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July 23, 2009

Injinji Performance Socks Review

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.

As the official sock sponsor of the Western States 100, Injinji sent a pair to all entrants in advance of the 2008 non-race. This spring, when Wilderness Running Company sent me another sample, I figured that receiving two free pairs was some sort of sign that I should sit down and write a formal review. So away we go.

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.)

Sock nerd in the house!

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.

No freak toes, please

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.

See other product reviews on sidebar at right. If you have a product you’d like reviewed, contact me at info@runningandrambling.com.


cherie 7/24/09, 7:11 AM  

Hey, I had a bizarre allergic reaction to my Injinji socks (see my blog, www.worldofcherie.blogspot.com for my VT 100 race report) and my feet swelled up...and then it was blisters everywhere. The one thing I see (besides my weird reaction) is that if you have foot swelling during a race (common), blisters are inevitable.

Anonymous,  7/24/09, 9:12 AM  

Interesting concept that seems worth trying, even though I'd have concerns about chaffing from the material between the toes.

When do we get to weigh in on the whole 'foot creation' topic? You briefly opened the door, but quickly slammed it shut after drawing first blood.
CV Phootlosipher

Backofpack 7/24/09, 9:52 AM  

Injinjis are my hands-down favorite sock for running. In fact they are all I ever wear. I just announced to Eric last night that I intend to get rid of all my "normal" socks for daily wear and replace them all with Injinjis. Of course, that'll be a slow replacement process. I think they look hot with my birkies too!

Scott Dunlap 7/24/09, 12:42 PM  

Glad you like them! And thanks for the link. ;-)

I have the freaky 2nd-toe-longer-than-big-toe too, but the Injinjis seem to stretch out over the first few wears. The wool model doesn't do so well with that.

Jasper Halekas (M4 at States) uses Injinji liners with a DryMax sock over it. Another possible option.

I got through States with one blister, changing Injinji socks and shoes just once after the river. Pretty amazing. I did lose almost all my toenails, however. ;-)


Jon 7/24/09, 1:30 PM  

I like the idea of them, but they don't fit my imperfect toes. I can wear them around the house, but they hurt too much when I run in them.

Ryan 7/24/09, 6:15 PM  

I also noticed the difference the first couple times I wore injinji socks, but now they just feel like a normal pair. I wear them for at least half of my runs and love 'em

Ryan 7/24/09, 6:15 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul Charteris 7/26/09, 3:01 PM  

One of the noticeable things for me with Injinjs is that I tend to climb hills more efficiently wearing them. Its subtle, but I think its real. I think that recruiting your toes in the climb (rather than having them squished together) seems to help. Of course, as you noted, choice of shoe makes a big difference.

I wore my Injini rainbows to a party here in New Zealand this weekend and they pretty much stopped the whole show.

Cheers, Paul

rebecca 9/1/09, 5:15 AM  

I love wearing my Injinji's along with my Vibram FiveFingers! Keeps my feet snug and free from blisters... perfect for long hikes :-)

mbw,  1/13/10, 9:16 AM  

Just completed the Disney Marathon, freezing cold weather ( temperatures never above the 30s) and the Injinjis were SO warm and comfortable. I was really grateful for the socks.
During an early morning (5 A.M) training run I ran right into a huge pot hole, with water covering my whole foot up to my ankle. I was surprised to discover my Injinji's were perfectly dry within minutes of this fiasco.
Consequently I am a huge fan of the Injinji socks!

ontherunmum,  11/28/10, 6:57 PM  

I have been running for about 14 years and have tried every sock recommended for preventing blisters to no avail - until Injiji. I thought I just had to live with permanent blisters, but after buying my first pair about six weeks ago the blisters are completely gone and I ran 18 miles yesterday and guess what - NO blisters.

cynthia 12/31/10, 1:29 PM  

Love my white injinji crew socks that I received at Christmas. Wonderfully comfortable and healing for my sore toes. Problem?? I can't
get them clean! Washed by machine, then by hand, now have given up!
They also seem to pick up soil from other clothes in the washer.
Any suggestions appreciated.

Anonymous,  4/27/12, 12:14 PM  

Really excited to test out my Injinji socks. I got really big into the toe sock craze when I was in high school and college and while I was forever made fun of, I LOVED my toe socks. Have been doing research on socks because after several adventure races, 5Ks, long runs, trail runs, half marathons etc, I am suffering from blisters on top of blisters. Have a Half-Marathon coming up this weekend and bought mine at the expo. Tested them out a little and like the feel. Very comfy... I'll have to save this blog and report back after the run, but from what I've researched and read, I'm confident that they'll be a staple in my sock drawer.

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