Hiking Socks Matter
After months of planning and training, your outdoor adventure has finally begun. Nothing but the open trail, the soft earth beneath your feet, and the sound of the wind rustling in the trees. Hours later, your feet begin to ache as blisters form. Suddenly, your week in the great outdoors will be spent nursing blisters and hobbling around. With the proper socks, this experience can be avoided, and your adventure properly enjoyed.
Check out related guides on outdoor clothing
All socks are different, but this video goes over the shared characteristics of hiking socks. The most important consideration in choosing the right pair of socks is selecting an appropriate material.
Cotton: Is Rotten
The most common mistake made by hikers is the decision to hike in cotton socks. Cotton is a comfortable and affordable material, but in the demanding environment of hiking, cotton socks begin to fail.
Cotton absorbs water readily but does not dry out. As a result, moisture that is introduced to cotton socks tends to stay with the socks. As the cotton dampens, the material becomes heavier, less elastic, and more abrasive. This results in movement of the sock between the hiker’s foot and boot. This movement and the associated friction is what causes hot spots, and later blisters, to form. While your cotton socks may work well in day-to-day life, they are best left at home for your hike.
Wool: Tried & True
Wool is a traditional choice for a more effective hiking sock. The desired properties of wool are its ability to wick moisture away from the foot, its ability to dry rapidly, and its ability to insulate the foot from cold and from friction. Not only do these properties prevent hot spots and blistering; wool’s ability to keep moisture away from your feet will also inhibit the growth of odor-causing microorganisms. In fact, wool has natural antimicrobial properties.
A downside to wool hiking socks is the rough or abrasive texture of the material. Before the advent of synthetic blends and merino wool, hikers often wore a thin base layer sock beneath the coarser wool material. Today, hiking socks are designed to be worn as a stand-alone pair. The tighter knit and naturally superior properties of merino wool make modern wool socks as effective as any modern synthetic material available.
Modern Technology’s Finest: Synthetic Materials
Synthetic materials are generally petroleum-based polymer chains, a typical example being polyester. Synthetics offer the advantages of being lightweight, wicking moisture away from the skin without absorbing much moisture, and rapidly dispersing moisture and heat away from the body via evaporation. Furthermore, synthetics are efficient thermal insulators, keeping the wearer warm even through thin, lightweight layers.
The disadvantages of pure synthetic materials are that some wearers find skin contact with such materials uncomfortable or irritating and that synthetics are sensitive to heat. Pure synthetic hiking socks are more flammable than wool or cotton socks, which means caution must be taken when drying synthetic materials by an open flame. Synthetic materials are popular among ultra-lightweight backpackers and hikers for their status as the absolute lightest available fabrics, but most hiking socks in today’s market are made using a combination of wool and synthetic materials.
A Happy Medium: Wool and Synthetic Blends
Many of the best attributes of wool and synthetic materials come out when the two fabrics are combined. For this reason, the best option for you may well be a synthetic wool blend. Take all of these attributes into consideration when considering a material for your hiking socks.
Not all socks are created equal. Many athletic socks are cut short, the top of the sock reaching only the ankle and no higher. Most hikers prefer crew length socks, which reach high enough above the hiker’s ankle to provide protection between the boot tops and the hiker’s skin.
Even higher still are knee-high socks, which are more common in extreme cold-weather environments and winter sports such as skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing. Knee-high socks are more appropriate in frigid conditions because they provide the most warmth to the lower legs, ankles, and feet.
While you will probably want to opt for crew length, some hikers (especially those who prefer to stay as light as possible) like to hike in trail running shoes. These shoes provide thick soles and foot support but are cut low like traditional athletic shoes. For faster-moving ultra-light hikers in trail running shoes, low cut socks may be an attractive option. This is particularly the case in a warmer climate where heat dissipation is more important than heat insulation.
On the other hand, cold-weather hikers, especially those hiking in winter months, may want to consider knee socks. This variety of sock doubles as a base layer for the lower extremities of the body. Combined with long underwear, this can keep the hiker’s legs warm even in the critically-cold early morning hours of the day.
The climate, season, weather forecast and the boots you are planning to wear should all be taken into consideration when deciding on a hiking sock height.
Although relatively straightforward, hikers should realize that socks come in a variety of sizes. The best size for you depends on your shoe size. Socks made specifically for hiking or sports come in men’s and women’s small, medium, large, or extra-large. Most brands provide their own sizing charts that relate sock sizes to shoe sizes. General sizing information can be found here.
If your shoe size falls in between two sock sizes or in an overlap in size ranges, it is best to try the socks on before buying. This isn’t always easy to do (especially shopping online), so you may consider buying one pair of socks to try on before ordering the rest.
The best option is usually the smallest size that fits comfortably. Too large a sock can tend to sag and fall down the hiker’s ankle throughout the day. This can lead to bunching of the sock material, a common starting point for hot spots and blisters. However, if a sock feels too small, it’s best to move up a size. Too tight a sock can inhibit critical blood flow to the lower extremities.
The Great Debate: One or Two Sock Layers?
Most modern hikers find that one single pair of merino wool, synthetic, or wool-synthetic blend socks work just fine for all hiking needs. However, there is still considerable debate about which technique works best for preventing blisters. Before the advent of our modern tight-knit merino wool socks and synthetic varieties, hiking socks were made from the abrasive “scratchy” wool that often comes to mind when considering wool.
As a result, hikers in previous generations usually wore a thin liner sock layer beneath the scratchy wool outer layer to reduce friction between the skin and the wool. Today’s socks are designed to be comfortable and smooth enough to be worn comfortably as a base and outer sock layer (a single layer), but many hikers still stick to the old wisdom of wearing a thin liner sock beneath the thicker hiking sock layer.
Ultimately, it is a matter of preference. Whatever you find most comfortable is probably the right strategy for you. Go for a short hike wearing just one pair of hiking socks and pay attention to any hot spots or blisters that begin to form. If there seems to be an issue, consider trying a pair of liner socks underneath your hiking socks on your next hike.
The Best Fit
The best sock for you should feel comfortable immediately. The top of the sock should come just above the upper part of your hiking boot so that no rubbing occurs between your ankle and your boot top.
The sock should be just tight enough to stay in place during activity, but not so tight that it cuts off blood circulation to the feet. The right sock will keep your feet warm and dry even after considerable sweating. A substantial hike in your new socks is the only real test of their effectiveness. We always recommend going for a test hike in your new socks before packing them for your big adventure.
Smartwool Men’s PhD® Outdoor Ultra Light Crew Socks
Best Hot Weather Hiking Socks
Smartwool is a company that believes in their products. Praising the natural advantages of merino wool, their socks come in a wool-heavy blend fabric. The blend of materials is woven into a specific weave pattern that is designed to “maximize the benefits of Merino wool.”
The company offers a huge variety of styles specific for men, women, and particular sports, and have a sizing chart for online customers. Smartwool products boast easy cleaning and care, exceptional comfort, durability, and thermal insulation.
We took a look at the Men’s PhD® Outdoor Ultra Light Crew Socks which proved themselves as lightweight, comfortable and effective socks. Smartwool advertises a new weave called “indestructawool™” which should give this model a longer lifetime compared to previous Smartwool products.
These are thin hiking socks may not be appropriate for colder weather; if you are planning a trip in a colder area, you may want to consider a heavier sock from Smartwool. These socks don’t last as long as some of the more durable models but work wonderfully for hundreds of miles!
Our pick for the best hiking socks for warm weather.
- Effective wool-synthetic blend fabric
- Crew length appropriate for most hiking boots
- Easy cleaning and care
- Ultra light design doesn’t weight you or your pack down
- Ultra lightweight means not as warm as other socks
- Don’t last as long as more durable brands
Darn Tough Uncle Buck Boot Cushion
Best Cold Weather Hiking Socks
These socks are cute and fun. Darn Tough provides quality products with personality, and the Uncle Buck Boot Cushion Socks are a shining example of this. This is a heavier pair of socks made with a wool and synthetic blend. The socks are advertised on the Darn Tough website as “[feeling] like a giant teddy bear hugging your feet.” We have to agree with this statement.
The socks are extremely comfortable and seem to fit nicely when referenced with the company’s sizing chart (found at the bottom of this page.) The brand is one you can feel good about, as Darn Tough has been producing quality socks in the USA for almost 40 years. For a domestic product made with reliable quality, the price of these socks is extremely reasonable.
These socks are very warm and can be too warm on a hot, sunny day. They are also heavy socks, adding a little extra weight for those hikers who want to reduce weight at all costs. Our pick as the best winter hiking socks.
- Warm, well-insulated socks
- Excellent fabric blend wicks moisture effectively and dries quickly
- Fits nicely; very little movement of sock over foot
- Durable and robust product from reliable producer
- Heavy socks add extra weight
- Can overheat hiker in warm weather
DG Hill Thermal Winter Hiking Crew Socks
Best Cheap Hiking Socks
DG Hill provides an excellent product with their Winter Thermal Wool Socks. At 80% Merino wool, these socks feature some of the highest wool content in their market. All that wool means that you get to take advantage of the wonderful properties of wool, including thermal insulation and moisture wicking.
These socks are comfortable, and the elastic ankles keep the socks from moving around too much while the hiker is moving. DG Hill offers great prices on their socks, making these the most affordable hiking socks on our list.
The brand does not provide much information online about the socks and their attributes, but the products are well vetted and work well for their intended use as middleweight socks. Middleweight socks are versatile and will keep the feet warm without being too heavy and stifling the feet in warm weather. However, middleweight socks such as these are not recommended for cold to very cold conditions. Heavy socks are better advised in extremely cold weather.
- Quality product for good price
- High Merino wool content
- Moisture wicking and rapid drying
- Versatile use in moderate temperatures
- Not ideal for extreme cold weather
- Heavy for hot weather
- Not as long-lasting as other brands
Pure Athlete Hiking Outdoor Socks
The Hiking Outdoor Socks by Pure Athlete are an excellent choice. While the socks are heavy and insulated in more exposed areas, they feature ventilation panels on warmer parts of the feet that help cool the user off in warm conditions. This design makes this product one the most versatile of the socks we’ve reviewed.
Extra elasticity around the wearer’s arch provides extra arch support and a more reliable fit with less fabric movement over the skin. While the design of these socks provides many benefits, the thinner sections of the sock create greater potential for sock wear over time. The elastic sections are also prone to loss of elasticity over time. This means that the Pure Athlete Hiking Outdoor Socks are some of the best performing socks out of the box, but may not be the best long-term investment.
- Synthetic and wool blend
- Great fit, minimal slipping
- Innovative design with great features
- Thin sections create weak zones
- Elastic sections can lose elasticity over time
People Socks Merino Wool Socks
Best Wool Socks for Hiking
People Socks provides an extremely high-quality product made in the USA. Made from 71% Merino wool and a blend of synthetics, these socks are built to perform and last. Extremely comfortable and well fitting, People Socks are a great investment for those looking for a hiking sock that will stand the test of time.
With a unisex sizing system that can be found at the company’s product page, buyers don’t need to worry about the gender of the socks. The crew sock length makes these socks a good match for most hiking boots. These socks are moderate in weight, which means they will do well in most moderate temperatures. They dissipate heat efficiently at high temperatures and insulate the feet from the cold at low temperature. As with all middleweight socks, they are not advisable for extreme cold or extreme heat where heavier or lighter socks are more appropriate.
Our pick for not just the best wool hiking socks, but the best socks for hiking overall.
- Quality, long-lasting product
- Made in the USA
- Reliable and versatile
- Not ideal for extreme cold or heat
- Higher price
Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew Newool
We decided to review this product as something a little different from the rest. Although the Injinji Outdoor Midnight crew length socks are made of a wool-synthetic blend, they feature an entirely different design from all the other products on our list. These are toe socks, meaning they have a separate pocket for each toe.
To many hikers, this style of sock is probably not the best. However, Injinji makes compelling arguments for their novel design on their website. These socks may be a good option for hikers who are interested in alternative equipment and minimalist footwear.
- Advanced wool and synthetic blend
- Innovative design
- Toe socks may not be ideal for most hikers
Last update on 2020-04-04 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API