Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Review of Balega socks by @balega

To run with or without socks is a question that haunts beginner and experienced triathletes. It may even cause nightmares and painful blisters for those brave enough to experiment. There are numerous articles and forum threads dedicated to the idea that eliminating socks in transition will lead to great savings in time trying to put socks on wet feet. Many offer their two cents on what to do to eliminate painful sores and blisters that might result from going sockless.

If you’re crazy or dedicated enough to go without socks to save a few seconds, more power to you. The majority of age groupers shouldn’t have to go through the pain, anguish and anxiety of messing with going sockless since it probably won’t get them a podium spot or overall win. Blisters and days of agony versus saving some seconds in transition, which is better? Then the question arises about what socks work the best. Some socks are better than others when it comes to reducing blisters and foot sores from rubbing shoes. Some are meant more for fashion and others are meant more for function. There are a litany of sock companies out there jockeying to get a hold of your disfigured toenails and smelly feet. Crew, no show, ankle socks, compression socks, padded socks, minimalist socks or toe socks, so many choices.

Balega socks hopes to make your decision a little easier. Maybe they won’t answer which is the best sock for you, but they hope to provide any sock you may need.

From their site, “Our story is as rich and vivid as the country from which we come: South Africa. Balega is a Zulu word which has no literal translation but means ‘to move with speed.’”

They have US and South Africa bases where they are looking to get a toehold in the sock market (pun intended). In doing so, they reached out to us and graciously provided 3 different styles of socks to review.

If you don’t get the right size, you’ll pay the price.

Whether they bunch up from being too large, or don’t cover enough from being too small, runners need socks that fit correctly. Socks, like a lot of other apperal, may vary in size from manufacturer to manufacturer. For this review, we went off the shoes size of men’s 12 / 11 and errored on the side of caution and went with a large size per the sizing chart. Historically medium sizes have been the correct sizing as a multitude of socks lines are larger than they should be for the shoe size they recommend.

Thankfully Balega held true to their sizing chart. The large size fit our feet perfectly. There was ample length above the ankle to reduce shoe friction and avoid toe scrunching to make the sock fit.

Some people are black and white.
And some people want neon orange and pink. Balega offers a variety of styles and colors. They use their trademark logo on the socks, but finding a style and color that fits your personality or race kit shouldn’t be an issue. They don’t offer witty phrases or cute logo’s like some more novelty sock lines, but that’s not what Balega is after.

What do you need?
If you need compression, blister protection, more cushion, lightweight, minimalist, performance, hidden, soft thread for men or women, Balega wants to offer you a solution. There’s no shortage of choices. There’s also no shortage of brick-and-mortar stores that you can shop Balega at. They might not carry all of the lines, but you can find them at most running and multisport stores.

Do they deliver?
We took their cushioned blister resistant, merino enduro and ultra light weight socks for a few runs. From 2 and a half hour long runs to sprint intervals, and including some bike rides, Balega was on our feet. It also needs to be noted, we used the same lubricants from previous workouts for anti-chafing and blister protection. From historical experience and trial and error, along with socks we use a liberal supply of anti-chafing cream. These runs were no different.

After it was all said and done, after sweat had run into the shoes, we stood on the mountaintop blister and sore free. Putting on Balega cushioned blister resistant socks was like sex for the feet. It felt right. It felt good. It felt natural. If you’re the type of triathlete that can’t wait to get home and walk around barefoot, then you’ll be singing a new tune with these socks. You keep them on because you don’t even notice they are still on. This fit and feel so natural, they become a silent partner in crime.

They don’t shed, they don’t snag and there aren’t random threads coming out with wear. Granted, we only tried them out for a few weeks, but with multiple uses and multiple washes, they took the pounding of running and biking shoes.

On the note of biking shoes, with the snug fit, extra cushioned socks pose a problem with cramping toe space. The best bet for a typical bike shoe to sock setup is thin socks. Their ultra light weight socks served the purpose well. They will hold up to a ride and run without blister issues. Do notice that this still requires anti-chafing lubrication for precaution, but they do the job.

Biking, running, it didn’t make a difference for performance.

What’s the damage?
If you head to their site, you can snag some socks directly around the $10 to $13 mark for a pair. Internet savvy shoppers can get them for less, around $6 to $7. That’s pretty much the sweet spot for most any pair of running socks. The playing field is level on price, it then comes down to quality and performance.

Is Balega special?
Well, they’re not Adidas, Nike or Reebok. They don’t have millions of dollars at their disposal for testing and marketing, but their product is equal to the big boys. What does stand apart from other big box manufacturers is two points;
  1. They manufacture their products in Cape Town, South Africa. When someone mentions workout apparel, usually Singapore, Taiwan or some other country comes to mind. They may not have any better or worse working conditions for their plant, but it’s a different location than most would imagine.
  2. The socks actually are true to the sizing chart. We were a little worried with the large size that they could be too big. No one wants to run in socks where the heel portion is around your achilles and above your ankle because the recommended sizing chart was bogus. Balega was right on. It’s comforting to take some of the fear out of the sizing guessing game when you are ordering online.

Overall Balega is a great option. We were a little leery when the offer came through, but were pleasantly surprised when we tried them out. These test pairs should serve their purpose well for at least this coming season of training and racing. They have performed admirably enough to be added to the rotation in the sock drawer and not just stuffed in the back to be forgotten unless we moved again.

Stay tuned for a long-range report after the season.

* Writer’s note - Balega shipped three pairs of socks to us for this review. In no way did they influence this review.
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