Fortunately for us, running, as a sport, doesn’t require much in the way of gear. Aside from a good pair of shoes, runners don’t need much in order to be successful in this great sport.
That said, all it takes is getting one bad blister before runners realize that yes, it’s important to find a pair of running shoes that fit their feet well, but it’s also important to find a pair of good running socks that will protect their precious feet.
With running’s raging popularity right now, it is easier than ever to find a pair of high-quality, made-for-running socks, both in online retailers as well as brick-and-mortar stores, even including some of the big box types. Gone are the days that necessitated runners trekking to a single run specialty store to buy a pair of expensive socks. This ubiquitousness results in more choices for the runner/consumer and at many different price points.
Below, we’ll talk specifically about merino wool as a preferred material choice for socks. Unless you have a specific allergy that precludes you from wearing wool, or if you’re a vegan who refuses to wear any animal-based clothing whatsoever, it may be worth your while to examine your current running sock rotation and see if merino wool-based socks would fit your (running) feet’s needs.
Anatomy of an unfortunate runner’s feet
Gnarly blisters, missing toenails, grotty calluses — they’re all practically like rites of passage in the running community. Chances are very, very high that if one of those hasn’t happened to you, you know someone (or many someones) to whom one, or all, of the aforementioned, have happened.
Of course, runners don’t have to experience the agony of missing toenails or gnarly blisters, and in fact, if they’re wise, they can avoid them altogether. The solution? Besides wearing shoes that fit your feet well, runners need a solid sock choice, something that will ultimately help keep their feet dry and well-ventilated. Enter: merino wool.
What is Merino wool?
Merino wool is what its name suggests: a type of wool. According to Wikipedia, merino wool comes from the Merino sheep, an animal that has been historically quite revered for its ultra-soft, ultra-fine wool.
Wikipedia also notes that the textile industries use the “Merino” demarcation quite effusively, but it is rare that the fabric under scrutiny is, in fact, 100% Merino wool-based. Merino wool is often blended with other textile sources, such as silk and cashmere,
Merino wool as an environmentally-sound choice
Though running, as a sport, doesn’t require much gear, the gear it does require — shoes and clothes, in particular — can quickly be draining on the environment after considering how many resources go into producing the items, such as oil and gas.
In contrast, Merino wool, because it is derived from the Merino sheep, is a “natural” choice and one that doesn’t require the same amount or type of labor or resources as do synthetic materials. In addition, because the Merino sheep grow their fur each year, there’s not the same type or extent of resource-draining necessitated to produce the fur as would be required for other synthetic materials. Any material that is petroleum-based is almost always inherently more resource-, time-, and labor-heavy than a biodegradable, “natural,” and renewable material like Merino or others that are derived from animals.
Why Merino wool makes for a good running sock material
Simply stated, if runners want to avoid having excruciating blisters, they have to keep their feet dry when they’re running. Unfortunately, runners can’t simply flip a switch to tell their feet to stop sweating during the course of their exercise, so they must rely on a pair of socks to keep their feet dry.
When runners wear cotton socks during their runs, they are essentially sitting in their sweat and moisture the entire time they’re running. Cotton is a poor textile choice when it comes to wicking away sweat — that is, pulling sweat away from the originating source (in this case, the feet). Instead, the sweat and moisture simply stay in the sock material.
That, combined with the incessant and constant friction of feet rubbing against the sock material hundreds, if not thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of times over the course of a run, results in calluses at best and blisters at worst.
In contrast, Merino wool is a superior choice when it comes to pulling sweat away from the originating source. Unlike cotton, which simply harbors sweat’s moisture, Merino wool repels perspiration.
Merino wool and temperature regulation
Finally, if you’re a winter warrior who battles the snow, ice, and cold weather elements for the better part of your year, Merino wool-based socks may be the best investment you can make.
Merino wool is adept at helping runners regulate body temperature, which makes sense if we consider the source: the sheep. Merino sheep have to be able to warm up and cool off in the fur that they’re in (literally), and their wool’s properties allow them to do just that — and with ease.
This means that while Merino wool would definitely be a worthwhile choice to wear on your cold weather running days, the same socks would also be great to wear during the hotter, warmer, and possibly more humid months, too. Having a good pair of socks that are so versatile is a no-brainer.
If it’s good for animals…
The last thing runners want is banged-up, sore, or painful feet, and unfortunately, that’s nearly bound to happen if runners wear sub-par, low-quality socks. Mitigate the issue by doing your research first and then subsequently investing in Merino wool socks. Not only will you be able to wear them year-round, regardless of weather, but you’ll be doing the earth a service, too, as you select a textile that is renewable and biodegradable.
- Wikipedia: Merino Wool
- Learn About Wool: Secondary Fact Sheet
- NY Mag: Best Running Socks Features: Merino Wool
- Cloud Line Apparel: 6 Reasons Merino Wool Makes the Best Hiking and Running Socks