The Best Compression Socks for Air Travel

Laura Lopuch

Approaching hour 24 of straight travel, you’re not sure which feels more tired: your gritty eyes or your achy legs.

Well, take out your contacts and put your glasses on to solve your gritty eyes.

As for your achy legs?

Pack a pair of compression socks on your next trip. They have a multitude of benefits for airline travel. Here’s why.

What are Compression Socks?

Compression socks are tight, stretchy socks (or tights!) that gently squeeze your leg. Think of them as a hug for your blood vessels. Because the pressure from these stockings relaxes your arteries, letting your blood flow freely.

Also, compression socks keep your legs from getting tired and achy.

Benefits of Compression Socks for Travel

According to WebMD, the following people need/use compression socks:

    • People with or at risk for circulation problems, like DVT, varicose veins, or diabetes
    • People recovering from surgery
    • Peopole who are bed ridden or mobility challenged
    • People who stand all day at work
    • Athletes
    • Pregnant women
    • People who spend long stretches of time on airplanes, like pilots (or frequent travelers)

AmericanVein.com has a few other qualifiers for compression sock benefits:

  • You spend prolonged periods of time standing, sitting, traveling on airplanes, or in vehicles
  • You experience heavy, achy, or restless legs
  • You have visible signs of venous insufficiency (i.e. varicose veins, ankle swelling, or skin discoloration in the lower third of the legs)

Okay, let’s be honest: how many of those qualifiers did you shake your head “yes” to?

At least the one saying “you spend prolonged periods of time traveling on airplanes,” am I right?

Kintec.net explains why compression socks are beneficial — nay, essential — for airplane travel:

“When we sit on a plane or at a desk all day, blood has a tendency to pool in our feet. It is hard for blood to fight gravity and get back to the heart. Over time, this can lead to a break-down of the valve system in the veins. When you fly, you are relatively immobilized and sedentary. Not only are you sitting, but you cannot often stretch out and so your knees and hips are bent for many hours. This negatively affects blood flow through these areas, in addition to the poor gravity-fighting properties I mentioned earlier.

Lastly, while an airplane is partially pressurized, there is a change in pressure compared to ground level. All this can lead to Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVTs), which has recently garnered attention in the media. A DVT is a blood clot in the lower leg. Not only are there serious health implications with DVTs, but they can also reduce your chances of future air travel.”

In other words, my friends, if you want to keep your jetsetting ways, buy a pair of compression socks.

Your heart will thank you.

Types of Compression Socks

Like degrees of roast in coffee beans, compression socks come in varying degrees of compression. What does that mean? Degrees pressure or tightness in socks are measured in millimeters of Mercury (mmHg) they’ll put on your legs.

Here’s your cheat sheet on compression rankings:

  • Light: 10-15 mmHg
  • Mild: 15-20 mmHg
  • Moderate: 20-30 mmHg
  • Firm 30-40 mmHg

The higher compression levels are usually prescribed if you have more severe venous or medical needs.

Which Level of Compression Do You Need?

Berkeley Wellness says:  

  • Mild (under 15 mmHg) is for healthy people (think: pregnant women with tired legs from standing all day)
  • Moderate (15-20 mmHg) prevents DVT (deep vein thrombosis) in airline passengers… like you!
  • High (over 20 mmHg) is medical-grade for varicose veins, edema, and preventing blood clots post-surgery

Compression Socks Option: Socks, Thigh-High, or Tights

The next step is to determine how much of a compression sock you need. By which I mean, do you need a thigh or waist-high stocking? Or just socks? Or maybe knee-high?

The Mayo Clinic offers some guidance: “Stockings that rise to just below the knee help limit lower leg swelling due to fluid buildup” (i.e. what happens when you fly) as compared to thigh or waist-high compression stockings which reduce pooling of blood in your legs.  

A recent study found “high-quality evidence” that compression stockings prevent DVT in airline passengers, concluding that you can expect a substantial reduction in symptomless DVT.

In other words, you’ll want at least compression knee-high socks. Regardless of your age. Based purely on the fact that you fly.

Or if you take long road trips. Speaking of which, I’ve got one coming up and should remember to pack my compression tights.

Best Compression Socks for Travel

Physix Gear Compression Socks ($26)

With over 8,000 reviews on Amazon, these don’t-look-like-a-compression-sock socks scored a stellar 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Instead, these knee-high compression socks look like high-quality athletic sock. Which is exactly what they’re going for: to help your inner athlete go faster, stronger, longer… to catch that last-minute flight. Perfect for men and women.

As one customer says:

“Amazing product! The design and the colors are fantastic! I’ve bought a lot of compression socks over the years as I travel overseas quite a lot, and these are so much more comfortable than the one I purchased in the past.”

Mojo’s Opaque Compression Stockings, Open Toe, Firm Support – Black ($19)

With 20-30mmHg compression, these surgical-weight compression stockings give you the exact graduated compression your doctor recommended to combat poor circulation, edema, chronic venous insufficiency, and varicose veins.

Knee-high length, reinforced heel, open toe, with short lengths available for petite frames… you’ve got options galore.

Thanks to their firm fit, they’ll be harder to pull on.

Why go with a toe-less option? This reviewer explains:

“I love these socks. I needed compression socks for travel, but a lot of the compression socks are too hot and I’m ripping them off before they have completed their job. Having the toes exposed allow my feet to remain cool and I’ve been able to wear them overnight without issue.”

RejuvaWear Black Footless Legging ($70)

These leggings are perfect for travel — and wearing compression socks incognito. But don’t take my word for it.

One customer says:

These leggings are a great option for when you don’t want to wear socks – especially during travel! The fit of these takes a while to get used to since they don’t feel like normal leggings and there is much more compression around the derriere. All in all, very happy with my purchase!“

Another customer raves:

“I just love these fashion forward legging! No one ever guesses these are compression wear! Great quality and great price!”

Made with 15-20 mmHg compression, these leggings are designed to relieve swelling, aching, heaviness, & fatigue. May not prevent delayed flight, but promises a comfortable, pinch-free belly thanks to a 4” wide tummy band.

TOFLY Thigh High Compression Stocking ($28)

Tap into your inner sexy babe with these thigh-high compression socks. A row of silicone beads keep the stockings in place, ooo la la. If you’re not pregnant, ignore the maternity labeling — because when a product works, it works.

As one Amazon reviewer raves:

“For compression stockings, very easy to put on. I wore them on an airplane trip, and they were comfortable. I like the tops , as they hugged the thigh and stayed put. I would highly recommend!”

Another reviewer put them through a more rigorous test:

“Love these compression socks, they are super comfortable yet with great pressure. It holds well on top allowing me to run errands and even workout without worrying they are going to fall. I am buying a second pair soon!”

BeFit24’s Compression Tights For Women, 120 DEN. Class 2 ($50)

These top-notch compression panty-hose-style tights are medical-grade. They’re specially designed for support of DVT, varicose veins, and venous thromboembolic events, which are thrombosis of deep veins, lower limb saphenous veins (thrombophlebitis) and thromboembolism of the pulmonary artery.

One reviewer raves:

“High quality, comfortable compressions/support tights. These tights give fantastic support. Other cheaper tights I have worn previously have pulled against my toes and become more and more uncomfortable as I’ve worn them. This was not the case with these tights which proved very comfortable once on. Bought to wear after sclerotherapy treatment.”

Perfect if you’re a mature traveler — ahem, referring to your age not humor level — and need extra support to prevent tired legs on long days.

How Many Compression Socks for Travel do I Need?

The experts recommend you wash your compression stockings daily, after every use. A friend of mine who wears compression socks says she’ll wear them 2-3 times on alternate days to give the compression time to breathe.

So, you’ll need at least two pairs of compression socks. One to wear and one to wash.

TL;DR

A huge benefit of wearing compression socks when you fly is preventing achy legs or blood clots from forming. Plus, you get the added benefits of preventing varicose veins, DVT, and a host of other awful things when your blood doesn’t flow properly.

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