Compression socks are one of my must-haves for any kind of travel, but especially for long flights.
If you’ve ever had your feet or legs swell up while flying, or if you’re concerned about DVT, buying the best compression socks you can find is well worth it.
I fly a lot and I’m more than a little paranoid about DVT on longer flights, so I decided to test out a bunch of different compression socks.
Finally, I think I found the best compression socks for travel.
There’s a bunch of info on compression socks below – feel free to skip ahead with the table of contents!
What are compression socks?
Compression socks are elastic socks that compress your legs.
They come in different lengths: you can get shorter, ankle compression socks, or taller, knee high compression socks.
Certain types also feature graduated compression. This means the sock may be tighter around your ankle, for example, and looser as it goes up your leg.
You can use compression socks to treat a whole bunch of medical issues, although they’re also used by athletes to help recover faster after extended workouts.
Personally, I make sure to wear my compression socks whenever I’m traveling more than an hour or so.
I have poor circulation to start with, but my compressions socks help prevent blood from pooling in my legs during long flights and car/bus/train rides.
How are compression socks rated?
The compression of any specific pair is measured with the unit mmHG. This stands for “millimeters of mercury,” and is just a measurement of how compressed something is.
A higher number of mmHG means the sock is tighter, and lower numbers means the sock is looser.
Medical grade compression socks will typically be rated in the range of 30-40 mmHG.
If you’re just looking for a pair to help keep you comfortable and safe while traveling, you don’t have to worry to much about the mmHG rating.
In my experience, anything rated 10 mmHG or higher will make a big difference in how comfortable you and your legs are.
When you’re looking at socks with a graduated compression, the measurement might look like this: 10 mmHG – 15 mmHG. This just means the sock is measured at 10 mmHG on the end closest to your knee, and 15 mmHG down by your ankle.
How should compression socks fit?
Finding the right fit for you isn’t an exact science.
You might even have to try a few different pairs of compression socks before you find a winner, but don’t give up – it’s 100% worth it when you finally do find a pair that fits perfectly.
The #1 rule when testing out a new pair is the make sure they fit well when you first put them on, but also after you’ve been wearing them for a few hours.
You want your compression socks to be snug and supportive, but not restrictive.
Socks that are too tight will restrict blood flow to your legs too much, causing a problem that can be just as dangerous as stagnant blood can be.
A piece of advice: if you’ve never worn compression socks before, the snugness will feel a bit strange at first.
The feeling will pass soon enough, and you’ll get used to them before you know it.
Why wear compression socks while traveling?
There are two main reasons to invest in a high quality pair of compression socks for travel.
Swelling in your feet and legs
It’s very common to experience swelling in your feet and legs during longer trips.
This happens because the longer you sit, the worse your blood circulates throughout your body.
Normally, using your muscles as you move around throughout the day is enough to keep your blood flowing to and from your heart without any issues.
But, when you’re on a long flight and end up sitting still for hours at a time, gravity causes your blood to start pooling in your legs.
When this blood stays stagnant in your legs, fluid can pass into your subcutaneous tissue and build up underneath your skin.
The result of all of that is swollen, painful feet and legs.
Compression socks fix this by squeezing your legs and making them “smaller,” which forces your blood to circulate faster and better to and from your legs.
You can think of it like a garden hose – when you squeeze the hose, what happens? The water shoots out faster and stronger than before. Compression socks do the same thing to your legs.
Many, many people get swollen feet and legs while traveling. It’s very normal, and is not a health risk most of the time.
But, it can still be very painful and annoying to deal with.
For some people, the swelling persists for days at a time. The last thing you want is to finally arrive at your vacation destination only to deal with swelling for the first few days your there.
I was shocked the first time I wore compression socks on a long flight.
My legs felt great the entire time I was in the air, and I was incredibly limber when I got off of the plane.
Ever since then, I’ve always made sure to bring the best compression socks I can find while traveling.
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
DVT is a condition that occurs when blood flow decreases, causing blood to pool in your legs. The stagnant blood can lead to the formation of blood clots in your legs.
Blood clots are extremely dangerous and will often put you in the hospital for quite some time.
Extreme cases of DVT can result in a complication known as a pulmonary embolism, where the blood clot travels to your lungs through your bloodstream and causes all kinds of additional medical issues.
Evidence shows that compression socks can help prevent DVT by keeping the blood circulating normally in your legs.
DVT is closely associated with long flights, where you might be sitting in the same position for hours and hours at a time.
Compression socks are an excellent way to fight against DVT!
Plantar fasciitis is a fairly common condition that causes serious pain in the heel of your foot.
It happens when your plantar fascia (the ligament that connects your heel to your toes) gets strained, swollen, inflamed, etc.
This ligament is the one that supports the arch in your foot, and can get strained if you have high arches or flat feet, if you stand for extended periods of time, if you wear poorly fitting shoes, and so on.
Plantar fasciitis causes pain when you walk or stand.
Good compression socks help with plantar fasciitis by reinforcing your feet and adding support to that ligament.
There are mixed reviews on whether or not compression socks help deal with plantar fasciitis all the much, but enough people swear by them that you might as well give it a shot if you get a lot of foot pain.
How I tested the socks
I tested around 30 pairs of socks.
I wore each pair for at least three hours and during some form of travel.
I kept notes as I traveled, and assigned each pair of compression socks an informal grade based on how tight they were, how comfortable they were, and how sturdy they were during my travels.
Here’s what I found:
Best compression socks for travel – Vitalsox VT1211
They’re marketed for athletes as well, but I honestly haven’t found better compression socks for traveling.
Vitalsox really just checks all the boxes with this awesome sock.
These are graduated compression socks, which means they’re tighter around your ankle and slightly looser around your calves as it gets closer to your knee.
This causes a sort of pumping effect that prevents blood from pooling towards your feet.
These specific socks measures in at 12 mmHG towards your knee, increasing to 20 mmHG at your ankles.
I think this is the sweet spot for compression, and I’ve always been perfectly comfortable wearing these socks. They never feel too tight or too loose!
These guys use “Silver Drystat” fiber technology, which is supposed to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus on your feet.
It also wicks moisture away from your feet, which is a big deal for me. My feet can get very sweaty, and these socks did an awesome job of keeping them totally dry.
They come with built-in arch support, heel support, and angle support.
These socks are really just awesome. Seriously, if you want a quick answer, this is it. Go buy them now and see for yourself.
Best compression socks for traveling in style
I really do love compression socks, but a lot of them make you look like you’re about to go play soccer, or like you’re coming back from the ER with a leg bandage on.
I came across these bad boys and had to give them a shout out – the Nurse Mates Women’s Compression Trouser Socks.
Two things: yes, they are specifically marketed for women, and yes, I did actually try this on.
Now, I know a lot of men wouldn’t be comfortable wearing a knee-high sock that’s covered in pink stripes or floral patterns.
That being said, these are perfect for you stylish ladies out there, and make a fantastic gift as well.
They’re graduated compression socks as well, but they are a bit looser overall and feature less of a gradient in compression.
They measure 12 mmHG at towards your knee, and 14 mmHG down by your ankle.
I found them to be very comfortable, but if you prefer tighter compression socks you might want to look elsewhere.
Seriously though, check out some of those awesome patterns!
Best bulk buy compression socks
The one thing about compression socks is that they can get expensive fast.
You usually buy them one pair at a time, because they are much more involved than normal socks are.
This is problematic for those who need multiple pairs.
Luckily, Dr. Motion has you covered with a 6 pair pack of compression socks.
These guys are rated 8 mmHG up by your knees, increasing to 15 mmHG down by your ankles.
They come in a whole bunch of different colors, too. You can get six pairs that are all different colors, six that are all the same color, or six that all have different patterns on them.
These, again, are marketed for women, but I bought myself a pack and haven’t had any problems at all.
Best compression socks for traveling with plantar fasciitis
I have mild plantar fasciitis due to my ridiculously flat feet, so I know how it feels to suffer that constant pain day in and day out.
Out of all the compression socks I tested, I thought these low cut, “Heel Hugger” ankle compressive socks by Buttons & Pleats were by far the best plantar fasciitis-specific solution.
If you’re just looking for low cut compression socks in general, these are for you too.
They’re moisture-wicking, which I adore, and provide extra support for your ankle, heel, and arch.
The one thing about these socks is that they’re toe-less. That doesn’t bother me all that much, and I just put on a normal pair of socks right over these so that my toes weren’t out bare in my shoes.
The toe thing might be a deal breaker for some people, but it really wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be.
It actually felt kind of nice to wiggle my toes around in the open while still technically wearing a sock!
Well, there you have it!
I went out and wore way too many different socks so I could give you these four recommendations.
No matter what I say, remember that the best compression socks for traveling are the ones that feel good to you.
Just because I love the Vitalsox doesn’t mean they’re necessarily the best option for your personal needs.
No matter what type of compression sock you choose, you need to make sure it fits you well when you first put it on and after you’ve been wearing it for a few hours.
The last thing you want is realizing that you hate your socks during hour 8 of your day-long flight.