Shin splints, plantar fasciitis, and plain-old foot fatigue are a few of the foot conditions that can turn your time on the trails into torture if you clad your feet in anything less than the ideal socks for your needs.
There is, however, a way to ensure you avoid all of the above ailments…
…swapping out your regular socks for a great pair of compression socks.
These socks apply pressure to your legs and feet, stimulating blood flow and providing extra support and protection. A sartorial staple of other sports for decades, in recent years this sock style has become more and more popular with hikers thanks to their ability to prevent aches, swelling, and fatigue in your legs and feet.
Below, we aim to help you find the ideal pair for your future adventures. We’ll start with a guide to what to look for when buying and then get down to a review of the best options out there in 2023.
Table of Contents
- Editor’s Choice
- What to Consider When Buying Compression Socks
- Reviews of the Best Compression Socks for Hiking
Comfortable, high-performing, and affordable to boot, Sockwell’s Circulator compression socks for men and women are a great choice for anyone looking to upgrade their outdoor hosiery.
This moderate-compression sock does it all. It’s durable, less prone to pilling than its peers, lightweight, and uses a seamless toe that prevents blisters and chafing at the front of the feet. These socks also excel in moisture management. They wick sweat as well as any other compression sock we know and dry in next to no time after washing or a downpour.
Bottom line: A supportive, hard-wearing, and super-comfortable sock that pips its peers to the title of best compression socks for hiking on account of peerless performance across the board.
What to Consider When Buying Compression Socks
Blood vessels in your legs work hard to circulate blood. But when you overwork them on long treks or runs, that circulation is disrupted and blood pools in different areas. This causes your feet to swell and become painful. This is why many hikers opt to wear models with graduated compression. These socks help improve circulation by placing extra pressure on your feet and lower legs, much like a massage.
Compression socks are classified according to how much pressure they exert. This is measured by millimeters of mercury or mmHg. When you’re looking at the compression rating, all you have to remember is that the lower the rating, the less pressure the sock will exert on your feet.
Compression ratings are grouped into low, moderate, or high:
- Low: 15 mmHg and below
- Moderate: 15 to 25 mmHg
- High: over 25 mmHg
Gentle and low-compression models can be used for any activity. High-compression varieties, on the other hand, are considered medical-grade, and traditionally have been used to aid recovery from surgeries or conditions like spider veins, deep vein thrombosis, or blood clots.
Nowadays, however, more and more hiking enthusiasts are being converted, wearing compression socks for added support during a long day on the trails and speedier recovery times post-hiking.
Generally speaking, the best options for hiking are those with a moderate rating. These will be tight enough to provide ample support without overdoing the pressure applied to your legs and feet. To play it safe, however, we recommend starting off with a low-compression option and working your way up.
As with the best hiking underwear, choosing a sock with the right blend of fibers is the way to go. Typically, the best blends include natural fibers like merino wool or bamboo and synthetics like nylon, spandex, and polyester.
Bamboo and merino wool are quick-drying, breathable, as comfortable as fabrics come, and super soft on the skin. Synthetics like nylon, elastane, and polyester, on the other hand, add both durability and long-lasting dimension stability, meaning they help your socks keep their shape.
The ideal sock brings the best of both worlds by combining natural materials and synthetics. Those that use higher merino content are usually pricier but more breathable, quick-drying, and odor-resistant. Those with higher synthetic content, conversely, are usually harder-wearing and cheaper but also less resistant to odors and less high-performing.
Warmth & Wicking
Wicking refers to a fabric’s ability to transport water from your skin to the fabric’s surface, where it can then evaporate. This not only helps avoid the generally icky feeling of damp feet but also helps prevent blisters and cold feet—when sweat or rainwater cools down, it can transport heat away from your body much faster than air.
Products made from wool are generally the best as regards both wicking capacity and warmth. Wool continues to insulate even when wet and wool fibers, unlike synthetic ones, are porous. This means they shift sweat while it’s still a vapor and before it’s able to saturate the fabric.
Style or Cut
When buying hiking compression socks, try to match the style or cut to your activity type and individual needs.
Compression socks are designed to provide a tight fit, so we recommend shooting a size up for starters. This will prevent inhibiting healthy circulation or likely to or tear on account of pressure from your feet. But also be wary of going too big. Oversize models are likely to negate the socks’ compressive capacity and can also lead to blisters.
Low-cut models offer less support for your calves but are a good choice for hiking in warmer weather. In contrast, knee-cuts offer more coverage, so they provide added insulation, protection, and compression around your shin and calves.
Many compression socks also use cushioned soles. This provides added comfort and arch support and provides the stability needed by flat-footed hikers who are prone to injuring their ankles.
Reviews of the Best Compression Socks for Hiking
Injinji Ultra Compression OTC SockBest Sock for Blister-Prone Feet
The Injinji OTC is a great sock for hikers whose feet are prone to blistering and who need extra arch support in a lightweight sock.
We’re used to socks with a single sleeve to fit all five toes, not something that looks like a glove for the feet. But there’s a distinct and effective method to Injinji’s madness. This seamless, five-toe design reduces the friction that causes blisters, with each “sleeve” promoting toe alignment and separation and thereby minimizing rubbing and skin-to-skin contact.
With a blend of 20% lycra and 80% nylon, this moderate-level compression sock is naturally moisture-wicking and quick-drying. It also incorporates a band that provides arch support, a breathable mesh top to keep your legs cool, and an attractive and colorful design with reflectors to enhance visibility.
The only downsides to the Injinji Ultra Compression Sock are its durability and firmness. The material is much tougher than merino blends and also wears out much more quickly, meaning longevity’s far from its forte.
- Five-toe style
- Good arch support
- Extensive ventilation panels
- Attractive design
- Not very durable
- Not as soft as merino alternatives
Bottom-Line: The Injinji Ultra Compression OTC Sock lacks the breathability and durability of a wool compression sock, but its blister-preventing features and added ventilation make it a solid choice for hiking in higher temps nevertheless.
Sockwell CirculatorBest Value
The Sockwell Circulator is a high-performing merino sock that does everything many of its pricier competitors do at a far more palatable price point.
This sock uses 4 zones of 15 to 20 mmHg graduated compression that’s great for all kinds of active pursuits. It has a seamless toe design that prevents annoying rubbing on the front of your feet and lowers your chances of getting blisters and/or chafing.
The mixture of four different fibers, 32% merino wool, 5% spandex, 32% nylon, and 31% rayon from bamboo, makes the Circulator lightweight, stretchy, odor-resistant, and an absolute winner at moisture control. It wicks sweat as well as any other sock we know and its high percentage of anti-microbial merino wool also helps keep your feet smelling fresh after multiple uses.
The Circulator has noticeably less reinforcement around the toes and soles compared to many hiking socks, but its use of synthetics make it more hard-wearing and durable than most other merino blends nonetheless.
Finally, if you do decide to plump on this sock, make sure shoot at least one size up as the sizing runs small compared to most other models.
- Seamless toe closure
- Cushioned but light
- Moisture-wicking fabric
- Sizing runs small
- Light on reinforcement in toes and heel
Bottom-Line: With a seamless design, extra cushioning, decent insulation, moderate compression, and oodles of comfort, the Sockwell Circulator is a great option for three-season adventures for day hikers and backpackers alike.
CEP Tall Compression 3.0Best High-Compression Sock
CEP’s Tall Compression 3.0 is medically graded, but it’s versatile enough to be used in any athletic activity, and that definitely includes hiking.
The sock uses 20 to 30 mmHg of graduated compression. Even with this much compression, however, it never feels overly constrictive or pinchy in the pressure points. The graduated design grips the calves well, but loosens up slightly towards the knees.
This sock is made with synthetic fibers: 25% elastane, 60% polyamide-nylon, and 15% polypropylene. This blend works well in wicking sweat and the patented HEIQ clima-management technology helps to keep your skin cool.
This entry, however, does have some durability issues and can be prone to pilling and loss of shape after a few months of regular use.
- Medical-grade, graduated compression
- Great moisture wicking
- Regulates temperature
- Questionable durability
Bottom-Line: For hikers looking for an affordable high-compression-rated sock, there are few options out there that offer the same performance as the CEP Tall Compression Sock 3.0.
Wanderlust Knee-High MerinoBest Knee-High Sock
The Wanderlust knee-high sock is quality-made hosiery at an affordable price.
This sock is made with a blend of both natural and synthetic materials, namely 9% merino wool, 40% acrylic, 33% nylon, 8% polyester, and 10% lycra. This blend makes it both superbly supportive, highly breathable, and also just as durable as any other sock in our review.
Though a knee-high sock, this Wanderlust isn’t all about the length. One of its most endearing features, in fact, is the extra cushioning added in the heel and sole. This add-on not only increases overall comfort, but also provides added protection against impact in rougher, bumpy terrain.
Wanderlust’s merino wool sock also uses graduated compression, ranging from medium-level in the foot to low-level above the ankle. This gentle compression throughout the foot makes this sock great for shorter hikes and for anyone new to compression socks.
- Gentle, graduated compression
- Cushioned sole
- Not the most durable
- Heels are prone to shredding
Bottom-Line: An affordable, low-compression sock that’s ideal for summer hiking or newcomers to compression socks looking to give them a try.
MudGear PremiumBest for Winter
The MudGear Premium are a moderate-compression option that boast the added insulation required to keep your feet warm and well on winter hikes.
This sock is made with 63% nylon, 28% polyester, and 9% spandex. This blend makes them ultra-durable, if not quite as soft and breathable as merino-based alternatives.
Marketed as a specialized sock for Tough Mudder racing, this pair of socks packs a ton of features that makes them ideal for more demanding hikes. They use additional protective padding in the calf area, a heavily cushioned sole and toe, and even include drainage panels to help shed sweat or water that’s sneaked inside your boots.
- Nicely insulated
- Extra padding in calf area
- 15-20 mmHg graduated compression
- Too warm for summer
- Not as breathable as merino-rich alternatives
Bottom-Line: An incredibly warm and supportive pair of socks that are ideal for winter and shoulder-season hiking.