Best shoes and socks for winter

If you’re a trail runner in Auckland, you’ll know tracks in winter get super wet and muddy. Most of the time when the tracks are dry, you don’t need to pay as much attention to what you put on your feet.

Having the right socks and shoes will make all the difference to your performance – and your feet will thank you too.

If you’re a trail runner in Auckland, you’ll know tracks in winter get super wet and muddy. Most of the time when the tracks are dry, you don’t need to pay as much attention to what you put on your feet. But if you’re about to compete in your first Xterra trail run, or an obstacle course race like Spartan, having the right socks and shoes will make all the difference to your performance – and your feet will thank you too.

Why good socks are so important

Those new to the trail running game might say socks are just socks. But once you’ve run 20km in wet ones that aren’t made for trail running, we won’t need to convince you to invest in a good pair.

Things to look for in a good pair of socks:

The fit

The whole point of wearing socks is to avoid getting blisters. But when socks get wet, they get heavy, and that’s when you’ll get sticks and stones stuck in them, and you’ll get blisters. Your socks should be form-fitting, not loose or baggy around the ankle, so they move with your foot over any uneven terrain. Lots of technical socks nowadays are even feet-specific (left and right). If you’re a little unsure about fit, go for a smaller size so they still fit well when wet.

Material

If you want to be comfortable running in the rain, find socks made from a natural fibre like merino wool, or synthetic like nylon. You want your socks to draw moisture away from your feet and dry quickly so they don’t rub.

Merino wool socks are a must-have in winter – they’ll keep your feet warm, dry, comfortable and blister-free. Don’t be afraid to wear merino socks all year round. Merino wool is a sweat-wicking material and will keep your feet cool when they get hot too.

Cushioning

The usual rule of thumb with cushioning is the longer the run, the more you want. But remember, cushioning may compromise how quickly your socks will dry if they get wet. Either way, look for socks that provide extra cushioning in high impact areas like on your heel and the ball of your foot.

Colour

This one should be self-explanatory. White socks and trail runs don’t mix well. In fact, white anything and trail runs aren’t a match made in heaven. Dark coloured socks are the way to go.

Compression

Lastly, you might want to consider a sock with compression. Anything compression is designed to help enhance performance by promoting an increase of oxygen to the muscles, improving blood circulation to the heart, and helping with recovery by speeding up the removal of lactic acid.

Best on the market: trail running socks

We’ve put together a list of the top trail running socks on the market and where you can buy them in New Zealand:

  • Smartwool – Liam’s recommendation. They’re a great winter running option. Made from merino wool, they regulate temperature well, keeping feet warm in winter and cool in summer. They also have good moisture-wicking capabilities, a must when the running conditions are wet.

They have an online store you can order from and stockists across New Zealand.

  • Drymax – this brand often tops best sock lists. These socks are made from two opposite type fibre technologies interwoven together to form inner and outer layers. They’re well-known for offering long-lasting comfort, durability, odour control (bonus!) and their anti-blister system.

You can buy Drymax socks from Shoe Clinic or Running Warehouse (NB: Running Warehouse is US based).

 What your shoes need to cope in winter

Trail shoes are a little more complicated. Choosing the right pair depends a) on your foot, and b) on the types of trails you’ll be running on.

Get fit by a professional

We can’t recommend enough getting your shoes fit by a professional (The Athlete’s Foot is a good place to start). Waltzing in and buying a pair of shoes in your size won’t cut the mustard. In fact, wearing the wrong shoe only increases your chances of coming away from a race with an injury.

A professional will be able to help you understand what your foot needs are, and recommend which brands will work best for you (unfortunately it’s not all about the look):

  • Flexibility: stiff or pliable
  • Wide or narrow fit
  • Support: over or under pronation, ankle or arch support, pressure points
  • Shock absorption and durability: hard or soft running surfaces, and mileage

With shoes, you want a pair that drains well. No shoe can stop water from getting in - so the trick is to get shoes that won’t hold onto water.
Most importantly, your shoes need to have the right lug depth – spiky bits on the sole. The more grip you need, the bigger the lug.

For muddy obstacle runs like Spartan, you need a pair of shoes with large enough lugs to grip the ground underneath the mud, but not too big your shoes can’t grip the obstacles. Whatever you do, DO NOT wear road running shoes – you’ll either come back with a broken ankle or spend the race on your arse!

For wet, uneven terrain (gravel, tree roots, slippery rocks) like Xterra, you want slightly less lug. You need your shoes to grip as much of the surface as they can to stop you from slipping.

Again, it’s so important to seek help from a professional. Trail shoes aren’t cheap, so you want to make sure the money you’re investing is being spent on the right pair.

Shoe recommendations:

  • Salomon – this brand is Liam’s personal favourite. It’s a high-performance brand well-loved by adventure racers and trail runners worldwide. It’s one of only a few brands that have fit his foot well (so no blisters), they drain easily so it doesn’t feel like he’s running with buckets on his feet, and the brand work well for both mud runs and trail runs. Liam has a different model (with different lug depths) for each type of race.

It can be quite difficult to find specific models of Salomon’s in local retailers but give these ones a go:

Torpedo 7
Kathmandu
Bivouac
Rebel Sport
Kiwi Multisport

  • Invo-8 – we’ve participated in the Auckland Xterra Trail Run Series for several years and have noticed Invo-8’s are hugely popular with runners for that particular series.

They’re designed to be lightweight, flexible and work with your natural stride, helping you to go faster on rough terrain. The outsole on the first ever shoe they released was inspired by climbing shoes for grip and durability.

Southern Approach is NZ’s distributor – their website is the best place to look for a stockist near you.

  • Hoka One One NZ – if you require a shoe that offers the ultimate cushioning, Hoka One’s are your go-to. The brand has become synonymous with the term ‘premium cushioning’ but without compromising on weight or performance.

A number of reviews comment on how lightweight the brand’s shoes are even with additional cushioning, remarkable protection for the soles of your feet and long-lasting durability. Some reviews have suggested the brand might not be a good fit for anyone who has trouble with their ankles rolling on uneven terrain.

Visit Hoka One One NZ’s website to check out their latest range.

  • Brooks – these guys know a thing or two about running shoes. They’ve been around for 100 years – and the only shoes they sell are running shoes.

The brand’s signature EVA foam technology is something they developed and introduced to the market in 1974 – a revolutionary tech at the time because of how light and soft it was. Then, in 1977 the Vantage model was introduced which included a varus wedge to help runners with overpronation.

Brooks Shoes are available online or from The Athlete’s Foot.