Winter Cycling Socks: The 7 Best for 2021
Let’s talk about the best winter cycling socks. One of the hardest rides I ever did turned out to be a failure. It was a long, cold, and wet ride and I turned around after 150 miles. There were a lot of reasons for that but a big one was socks. I chose the wrong socks, had no backup, and I got mild frostbite before making the decision to turn back.
When people put together a strategy for winter riding sometimes socks aren’t a high priority. They aren’t something most people obsess over and there’s rarely long forum threads about the best socks. Even reviewers aren’t exempt from neglecting socks. Have you tried to find in depth sock reviews? This is a mistake.
The difference between success and failure often comes down to the small details. Socks are a small detail. Get them wrong and it might just mean a cold, miserable, ride but it might mean turning around and going home before you are ready. Spend some time, study what works for other people and see what works for you. Be prepared for whatever your winter ride throws at you.
SwiftWick socks aren’t the heaviest sock out there but if you like a sock with heavy compression then look no further. It’s a merino wool option with a 2% spandex content for a soft feel that hugs your foot. It’s a weight that can carry you from mild winter weather up to something a little colder and is perfect for those who worry about hot feet. The seven in the name of the sock refers to the cuff height. A seven-inch height is on the lower end of the modern, tall, cycling sock style but it’s tall enough not to stand out. There are also shorter options available if that’s more your style.
A classic ribbed style that will fit in both on and off the bike.
Colors: Black/Dark Shadow, Charcoal, Lime/Black, Midnight Glacier, Olive | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Materials: 70% merino wool, 15% polyester, 10% Lycra, 5% elastic
When it comes to socks style matters. For some people it matters more than others but it’s there. If you want something a little more traditional and less like a high-tech space sock then the Giro winter Merino socks are a good choice. The ribbed design and plenty of colors work both on and off the bike and fit in even if skin tight spandex isn’t your thing. Even with lots of style the performance doesn’t lag. These are a quality midweight option with a high elastic content. Perfect for solid winter rides that fall between mild and a bad decision to be out.
Softer and more hypoallergenic than sheep’s wool while still a natural fiber option.
Colors: Charcoal | Sizes: One Size | Materials: 80% alpaca, 15% nylon, and 5% spandex
A lot of people prefer the idea of a natural fiber but some of those same people are mildly allergic to sheep’s wool. If that is you then the Follow Hollow socks are a perfect solution. Most of the time a wool allergy means an allergy to lanolin. Alpaca fiber is hypoallergenic (contains no lanolin) & is naturally less itchy vs. wool. Even if you get along just fine with sheep’s wool Alpaca might be worth a look. Alpaca wool has a hollow fiber allowing it to hold more air and is warmer by weight. It also happens to feel exceptional against your skin.
A completely waterproof solution that feels like a sock not a plastic bag.
Lots of warmth without being overly thick.
Colors: Black/Grey, Chilli Pepper/Black | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Materials: 78% nylon/15% polyester/7% spandex
Showers Pass Crosspoint socks are a three-layer construction. The outer layer is a knit fabric meant to protect from wear. Inside of that you can find a waterproof, breathable, membrane that really makes these socks what they are. The last layer looks like the outside but it’s softer. You can stand in a stream with these and water will not get through. Water will however run down your leg and collect in them over time so make sure you protect your legs. Spend time riding in the rain and your shoes will eventually get wet. The Crosspoint socks will keep your wet shoes from soaking the layer against your skin. These are essential part of every wet weather clothing strategy.
A high-tech solution for mild winter riding.
Colors: White/Black, Black, Graphite Grey | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Materials: 39% Polyamide, 24% Wool, 24% Acrylic, 9% Polyamide (TACTEL®), 4% Elastane (LYCRA®)
Not every winter ride means the thickest socks for the nastiest weather. If you need something a little lighter the Gore Thermo Mid Socks are a great weight. There’s extra insulation on the toes and heel right where you need it without making the whole sock overly hot. The other thing you notice as soon as you put these on is how great they feel. It’s not a natural fiber, although there is some wool in the mix, but it’s that perfect feeling of compression that hugs your foot. The band through the midfoot and the compression in the cuff means the Gore Thermo Mid Socks stay right where you want them.
Lots of warmth without being overly thick.
Colors: Charcoal | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Materials: 68% Merino Wool, 30% Nylon, 2% Elastane
After riding 150 miles in pouring rain with the wrong socks I was in rough shape. I had mild frostbite in my toes and I needed different socks desperately. I needed as much warmth as possible but I also didn’t have a ton of extra room in my cycling boots. I walked into a small outdoor store in a remote area and found exactly what I needed. The PhD Outdoor Heavy Hiking Crew Socks are right in the goldilocks zone. They are impressively thick and warm but somehow manage to keep a tight silhouette that will still fit without sizing up your shoe.
Thick, heavy, warm and just like your dad used to wear.
Colors: Indigo | Sizes: S, M, L | Materials: 79% RWS merino wool/20% nylon/1% Lycra spandex
I have a box in the attic where I store camping gear. For better or worse, it’s a collection of things that doesn’t get used much. There is stuff in there that’s over 20 years old and one of the things that came from that box is a set of these socks from REI. Over the last few years, I’ve spent more time making questionable riding choices in the winter so these socks don’t get stored there anymore. The basic design doesn’t appear to be any different from the modern version though. They were fantastic then and they are fantastic now. These are thick heavy socks that won’t fit in every cycling shoe but if you need serious warmth, and you’ve got the space, this is a tried-and-true design.
Natural vs Synthetic Fibers
If you are the type to debate sock choices then synthetic vs natural fibers is thing. As with most binary debates the reality is more subtle than one being better than the other. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
The cycling community is a community that cares about the world so you might have concerns about the impact of the products you choose. Natural fibers are a completely renewable resource while synthetic materials use fossil fuels. Livestock is a significant contributor to global warming though. Also, while synthetic materials come from fossil fuels, they can make use of recycled materials.
Even if you feel like natural fibers are a better choice sourcing and processing need consideration. Some natural fibers take a lot of chemical processing to make them useable. Or, you might have concerns about the treatment of the animals that provide the materials. Modern performance socks, even when primarily made from natural fibers, do mix synthetic materials in.
Choosing one or the other based on performance isn’t any clearer cut. Typically, synthetics provide less warmth when wet but hold less water and dry quicker. Natural fibers tend to be naturally antimicrobial and are less prone to stinking but they can be delicate when it comes to washing. If you like the idea of natural fibers but find yourself having allergic reactions and feeling itchy you can still try Alpaca as it lacks lanolin.
There’s no perfect answer. There are pluses and minuses no matter what choice you make. Pricing on socks makes it reasonable to try a few different styles and see what works for you. Don’t try something new right before a big ride but definitely try different things. Expect there to be a journey to find what works for you.
Don’t overly compress your feet
There’s an inclination to choose the thickest, warmest, socks on this list. It’s a logic that kind of makes sense, right? I mean why wouldn’t you want the warmest socks? The problem comes when those socks don’t fit inside your shoes.
Warmth in clothing comes from its ability to trap air that your body warms. The job of the winter sock is to create a boundary layer of air close to your skin and act as a buffer against the colder outside air. If you compress the fabric there’s less air trapped and less warmth created. With socks there’s also the issue of blood flow that comes into play.
Not only do you reduce the amount of trapped warm air but too much sock inside a cycling shoe reduces circulation. It’s a pile on effect. You have less warmth to start with but now your foot is so tight inside the shoe that you can’t move it. There’s a reduction in blood flow and even less warmth.
If you are buying new shoes only for winter cycling buy them bigger. Make more space for warm socks in the shoe. If you are working with what you’ve got then only use the thicket socks that fit comfortably. If you want more insulation add it outside of the shoe.
Socks Aren’t Enough
Socks are just one small part of the overall strategy for keeping your feet warm in the winter. They are an important part of the puzzle but they aren’t enough in isolation. If your winter riding means serious cold and wet, one of the biggest upgrades you can make will be winter specific cycling shoes. Don’t forget to size them up a little so you’ve got more room for warm socks. If your weather is milder a set of overshoes is another choice.
If winter riding for you means wet weather riding then a good place to start will be fenders. Without fenders on your bike the wheels constantly funnel water right at your feet. No amount of protection on your feet will adequately deal with that. Good fenders also help keep your bike, and clothes, clean and in good condition.
Whatever winter riding means in your part of the world, don’t rule out chemical warmers like these from HotHands. They only last a few hours, and they are bulky, but chemical warmers make a serious difference and aren’t a large investment. Most people will only experience a few rides a year that are cold enough to warrant the extra warmth so the investment of one box will last a few seasons.
The best choice for the longest coldest, wettest, rides
If you came here to find the absolute best socks for the longest, coldest, wettest, rides I’m here to provide an answer. It’s a trick question though. No sock will last more than a few hours of seriously wet, cold, riding. Be prepared with a change of socks.
Depending on the riding you’ve done it might sound strange to stop mid-ride and change your socks. When your rides stretch past a few hours in heavy rain it will sound a lot less outrageous. Water has a way of working through anything over time. No matter how prepared you are you will eventually have wet feet. Once that happens the ride gets miserable pretty fast. Find a place to stop and change socks and you have a much better chance of completing your goals.