A good pair of hiking socks can be the difference between an uncomfortable blister-filled camping trip and a fantastic jaunt in the mountains. However, with so many different hiking socks on the market today, finding the right pair can be tricky, to say the least.
That’s where we come in the picture. To help you find the perfect pair of hiking socks for your next adventure, we’ve created this ultimate guide.
Coming up, we’ll walk you through the basics of hiking socks and give you some information on how to find the best pair for any conditions. Plus, we’ll even review some of the top hiking socks on the market today. Let’s get to it!
Our Top 5 Picks For Best Hiking Socks:
Here are our reviews of the five best hiking socks…
1. Darn Tough Hiker Boot Sock (Full Cushion)
Best Full Cushion
When it comes to merino wool socks, it’s hard to beat Darn Tough. The company’s Hiker Boot Sock is one of the most popular merino socks around thanks to its no-slip, no-bunch performance fit. Made with full cushion throughout the sock for the ultimate in comfort, the Hiker Boot Sock is the perfect companion for longer trips and thru-hikes.
Plus, the Hiker Boot Sock features fine gauge knitting for impeccable comfort, as well as Fast Action Wicking technology for keeping your feet well ventilated as you move. Darn Tough’s merino wool is made to keep you cool in the summer and warm in the winter, so this sock is a true all-around champion.
Oh, and Darn Tough’s lifetime, no-questions-asked warranty means you can be confident in your socks. What’s not to love?
2. Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
Best Crew Height
If you want a crew-height sock that can handle itself in any conditions, you can’t go wrong with the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew. Made in Vermont, this sock features high-density knitting for increased comfort, while their performance fit keeps the Light Hiker in place, even after miles and miles on the trail.
Thanks to this sock’s light cushion, you can get the best of underfoot padding while simultaneously staying cool in high-octane activities. Plus, the Light Hiker’s unique micro crew height just slightly peeks out above the top of a standard hiking boot, so you can stay comfortable without compromising on breathability.
3. Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini Socks
Trail runners and ultralight hiking enthusiasts can rejoice with the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Mini Socks, an industry leader in low-cut hiking socks. These socks feature Smartwoo’s ReliaWool technology, which provides increased durability around the heel and toe for lasting performance.
Plus, the Outdoor Light Mini Socks have a 4 Degree elite fit that helps keep the sock in place, regardless of your adventures. With strategically-placed mesh ventilation zones, the Outdoor Light Mini Socks provide ample breathability while simultaneously wicking sweat away from your feet.
Thanks to the socks’ ultralight cushion and low cut, the Outdoor Light Mini won’t weigh you down. Rather, these versatile socks are comfortable and practical in a variety of situations.
4. Injinji 2.0 Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool Socks
Best Toe Socks
If you’re a toe socks enthusiasts, you’ll be hardpressed to find a pair of hiking toe socks that can best the Injinji 2.0 Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool Socks. Designed specifically with the outdoor enthusiast in mind, the Outdoor Midweight Crew socks feature Injinji’s patented five-toe design, which pretty much eliminates unnecessary chaffing and friction between your toes.
Plus, these socks feature Nuwool, which is soft to the touch and odor-resistant for long-term comfort. If that wasn’t enough, the Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool Socks have midweight padding cushions and built-in arch support to keep your feet happy, day in and day out.
5. Danish Endurance Merino Wool Hiking Socks
Best Budget Socks
On a budget but want the best for your adventures? Then the Danish Endurance Merino Wool Hiking Socks just might be for you. Built using premium merino wool fabrics, these socks from Danish Endurance offer high-quality performance at rock-bottom prices.
Thanks to Danish Endurance’s temperature-control technology, these socks help keep your feet cool in the heat and warm in the cold. Plus, they have plenty of padding around the foot, as well as strategic ventilation areas for maximum breathability.
Oh, and these socks are produced in Europe and made with OEKO-TEX certified materials that are free from harmful chemicals, so you can feel confident about your purchase.
Ultimate Hiking Sock Buyer’s Guide
Although they’re often overlooked, socks are some of the most important pieces of clothing for any outdoor adventure. Soft and comfortable, a good pair of socks can help protect you from blisters and pad your foot as you walk over difficult terrain. Here’s what you need to know when you’re buying your next pair of hiking socks:
Types of Socks
While many of us wear socks in our day-to-day lives, few of us ever stop to consider all of the different kinds of socks out there today. It turns out that there’s a whole world of socks out there, with a number of different types of socks, each designed for a specific activity or purpose. These are some of the most common:
“General” socks are the kinds of socks that your average person wears on an average day. For the most part, these socks are relatively affordable and don’t really do anything special. They simply cover your foot and provide some warmth and some breathability while providing a layer of fabric between your foot and your shoe.
Since they’re so simple, general socks really aren’t designed for performance, especially in the mountains. Generally speaking, these socks are made from some sort of cotton or cotton blend, which makes them comfortable, but not great for the outdoors (more on that later).
Plus, general socks are often made using some fairly low-quality materials, which wear out quite quickly, forcing you to buy new pairs more frequently than you would want. While this is okay in the frontcountry, it’s less than ideal for extended backcountry use, especially if you’re out for a long period of time.
Running socks, as you might imagine, are made for, well, running. There are thousands of running socks available today, and the majority of them are made from some sort of cotton, synthetic, or wool blend.
This kind of sock is designed to provide maximum breathability when you’re out on a run. Often, they are great at wicking sweat from your skin, which can help reduce the amount of uncomfortable rubbing and friction on your feet as you move.
Most running socks are low-to-mid cut, which is ideal for low-top running shoes, trail runners, and even some hiking shoes. So, while running socks are best for running, some hikers prefer to use them in their hiking shoes, too!
Hiking socks come in a variety of different shapes and sizes to accommodate a wide range of different hiking enthusiasts. The majority of hiking socks are made from synthetic fibers or merino wool, both of which provide lots of breathability and wicking prowess.
While some hiking socks are lightweight and low-cut, others are heavyweight and mid-calf height. Additionally, others provide some cushioning, while some hiking socks are little more than a thin piece of fabric to reduce your risk of getting blisters as you move.
Skiing and Mountaineering Socks
Skiing and mountaineering socks are highly activity-specific pieces of performance gear. Usually, these socks come in a very long length (at least mid-calf) to accommodate the height of a standard mountaineering or ski boot.
Often, skiing and mountaineering socks are thicker than hiking socks to provide some warmth in colder temps. However, some of the best ski socks for high-performance racing are quite thin, especially around the foot, to allow for a tighter-fitting ski boot.
While ski socks have minimal use outside skiing, if you’re looking for a hiking sock for colder weather, a thick, warm mountaineering sock might be a good choice.
Liner socks are a bit of a niche item, loved by some hikers and loathed by others. These socks are incredibly thin and are designed to be worn under your actual hiking socks.
The general idea is that a second pair of thin socks can help reduce the amount of friction on your foot and decrease your risk for developing blisters. The jury is out when it comes to the usefulness of these socks, so it’s really up to personal preference. If you’re new to hiking, it might be worth trying out liner socks to see if you like them.
What to look for in hiking socks
Now that you understand the different kinds of socks out there, let’s take a look at the top features you ought to consider when buying hiking socks:
Fabric and Materials
One of the most important features to consider when buying hiking socks, the fabrics and materials used to construct socks have a major impact on their performance and comfort. For the most part, quality hiking socks will be made of either synthetic fibers or merino wool.
- Synthetic Fibers
Synthetic fabrics are made from nylon, polyester, and polypropylene blends. The main advantage of synthetic socks is that they tend to be more durable than merino wool alternatives. Plus, they often dry a bit faster than merino wool and are usually significantly cheaper – with a cost savings of upwards of $15 a pair.
However, synthetic fibers tend to smell bad quite quickly, so they’re not ideal for longer backpacking trips. Plus, they aren’t as good at keeping your feet warm, especially when wet. Thus, if you’re looking for a cool weather sock, pairs made from synthetic fabrics might not be your go-to.
- Merino Wool
While not a new fabric, merino wool has just recently started making waves in the outdoor world. Often hailed as a “miracle” fabric, merino wool has all of the great qualities of traditional wool without all of that uncomfortable itchiness.
Thus, merino wool is incredibly soft and comfortable against the skin. Plus, while wool was traditionally used for warm-weather gear, merino wool has a wide thermoregulation range, which means it can keep you warm in the cold or cool in hot weather.
If that wasn’t good enough, merino wool also provides insulation when wet, so it’s a great option for wet climates. Oh, and it’s great at wicking away sweat and keeping your feet comfortable in hot weather.
The downside? Merino wool socks are almost always more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, so you’ll pay a premium for all of its great features.
Sock thickness might seem like an insignificant feature, but when you’re on your feet hiking for hours and hours on end, it can actually make a huge difference to your comfort levels. For the most part, sock thickness is discussed in terms of “material weight.” Here are some of the more common sock material weights:
- Ultra Lightweight
Ultra-lightweight socks are made of the thinnest material on the market, which makes them ideal for use in the hottest climate conditions on the planet. These socks are so thin, they provide no cushion, but lots of breathability. Thus, they’re most popular amongst trail runners and light-and-fast hikers who are out on day trips in the mountains.
Lightweight socks are slightly thicker than their ultralight cousins, which means they provide slightly less breathability in exchange for a small amount of cushion. This kind of sock is best used in warm weather during high octane activities, where breathability and wicking are important.
Midweight socks are perhaps the most versatile, as they combine a medium amount of breathability with a moderate amount of cushion. Thus, while they don’t really excel in particularly cold or warm weather, they do work well as an all-around sock in a variety of conditions.
Heavyweight (also known as “expedition weight”) socks are some of the thickest around, as they provide ample cushion and insulation for warm weather. However, all of this extra cushion means they’re less than ideal for hot weather as they don’t breathe well at all.
Sock length is of the utmost importance when buying a hiking sock as it will determine the kinds of footwear you can use. For example, while shorter socks allow for plenty of airflow around the ankle, they are really only useable with low-top hiking shoes.
On the other hand, higher top socks are best for use with mid- and high-top hiking shoes, as well as mountaineering boots and ski boots. Plus, they offer some ankle and calf protection from sticks and debris on the trail. However, this comes with the disadvantage of being less breathable and less comfortable in warm weather.
While each manufacturer defines their own sock lengths, the following styles are most common in the outdoor industry, in ascending height order:
- No show
- 1/4 sock
- Micro Crew
- Women’s Crew
- Men’s Crew
- Boot Sock
Thus, you often have plenty of options available to you when it comes to choosing sock length – it’s just about finding what’s right for your needs.
Modern hiking socks often come with some built-in cushioning, which is great for protecting your feet as you walk on difficult, rocky terrain. While cushioning can help pad your feet, it does also increase your sock’s weight and decrease its breathability, so you might not always want to opt for a “full-cushion” sock.
These days, you can buy socks with a variety of different cushioning options, such as:
- Ultra-light cushion
- Padded Light
- Light Cushion
- Padded Cushion
- Full Cushion
- Extra Cushion
So, if you’re someone who values a lot of cushioning in your socks, you might want to consider models with full or extra cushion. Alternatively, people who like thin socks will want to opt for ultra-light or light socks.
One of the latest developments in sock technology is in the world of “compression socks.” These highly specialized socks are designed to have a tight form-fitting shape with the hope of increasing blood flow to your feet and legs.
While some people prefer to wear true compression socks, others look for hiking socks with small compression panels on the top of the foot and around the ankle. These panels offer a nice compromise between a tight compression sock and a more comfortable traditional model.
No one likes sweaty feet. Thankfully, many sock companies design their products specifically with breathability in mind, so you can stay cool and comfortable, even on hot days.
While nothing will stop your feet from sweating after a long day of hiking in the heat, highly breathable socks will help wick moisture and provide some airflow to your feet, which helps reduce your risk of developing blisters. Much of breathability depends on a sock’s materials and thickness, so if you choose highly cushioned socks, you will see a decrease in breathability.
Blisters happen wherever there is too much friction against your foot. In a traditional sock design, the seam around your toe causes a lot of friction around the most sensitive part of your foot, increasing your risk of developing blisters.
To combat this issue, many sock manufacturers use “seamless” technology with flat stitching to prevent your socks from bunching up around your toes. These days, seamless socks are more or less the norm, but it’s worth checking before you buy a new pair of socks.
Perhaps the most important feature to consider when buying hiking socks, if your socks don’t fit well or feel comfortable when you try them on, they certainly won’t feel any better after hours on the trail. When trying on socks, you should be looking for a pair that fits your feet nearly perfectly.
In particular, the heel cup of a sock should sit perfectly over your heel, or your socks might slide around in your boots. Additionally, there shouldn’t be any extra fabric at your toes as this will cause blistering and chafing. Finally, make sure your socks aren’t too short, or they’ll fall down as you hike!
Lifetime Guarantees and Warranties
While we all wish that our socks would last a lifetime, like any piece of gear, hiking socks will wear out and get holes over time. Thankfully, many companies offer a lifetime guarantee or warranty, especially for the more expensive merino wool socks.
That being said, all “lifetime” guarantees aren’t created equal. While some companies will actually replace your socks when they wear out, no questions asked, others will only do so for a year after purchase. So, if this is important to you, be sure to buy a pair of socks that come with a no-questions-asked guarantee.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Here are our answers to your most frequently asked questions about hiking socks:
What material is best for hiking socks?
With so many materials to choose from when buying hiking socks, it’s understandable that you want the best for your adventures. Merino wool is more or less the gold standard for hiking sock fabrics as it wicks moisture, breathes well, and can keep you cool or warm, depending on the conditions. However, these great features come at a high cost, so they’re not accessible to everyone.
Can I use running socks for hiking?
Although we differentiate between “hiking” and “running” socks, you can, indeed, use running socks for hiking. However, most running socks are no-show or 1/4 length, so they won’t be tall enough for traditional hiking boots. That being said, if you hike in trail runners or low-top hiking shoes, you shouldn’t have a problem with using hiking socks. Just keep in mind that running socks tend to be less insulated than their hiking counterparts.
Are bamboo socks good for hiking?
“Bamboo” fabrics are the latest craze in the apparel world, with many companies claiming them to be some sort of miracle material. They are loved by many for their softness, as well as their moisture-wicking abilities. Plus, they tend to resist odors pretty well, which makes them ideal for hiking socks.
However, while many people tout bamboo fabrics as “environmentally friendly,” they are really no better for the environment than cotton. While bamboo itself is a sustainable crop (it can grow up to four feet in a day!) the viscose rayon process that’s used to make “bamboo rayon” fibers (the most popular fiber in bamboo fabrics) is not at all environmentally friendly.
Essentially in the viscose rayon process, bamboo cellulose is dissolved in a solvent to create a solute that is then pushed through a spinner to make fibers. The most commonly used solvent is carbon disulfide, which is a toxic chemical with known hazards to human health and the environment.
So, while bamboo socks are great for hiking, don’t be tricked by marketing that claims the fabric is “environmentally friendly”!
Why are cotton socks bad for hiking?
Although most general use socks are made of cotton, just a few minutes of online shopping will show you that no hiking socks are made with this material. Why, you might ask?
Well, simply put, cotton isn’t great in any situation where you need to stay warm when wet, such as when on a hiking trip in the rain. When cotton gets wet, it actually sucks heat from your body, making you colder than you would be if you weren’t even wearing it in the first place.
Thus, for outdoor use, it’s best to use socks made from merino wool or synthetic fabrics, which can insulate you when wet. Our advice? Save the cotton socks for lounging around at home.
Should I wear two pairs of socks when hiking?
Many new hikers are told that they should wear multiple pairs of socks while hiking to help cushion their feet from those steep downhills. While you certainly can wear two pairs of socks while hiking, we don’t really recommend it (unless one pair is a set of liner socks).
Wearing two pairs of thick socks not only sounds uncomfortable but can also make your feet very sweaty. Plus, when you wear multiple pairs of socks, you make your feet bigger, which means they’re harder to fit into your boots. This means more blister and less fun on the trail.
Are liner socks worth it?
To wear or not to wear liner socks? It’s an age-old question for which we really can’t give you a definitive answer. While some people love liner socks and claim that they prevent blisters, others think they’re absolutely ridiculous and a waste of money.
If you’re debating liner socks, it’s worth buying a cheap pair and testing them out. You might find that you love them and then you can buy another pair. If you hate them, you can take them off and continue with your trip – no lasting harm done.
What’s the deal with toe socks?
Toe socks are a newer development in the sock world that are popular amongst minimalist runners. Toe socks place each individual toe in a separate fabric pocket, much like a glove would do with your hands. While many people find this weird and uncomfortable, they do significantly reduce the amount of chaffing between your toes and reduce your risk of blisters. But, they can feel weird, so they’re not for everyone.
Do I need women’s specific socks?
In the outdoor and apparel industries, nearly everything is gendered. When it comes to socks, however, you might be wondering if this gendering is even remotely necessary.
Gendered socks do have some minor differences to them, so it’s not all a marketing gimmick. “Women’s” socks are often narrower, but that’s about it. Other than that, “women’s” socks tend to come in more “feminine” colors, like pink and purple, while “men’s” socks tend to be brown, red, and earth-toned.
So, if you have a particularly narrow foot, you might benefit from “women’s” socks, regardless of your gender. If not, we recommend buying whatever socks feel the most comfortable and have the best color combinations.
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David is an accomplished mountain endurance athlete who has completed over 25 ultra marathon races (follow on Strava). He is most proud of his finish at The Drift 100 – a high elevation, 100 mile winter foot race that zigzags along the Continental Divide in Wyoming. In the future he hopes to compete in the ITI 350 and ultimately the full 1,000 mile Iditarod Trail Invitational that follows the same path as the historic dog sled race.
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