If you’ve ever struggled with swollen feet during a long flight or car ride—or worse, suffered deep vein thrombosis (DVT)—you know wearing a snug pair of compression socks is a must when traveling.
After long periods of sitting still, like on a plane or in a car, 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 a pulmonary embolism, which can be life threatening.
It’s important to get up and move around during a flight or make frequent pit stops on road trips, but wearing compression socks while traveling is beneficial for everyone because they can improve circulation and prevent swelling in your feet and legs.
As you get older, your doctor may recommend you wear compression socks after surgery or before you fly. However, people of any age and fitness levels can benefit from them while traveling.
How do compression socks work?
Compression socks typically look like regular knee-high socks but have various compression levels built in from the toe to just under the knee that gently squeeze your ankles and calves to keep blood flowing toward your upper leg.
What should you look for in a compression sock?
You’ll first want to look for the level of compression—or mmHg—they provide. The higher the number, the more pressure you’ll feel on your legs. If you go too tight, it can be a struggle to get them on and off, plus they can pinch after wearing them for only a few hours, causing the dreaded “leg sausage” sensation.
Mild levels of compression—between 8–15 mmHg and 15–20 mmHg—will provide light amounts of pressure to your leg and are a good choice for long travel days. Higher levels of compression, like 20–30 mmHg to 30–40 mmHg, are generally the levels doctors will prescribe. (If your doctor prescribes them, be sure to get the compression level he or she recommends.)
After compression levels, you should also look for what kind of material the socks are made with (cotton, wool, and bamboo tend to be softer than cheap nylon versions) and also fun colors, if you don’t want to look like you’re wearing boring medical socks. Here are three of our favorite pairs of compression socks that outpace other brands in sheer comfort and style.
Comrad TimberWool Compression Socks
- Buy now: $32, comradsocks.com
- MmHg level: 15–20 mmHg
- Materials: 42 percent nylon, 37 percent lyocell, 16 percent merino wool, 5 percent elastane
Sock company Comrad offers a variety of styles, fits, and compression support to choose from, but for long flights and travel, we’re most excited about its new TimberWool Compression Socks. These medium-support socks are made from a blend of tree fibers and merino wool, which is a kind of magic fabric for travelers: odor resistant, moisture-wicking, and somehow able to keep you cool when it’s warm but warm when it’s cold. Nowhere are these features more appreciated than in your socks, especially ones you plan to wear for hours on end.
Comrad socks come in unisex sizing. Small fits U.S. women’s size 4–6, medium is for women’s 6–10 (men’s 4-9), large is for men’s 9–12 (women’s 10+), and extra large is for men’s 12–15. Comrad socks also have extended calf sizes. (Both medium wide and large wide provide an additional two inches.)
Ostrichpillow Bamboo Compression Socks
- Buy now: $25 (regularly $29), ostrichpillow.com
- Exclusive discount code: Use code “AFARSOCKS15" from August 4 to September 30, 2023, to get 15 percent off
- MmHg level: 8–15 mmHg
- Materials: 50 percent bamboo, 25 percent recycled polyester, 10 percent recycled nylon, 15 percent spandex
Ostrichpillow is known for its ultra-comfy travel pillows, but its compression socks for travelers are also worth checking out. Made from an ecofiber blend of soft bamboo and recycled polyester and nylon, these unisex socks come in three sizes and colors.
The S is EU size 35.5–38 (approximately suited for U.S. women’s sizes 5.5–8), M is EU size 38.5–41 (approximately U.S. women’s size 8.5–11), while the L is best for EU size 42–46 (approximately U.S. women’s 11.5–14). These socks are available in three colors—a mismatched bright blue and yellow combo, a light blue and teal combo, and a red and muted green combo.
In addition to being sustainable, the bamboo material these socks are made with have antimicrobial properties that help ward off bad smells. Other thoughtful details include cushioned soles for comfort, plus reinforced heels and toes for durability.
Bombas Everyday Compression Socks
- Buy now: Women’s Everyday Compression Socks, $28, bombas.com; Men’s Everyday Compression Socks, $28, bombas.com
- MmHg level: 15–20 mmHg
- Materials: 64 percent cotton, 17 percent polyester, 13 percent nylon, 6 percent spandex
Bombas makes its Everyday Compression Socks with medium 15–20 mmHg compression levels, a special honeycomb knit arch support system (great for people with high arches), as well as a seamless toe, a Y-stitched heel, and above-the-heel cushioning that extends to the toe. All of these small details make them some of the most comfortable compression socks on the market.
Both the men’s and women’s socks come in three different sizes. A women’s small fits U.S. shoe size 4–7.5, medium covers 8–10.5, and large fits size 11–13. The men’s medium fits U.S. shoe size 6–9, large fits 9.5–13, and extra large fits 13.5–16. Both men’s and women’s socks come in a variety of different colors, including basic black, white, and gray, plus seasonal releases.
In addition to the medium 15–20 mmHg level of compression, Bombas also makes these socks in the firmer 20–30 mmHg, if your doctor recommends a higher level of compression. In addition to the cotton compression socks it introduced in 2019, Bombas now also makes performance compression socks with a sweat-wicking blend of polyester/nylon/spandex for runners.
As with all other Bombas sock purchases, for every pair of socks purchased it will donate another pair to a homeless shelter or other community organization.
Jessie Beck contributed reporting to this article. This article was originally published in 2020; it was updated on August 10, 2023, with current information.