The average hiker takes well over 2,000 steps to walk a mile. Over the thousands of steps my feet have taken during my hikes, I have found that a good pair of socks is important for me to stay comfortable. Therefore, choosing the right pair of socks is vital to enjoying your hikes.
The best socks for hiking are those made of wool or synthetic materials and that fit snugly to your feet. Wool or synthetic socks will dry faster than other materials, such as cotton, and will keep your feet warm even if they are wet. Snug-fitting wool or synthetic socks will also reduce friction on your feet, which will prevent blisters and other problems.
While a bad pair of hiking boots usually gets most of the blame for sore and blistered feet, one shouldn’t look past the impact the wrong socks can have on the feet. Get the wrong socks, and your feet will suffer, regardless of the boots you use. So, how do you choose the right hiking sock?
What Is The Right Material For A Hiking Sock?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first and foremost – do NOT wear cotton socks when hiking. Those training socks you wear when you play basketball? Leave them at home.
Cotton socks will leave your feet cold and damp all day, increasing the likelihood of blisters. Furthermore, cotton socks tend to increase the amount of friction between your feet and your hiking boots, leading to hot spots and blisters.
Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives to cotton socks that are entirely appropriate for hiking. All of these materials help to regulate temperature, wick away moisture, and dry quickly.
Wool: Wool is the foundation material of most hiking socks. Wool is fantastic at keeping your feet warm even when wet, and it does provide a level of cushioning. It dries much faster than cotton or other materials. The one drawback to wool is that it can be scratchy and uncomfortable. This can lead to hot spots, which lead to blisters.
However, most wool socks today are combined with synthetic materials that make the socks more comfortable and less susceptible to hot spots.
Merino Wool: Merino wool is quickly becoming the most popular material for hiking socks, and with good reason. It has most qualities of traditional wool, including keeping your feet warm despite wetness, but is more comfortable on the feet.
Merino wool socks have more of a smooth, soft feel to them, reducing the amount of friction between your feet and your boots. This should protect your feet more from hot spots.
Synthetic Blends: Most hiking socks nowadays are a blend of natural and synthetic materials. The modern hiking sock is typically a weave of multiple natural and synthetic materials. Polypropylene, nylon, polyester and spandex are added to many hiking socks to wick away moisture and offer a fitted design.
When combined with wool, these blended socks can keep your feet warm, dry, and blister-free.
What Kind of Cushioning or Weight Should I Consider for Hiking Socks?
While the weather conditions of a given hike can dictate the weight or cushioning of socks, most hikers appreciate a certain level of cushioning to provide extra comfort. Most hiking socks fall into three categories when it comes to cushioning: light, medium, and heavy.
Light Cushioning: Appropriate for warmer weather, light cushioned hiking socks are built to wick away moisture and keep your feet cool during a hot day on the trail. Not overly thick, some brands do still offer some cushioning near the heels as well as the balls of the feet.
Medium Cushioning: While I do not enjoy hot feet during a hike, I generally wear a medium-cushioned hiking sock on most occasions, even in the summer. These socks offer more cushioning for difficult terrain as well as more warmth for cooler hiking trips.
Heavy Cushioning: I like to have heavy-cushioned socks on my trips, because they make for great evening camp socks, even in the summer. But these socks do provide the most comfort and cushioning – as well as warmth. This comes in handy in the winter, but also on trips with the roughest terrain.
What Height Of Sock Should I Choose?
Most hiking socks are either crew- or ankle-length. I would recommend wearing crew-length socks for most trips – even if you have low-cut, trail running shoes. This might protect your lower legs from getting scratched or cut up walking through heavier bush.
But especially if you have high or mid-cut boots, you should stay away from ankle-length socks to avoid friction on your legs and ankles. This may cause extra heat to your feet on warm days, but the effect is really minimal.
How Do I Get The Proper Fit For My Hiking Socks?
Proper Sizing: Most socks are meant to fit more than one size of foot, but it still helps to make sure you are getting the right sized sock for your foot. Use the actual size of your foot when buying a hiking sock, rather than your shoe size. Otherwise, you could end up with a sock that is too large, leading to increased friction, hot spots, and blisters.
Get The Right Fit: As noted above, the wrong-sized sock will increase friction points. As you are researching socks, be sure that a hiking sock fits your foot as perfectly as possible. A strong indicator of proper fit is whether the heel cup of the sock matches the heel of your foot.
Test For Comfort: You can fit the right material, the right amount of cushioning, and the right fit for your hiking sock, but still not know for sure if you have the correct hiking sock until you actually try them out.
I would recommend buying a single pair of a hiking sock and using them on a test run with your hiking boots over a variety of terrain. Make sure you hike for at least a couple of hours so your feet can swell, sweat, and move around in your boot.
By this time you will have a good sense of how your feet like these socks and whether they are a good candidate for longer hiking trips.
Other Considerations – Should I Wear Liners With My Hiking Socks?
If you suffer from blisters, no matter what type of socks you use, you might try liners to solve the problem. These thin socks, usually made from silk or synthetic polypropylene, do two things to prevent blisters.
First, they wick away moisture, which leaves your skin less susceptible to blisters. Second, liners can provide extra protection from friction between your feet and your boots.
An excellent use of liners is to wear them under a light- or medium-weight hiking sock, providing a very comfortable combination of warmth, cushion, and dryness.
Our Recommendations For Hiking Socks
- Best Light-weight Sock: Danish Endurance Merino Wool Hiking Socks
- Best Medium-weight Sock: Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Sock
- Best Heavy-weight Sock: Smartwool Trekking Crew Socks
- Best Liner Sock: Fox River Outdoor Wick Dry