Can You Wear Neoprene Socks For Hiking?

Last Updated on 03/02/2022

Neoprene Socks for Hiking

Neoprene socks can be used in certain hiking situations to keep your feet dry and insulated. Neoprene socks for hiking are waterproof and insulating, maintaining their warmth even in extremely wet environments. They are not breathable though and can cause blisters if you use them in the wrong environment.

For many hikers, there is nothing worse on a hike than having wet feet. It’s uncomfortable, often cold, and you can feel as though you have a big bag of water inside your boot. But are neoprene socks the answer? In this article, we will look at what neoprene socks are and whether they are appropriate socks for hiking.

If you are doing a hike that has a lot of river crossings then you need to decide between keeping your feet dry, embracing wet feet, or taking a second pair of footwear like neoprene socks. We recommend a good pair of wool hiking socks for all conditions because

Can You Wear Neoprene Socks For Hiking?

Although some sources do recommend neoprene socks for hiking, they are only suited to specific environments. The main issue with neoprene is that as a closed-cell rubber, it does not breathe. This means that your feet will sweat into the socks and can cause rubbing or sore points and will cool quickly when you stop.

In winter, neoprene can help to keep your feet insulated, but the lack of breathability will impact how quickly you cool down when you stop. Some hikers choose to wear woolen socks under their neoprene socks to increase warmth, but most find that warm socks and waterproof boots are the most effective pairing for warmth, breathability, and comfort.

You may choose to wear neoprene hiking socks in especially wet areas, such as river trekking or bogs. In this situation, where your feet will be submerged for a long time, neoprene socks offer far superior insulation when compared with woolen alternatives.

You may also choose to wear neoprene socks for river crossings. If you are required to cross a river early on in your hike, you will want to avoid soaking your boots and socks. Replacing your boots with neoprene socks can keep your feet warm and give them some protection as you cross the river and you will have dry boots to put back on when you reach the far shore.

Who Are Neoprene Socks For?

So if they’re not made for hiking, what are neoprene socks designed for?

Watersports

Neoprene socks traditionally come from watersports and are worn inside neoprene boots or water shoes. They are designed to add an extra layer of insulation when diving, kayaking, canoeing, canyoning, or participating in any sport where you are in the water. These sports all benefit from the fact that neoprene is warm when wet, but insulating too.

Backpackers

Backpacking adventures can take you to all sorts of places. You might find yourself swimming off a cold coast, exploring hidden rivers or canyons, or fording mighty rivers. A pair of neoprene socks thrown into your pack can be a bonus on a backpacking trip, keeping your feet warm on surprise adventures. Sealskinz makes good waterproof socks for hiking but I am not sure they are made of neoprene.

Hikers

Some hikers choose to wear neoprene socks while hiking. If you are river trekking or hiking through deep, cold bogs, you might choose to wear neoprene socks. They will keep your feet dry, unless the water seeps through the ankle cuff or seams, but will also insulate your feet even if they are wet.

Wide, cold rivers, especially in spring when the snow is melting, can chill your feet dangerously and you can find yourself slipping or bumping off rocks. Removing your boots and socks and wearing neoprene socks instead can give you enough warmth and insulation to cross safely. Once you reach the far bank, you can put your dry boots and socks back on and limit the risk of cold, soaked feet for the remainder of your hike.

waterproof socks for hiking

What Do Neoprene Socks Do?

Neoprene socks can keep your feet dry and warm, but rely on your movement in wet environments. Closed-cell neoprene is a fully waterproof, non-perforated material. This means that it will not let water in, but it also won’t let moisture evaporate, also known as breathing.

Neoprene itself is an excellent insulator. The level of insulation you get from a pair of neoprene socks will depend on the thickness of the neoprene. In most situations, 3 – 5 mm is adequate, although 5 mm can feel bulky inside a pair of boots.

Neoprene socks only get wet when moisture enters either through the seams, which are usually not taped or through the cuff at the top. Once a layer of water has entered, it remains there unless it is comprehensively flushed out. This water will warm up with the heat from your foot, insulated by the neoprene.

Benefits of Neoprene Socks

What are the key benefits of neoprene socks?

Insulation

Neoprene is a closed-cell form of a rubber that does not allow heat to pass through it efficiently. It is highly insulating, then, but often only worn in thin layers to avoid restriction. 3 – 5 mm neoprene socks are the most common thicknesses and offer a reasonable level of insulation.

This insulation is effective in wet conditions, too, where a thin layer of water will become trapped between the sock and your foot. This layer will warm up and the neoprene will continue to insulate your foot without the sock taking on more water.

Protection

When you’re crossing a river, neoprene socks can prevent you from bashing your feet against rocks and off the riverbed. In this case, thicker neoprene socks are usually preferred. Some neoprene socks come with thicker soles, some reinforcement, and even grip on them and these can all make river crossings easier.

Lightweight

If you are going to change out of your boots to cross a river, you aren’t likely to carry heavyweight spare footwear with you, just for a few minutes of a river crossing. Most neoprene socks weigh less than 3.5 oz., light enough that you can stow them in a pocket on your pack without noticing the weight.

As they are waterproof, neoprene socks can be dried quickly on the outside of your pack once you have completed your river crossing. This means they will remain lightweight and can be stowed away, unlike woolen socks that will retain water for longer.

Keep Your Boots Dry

Having wet boots on a long hike is uncomfortable and can cause your feet to cool down quickly. Wet boots also do not breathe as effectively, so you are more likely to end up with sweaty and blistered feet. If you have wet socks inside your wet boots, this doubles the effect.

Changing out of your boots and socks for a river crossing allows you to keep your feet dry and reduce chafing on the remainder of your hike. Even if your feet are damp when you put them back into your socks and boots, these will wick that moisture away as you start to move.

How Tight Should Neoprene Socks Be?

Neoprene socks should be tight to your skin but without restricting movement or circulation. You should bear in mind that neoprene stretches a little when it gets wet. If your socks are too loose, they risk flapping and falling off your feet.

Loose neoprene socks are less insulating when wet, too. Once they have trapped a thin layer of water, this warms up and the socks can continue to insulate your feet. If your socks are too loose, the water will ‘flush’ in and out repeatedly, so you will lose the warmed layer and your feet will have to start all over again.

Neoprene socks and gum boots for river hiking

What Size Are Neoprene Socks?

Neoprene socks usually fit true to size. It is worthwhile checking with manufacturers or reading reviews to determine whether certain models come up true to size. Neoprene socks should be close-fitting but without restricting the circulation in your feet.

Remember that neoprene socks will stretch slightly when they get wet.

Will Neoprene Socks Keep Your Feet Dry?

Closed-cell neoprene is fully waterproof, but neoprene socks will not keep your feet perfectly dry. Most neoprene socks do not have taped seams and will take on water through the perforations, as well as over the cuff while you cross rivers or wade up canyons.

By having close-fitting socks, the water you take on will be minimal. This water is then able to warm up and your socks can continue to insulate your feet as you move.

Are Neoprene Socks Breathable?

Neoprene socks are not breathable and this is one of the key issues with using them for hiking. Any moisture retained within the socks will remain in place. While this is fine in rivers and bogs, where the water will warm up and insulate, it’s undesirable in warm weather, on dry trails.

The only moisture that will fill your neoprene socks in warm weather is sweat. This will lead to hotspots on your feet and likely to blisters or other forms of discomfort.

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This article has been written and/or edited by Andrew N. 20+ years of hiking, mountaineering, and camping experience, with access to all the latest outdoor gear.

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