Last Updated on 06/03/2022
Choosing the Best Socks for Hiking
Whether you’re hitting the hills or the path less traveled, choosing the best socks for hiking is vital to your comfort. It might seem like a simple case of shoving your foot into your thickest pair of socks, but there’s actually far more factors that determine a good hiking sock, such as material, weight, reinforcement, warmth, breathability, and seam placement.
While a good pair of hiking boots will have the most impact on your feet, choosing the right hiking socks can be the difference between a great hike—appreciating the scenery and surrounding wildlife—and a miserable one nursing blisters and cold, painful feet. Don’t worry, we’re here to help…
Related: Best Merino Wool Socks for Hiking
What Do Hiking Socks Do?
It’s forgivable to think that a sock is just a sock—and that a hiking sock is no different to a sock you might wear on a building site or at home. On the contrary, the best socks for hiking are specifically designed to:
- Cushion your feet
- Promote circulation
- Regulate your foot temperature
- Wick away moisture
- Prevent blisters
- Keep your feet warm in cold conditions
- Absorb shock
Pretty impressive for a small amount of fabric, right?
Different Types of Socks You Can Use for Hiking
Broadly speaking, any sock can be used for hiking but a sock that is designed specifically for the task will generally outperform the rest. The best hiking socks will often come in 2 or 3 different thicknesses, have thick or reinforced soles, and rise above the top of your boot.
Related: Top 10 Best Hiking Boots
Hiking socks, also known as “boot socks” or “crew socks”, are the most common type and are often worn on their own under walking boots. They are ankle to mid-calf length, relatively thick and well reinforced in key areas, and are often ribbed at the top. A good pair of hiking socks is far more valuable than 3 pairs of cheap socks. Check out the Darn Tough Hiking Socks in the image above.
Good for: Longer walks, cooler conditions, and rougher terrains.
Standard Work Socks
These socks are actually not that bad if you pair them with a sock liner or thinner sock underneath. You can get them cheap in packs of three from most big retailers. The best building site socks I have found that work great for hiking are these work socks by Jeep. The biggest downside to using this type of sock instead of a hiking sock is the seam placement and untidy stitching near the toes – which leads to blisters.
Good for: Shorter walks, saving money, and backpacking
Trainer socks, also known as “running socks”, are shorter than crew socks and thinner, so they can be worn with low cut walking trainers. You can also get them cut below the ankle but this has absolutely no benefit to the performance, it is purely aesthetic.
Good for: Jogging or trail running in warm conditions and across easy terrains.
Liner socks are very thin socks that can be layered underneath a thicker pair of socks to prevent blisters or worn on their own. I highly recommend using hiking sock liners because since I started using them I hardly ever get blisters.
Good for: Underneath thick socks for long, cold, and arduous walks. Or on their own for short walks or warmer conditions.
Double Layer Socks
Double-layer socks are, as you might imagine, super thick socks. They feature a built-in lining sock, which prevents blisters and provides extra comfort. They are in my opinion too hot for most hiking conditions and often too thick for hiking boots. Instead, I prefer to create my own double-layer socks to keep my feet warm.
Good for: Adventurous walks in freezing conditions.
What Weights Are There?
When shopping for hiking socks, you might notice that the packaging mentions different weights. They’re not talking how much weight you’ll be carrying—they mean the weight of the fabric.
Good for: Hiking in hot temperatures.
Pros: Thin so improves breathability; enables you to pack light. Can be used as a sock liner on longer hikes.
Good for: Warm temperatures and lightweight hiking boots.
Pros: Versatile, durable, improves wicking and breathability. Can be paired with a liner in cold conditions.
Good for: Warm and cooler temperatures, long-distance hiking.
Pros: Very versatile and durable, improves warmth, comfort, and breathability. Can be paired with a liner in freezing conditions.
Good for: Cold temperatures and winter sports.
Pros: Lots of padding, very comfortable and warm. Can be worn with a liner to improve wicking.
What Materials Are There?
Hiking socks are made from a variety of materials, and which you choose depends on your purpose.
Merino Wool Socks
Merino wool is considered the premium material for making the best socks for hiking with. Lightweight, warm, breathable, and incredibly versatile, merino wool hiking socks are the best for all kinds of hikes and treks, particularly in low temperatures and arduous conditions.
Pros: Merino wool is probably the best type of wool for hiking as they’re considered the most comfortable, breathable, and lightweight.
Cons: More expensive than most other materials.
Related: Top 10 Best Merino Wool Base Layers
Second to merino hiking socks are your regular wool socks. They perform day in day out without losing any of the most important functions. They’re not so good in warm environments, as your feet can become too warm but I would rather wear wool socks and have hot feet than not have the cushion of pure wool. Wool is a fantastic natural insulator which is why it makes a great liner for snowboard gloves.
Pros: Wool socks are anti-bacterial, durable, moisture-wicking to prevent blisters, comfortable, thick, and warm.
Cons: They are more expensive than other alternatives, and can be too thick for some people.
Synthetic hiking socks are man-made to try and provide specific qualities and so are designed for a range of conditions.
Pros: They’re particularly moisture-wicking, as other materials are added to provide extra wicking abilities.
Cons: They’re not so good in extremely cold environments, and they’re often not antibacterial.
Cotton hiking socks are great for city walks or short country walks. However, they’re not good for long, arduous walks.
Pros: They’re cheap and compact when it comes to packing.
Cons: They retain moisture, which can cause blisters. They’re not as comfortable as the alternatives.
Silk hiking socks are ideal as liner socks, or on their own in warmer conditions.
Pros: They’re great in warm environments as they keep the feet cool. They also add extra warmth as liner socks under thicker socks. They’re lightweight and high wicking, preventing blisters.
Cons: They’re not very long-lasting or durable compared to other types.
How Should They Fit?
Like other outdoor gear, the best socks for hiking must have a good fit to provide maximum comfort.
- Don’t be tempted to go for the tightest fit possible, as it will limit your circulation.
- Ensure your sock aren’t loose, as the movement may cause blisters or the socks to droop.
- Ensure they are tall enough to cover the tongue of your walking boots to prevent chafing and protect your ankles.
- Ensure they are not so tall that your feet overheat.
- The heel and toe box should be well defined and follow the natural shape of your foot.
Some of the best socks for hiking also feature additional elements that standard socks do not:
- Additional padding: The best hiking socks will feature extra heel, toe, and underfoot padding to provide more support.
- Flat seams: Flat seams prevent those bobbles of thread on the inside of your sock from rubbing (for me, this is the second most important feature of a hiking sock after reinforced soles).
- Cooling technology: These include fibers that improve air circulation and wicking properties, such as IsoCool or Coolmax.
- Anti-bacterial/silver technology: Some socks use silver technology to prevent odor and improve antibacterial properties.
- Anti-mosquito: Others contain insect repellent to fight off mozzies in hot climates.
- Skiing: Skiing socks are much taller to be worn under ski boots as well as having extra heat-retaining properties.
- The comfort of your feet depends mostly on your boots, so ensure you choose good walking boots that suit your intended purpose.
- When buying socks, it’s a good idea to take your walking boots with you and try your socks on with the boots, or vice versa, to ensure they fit comfortably together.
- Don’t be tempted to think that one pair of socks fit every shoe or purpose. It’s better to buy a range of socks to suit all of your adventures. Your feet will thank you for it later!
- Hiking socks do wear out over time so please consider donating old socks to clothes banks, charities or homeless people.
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