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Feet First: Performance Yarns Drive Innovation Explosion in Athletic Socks

Consumers are discovering the importance of matching their socks – to their physical activities, that is.

Anyone who’s ever had a blister knows the importance of foot comfort to overall well-being. With the amount of time we all spend on our feet on any given day, even a slight foot issue can cause major discomfort. Although active people have known for decades the importance of wearing the proper shoes to match their physical activity, only recently has the importance of wearing the right socks come into play.

“More and more consumers are seeking advanced technology in socks,” says Jack Galaun, managing director of performance sock company 1000 Mile Socks. “We’re seeing consumers increasingly being drawn to superior performance and technological attributes specifically in socks.”

Socks brands are responding to the growing consumer interesting in performance, resulting in an era of innovation the likes of which the legwear industry hasn’t seen in a very long time.

The top performance sock fibers

Gone are the days when cotton socks were considered best. The top socks these days are typically made of synthetic fibers, and in cases where natural fibers like cotton are used, they will usually be combined with synthetics in order to provide moisture-wicking, ventilation, insulation, antibacterial properties, or any other specialty features.

Nylon 6.6

Originally invented to make women’s stockings, Nylon 6.6 is a versatile fiber that retains its shape and, depending on the specific Nylon 6.6 fiber being used, can be moisture-wicking for endurance sports, insulating for cooler climates, ventilating for warmer climates, antibacterial to prevent infection, and can provide compression for improved athletic performance. Its versatility makes Nylon 6.6 an ideal fiber for any type of athletic performance sock.

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Some sock companies are even taking it a step further and using performance yarns, like Nylon 6.6 made by NILIT, to match socks to not just activity type, but athlete type.

“The variety of technology that is offered by NILIT’s Nylon 6.6 fibers allows us to best address recreational and extreme sports according to the specific level of activity of the given athlete,” says Meir Peretz, CEO of Annapurna Fitness Socks. “With the help of these fibers, we are able to increase the resolution of functionality beyond the type of activity being performed by matching the sock precisely to the unique needs of the athlete.”

Annapurna socks made with Nilit Fibers (source: annapurna)
Annapurna socks made with Nilit Fibers (source: annapurna)


Wool is a valuable fiber because it provides great insulation. However, because of its high cost and reputation for being scratchy, it tends not to be used on its own and is generally combined with acrylic, polyester or Nylon 6.6. The exception is Merino wool, which is a high-quality fine wool fiber. Darn Tough Vermont blends merino wool with nylon into a fine gauge seamless knitted cycling sock that prevents hotspots and blisters.


Acrylic, often blended with other fibers, is a big player in running socks due to its moisture-wicking properties and ability to greatly reduce the chance of blisters. Where acrylic falls short is in its poor insulation. In hot weather, acrylic can get hot, and in cold weather, extra cold.


The big benefit of Lycra or other spandex fibers for socks is the elasticity they provide, allowing the sock to retain its shape without bagging, bunching, or wrinkling that can rub on the foot or ankle during athletic activity.

Choosing the right socks for the sport

Purchasing high-quality performance socks is a good first step, no pun intended, but with the way socks can be adapted for specific activities, it’s not only possible but easy for consumers to find just the right fit for their favorite sport.

Running socks

Running is by far the most popular outdoor fitness activity in the United States, beloved by people ranging from casual joggers to endurance athletes. Runners first and foremost want a moisture-wicking fabric to keep their feet dry. Also on the wish list is a double-layer sock to help absorb friction and prevent blisters. Leading two layer running socks include the Wrightsock, and the 1000 Mile Breeze, which has an interior layer made of NILIT® Breeze fibers – Nylon 6.6 fibers designed to transfer body heat away and reduce friction and irritation.

“Running is the main category NILIT® Breeze fibers excel in,” says Jack Galaun. “Running generates heat and NILIT® Breeze fibers have advanced cooling attributes that work to counteract that effect and keep the runner comfortable.”

1000mile socks made with Nilit fibers (source: 1000mile)
1000mile socks made with Nilit fibers (source: 1000mile)

Hiking socks

Depending on who’s doing it, hiking can be a recreational activity enjoyed by people of all ages and fitness levels, or it can be an endurance sport. The best hiking socks will have a seamless construction, or at least flat seams, and will be stretchy in order to maintain their shape and to prevent slipping, as in the Annapurna Smart Knitting Socks SKS 250. Moisture-wicking is also a must, even for heavy socks with a wool blend. Hikers get both moisture-wicking and comfort padding with the 1000 Mile Fusion Services Sock.

Ski socks

Skiers have enough hazards to worry about without adding blisters and other foot issues to that list by wearing random socks underneath their big, bulky ski boots. Today, in addition to purchasing socks specific to the sport of skiing, they can also purchase socks specific to their skiing skill level.

“A novice skier is most likely in need of extra padding and heat, since he is perhaps less active on the hill, he’ll have less movement than his more advanced counterparts. So for novices we design the product with Heat fibers in order to maintain his body temperature,” says Meir Peretz, referring to NILIT® Heat, the insulating fiber that maintains body warmth. “In contrast, a professional skier exerts more energy and is usually looking to improve his ski performance and control. We can cater to these needs through the use of NILIT® Innergy fibers that improve muscle elasticity.”

Excellent ski socks for beginner skiers include Annapurna’s Smart Knitting Socks SKS 270, which boast multi-layer construction for fast moisture-wicking, and custom padding to prevent blisters and increase comfort. For advanced skiers, the Annapurna SKS 4754 are made with the aforementioned NILIT® Innergy fibers.

Everyday socks

Once sports enthusiasts experience the benefits of the newest tech-inspired legwear, they want their feet to be comfortable even when at home or at work. Those with sweaty feet can purchase moisture-wicking, antibacterial socks from popular brands like Gold Toe or Polo Ralph Lauren. For added cushioned comfort, the Thorlo DLTX Unisex Dress Socks in particular are performance socks comfortable enough for everyday wear, and dressy enough for the office.

A quick footnote

With so many performance fibers and specialty socks available, the future looks bright for this accessory sector with newfound performance, health, function and fashion features.

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Sponsored by Nilit.