The time has come to bring the sock experiment to a close. Small sample size or not, for me it took just three test pairs to determine whether running socks were worth spending my hard earned cash. I know you are excited, so let's get to it.
Figure 1. Summary of evaluated sock types. A) Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Mini; B) Balego Enduro; and C) Old Navy Mesh Athletic Socks.
Discussion. The purpose of this experiment was to determine if purchasing special running socks was worth the added cost when compared to inexpensive cotton athletic socks. I found that although more specialized running socks performed slightly better as compared to simple cotton socks, this small difference in performance did not justify the large difference in price.
Although Balega Enduro socks performed optimally in terms of overall feel, maintaining an appropriate foot temperature, providing good foot cushioning, moisture control, and prevention of blustering/rubbing, their $10 price tag placed them just under the first place Old Navy Mesh Athletic Socks. In my opinion, the Old Navy cotton socks performed sufficiently well and the price was right. Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Mini were priced the highest and, unfortunately, performed the poorest out of the three tested pairs (Table 1). So there you have it folks, cotton socks win the prize.
Sensitivity Analysis. The original ranking system emphasized price over all other variables.
Overall feel (1-5): 25%
Feet temperature (cool, normal, hot): 6.25%
Cushion (poor, average, good): 6.25%
Moisture (poor, average, good): 6.25%
Blistering (none, moderate, a lot): 6.25%
I performed a sensitivity analysis to determine what would happen if variables were weighted differently. I re-calculated ranks using two different weighting schemas. Schema A evenly weighted overall feel and price and schema B evenly weighted all variables.
Weighting Schema A
Overall feel (1-5): 25%
Feet temperature (cool, normal, hot): 12.5%
Cushion (poor, average, good): 12.5%
Moisture (poor, average, good): 12.5%
Blistering (none, moderate, a lot): 12.5%
Weighting Schema B
Overall feel (1-5): 16.7%
Feet temperature (cool, normal, hot): 16.7%
Cushion (poor, average, good): 16.7%
Moisture (poor, average, good): 16.7%
Blistering (none, moderate, a lot): 16.7%
I found that in both weighting Schemas A and B, when price was de-emphasized (although never emphasized less than the other variables), Balega Enduro socks were ranked the highest, followed by Old Navy cotton socks (Table 2). This means that your priorities directly influence whether or not you should take the specialty running sock plunge.
Figure 2. My old socks, which inspired this experiment, and are now in the trash.
Conclusions. In summary, I found that for me, simple, cotton, athletic socks are simply good enough. And, thanks to this experiment I have several hole-free pairs to see me through many runs to come.