Compression socks are one of those garments that seem gimmicky, but they actually have science behind them to help improve your circulation. At its foundation, the garment works by squeezing the walls of the veins and leg tissues to help blood work its way against gravity to the heart. The compression also helps the flow of lymph fluid, which helps remove cellular waste and circulate bacteria-fighting white blood cells throughout your body.
There are a few categories of people who might benefit from this improved blood and lymph flow: athletes looking for better performance and/or recovery; folks with venous or lymphatic issues in the legs, like elderly people with deep vein thrombosis or pregnant folks trying to minimize varicose veins; and anyone with blood clot concerns. People also like to wear compression socks to improve circulation on long flights or long work shifts on their feet (like nurses), where the improved circulation may help reduce soreness.
Many studies show wearing compression socks can help improve blood flow to your lower limbs, promoting healthier vein functioning and healing. Venous issues are particularly high for pregnant women as they have a larger volume of blood pumping through their body. Some 40% of pregnant women develop varicose veins, while the risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE) is four- to five-fold higher for moms-to-be compared to non-pregnant women. Wearing compression socks or stockings during pregnancy can potentially help reduce swelling and discomfort, improve circulation, and minimize varicose veins.
When it comes to athletic performance, the jury's still out on just how effective compression garments, including socks, can be. Some research confirms that wearing compression garments helps improve running endurance or cycling sprints, while others say it doesn't change a thing.
However, a recently-published analysis in the Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine looked at 21 studies and found that a small number do show wearing compression socks during exercise improved performance. Mostly, though, the studies showed wearing the special socks during a grueling workout helped fit folks feel like their leg muscles were firing better, fatiguing less, and after the workout, less sore. Even if it's more placebo than anything, for anyone training hard, particularly for long endurance events like a marathon, wearing compression socks during workouts and recovery may help make your training plan easier.
While researching the best compression socks, we tested dozen of styles across brands like Swiftwick, CEP, and Sockwell. Our guide features socks that provide great comfort, are relatively durable, and are fit to wear in a variety of situations.
Here are the best compression socks:
Pros: Incredibly comfortable, thinner, won't sag over the course of the day
Cons: Expensive, sizing can be tricky so be sure to measure before ordering
The CEP Progressive+ Compression Run Socks 2.0 (available in men's and women's sizes) stand out from the other socks on our list due in large part to the fact they offer unparalleled comfort — and should be considered by anyone, despite a steep price tag.
The brand's parent company, Medi, has been producing medical compression products for over 70 years. The founder of CEP, who is an Ironman, leveraged Medi's technical knowledge and designs for athletes.
Made of polyamide/nylon (60%), elastane (25%), and polypropylene (15%), this CEP socks offer precise 20-30mmHg graduated and consistent compression so they won't sag as the day goes on.
The Progressive+ 2.0 Socks feature a halo top band that lands right below the knee. This keeps your socks in place and the front ribbing allows air to flow through to cool your skin's surface. Per CEP's website, the company offers a six-month guarantee that covers wearing the socks up to 150 times before the compression lessens.
These socks are recommended for anyone who suffers from shin splints, Achilles issues, or plantar fasciitis. They're also great for runners looking to rehab their leg after a long run or workout.$42.25 from Amazon $49.95 from Jack Rabbit
Pros: Inexpensive, relatively durable, snug fit
Cons: Only comes in two sizes
Though the SB Sox Lite Compression Socks are about one-fifth the price of our top pick, they rival it in performance. These socks have a graduated compression rating of 15-20mmHg, which is slightly less than the CEP socks but still supplies sufficient compression for blood circulation.
The socks are made of breathable and lightweight spandex and nylon, which helps to wick away sweat and moisture from your feet. SB Sox come in 11 different colors and two sizes: S/M and L/XL.
Though they seem thinner and lighter than other picks on this list, SB Sox socks hold up well through numerous wears and washes. Plus, they provide a snug fit that doesn't feel too constricting. More sizing options would be welcome, though.$7.95 from Amazon
Pros: Lightweight, maintain their snugness all day long
Cons: The top of the sock might warp over time, only comes in two sizes
For people with venous or lymphatic issues in their legs, compression therapy can help move blood through the veins and tissue better, which in turn promotes healing and prevents ulcers and other issues. Compression stockings are one of the easier options to put on and less cumbersome than medical bandages, says a 2014 study in CMAJ.
The Sockwell Elevation Graduated Compression Socks (available in men's and women's sizes) are made in the United States using bamboo rayon (31%), merino wool (31%), stretch nylon (30%), and spandex (8%). This combination helps with moisture management, thermoregulation, and odor control.
What's more, these are one of the firmer pairs from Sockwell offering compression of 20-30mmHg. A 2019 study analysis in BMC Geriatrics found elderly folks with chronic blood flow issues (venous insufficiency) and swollen legs who wore class 2 compression stockings (pressure between 20 and 30 mmHg) regularly were less likely to have leg ulcers come back compared to wearing lower compression class 1 stockings (pressure below 20 mmHg).
These Sockwell socks have four zones of graduated compression beginning at the ankles and moving up. Since the compression starts at the ankles, the toes remain comfortable. There are four colors for men to choose from and eight in the women's style.$26.95 from REI
Pros: Great for easing muscle soreness, cushioned bottom, durable, 4 sizes, 14 colors
Cons: May not be tight enough for your needs, long drying time
The Zensah Tech+ Compression Socks come in four sizes, which is helpful for ensuring you get the right fit — the appropriate sock size gives you the appropriate level of pressure. Constructed of 82% polyamide and 18% elastane, these socks feature ultra-zone ribbing which targets ankle and arch stabilization, which is ideal for runners with weaknesses in these areas.
The 200 needle count construction is designed to make the socks denser, durable, and reduce stretching over time. They're sweat-wicking, too, but don't tend to dry out very quicky, so are best worn in cooler weather. Zensah offers the socks in 14 colors, including Black, Heather Grey, and Neon Pink.$27.00 from Amazon $49.99 from Zappos
Pros: Offers comfortable compression for runners, promotes blood flow, helps relieve shin splints, and wicks away moisture
Cons: Can be difficult to put on
Swiftwick's compression socks run the gamut of everything from knee-high versions for those looking for full leg relief to no-show options for golfers. For runners, its Aspire Twelve socks are an excellent option to help relieve muscle soreness, prevent or care for shin splints, and provide stability and comfort.
Comprised of a blend of 43% nylon, 11% spandex, and 46% olefin, the Aspire Twelves don't just offer the benefits of compression but also help wick away moisture to keep your feet dry. They work well to keep on even after your run as you'll continue to reap the benefits of compression as you recover.$29.99 from Amazon
Pros: Good for reducing foot and ankle swelling, incredibly comfortable, inexpensive
Cons: Concerns about durability, socks may only come up to mid-calf in taller people
The Sockwell Circulator Graduated Compression Socks have a lot of the same features as our pick for best circulation, the Sockwell Elevation socks. They both have four zones of graduated compression from the ankle on up, which keeps the toes feeling comfortable, and each are made of a combination of spandex, bamboo rayon, stretch nylon, and merino wool. But the main differences are that the Circulator socks have moderate compression (15-20mmHg) and cost a bit less ($30 per pair).
The Circulator socks only come in two sizes, though there are nine colors to choose from, including Black Stripe, Charcoal, Black Solid, and Port. Regardless of the size, the socks aren't very long, so they're best used for people with shorter builds.$25.99 from Walmart $26.98 from Amazon
Pros: Stylish, comfortable, available for both men and women
Cons: Can get expensive
First and foremost, Vim & Vigr compression socks work. After all, no amount of aesthetic creativity would be able to make up for compression socks that don't do much by way of compressing. Luckily, that's not the case with these.
I'm particularly fond of Vim & Vigr's medical-grade compression level, which are designed with a Gradient Knitting Technology to help promote circulation in your calves. The socks feature a structured leg but a flexible toe and heel so that you're supported where you need it but still able to move. These socks offer moderate to firm compression, with somewhere between 20 and 30 mmHG depending on the style.
Regardless of your selection, however, you'll find that Vim & Vigr helps to prevent swelling in your legs, and alleviates pain and achiness. I found that these socks were just as helpful during runs as they were during HIIT workouts — especially as the weather gets colder and circulation becomes increasingly important.
What sets Vim & Vigr apart are its fun, unique designs. Not only is there a wide range of colors to choose from but the brand also offers several interesting patterns. I'm a fan of the colorblock options, as well as Rugby Stripe pattern for men.
Vim & Vigr offers wide calf versions of all their socks for both men and women, so you don't have to be uncomfortable even when donning a tight pair of socks. If you don't need medical-grade compression, you can always opt for the brand's moisture-wicking nylon material, or the remarkably warm merino wool composition. You could also check out Vim & Vigr sleeves, which compress your calves without encasing your feet.$36.00 from Vim & Vigr $14.95 from Amazon
The compression in the stockings is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). Specifically, compression socks are rated based on blood pressure. The majority of compression socks either have a moderate pressure rating of 10 to 20 mmHg or a firm rating of 20 to 30 mmHg.
None of the socks we reviewed have a rating above 30 mm Hg, but there are specialty shops where you can find these if needed. Graduated compression socks, the most common type, are tighter near the ankle than at the calf to avoid cutting off circulation.
Most compression socks are made from a blend of synthetic fabrics that provide a snug and stretchy fit. In the reviews that follow, we let you know what materials are used in the construction of the socks but unless you have an issue with a specific material, you should let performance be your main guide in choosing the best compression socks.