When you think about cycling comfort, the first thing that typically comes to mind might be the search for the right saddle/bike shorts combo. But that’s just the beginning. If you forgot about keeping your feet comfortable, consider yourself lucky—you’ve probably never pedaled in the wrong pair of socks. Whether you’re in the saddle for 20 minutes or 200 miles at a time, no matter where you ride, that’s not something anyone wants to repeat.
Like running socks, a good cycling sock is moisture-wicking, breathable, and tight enough to provide support without constriction (or blisters). But with dozens of high-quality cycling-specific socks on the market, it can be hard to know which brands and styles will make your dogs the happiest. We did hours of field testing to share our top choices for the best socks for cold weather riding and the best socks for warm weather and indoor riding.
For warm weather or indoor rides, the Swiftwick Aspire is our top pick for its amazing fit, wicking properties, and breathability. For riders braving colder temperatures, our favorite is the Pearl iZumi Merino Thermal.
Here’s how the best cycling socks stack up:
- Swiftwick Aspire (Best Warm Weather/Indoor Sock)
- Pearl Izumi Merino Thermal (Best Cool Weather Sock)
- Smartwool Bike Zero Cushion (Cool Weather Runner-Up)
- Sock Guy Classic
- DeFeet Aireater
The Best Cycling Socks
Best Warm Weather/Indoor Sock
- Made of 79% nylon, 17% olefin, and 4% spandex
- Firm compression
- Super comfortable
- Effective sweat wicking
- Plenty of sock heights to choose
- Limited color selection
As soon as I slid the Aspire Sevens on, I knew why most of my local bike shops offer the Swiftwick Aspire collection precious retail real estate. I can confirm, they completely live up to their product description: “Your biggest fan: Thin, breathable socks with firm support.”
Made of nylon, olefin, and spandex, these socks represent the trifecta of foot-friendly cycling socks. I tested the seven-inch height, which was tight enough to stay put throughout my workouts without threatening to cut off my circulation or requiring any gymnastics to remove. Speaking of removal, moisture and odor were not issues once I took the socks off, which was a pleasant surprise.
As for the shopping experience, there’s a Switfwick sock height for everyone. The Aspire comes in a no-show or zero height, military compliant height, as well one-inch, two-inch, four-inch, seven-inch, and 12-inch heights. While sock height is generally a personal preference, for some (I’m looking at you, roadies), that preference is based on ever-changing explicit and implicit style rules.
My only issue with the Swiftwick Aspire is the limited selection of colors and styles. While there are certainly enough options to find something to match your look, the colors are pretty basic (grays, black with different colors of thin stripes, solid black, royal blue, white, and neon yellow), and the brand doesn’t offer any fun prints.
Best Cool Weather Sock
Pearl iZumi Merino Thermal
- Made of a merino wool and polyester blend
- Compressive arch
- Stylish and versatile enough for daily wear
- Limited color selection
I had a feeling I’d love the Pearl Izumu Merino Thermal sock as soon as I opened the package, and I wasn’t disappointed. The sock was tight without being difficult to get on, breathable without being too loose, and versatile enough to wear with cycling shoes and spandex or clogs and jeans.
Featuring Transfer Merino, a wool and recycled polyester blend, the socks are made in the United States and are sustainably sourced. They also boast a flat toe seam construction that offers extra toe comfort and arch compression for what the brand calls a “performance fit.” Whatever you call the technology behind them, the Pearl Izumis feel cozy without being constrictive, and proved breathable and odor-free throughout testing.
Pearl Izumi offers three sock heights: low ankle, ankle, and crew. And while they don’t create a sock for those who prefer taller ones, if you’re primarily wearing this pair in colder weather, you’re probably also wearing leggings or leg warmers as opposed to cycling shorts; as long as the sock covers your ankles, it’s doing its job.
Pearl Izumi’s only shortcoming is its relatively limited color selections. The colors on offer are pretty basic all around, with lots of gray and black. To be honest, it was really hard to choose between Pearl Izumi and Smartwool as a cold weather winner. I ended up going with Pearl Izumi for two main reasons: One, while Smartwool caters to a variety of sports, Pearl Izumi is a cycling-specific brand. And two, I’ve had bad past experiences with Smartwool socks becoming threadbare prematurely, while my Pearl Izumi socks have held up beautifully over the years.
Do You Really Need Cycling Socks?
Cycling is not only a fun, low-impact form of exercise that can be done outdoors or inside. It’s also an eco-friendly way to travel—one that happens to be excellent for your health. One PubMed.gov “Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review” View Source found a strong inverse relationship between cycling and several adverse health outcomes, including all-cause mortality, cancer mortality, and cancer diagnosis among middle-aged adults and older adults. Another PubMed Central “Physical Activity, All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality, and Cardiovascular Disease” View Source also found that cyclists experienced better cardiovascular fitness and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease compared to non-cyclists. Even better, PubMed.gov “Health benefits of electrically-assisted cycling: a systematic review” View Source shows e-bike riders experience many of the same health benefits.
Traveling on two wheels can also benefit your community. A 2021 PubMed.gov “Housing and accessibility after the COVID-19 pandemic: Rebuilding for resilience, equity and sustainable mobility” View Source highlighted the ways in which cycling benefits the environment by reducing carbon emissions and improves public health by keeping people out of crowded buses and trains where diseases can easily spread.
But like many sports, cycling only works if you do it. And if you’re distracted by a bad pair of socks and the blisters they cause, that’s one more reason to stay out of the saddle. Cyclists of all stripes (including road, gravel, mountain, touring, commuting, and even indoor enthusiasts) wear cycling-specific socks to avoid the discomfort and annoyance of socks that bunch up in your shoes, for blister prevention, and, for mountain bikers in particular, skin protection from rocks, bushes, and anything else you might brush up against in nature.
Cycling shoes are meant to be tight, which means they need to be worn with tight-fitting socks that are breathable and sweat-wicking. Otherwise you’re going to have sweaty, uncomfortable feet at best, or blisters at worst.
Manufacturers rely heavily on chemistry and engineering principles to make sure their cycling socks are up for the task. That means carefully selecting the fibers that become the building blocks of the yarns that ultimately go into the fabric of the sock to make sure the product wicks sweat and keeps you cool (without keeping you too cool, especially for those winter rides).
How We Found the Best Cycling Socks
Meet Your Guinea Pig
I’m Pam Moore, an occupational therapist turned intuitive eating coach, certified personal trainer, endurance athlete, and health and fitness journalist with bylines in outlets including The Washington Post, Time, The Guardian, Runner’s World, SELF, Outside, Bicycling, Triathlete, and Women’s Running.
I took my first spin class in 2003. Since then, I’ve taught hundreds of spin classes, purchased way more bikes than my husband thinks I need, including a couple of road bikes, a triathlon bike, a gravel bike, and an e-bike, and ridden in more than a dozen states.
My bike has taken me up some of the highest paved roads in the United States and Europe and given me access to some of the most beautiful places and interesting people I’ve come across. I’ve ridden in North Carolina on summer days so muggy my jersey was soaked before I’d pedaled a mile and on New England winter mornings so cold my water bottle froze solid within a couple of hours. What I’m saying is, I know a thing or two about what makes a comfortable cycling sock.
When I’m not coaching, writing, or riding, you can find me working on my podcast, Real Fit, which features conversations with women athletes (including some incredible cyclists) about body image, enoughness, and more.
Our Testing Process
To identify the most popular and well-regarded cycling socks, I spent two hours researching the product category. This included looking at product reviews on various websites, talking to avid cyclists and bike industry professionals, exploring various online cycling groups on platforms like Facebook and Reddit, and checking on what brands Boulder’s busiest bike shops carry.
I narrowed my selections down to seven products, which I submitted to the Ness team. From there, we collaborated to narrow it down to the final five products I’d be testing, including three warmer weather/indoors options and two colder weather options. The Nessie ordered all of these for testing.
I took each cold weather pair of socks for two rides of at least an hour each, with temperatures ranging from 35 to 50 degrees. On rides where the weather was under 45 degrees, I wore toe covers over my shoes. I did at least one indoor ride with each indoor sock, either in my basement on my Wahoo trainer or at the gym on a Stages spin bike. In total, I spent about ten hours testing.
For more on how we found the best cycling socks, read the test notes.
The Cycling Socks Buying Guide
Who should buy cycling socks?
Cycling socks are for anyone who wants to ride their bike comfortably, particularly those using clipless pedals (i.e. pedals that attach to a cycling shoe). That includes road, mountain, gravel, and touring cyclists as indoor enthusiasts attending live spin classes, Peloton classes, or Zwift rides and races. Meanwhile, commuter cyclists who use flat pedals and therefore wear tennis shoes, loafers, or other casual shoes, may not benefit as much from cycling socks (though they certainly can’t hurt).
Cycling socks, which tend to be thin and snug-fitting, make sense from a performance perspective, as they optimize power transfer from your legs to your pedals. They also help you avoid uncomfortable sock bunching, prevent blisters, and protect your legs from scratchy bushes or tree branches you might encounter on a trail.
What kind of material is best for cycling socks?
For cycling—and most athletic activities—synthetics are your friend. Fabrics like polyester, nylon, lycra and/or spandex, and acrylic all wick moisture and dry quickly. This helps prevent that uncomfortable wet-foot feeling (and the blisters that tend to accompany it).
Merino wool, a type of wool that comes from merino sheep, is also a great option. It’s less itchy than other kinds of wool, helps thermoregulate the body, wicks moisture, and doesn’t retain odor. When used for cycling socks, it’ll likely be combined with some synthetic fabrics to give it some stretch.
One fabric to steer clear of, however, is cotton. This is because cotton soaks up moisture rather than helping it evaporate, which is a perfect recipe for soggy feet, soaked cycling shoes, and blisters.
Which features matter most when buying cycling socks?
How breathable is the sock? How is the fit in terms of tightness, looseness, or any bunching? Are there any issues with the feel of the material? How well does it wick sweat? Are there any odor issues?
How wide is the selection in terms of sock height, and options for different colors and prints?
How much value does the sock offer for the price?
What season is it best for?
For cold weather socks: How warm would it keep your feet? For warm weather/indoor socks: Does it do a good job of keeping your feet dry and cool?
Other Cycling Socks To Consider
Cool Weather Sock Runner-up
Smartwool Bike Zero Cushion
- Made of merino wool, nylon, elastane, and polyester
- Firm compression
- Fun patterns
- Limited color choices
The first thing I noticed about the Smartwool Zero Cushion socks was how cute they are. (My pair featured a knit mountain scene). Second, it was obvious that they were soft, and like every other pair of Smartwool socks I’ve worn (and there have been many), they were super comfortable to wear both on and off the bike.
Constructed from responsibly sourced merino wool, nylon, elastane, and polyester, they feature patented Shred Shield technology for durability, as well Smartwool’s signature 4 Degree fit system and Virtually Seamless toe to reduce toe box pressure. While I’m not completely sure what all of these special features entail, I can confidently say they add up to an exceptionally wearable pair of cycling socks.
While they’d be a go-to socks for winter weather rides, I’d also use them throughout the spring and fall. They’re versatile enough that you could ride in them on all but the warmest days. Plus, they’re stylish and thin enough to wear off the bike, too.
They come in three different sock heights, low ankle, ankle, and crew. Like Pearl Izumi, Smartwool doesn’t offer a taller sock. But for the same reasons noted above—you’ll likely be layering up anyway if you’re wearing them out and about in the winter—I don’t see this as a huge problem.
And like the Pearl iZumis, Smartwool doesn’t offer a plethora of colors or prints to choose from. That said, nearly any cyclist would be able to find a serviceable pair. The brand offers a couple of prints and a handful of color selections in each sock height.
Cycling Socks You Can Skip
- Made of micro-denier acrylic
- Not designed for compression
- Wide selection of sock heights, colors, and prints
- Uncomfortable fit
The SockGuy Classic features a huge selection of styles and sock heights. This is a nice selling point, but not nearly nice enough to compensate for its poor fit. The pair I tried featured the three-inch height, and while the cuff that encircled my ankles was tight enough to stay put, the material surrounding my feet was uncomfortably loose to the point where it was distracting while I was riding.
This poor fit isn’t a huge surprise, given the sizing. The sock only comes in two sizes, small/medium and large/extra large. For context, I’m a size seven, and I was wearing the small/medium, which is designed for shoe sizes six to 10.
That said, the socks are breathable—I didn’t notice them getting damp while I was riding and when I removed them post-ride they didn’t feel especially wet—and the patterns are really fun. If you happen to be the Cinderella whose feet fit perfectly in these magic slipper socks, you’ll be pleased.
- Made of 60% nylon, 39% recycled polyester, 1% Lycra
- Minimal compression
- Wide selection of sock heights, colors, and prints
- Uncomfortable fit
Like the Sock Guy Classic, the DeFeet Aireator comes in plenty of heights, colors, and styles. They also felt nice and airy even on sweaty rides. But my pair also felt way too baggy for me to recommend, let alone wear more than once. The pair I sampled had a six-inch height. Like the Sock Guy pair, the part of the sock that covered my ankles and higher was snug enough not to slip down (barely). But the part that covered my foot was uncomfortably loose, to the point where I could feel it bunching while I rode.
Interestingly, I wore a size small—the smallest available size—which is supposed to fit sizes six through eight. I suppose it would fit fine if you’re not looking for any elastic, spandex, or any other material responsible for making a sock cling to your foot.
- Health benefits of cycling: a systematic review (Scand J Med Sci Sports)
- Physical Activity, All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality, and Cardiovascular Disease (Med Sci Sports Exerc)
- Health benefits of electrically-assisted cycling: a systematic review (Transportation Research Interdisciplinary)
- Housing and accessibility after the COVID-19 pandemic: Rebuilding for resilience, equity and sustainable mobility (Transp Policy (Oxf))
- Don’t Sweat It: How Moisture-Wicking Fabrics Keep You Cool and Dry (inChemistry)