Socks vs No Socks: The Question In Every Triathlete’s Head


I am nowhere near the podium at races, but I am always thinking about which part of my race I could have saved some time. One question which often comes to my mind is: would I be a faster triathlete if I would not wear socks?

Putting on socks during a triathlon race will make you lose between 10 to 30 seconds. This time is significant for podium contestants and all draft-legal triathletes. If you are not in one of those two categories, it is only a matter of personal preferences. Whether you are a socks or a no-socks triathlete, the tips below will make you faster.

In races, triathletes have three options:

  • no sock on the bike and the run (option used by all elite short-distance triathletes)
  • no sock on the bike, but then socks on the run course (mainly podium contestants on long-distance courses)
  • socks on the bike and run (majority of amateur triathletes)

HOW MUCH SLOWER AM I WEARING SOCKS

I really wanted to test it for myself, hence a little experiment with my wife, Anna.

We tried to replicate a portion of a swim-bike transition and timed how long we needed to put socks on vs. no socks. We needed between 14 and 16 seconds more! This was at home after a couple of trials but without the stress of a race.

I would not be surprised if a beginner would lose 25-30 seconds during a race by putting socks on.

Check it for yourself. Try to see how much time you will save by doing this small test. You will learn something, and at the same time, your family and neighbors will have fun watching you!

WOULD 15 SECONDS CHANGE SOMETHING

Most pro triathletes don’t wear socks for sprint and Olympic distance events and are wearing some for longer events.

15s on a sprint can be pretty big. However, over a full Ironman distance, it is rather insignificant. The comfort of socks over such a big distance is, for most people, well worth those couple of seconds.

I checked two of the biggest races I made. I finished 503rd & 506th while wearing socks. By saving those 15s in transition, I would have been placed 500th & 503rd. Not a big change for me 🙂

Check your races and see if it would make a big difference for you!

TIPS FOR THE SOCKS TRIATHLETES

  • Try to get your feet as dry as you possibly can before putting your socks on
  • Put your socks inside out and use baby powder on them. Then turn them again and put them on the correct shoes (for socks with a specific foot side). The powder will absorb the drops of water left on your feet.
  • Invest in special sports socks and train with them before a race

TIPS FOR THE NO-SOCKS TRIATHLETES

  • Check the size of your shoes. If you bought them while using socks, they might be too big.
  • Lubricate your feet with vaseline or anti-chafe balm, put baby powder in your shoes
  • Invest in smell reducing products. Your shoes will smell bad!

In a couple of situations, you might be better off wearing socks after all:

  • Cold weather
  • Gravel or trail course

TIP FOR ALL TRIATHLETES

  • Avoid the obvious blister pitfalls: remove any stone you feel in your shoes immediately, avoid running in the water holes on the street, and be careful with the showers which are sometimes offered on the running course. Do use them for refreshment but not for having your feet completely wet.

No matter which of the two approaches you are taking, you should definitely train it a couple of weeks before a race and stick with it. Having a blister a couple of days before a race because you wanted to try something new is way more painful than getting one at the end of the race! 😉

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