk.

Best use: Runners and trail runners will be very satisfied with these lightweight, well-designed, and high-performing compression socks.

Taking advantage of the many naturally impressive qualities of merino wool, SmartWool PhD Compression Socks utilize a blend of 50 per cent merino wool, 41 per cent nylon, and 9 per cent elastane to construct a durable, comfortable, yet surprisingly lightweight option for runners looking for the benefits of compression.

And if the presence of breathable, anti-microbial merino wasn’t enough to sell you on these socks, they go one step further with SmartWool’s patented ReliaWool technology, which provides extra strength in areas of high impact, ensuring that your socks will be able to take multiple runs on the trail before ever wearing out.

These compression socks have a 20-30 mmHg graduated compression rating to keep circulation moving, fatigue at bay, and recovery time at a minimum.

These socks offer minimal cushioning, which might not sound like a good thing, but is in fact a huge plus when it comes to compression socks that will support you on the go: the last thing you want is a bulky sock that will twist and rub your skin straight to Blister Town.

Related: Smartwool PhD Ski Compression Socks have a lightly cushioned shin and sole that provide shock absorption and warmth in for chilly winter activities.

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Icebreaker Run+ Compression Socks

Icebraker Compression Socks

Weight: 13.6 ounces

Specific features: Merino wool/nylon/lycra blend, graduated compression, instep support, a reinforced heel, seamless toe closure, and an anatomically-designed toe box to fit the right and left feet perfectly.

Best use: Utilizing the temperature regulating properties of merino wool, these socks are great for runs in all types of weather.

If you’ve never worn compression socks before and are looking to dip your toe in the compression sock waters, so to speak, the Icebreaker Run+ Compression Socks are a perfect choice.

These lightweight socks are made of a blend of 48 per cent merino wool, 44 per cent nylon, and 8 per cent lycra to provide ultimate comfort and moisture-wicking properties while staving off that funky foot-stink as well as any sock can possibly do.

These socks are designed to have a specialized anatomical fit, meaning there is a specific sock for both the right and left foot, ensuring that each foot gets the optimal amount of cradling, support, and cushioning in all the right (…or left) areas.

The seamless toe closure on each sock ensures that you’ll have no excess sock bunching up in the front of your shoe, thereby reducing the risk of developing blisters. The inclusion of merino wool in this sock’s fabric blend makes it suitable for activities in all sorts of weather, from steamy summer runs to brisk winter hikes.

Related: Icebreaker Men’s Hike+ Compression Socks combine smart design with graduated compression to give you ultimate comfort and circulatory regulation for long hikes and backpacking trips.

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PRO Compression: Marathon socks

Pro Compression Socks

Weight: 3 ounces

Specific features: Graduated compression with a rating of mmHg 20-30, moisture control properties, localized support to specific muscles and tendons, with a nylon/lycra blend.

Best use: These socks are essential for keeping long-distance runners feeling good on their feet, long after the race is done.

U.S.-made PRO Compression Marathon Socks are in it for the long haul: these graduated compression socks are up to whatever long-distance challenge you’ve got in mind, with moisture control properties and non-slip design so that you can be confident everything will stay in place and be as comfortable as possible for the duration of your activity.

The blend of 92 per cent nylon and 8 percent lycra spandex provide ultimate stretch and breathability, and these socks are purposefully designed to support all the muscles and tendons involved in high-impact activities.

The graduated compression of these socks put just the right amount of pressure on the surface veins, arteries, and muscles so that the circulating blood must travel through narrower circulatory channels, ensuring that arterial pressure is increased and a maximum amount of blood is being returned to the heart instead of pooling in the feet.

Related: PRO Compression: PC Runner Socks have a contoured design and low-cut tops to give you a soft, barely-there feel while still protecting your foot from sweat and chafing.

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Feetures! Elite Light Compression Socks

Feetures Compression Socks

Weight: 12 ounces

Specific features: 18-22 mmHg of graduated compression, anatomically-specific design for right and left feet, light cushioning, extra support in high-impact zones, and a nylon/polyester/lycra blend for stretch and comfort.

Best use: These socks are best for light walking or trail use.

With a lower compression rating than some of the other socks we’ve looked at, Feetures! Elite Light Compression Socks are perfect for someone who isn’t into high-impact activities, but would still like the advantages of compression socks during light hikes or every day activities.

The blend of 79 per cent nylon, 13 per cent polyester, and 8 per cent lycra spandex offer lightweight comfort and breathability, and the anatomically-specific design ensure that both your right and left foot and leg will have proper support and fit — no bunching, twisting, or blisters!

These socks are not bulky in the least, yet still provide ample support and cushioning in the high-impact areas of the foot that will receive the most wear and pressure. These compression socks are machine washable in cold water, as long as you skip the bleach and fabric softeners, and should be hung to dry.

Related: Feetures! Elite Light Tab Socks offer unique “sock-lock” technology to provide support in all the critical areas with an enhanced fit that guarantees the sock will stay perfectly in place all day long.

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2XU Women’s Compression Socks

2XY Woman's Socks

Weight: 9.6 ounces

Specific features: Anatomically-specific right and left foot design, medically engineered circular knit construction, padded support zones, arch support, Achilles protection, linked toe cage, vented toe panel, moisture management, and SPF 50 sun protection.

Best use: These socks are great for active individuals, but are also designed to provide ultimate compression while the wearer is at rest, especially if the wearer will be sedentary for long stretches of time.

Designed with an eye on recovery, 2XU Women’s Compression Socks are a solid choice to provide perfect compression whether you’re active or at rest. For your active days, these socks are padded in every impact area to absorb shock and provide support, with a vented toe panel for optimal breathability when things heat up.

The antimicrobial properties of the fabric protect against the dreaded Sock Stink, and this sock’s moisture management capabilities will keep sweat at bay even in the heat of summer.

For your inactive days, these socks offer medically-engineered circular knit construction and specially designed footpads and arch support for ultimate comfort and compression during extended periods of rest.

Regardless of your level of activity, these lightweight socks have anatomically-specific design, breathable fabric, and SPF 50 sun protection.  2XU Women’s Recovery Compression Socks will serve you well as you rack up miles on the trail, and just as well the day after, when you prop your feet up and recover while working through your Netflix queue.

Related: 2XU Women’s Hyoptik Reflective Socks are cozy and comfortable cold weather socks that are engineered to keep you visible in low light with bold designs and reflective strips.

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Final Thoughts

Though your first memories of compression socks may be seeing them on your grandparents during family vacations, their functions have expanded significantly over the years, and athletes and outdoor warriors of all stripes have come to appreciate the circulatory benefits of these simple-yet-significant socks.

No one can argue against the importance of increased circulation, lowered lactic acid, and basic muscle and tendon support and protection offered by compression socks, and—though they may not technically improve your performance on the trail—you may find yourself singing the praises of compression socks once you try a pair for yourself.

Featured Image Source: “Downland Challenge; Ultra Marathon 16” by ultraBobban is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0


Bradley Page

With several decades of experience as a backpacker and outdoor adventurer, Bradley is an open encyclopedia when it comes to gear, clothes, and other items that matter on the trail. He tested hundreds of shoes, pants, jackets, and backpacks in his long career and is always up to date with the new appearances in the niche. His experience makes him one of the authority figures in backpacking and he can help anyone to get prepared for a great adventure!