Welcome to AFAR Approved: a deep dive into the travel items that we’re totally obsessed with, never leave behind, and can’t stop telling our friends about.
Right before I turned 30, it happened to me the first time. After a cross-country flight to visit my family in San Francisco, I went to slip my shoes back on as we neared landing and realized my feet had swelled so much I could barely fit them inside my sneakers. As I wobbled off the plane, I figured that’s what I deserve for being that person who takes her shoes off on a flight. But it soon dawned on me that this could lead to something that frequent fliers dread: Deep vein thrombosis, or DVT.
After long periods of sitting still, like on a plane, DVT can occur “when a blood clot forms in one or more of the deep veins in your body, usually in your legs,” according to the Mayo Clinic. If one of these blood clots breaks loose and travels through your bloodstream to your lungs, it can cause pulmonary embolism, which can be life threatening.
So for my 30th birthday present to myself (womp, womp), I bought my first pair of compression socks: a cheap, nylon pair off Amazon. They’re meant to help improve circulation and prevent swelling, especially during long hauls (and as long as you don’t forget to get up and move around during a flight), though the struggle to get them on and off was real. They’re almost unbearably tight and hurt after wearing them for just a few hours (the phrase that comes to mind when I wear them is “leg sausage”). Thankfully, along came Bombas—the brand that makes the perfect no-show socks that never, ever slip down—with brand new compression socks in 2019.
Bombas compression socks are made with super soft cotton with mild or firm compression levels (that’s 15–20 mmHg or 20–30 mmHG of medical-grade compression, if you want to get technical) built in from the toe to just under the knee to keep blood flowing toward your upper leg. After trying out a pair of the Bombas 15–20 mmHg compression socks, I found that they outpace other brands in sheer comfort and value.
While waiting to board a flight back to New York from San Francisco recently, I slipped them on at my gate. Compared to the generic compression socks I usually travel with, I found these much easier to pull on. They definitely felt tighter than regular socks, but I didn’t have to battle with them. Once they were on (they went up to directly below my knee), it felt like my entire calf was being swaddled in a warm hug—or what I imagine those thunder shirts feel like for dogs. Bombas have a special honeycomb knit arch support system, which is really nice for people who have high arches like me. They also come with a seamless toe, a Y-stitched heel, and above-the-heel cushioning that extends to the toe, making them the most comfortable compression socks I’ve ever worn.
I slipped on the socks just before 2 p.m. California time and did not take them off until I got back to my apartment in New York right after 1 a.m. EST. After wearing them for about eight hours, there was definitely an imprint on my calves below the knee where the top—and tightest—part of the sock hit my leg. But for the entire flight, I forgot I was even wearing compression socks. My legs didn’t itch or feel pinched like when I wore generic compression socks. Most importantly, I didn’t experience any swelling or discomfort as I have on long flights without compression socks.
If you’re eager to try them out yourself, you have plenty of options for sizes, compression levels, and colors. The women’s socks are available in three different sizes: The small fits U.S. shoe size 4–7.5, medium covers 8–10.5, and large fits size 11–13. In addition to the mild 15–20 mmHg level of compression, they now come in the firmer 20–30 mmHg, if your doctor recommends a higher level of compression. In terms of color, there are nearly a dozen options from basic gray to cotton candy pink, so you can either hide them under your pants or make them pop. These are definitely not boring medical socks.
Buy Now: Women’s Compression Socks, $24, bombas.com
The men’s socks are also available in the same two levels of compression as well as three sizes, including U.S. shoe size 6–9 (medium), 9.5–13 (large), and 13.5–16 (extra large). In terms of colors, expect more basic shades of black, white, gray, and navy.
Buy Now: Men’s Compression Socks, $24, bombas.com
A single pair of socks starts at $24 and you can get a three-pack for $72. (For reference, a pair of similarly “stylish” compression socks from other brands like Vim&Vigr, Figs, and Comrad run from $28 to $36 per pair.)
Before you bemoan the lameness of gifting socks, keep in mind that you’ll not only be making your loved ones more comfortable on their next flight, but also helping others since Bombas has a buy one, donate one policy that has contributed more than 50 million items to homeless shelters since it was founded in 2013. So you better believe all of my immediate family members are getting a pair of these socks (and I may just pick up pair or two for myself).
This article originally appeared online on December 11, 2019; it was updated in November 2020, April 2021, and November 2021, to reflect current information.