For sure, cycling socks are an excellent way to add a bit more personality to your riding gear. Although things have moved on quite a way from the times when your only choices were either bright fluro or black, there still tends to be a smaller pool of colorways when it comes to jackets and shorts compared with socks.
But just as with bar tape, buffs and casquettes, although you can make your choice based on the relative funkiness of their designs, there is actually quite a bit of tech going on behind the scenes. Not all cycling socks are created equal - and there are some which do really stand out amongst the rest.
Style is, of course, still a consideration. But when form is supported by a bedrock of function, that is when you’ve landed upon a very special sort of sock indeed. Qualities such as breathability, moisture wicking, durability, warmth, odor control, and fit don’t just happen by accident. You can make do with socks that are less than perfect - but why would you choose to?
We’ve tested a wide range of socks of varying styles and purposes, from three-season warmers to the lightest, thinnest and coolest options for beating the heat - outdoors and in. The brands represented include - but are not limited to - Assos, Rapha, Velocio, Castelli and dhb, with our favorite models picked out below...
Best summer cycling socks
Best cycling socks overall
The fabric of Rapha’s Pro Team socks felt luxuriously soft against our skin and has a reassuring thickness whilst still being breathable and wicking - helped by the mesh panels across the ‘low-wear’ areas of the sock (the top of the foot and around the arch) for better longevity. An ideal workhorse performance sock for temperate climates.
- Luxurious-feeling fabric
- Not the best range of colors
Best shoulder-season performance
Best described as a three-season performance sock for temperate regions. The upper section is a medium-weight mesh fabric, which is fast wicking and breathable. There are thicker panels across the sole and heel - which gave us a bit of warmth and also promises decent longevity (though more riding is needed to confirm the latter).
- Warmer than some options
- More material in high-wear areas
- Large range of colors
- Warmer than some options
Best lightweight socks
Best lightweight cycling socks
These socks are super thin and also super soft. Whereas the Castelli Superleggera and Assos Essence socks match Velocio for heat dissipation and breathability, they felt coarser in comparison - particularly the Assos Essence. In the case of Assos, it also imparts a feeling of robustness - time will tell with these last us as long.
- Soft against the skin
- Highly breathable and wicking
- Great for hot weather
- Don't feel hardwearing
Retro-cool for warm rides
The material around the ankle of these socks is a little thicker than the section around the foot - which also features mesh panels running along the top. It’s a construction that we thought would work really nicely in places with mild summers or, for hotter regions, in the spring/fall.
- Retro look
- Good mix of colours
- Comfortable construction
- Hard to match with non-Castelli kit
Best Merino all-rounder
Best merino sock
This a three-season merino sock rather than an ultra-thick deep winter sort of pair - and as a result they are incredibly versatile. The breathability and moisture wicking is sufficient for riding in the summer, although we felt that they would be a bit warm for some riders. 60% Merino in the blend is sufficient to help minimize odours.
- Good for odor control
- 60% merino
- 3-season warmth
- Not for hot summer use
Best Merino socks for the heat
Best merino socks for the heat
Another three-season merino sock, however Velocio’s construction is significantly lighter and thinner. In hot climates, that makes these a go-to Merino option. They hold up impressively well for their thickness when it’s 12°C/54°F and drizzling, but I’d only suggest them as a full three-season sock in warmer climates.
- Lightweight merino construction
- Odor control
- Not as warm as some merino
Best mid-height option
Lightweight and breathable
These are super lightweight socks for riding in the hottest conditions. The fabrics are quite thin, but the use of mesh helps the socks balance longevity with breathability there - the threads are actually pretty thick. A panel underneath the forefoot provide us with some cushioning when pressing down in the pedal stroke.
- Very light and breathable
- Cushioned forefoot
- Only for the hottest conditions
Best for lightweight durability
Lightweight and durable
Like the Castelli Superleggera, these are another pair of lightweight socks for hot weather riding. Whereas the Superleggera socks employ a greater variety of thread thickness and mesh sections, these are much more uniform. We thought that breathability was about on par - from past Assos experience, this design will likely last longer.
- Lightweight and breathable
- Good fit
- Basic construction
Best value lightweight socks
Best value lightweight socks
These felt a little thicker than the Castelli Superleggera and Assos Essence Socks, the varying thread thicknesses and mesh sections bear a greater similarity to the former than the latter. Despite the ankle cuff being thicker, the underfoot is quite thin - it’s more for rider comfort/preference than for being harder wearing.
- Great value
- Breathable construction
- Thicker than the lightest options
Best value Merino socks
Best value merino socks
The ankle and the upper part of these socks are a thin(ish) Merino blend that felt a little lighter than that on Rapha’s Merino socks. However, around the toes and underneath the foot, the material is much thicker - more like a deep-winter sock. It's a blend which manages warmth and breathability really well.
- Good value
- Light leg section
- Thicker and more durable underfoot
- Might be a bit bulky for some close-fitting shoes
Best for versatility
Most versatile cycling socks
I would put these socks very closely on par with dhb’s Aeron LAB socks. Both are a little thicker than the super light Assos Essence and Castelli Superleggera, but still provide fast wicking and good breathability. It’s a great option as a slightly more versatile performance sock - and they come in a range of tasteful colors.
- Versatile for varying temperatures
- Good breathability and wicking
- Neither super cool nor very warm
Best gravel socks overall
Best gravel socks
Really it depends on where you get cold. If your shoes are heavily vented, dhb’s Aeron Merino socks work best in our opinion. But if your shoes are a little more insulated, these make an excellent pairing with a thin foot section and being warm around the calf.
- Tougher, off-road construction
- Warm around the legs
- Cooler and breathable foot section
- Not the warmest around the foot
Best value gravel socks
Tough gravel socks
Another great option for temperate climates. These have a slightly thicker and tougher weave than the lighter-weight socks on this list - particularly around the calf. The panel around the top of the foot is rather more open and helped keep our feet cool, thanks to good breathability and heat dissipation. It makes these socks notably robust for gravel.
- Tough gravel socks
- Breathable mesh over the foot
- A bit thick around the leg for hot conditions
What are cycling socks ?
Cycling specific socks are largely defined by the fit and the fabric. Given that cycling shoes are designed to be close fitting, cycling socks tend to be thin so as not to make the shoes uncomfortable. Equally, thicker socks are more prone to rub. Even winter cycling socks are pretty thin and rely on low-bulk warmth from materials such as merino wool.
While the aforementioned merino wool is a popular choice given it's breathability and odor resistance, most cycling socks use synthetic fabrics to deliver the desired combination of ventilation with sweat wicking properties.
The final piece of the puzzle is good elasticity alongside a solid gripper - the last thing any cyclist wants is a pair of socks that won't stay up.
Do I need cycling socks?
Cycling-specific socks will improve your comfort on the bike for several reasons. The materials used are designed to keep your feet as cool as possible by wicking away sweat, drying rapidly and providing extra protection around the heel and toe areas. Winter socks will also wick away moisture but will insulate your feet against the cold rather than cooling them down.
Cycling socks should also provide arch support to prevent fatigue and soreness on long rides and will be constructed to remain in place around the foot and calf without slipping down or moving around which could cause irritation or hotspots.
Should cycling socks be thin or thick?
Socks for cycling should be the right thickness for the type of riding you do, the temperatures you ride in and the fit of your shoes.
Thin socks will be cooler, work better with slim-fitting cycling shoes and provide a more direct connection to the pedals and bike with less chance of the foot moving around within the shoes.
Thick socks will be warmer but must be worn with shoes that have enough space in them to accommodate the socks. Cramming warm socks into close-fitting shoes will cause a lot of discomfort and probably make your feet colder by restricting blood vessels.
How high should cycling socks be?
Unless you're looking for cycling socks that promise some aerodynamic advantage, the answer is any height - presuming you're not entering a UCI race. If you are you'll need to adhere to its rule that states:
'Socks and overshoes used in competition may not rise above the height defined by half the distance between the middle of the lateral malleolus and the middle of the fibula head.'
Outside of competition anything goes with sock height largely governed by taste and fashion. Aero socks tend to be tall, as do many 'pro' socks, which have grown in height over the years. Likewise some winter socks are designed to cover the entire lower leg, adding another layer of insulation under your bib tights. Regular cycling socks typically feature a cuff that is between 3" and 7".
How do I choose the right socks for me?
As with most items of clothing, first and foremost it is comfort that is the most important consideration. Cycling socks might be worn for many hours (or even days!) of arduous exercise, so you don't want to give them a second thought once you start riding. This means that not only do they need to fit your foot, but they also need to work with your chosen shoes - a bulky sock might make your shoes too tight in a certain place, or a very thin sock might not offer enough volume around the heel for the shoe to fit securely.
The second consideration is the temperature you are likely to be using them. The best cycling sock in the world isn't going to work for you if it is designed to work in different conditions to those in which you are cycling. For cold weather, warmth and insulation are paramount whereas in summer temperatures the breathability and quick-wicking of a much lighter sock will be appreciated.
Do I need winter cycling socks?
If you ride in cold temperatures, then winter-weight socks should definitely form part of your cycling wardrobe, but they are not the only way to protect your feet. Overshoes and winter cycling shoes can also be used to insulate against the cold, and in fact, simply ramming a pair of thick socks into your normal cycling shoes may well make your feet colder rather than warmer as the increased pressure will reduce warming blood flow.
How we test
These socks were ridden in a range of temperatures and with a few different pairs of cycling shoes. Whilst comfort is subjective, our experienced testers have used and abused a lot of socks over the years, so have a great idea what will work well and in what conditions.
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After winning the 2019 National Single-Speed Cross-Country Mountain Biking Championships and claiming the plushie unicorn (true story), Stefan swapped the flat-bars for drop-bars and has never looked back.
But his favourite rides are multiday bikepacking trips, with all the huge amount of cycling tech and long days spent exploring new roads and trails - as well as histories and cultures. Most recently, he’s spent two weeks riding from Budapest into the mountains of Slovakia.
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