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Plus Size Compression Socks for Travel: Pro Tips

You might think of compression socks as just for older travelers, but don’t sleep on this travel hack if you’re in a younger body- you’re about to learn exactly why this item is a MUST pack, regardless of size or age!

Let’s start with a question: Have you ever packed carefully for a trip, picked the perfect shoes for a day exploring on foot, and then discovered a HUGE blister forming at the end of your first full day on vacation?

Of course you have! All travelers are familiar with dreaded blisters during travel.

But here’s what you probably don’t know: Compression socks prevent blisters.1 We get blisters early in a trip usually not because of how much we walked, but because everyone’s feet change size slightly after a long trip by car, bus, or plane.

An illustration of legs and feet with and without compressions socks.

Swollen feet during travel happen to everyone- age 14, 40, or 74. For many of us, we don’t feel or see any swelling- but our blisters are the evidence that slight swelling caused our well broken-in shoes to fit a little differently, rub, and cause lasting discomfort. 

Compression socks, my friends, solve this and a few other common travel problems. Keep reading to learn how this packing list essential works. 

A plus size traveler ready for a long flight with compression socks and loosely tied sneakers.
Me, at Seatac Airport, wearing compression calf sleeves for a long flight.

How Plus Size Compression Socks Work 🧦

If you think compression socks sound uncomfortable- you’ve worn them wrong. Actually, most of us have been wearing them wrong. But more about that later. 

Exactly how do compression socks work? Well, they’ve been researched a lot. Here’s what researchers have learned:

  • 🩸 Symptomless deep venous thrombosis is common. It may occur in up to 10% of long haul airline travellers, concluded the authors of a study published in 2001.2 Compression socks, according to a meta-study, can reduce that occurrence below .25%3
  • 🧦 Compression socks improve performance. When we wear compression garments, they put pressure on our veins from the outside. This pressure makes our veins smaller, which helps blood flow faster and prevents blood from pooling in our veins. For all sizes and age groups, this can increase performance.4
  • 🩺 Compression socks are the easiest and most available way to prevent blood clots during travel5.
  • 🦶 These socks and leg sleeves have many benefits, including reducing swelling in the legs, and increasing blood flow6.
  • 💓 They also stop blood from flowing out of the tiny spaces in blood vessel walls, which can cause blood to clot7.
  • ✈️ Compression socks can also help muscles get more oxygen and heal better after being stressed during long flights. This is important for travelers because it can help us walk farther, with more energy and less discomfort on arrival.8.
Traveler wearing yellow shoes with blisters.

How to Fit Travel Compression Socks

Good travel compression socks shouldn’t feel like a tourniquet slowly wringing out your limbs. Instead, they should fit like a tender, even hug for your lower legs.

Good compressions socks should feel:

  • comfortable,
  • easy to keep on,
  • and snug enough to stay in place without pinching.

When worn well they alleviate some of the discomfort that’s inherent in being stuck in a tiny airplane seat with zero legroom for hours. As a plus size traveler smushed into undersized seats– I’ll take all the free comfort upgrades I can! 

How to Buy Compression Socks for Travel

Honestly, I’ve bought a lot of compression socks from airport shops only to toss them in the trash on arrival. I’d be 🌡️ hot, uncomfortable, or absolutely squashed.

Here’s how I learned to buy socks that I’m comfortable wearing for my whole flight: 

Choose the Right Size 🛍️

When shopping for the best plus-size travel compression socks, the first point to consider is their compression strength.

Here’re the two things I wish I knew when I was buying my first few pairs:

  1. Travel compression socks are sold by compression strength, which is referred to in mmHg (millimeters of mercury). For most plus-size travelers, a compression rating between 15-20 mmHg is just right. 
  2. The compression strength will be off if you buy the wrong size (which is especially easy to do when it comes to plus size compression socks) For this reason, it’s best to follow these steps:
    • go with a good brand (their product is more likely to be made to specification),
    • measure your leg before buying, and
    • choose the right size. 

How to Hack Compression Socks for Optimal Comfort

Here’s the real hack: 

Compression socks tend to fit unevenly. Buy a standard pair and there’s a 90% chance that either the foot will fit snug while the calf falls down and pools around your ankle or, the opposite, that you’ll be swimming in an oversized sock while slowly being strangled by a tourniquet-tight calf portion. 

Solve both problems by purchasing parts separately: You can purchase ankle-high compression socks and compression calf-sleeves individually. Purchase each in the right size, then pair them for ultimate in-flight comfort. 

The best way to get compression socks that fit- especially plus size compression socks- is to purchase compression calf sleeves and foot compression socks separately. Wear them together and you’ll have custom-fit lower leg compression that fits like it was made for you. 

An illustration of legs and feet wearing compressions socks and calf sleeves.

The Mechanics of Plus-Size Travel Compression Socks 🤔

Plus-size travel compression socks work by exerting pressure on your lower legs, promoting blood flow and reducing discomfort and swelling.

Graduated compression travel socks have an added benefit: they are engineered to apply more pressure at the ankle and gradually less towards the top, assisting blood flow back toward the heart. 🧠9

That study, which gathered and analyzed data from a number of studies, found a huge reduction in DVT cases after long-haul travel when study participants wore compression garments:

TravelersCases of Deep Vein ThrombosisPercentage
With Graduated Compression Socks2 people out of 12370.16%
Without Graduated Compression Socks46 people out of 12453.70%
data source: Hsieh, H. F., & Lee, F. P. (2005). Graduated compression stockings as prophylaxis for flight‐related venous thrombosis: systematic literature reviewJournal of Advanced Nursing51(1), 83-98.

The table now focuses so

What’s the Difference Between Travel and Medical Compression Socks? While they seem similar, travel compression socks and medical compression socks are designed for different needs. Medical compression socks usually have a higher compression rating, suitable for when a medical condition causes serious swelling.

Travel compression socks, on the other hand, have a lower compression level suitable for healthy individuals. They’re all about comfort and preventing circulation issues during long periods of immobility. ✈️🧦

The following section may contain affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases.

Best Plus-Size Travel Compression Socks: My Pick 🥇

The variety is endless, travelers. But if you want my personal opinion, I’ve achieved peak in-flight compression by combining Run Forever’s plus size calf compression sleeves (click here to shop for them on Amazon) with TechWare Pro’s  Ankle Compression Socks (shop here on Amazon).

Traveler wearing black knee-high compression socks

Recommendations from the Wander Big Community

I recently polled our community about their favorite compression socks for travel. Here’s what they had to say:

  • BAMS Compression Socks. During our survey of plus size travelers, we heard several times that the size range for BAMS is great for finding the perfect fit. As one person shared, “I have chonky legs, but the XXL size fit me well. They are comfortable and provide the desired compression support.” You can click here to shop for them on Amazon.
  • VIM & VIGR Compression Socks and Sleeves. If you like the feel of sleeves over a full sock, VIM & VIGR has several sleeve options in three sizes to accommodate a wide range of calf sizes. As an added bonus, their full line comes in fun patterns. Find the sleeves on Amazon.
  • Blitzu Compression Socks. Someone in our community mentioned that Blitzu compression socks are available in various formats and strengths, allowing you to choose the fit and level of compression that suits you best. The Blitzu toeless socks are great if you prefer to keep your toes free! You can click here to shop for Blitzu compression socks on Amazon.

Shopping for Plus-Size Travel Compression Socks 📍

Shopping for compression socks- especially for plus size folks- can be a challenge. While I’ve resorted to online ordering (which, for this kind of product involves managing a lot of returns) there are still some places where you can go to try on compression socks before buying. Usually, you can find them at:

  1. Local Medical Supply Stores: Medical supply stores in your area usually have a range of compression socks- although they might not have travel compression socks.  Call ahead to check if they have plus-size options available.
  2. Athletic and Outdoor Retailers: Stores specializing in athletic gear or outdoor equipment may carry compression socks for exercise recovery- these socks are usually multi-use, including travel. Call ahead to see if they offer plus-size options.
  3. Pharmacies and Drugstores: Many pharmacies and drugstores carry compression socks, but their selection is often limited to medical-grade compression socks intended to treat health conditions that require a higher level of compression. 
  4. Online Retailers: Currently, for those of us who need a variety of options for cut, fit, and size, online shopping is the best option for getting the right level of compression. If your departure is approaching soon, I recommend ordering a few pair of compression socks in anticipation that some may need to be returned after your trip 

Note: despite what a salesperson at a medical supply store might tell you, medical compression socks and travel compression socks are not the same thing!

Here’re some ways that they’re different, and why you should be sure to buy appropriate socks for travel: 

AspectMedical Compression SocksTravel Compression Socks
PurposeAddress medical conditions like DVT, edema, varicose veinsPrevent leg swelling and discomfort during travel
Compression LevelHigher compression levelsModerate compression levels
Graduated CompressionYesSometimes
Insurance CoverageMay be covered by insurance for specific medical conditionsNot covered by insurance
FittingCustom-fitted based on measurementsStandard and plus sizes available, one-size-fits-most
Recommended UsageSpecific medical conditionsTravel, long journeys

How and When to Wear Plus-Size Travel Compression Socks 👟

If you want the full benefits of compression socks, make sure to put on your compression socks right before boarding your flight and keep them on throughout the entire journey.

The key reason behind wearing compression socks during travel is to prevent leg swelling and enhance blood circulation. Removing the compression socks halfway through your journey may still give some benefits, but not the full effect. By wearing compression socks the whole time, you actively apply gentle pressure to your legs, encouraging healthy blood flow and preventing fluid buildup.10

Because travel compression socks offer gentle compression, they’re safe to wear for up to 16-18 hours. For exceptionally long trips like those from North America to Asia or Australia, travelers may want to remove their compression socks and walk during layovers, or remove the compression socks for an hour during a flight to massage the calf and foot. 

According to Minesh Khatri, MD, an exercise called a “Seated March” in which you “lift your knee up toward your chest, return your foot to the floor, then do the same with your opposite leg” can be a way to increase blood flow when you remove the compression sleeves or socks. 

The Final Word on Plus-Size Travel Compression Socks 👣

In conclusion, travel compression socks are a must-pack item for all travelers, regardless of age or body size. They help prevent blisters caused by foot swelling during trips and offer numerous benefits for circulation and comfort.

A helpful hack is to combine ankle-high compression socks with calf sleeves for a custom-fit lower leg compression.

  1. Pearl, B. (2014) The Evolution of Socks and Compression Sleeves. Podiatry & Footwear. []
  2. Samena, C. (2001). Compression stockings may help prevent deep vein thrombosisBMJ322(7296), 1200. []
  3. Hsieh, H. F., & Lee, F. P. (2005). Graduated compression stockings as prophylaxis for flight‐related venous thrombosis: systematic literature reviewJournal of Advanced Nursing51(1), 83-98. []
  4. Broatch, James R.1,2; Bishop, David J.1,3; Zadow, Emma K.4; Halson, Shona2,5. Effects of Sports Compression Socks on Performance, Physiological, and Hematological Alterations After Long-Haul Air Travel in Elite Female Volleyballers. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 33(2):p 492-501, February 2019. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003002  []
  5.   Hsieh, H. & Lee, F. (2005). Graduated compression stockings as prophylaxis for flight-related venous thrombosisJournal of Advanced Nursing, 51 (1), 83-98. []
  6. MacRae BA, Cotter JD, Laing RM. Compression garments and exercise: garment considerations, physiology and performance. Sports Med. 2011 Oct 1;41(10):815-43. doi: 10.2165/11591420-000000000-00000. PMID: 21923201. []
  7. Schreijer AJ, Cannegieter SC, Meijers JC, Middeldorp S, Büller HR, Rosendaal FR. Activation of coagulation system during air travel: a crossover study. Lancet. 2006 Mar 11;367(9513):832-8. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)68339-6. PMID: 16530577. []
  8. Kraemer WJ, Hooper DR, Kupchak BR, Saenz C, Brown LE, Vingren JL, Luk HY, DuPont WH, Szivak TK, Flanagan SD, Caldwell LK, Eklund D, Lee EC, Häkkinen K, Volek JS, Fleck SJ, Maresh CM. The effects of a roundtrip trans-American jet travel on physiological stress, neuromuscular performance, and recovery. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2016 Aug 1;121(2):438-48. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.00429.2016. Epub 2016 Jun 9. PMID: 27283914. []
  9. Hsieh, H. F., & Lee, F. P. (2005). Graduated compression stockings as prophylaxis for flight‐related venous thrombosis: systematic literature reviewJournal of Advanced Nursing51(1), 83-98. []
  10. Clarke, M. J., Broderick, C., Hopewell, S., Juszczak, E., & Eisinga, A. (2021). Compression stockings for preventing deep vein thrombosis in airline passengersCochrane database of systematic reviews, (4). []


Saturday 13th of January 2024

Thanks so much for the tip about separate socks and sleeves. I have really small feet so all the compression socks I had looked at were several inches too long in the foot to get the calf big enough. Problem solved. Thanks!