If you’ve ever gone shopping in a specialty outdoor gear store, you may have noticed that hiking socks are a bit more expensive than the classic white cotton socks you can get at any regular shoe shop. At an average price of $20 to $25 a pair, hiking socks certainly aren’t cheap, which raises the question: Do hiking socks make a difference?
The quick answer is yes, hiking socks do make a difference and they are worth the money. Unlike regular socks that you might wear to the gym, hiking-specific socks are made with materials that can help keep your feet warm and comfortable as you walk. They’re also generally more durable than classic cotton socks so they can withstand the rigors of the trail.
But we know how painful it can be to fork over around $50 for just a couple pairs of hiking socks, so it’s understandable if you’re hesitant to add them to your gear list. In this article, we’re going to discuss why you should get proper hiking socks so you’re better prepared for your upcoming adventures.
Do You Need Special Socks for Hiking Boots?
You don’t technically need special socks for hiking boots, per se, but you’re going to be much more comfortable if you have proper hiking socks when you’re outside. In a pinch, regular socks may be okay for a quick trekking trip in a dry environment, but you’ll be much better off in the long run if you invest in a quality pair of socks for hiking.
There are a few reasons why you ought to get special hiking socks for all your outdoor adventures. These include:
Improved Warmth & Safety
The most important reason why you should switch to real hiking socks has to do with your safety and well-being. Hiking socks are made from either wool (generally merino wool) or some sort of synthetic fabric blend—not cotton. This is critical because cotton actually makes you colder when wet while both synthetic and wool fabrics can insulate you, even when they’re damp.
If you’re trekking in a very hot, dry environment, this might not seem important but if there’s ever a chance that your feet could be cold or wet while outside, proper hiking socks can help prevent a range of injuries, such as trench foot and frostbite.
Since hiking socks are designed for long days of walking, they usually come with at least a little bit of cushioning underfoot. Not only is this cushioning super cozy, but it can help pad your foot to protect you on long downhill hiking sections. Depending on the types of shoes that you wear while hiking, this cushioning can also sometimes help prevent hot spots and blisters, too.
Enhanced Wicking Ability
Hiking tends to be quite exhausting, so breaking a sweat is generally expected on the trail. No one likes sweaty feet, of course, so hiking sock manufacturers design their gear using fabrics that can help wick away sweat from your skin. This can help your feet stay dry and comfortable while you walk, which can also prevent blisters and other foot irritations on the trail.
When you pay $20 to $25 for a pair of socks, you probably expect them to last a long time. The good news is that most quality hiking socks do last for years when cared for properly. These socks are designed for the ruggedness of the great outdoors, so they tend to last for much longer than the cotton ones that you can get on sale at any sporting goods store.
So, while it can feel odd to spend that much money on a pair of special hiking socks, they really are worth it if you want to venture outside on a regular basis. There are cheaper alternatives to the pricey merino wool models, too, and you can often get socks on sale at places like Steep and Cheap or the REI Outlet.
Why Do Hikers Wear Wool Socks?
Hikers wear wool socks (specifically merino wool socks) because they offer better moisture wicking, warmth, and comfort than their cotton counterparts. Wool can also keep you warm when wet while cotton sucks away heat from your body when it starts to get damp.
The downside to wool socks is that they tend to be quite expensive. If you don’t want to shell out the cash for some merino wool socks, you could always opt for models that are made from a wide range of affordable, non-cotton materials, such as acrylic, polyester, and bamboo rayon, instead.
Why Are Hiking Socks Thick?
Hiking socks tend to be thick because they are made with lots of cushioning underfoot and in other high-wear areas, such as the top of the foot. This cushioning can make a huge difference in your comfort if you’re planning on tackling some long days on the trail and it can also help stop hot spots from turning into blisters.
That said, you don’t have to wear thick hiking socks if you don’t want to. There are plenty of manufacturers out there that make socks in a variety of thicknesses so you can get a pair that suits your needs.
For example, Darn Tough makes socks in three thickness levels: no cushion, cushion, and full cushion. Smartwool actually has six thickness levels in its socks: zero, targeted, light, full, extra, and maximum. So there’s something out there to suit any hiker’s sock preferences on the trail.
The Verdict: Are Hiking Socks Really Necessary?
Hiking is a gear-intensive pursuit, and while it might seem silly to invest a sizable amount of money in socks that are specifically designed for trekking, doing so is a wise idea.
Hiking socks are an essential part of any good adventure gear list as they are more durable and comfortable than their cotton cousins. Ultimately, hiking socks aren’t cheap, but they’re a must-have for performance in the mountains.
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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.