Before we get to the review, let me clearly state my bias for the record: when it comes to socks, I’m completely, head over heels, ‘I’d get down on one knee and offer my final rose’ in love with Drymax. Having said that, I’m aware that there are other fish in the sea … and in my evolving role as a product guru, I’m more than happy to try other brands to see how they measure up.
Injinji is a fairly well-known commodity among ultrarunners. They enjoy a devoted following, and the company is affiliated with many high-profile events – such as a little race I completed in Auburn last month. The company sponsors four separate teams, in adventure racing, triathlon, ultrarunning, and regular running (although the distinction between running and ultrarunning seems quite blurry, as the running roster features a very popular blogger who has also become a fantastic ultrarunner). In other words, Injinji is out there, supporting endurance athletes and events in growing numbers since their inception about ten years ago.
Obviously, Injinji are distinctive for their patented tetratsok design, which is a cool (if hard to spell) word they invented to describe the separate toe coverings; it’s the foot equivalent of putting your fingers into a glove instead of a mitten. This design has several intended benefits: it enables your entire foot to perform in a more biomechanically natural manner, and prevents the moisture buildup and “toe on toe” friction that leads to blisters.
(On a completely unrelated note, the tetratsok design has another fringe benefit: on summer mornings when I want to roll out of bed and slide into a pair of shorts and flip-flops for lounging around the house but my toes feel kind of chilly, I can put on a pair of Injinjis and still wear the flip-flops while warming up my toes. Sure, I look like a nerd - but the rest of my family has long since made that conclusion, so my overall rep is pretty much unchanged.)
Injinjis are also very comfortable to wear, which was one of my concerns before trying them out. The individual toe sleeves are seamless, and the fabric blend feels very nice against the skin. The performance sock (the model I tested) features wicking CoolMax on the skin side and nylon on the outside, which help moisture transfer during long, hot activities. The double-layered welt top holds the shape of the sock and keeps all the parts positioned where they’re supposed to be.
Nevertheless, Injinji’s primary marketing strategy isn’t related to the sock’s comfort – it’s in how the sock helps your foot perform more naturally while running.
This “natural running” idea is one that’s gradually gaining traction in the fitness world, and one that’s been especially intriguing to me in recent months. I’ll explain more about my own interest in a separate post next week – but it’s important to note that Injinji has historically been way ahead of this curve. The company was founded with the primary intention of maintaining the foot’s natural anatomy and function in a way that traditional socks couldn’t match – basically, to mimic the feel of running barefoot.
There’s a difference you can feel with your very first run in a pair of Injinjis: instead of just rolling over the ground as a single cohesive unit, your toes immediately start shifting, adjusting, and gripping differently in response to each footfall. It feels a bit odd at first, but once you realize what’s going on, it’s kind of a cool thing to experience – it’s like your toes are waking up and saying “Hey! We can do whatever we want in here! This is great!”
From a biomechanical standpoint, this makes perfect sense: the toes were created (or possibly, evolved by mutation and completely random happenstance – that’s a separate discussion) to facilitate balance, stability, and forward propulsion of the foot. Injinji socks allow this process to happen, but how much functional benefit you actually gain is difficult to assess – which leads to the primary drawback I found with Injinjis.
If your intent is to replicate the function of the human foot while running, the socks you’re wearing can only go so far. A vastly more important factor in this regard is the type of footwear you use; if you’re wearing Injinjis in a pair of motion-thwarting stability shoes, or with artificial arch supports, or in bulky shoes with an elevated heel and hugely cushioned midsole, the normal mechanics of your feet are so stringently diminished that the socks you’re wearing probably can’t make up for it.
Fortunately, there seems to be a clear “less is more” revolution taking place with trail running footwear - as evidenced by the lightweight yet durable La Sportiva models (the Crosslite and Wildcat) I reviewed recently, and by other brands of footwear that strip away as many impediments to the natural function of the foot as possible (spoiler alert – this is also a HUGE hint for an upcoming review I’ve got on deck this summer).
One other small criticism of the Injinjis is the lack of variability in fit. More specifically, the toes of the tetratsok get progressively shorter from big toe to pinky toe – but my 2nd toe (would that that my index toe?) is longer than my big toe, so the fit of the sleeves feel slightly irregular on either side. It’s not enough of a problem to keep me from wearing them – just a little something else for me to gripe about.
Overall, the Injinjis are an interesting option if you’re looking to explore the possibilities of running with a more natural feel. They’re also comfortable enough to wear with your regular trail shoes for moisture management and blister prevention.
Injinji performance socks retail for $12, but Wilderness Running Company has them at a 10% discount through August 3rd, and if you use coupon code R&R10, you get an extra 10% off. It’s a good opportunity to start using your toes again.
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