Compression Socks: Vitalsox -vs- Zensah

Disclaimer: The folks at Vitalsox (@vitalsox on twitter) were kind enough to send me a pair of their "Recovery Sock" compression socks to test wear and write a review of. Other than the product itself I have not been, nor will ever be compensated for this review.

I've actually been very excited about this as it is the first bona fide product review that I have done on my blog. I mean, yes, I've blogged about how awesome certain products that I use are (i.e. Smartwool Socks, Body Glide, Yak Trax, etc.) but I've never written a specific product review before...

I'd like to preface this review by saying I'm not here to get into the debate of whether or not compression is the real deal or all smoke and mirrors. I like compression. Big fan. Especially after races and long or particularly strenuous workouts. I find that compression really speeds along recovery and I'm not nearly as sore, if I'm sore at all, for the next day or two. Since just before the 2010 Boston Marathon I've been using the Zensah Leg Sleeves religiously. I'm not sold or convinced that the compression actually improves performance per se, but I like to wear the sleeves during races because they feel good. Maybe it's become a mental crutch, but so what. You should run happy in whatever you feel comfortable running in, right?

I have only one issue with the sleeves... I can't wear them more than a few hours at a time because they make my feet swell. I found this out after the first time I fell asleep with them on. Not a big deal, but not exactly pleasant. So, I've been talking to my wife about finding the "right" pair of compression socks to try out. Wouldn't you know, I received the Vitalsox Recovery Socks just before Christmas, and Santa brought me a pair of the Zensah Compression Socks for Christmas. Yay me! And perfect timing for me to write a comparative review.

My first impression of the Vitalsox Recovery were that they try to cram an awful lot of information onto the packaging and it looks a bit too busy. I mean, their target audience are runner's, triathlete's and other endurance athlete's who all tend to be a very well-informed bunch that do their research before seeking out a certain product. If we're out looking for a compression sock you don't need to sell us on the benefits of graduated compression by putting a bunch of information and illustrations all over your package. The Zensah packaging got it right. Simple. Black. With the Zensah name, logo, and "Compression Socks" printed on it. Or at least that's all I noticed before I removed it and threw it in the trash.

The Vitalsox Recovery Socks were white, with red logo, blue lettering and an arrow design to point you in the right direction like "insert foot this way!" Which I found kind of helpful in keeping them straight while working them onto your legs. They looked and felt a little more "clinical" than the Zensah Compression Socks. The Zensah's were black with silver toes and heels and were labeled L and R, but I haven't quite figured-out why. Just for fun I wore them on the wrong feet one day and didn't really notice a difference. Zensah says they have a "built-in arch support" on their website so maybe that was the reason, but there isn't a noticeable difference. The Vitalsox were also significantly lighter in construction and material. The Zensah were much thicker and heavier. At first try, the Vitalsox went on easy and felt a bit snug yet comfortable. The Zensah were quite difficult to put on and had significantly firmer compression. This is where the direct comparison needs to end however, as I've found that they are completely different products that each serve a purpose in an athlete's recovery.

The first time I tested the Vitalsox was after a 14 mile long run. I stretched, showered and put them on right away. I found them to give a comfortable, gentle compression. The DryStat fabric was also very breathable and kept my feet fairly cool and dry. Which I wasn't expecting at all as my feet usually don't agree with synthetic fibers and tend to sweat a lot when any synthetic fibers even touch them. Call me pleasantly surprised. However, when I put my shoes on to head to the mailbox, my feet began to sweat as usual. The Vitalsox were so comfortable in fact that I went to bed with them on. When I woke up in the morning my legs and feet felt fresh and ready to go with little or no residual soreness. Every time I've worn them since, I've had the same results.

I wore the Zensah for the first time after a particularly strenuous hill workout. I found them a little more difficult to put on, especially with damp legs out of the shower. But, once they were on they felt great. They gave the perfect amount of firm compression. In no time, I was bouncing around the house like I hadn't just flagellated myself on that hill. They were so comfortable that I decided to wear them to bed as well. Unfortunately, sometime around 130 am I woke-up and had to yank them off because they were squeezing the life out of my feet. Very uncomfortable to sleep in. Yet, my legs still felt great when I woke-up the next day.

After a couple of weeks of high-milage training while using both of these compression socks I've come to the conclusion that there is room in my routine for BOTH of them. They each give a different type of compression (though both are "graduated"), that has a place in every endurance athletes routine. If I feel I'm in need of an effective yet gentle compression (say, after a shorter or slower-paced run) I wear the Vitalsox Recovery Socks. If and when I feel I'm in need of a firmer compression after a longer or more strenuous run I put on my Zensah Compression Socks, and I put the Vitalsox on when I go to bed if I need to. Overall, I like both products and would highly recommend either product to anyone who asks about compression.

Now I just need to find a compression sock I can actually run in to complete my compression repertoire. Maybe I'll give the Smartwool Compression Socks a try for actually running in since I pretty much strictly run in their PhD Running socks. Anyone from Smartwool want to send me a pair? Speaking of running socks, Vitalsox also sent me a pair of their running socks. I must say with my penchant for merino wool or natural fiber running socks (like the above mentioned Smartwool) I wasn't very optimistic that I would like them as they are also made of the same DryStat material (a synthetic blend) as the Recovery Socks. I don't know if it has to do with the weave or exactly how they do it, but I was pleasantly surprised by the feel of these socks when I gave them a chance. First, I put them on and just wore them around the house all day and found them to be comfortable- Great cushion, and they kept my feet fairly cool and dry.

I decided I liked them enough to give them a shot on a 5 mile run. I found they performed well. It was a cold day out but they kept my feet comfortably warm and dry. I sensed a couple of hot spots forming, but I don't know if it was a mental thing or not, because in my head I knew they were synthetic. It's possible. Overall though, I'd say the Vitalsox running socks are comfortable and performed well above my initial expectations, but I'd still be hesitant to wear them on a long run (especially in the heat of the Summer). I'd like to thank Vitalsox again for letting me review their products. I actually really enjoyed the whole process of wear-testing and writing a review, and look forward to doing more of them in the future.

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  1. Wow! Great review, extremely detailed and well thought out. I second your smart wool obsession, they are seriously the best socks...EVER. I only have one pair of compression socks (I completely forget what brand they are) and they are a TOTAL life saver! One question in terms of recovery, do you use whey protein shakes after long runs? I've found that taking a shower, wearing compression socks and drinking a whey protein shake works WONDERS! I have snapped back to life in no time. Keep up the great work with training!! :)

  2. This is perfect! I was looking for a post-run sock. I have a pair of oxysox, and they've been great to run in, but I don't think they'd be tight enough for recovery.

  3. Kim, I usually have a Detour bar and a 12 oz glass of good old chocolate milk (skim) after long runs and speed work. I know it's old school but if you look at the nutrition profile, protein shakes/powders are really a waste of money IMHO... I'm glad you enjoyed the review!