Just a pair of socks! We think not. The right pair of socks is nearly as integral as your hiking boots. They work together with your boots to keep your feet kickin’ in high gear. Even with the most comfortable boots, if your socks bunch up or make your feet overly wet and sweaty your comfort level is going to fly south for the majority of your journey. Friction and moisture are the two main culprits causing those nasty blisters that are the plague of many a hiker. Selecting a natural, well-fitting pair of liners and hiking socks will reduce rubbing and moisture build up and keep you trekking the good trail.
Selecting the Right Pair of Socks
What weather and environment you will be hiking or backpacking is something to consider when purchasing socks designed especially for hiking. Some socks fare much better in warmer or humid conditions because of moisture wicking properties. Then there are socks crafted for mountaineering and winter travel.
When shopping for sizes, a good rule of thumb is that the socks should fit snugly. If it is at all possible, it’s a great idea to slip the socks on prior to buying them. You’ll also find out how much cushion and support they lend to your feet.
The four main categories hiking socks fall into include liners, lightweight hiking socks, mid-weight backpacking socks, and mountaineering socks. Liners are meant to be worn between the skin and sock, to help aid in keeping your feet dry and comfortable. If you are still experiencing painful blisters after purchasing high-quality hiking socks, liners are the next step and give you an added layer of protection. Lightweight hiking socks are best worn for hot weather and less difficult trails. They are pretty thin, but not as thin as liners and provide a bit more cushioning. Mid-weight backpacking socks are the in between ground and provide cushioning as well as insulation in mild to cold conditions. Most of these socks feature extra padding located on the high-impact areas of the foot such as the ball and heel of your foot. It’s a good idea to wear these socks with liners. Mountaineering socks are no joke. These babies are thick and warm, particularly crafted for very long trips in cold weather. Generally these are too bulky for shorter backpacking trips in warmer conditions.
What about toe socks? If you are a fan of toe shoes like Vibram Fivefingers, you may want to consider getting some toe socks. Injinji has a pretty good series of toe socks for hikers. These are designed for minimalist running and hiking shoes. It will help you stay super cool. They can also be used with traditional hiking shoes, as they prevent rubbing between your toes. Nobody likes a toe blister!
If at all possible, take a test drive before making a final purchase. The fact of the matter is every one of us is unique and preferences vary greatly. Furthermore, resting body temperatures and raised heart rate temp are all over the map. What might be the best pair of hiking socks for you may not work out for somebody else. The final step is actually giving your new socks a go and putting some miles on them. We recommend trying out a few different pairs over time to see which make your feet the happiest. That’s the key. Happy feet.
Most Important Criteria to Consider
Here are the top things to keep in mind before settling on a pair of socks.
- Comfort. Comfort is king with socks. Fitted designs are all the rage these days and for good reason. These designs have been shown to help prevent blisters and maintain motionlessness on the foot. Additionally, fitted socks eliminate the chance of wrinkles or uneven sock wear such as the “bunching up” effect.
- Insulation. This is important for cold weather socks.
- Wicking Ability. This is important for warm weather socks particularly. Sweaty feet increases the chances of painful blisters. Also, they get stinky. A good pair of socks will help keep your feet dry and wick away this extra moisture from your skin. Pretty nifty.
- Drying Speed. High-quality hiking socks allow you to wash them in the evening and air dry them at night, ready to go for the next day. This cuts down on how many pairs you need to pack which is particularly helpful for long trips.
- Material. Synthetic materials, merino wool, and wool/synthetic hybrids are the main choices for best hiking socks. Merino wool is a wonder material that does it all, provides the right amount of cushion, keeps feet cool in the heat, wicks moisture, provides warmth in the cold, and aren’t itchy. Clearly the top choice and works well under many types of conditions. Nonetheless, synthetic materials tech has advanced far in the past years. Some people prefer them over wool claiming they last longer and prevent odor better. It has been proven that typically they dry much faster. Synthetics run a bit less cost-wise than wool too.
- Cotton: why we rule against it? 100% cotton material will absorb sweat and overheat your feet in no time. They also provide zero insulation when they get wet and it takes them forever to dry. It is comfortable and when joined in a hybrid sock with other wicking or insulating fibers.
- Silk: silk is wonderful at insulating and lightweight. It would be great for hiking, except for the fact that it isn’t very durable material. Socks go through a thorough beating during hiking over rugged terrain. Silk can be used in liners as an added layer to increase moisture wicking.
- Warm weather or cold weather. For quite some time, hiking socks had a bad rap of being too constricting and bulky for warm weather use. Times have changed as a new breed of hiking socks have appeared on the scene. You can now choose a lightweight, odor fighting, sweat-wicking sock for those hot days.
- Sock height. Another important factor is the height of the sock. Obviously, longer socks are better in cold and shorter in warm conditions. But beyond that, it’s a good idea to get a height that is at least slightly hiking than your boot or shoe. Consider the terrain as well, if you’re going to be plowing through some bushes a crew length sock is preferable.
The Best Hiking Socks of 2016
These socks are crafted by Darn Tough here in the US of A. Darn Tough is the industry gold standard in rugged performance wear, pleasing hardcore hikers and sock addicts alike. The company has been making socks for 36 years in Green Mountains of Northfield in Vermont. When you see a graphic of a blacksmith wielding a hammer and holding a sock with a pair of tongs about to pound the sock into darn tough shape, you know this company takes their business seriously. Each pair of socks comes with an unconditional lifetime guarantee. Their Coolmax series are made for a tight, performance fit and help keep your feet cool and dry, hence the max following the cool. The sock is a synthetic blend not like their merino wool socks that are for warmer weather. They prevent odor well, and you can have faith they will hold off smell for at least a couple days.
Their Coolmax series are made for a tight, performance fit and help keep your feet cool and dry, hence the max following the cool. The sock is a synthetic blend not like their merino wool socks that are for warmer weather. They prevent odor well, and you can have faith they will hold off smell for at least a couple days.
- Best Women’s & Men’s Lightweight Hiker
- Super Durable
- Odor Fighting
Thorlo also makes some amazing lightweight hikers called the Coolmax Lt Hiker Crew Sock which we recommend checking out and are our runner up to Darn Tough’s sock.
The Bridgedale Ultralight are a very light weight liner sock that is a good addition under normal hiking socks. They are considered a base layer such as other performance underwear, but this time for your feet. They will help prevent getting blisters and increase your comfort level by adding an extra guard against moisture build-up. It also helps with hygiene if you’re worried about that, as instead of sweating into your high quality hiking socks and/or boots most of the sweat will be absorbed by these guys. Also packing these takes up less space and are less weight, so you can wear the same pair of hiking socks and just swap these out each day. For the hardcore backpacker, every ounce counts on a long trip.
- Best Women’s & Men’s Liners
- Very light weight
- Soaks up moisture and prevents blisters
There are a few brands that come up over and over again in the hiking world. Wigwam is one of those trusted brands. Their Pro Length sock is a synthetic sock composed of olefin, nylon, lycra spandex, and acrylic. This sock is known for its awesome moisture fighting powers. Additionally, they are lauded as one of the most durable socks on the market, they’ll be your foot’s best friend for quite some time.
- Best Women’s & Men’s Mid-weight Hiker
- Heel Cradle
- Dense toe enclosure and padded foot bed
If you’re looking for a merino wool midweight hiker we suggest Darn Tough’s Vermont Merino Wool Sock.
These elastic pair of socks are another offering from Darn Tough that we couldn’t help awarding our best mountaineering men’s sock. It’s made up of 77% merino wool, with the remainder composed of nylon and lycra spandex. The height of the sock is very high, providing additional warmth under your pants during those extreme high altitude missions. The heavy cushion surrounds your entire foot with a reinforced toe and heel to boot. Built to last, this sock won’t let you down.
- Best Women’s & Men’s Mountaineering Sock
- Merino Wool
- Elastic arch support
- Ring toe construction
Our runner-up is SmartWool’s Unisex product: the extra heavy mountaineering crew sock. Hiking through snowstorms? Have no fear, these puppies will keep your feet warm and cozy. If you prefer nylon material, this is a good option. Altogether the sock contains about 16% Nylon and 84% Wool. They’ve got four decent color options, and will go about to just about past your calf depending on your height.