What Are Hiking Socks And Why Are They Important?

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At first glance you might ask, “what are hiking socks and why would anyone pay $25 for a pair of them?!” You think you can just get by with whatever socks you have in your drawer? Probably true for a short time, but you’re doing yourself a big disservice. You can either continue dealing with sore feet and blisters or see what the buzz is about and make the move to hiking socks.

Benefits of Hiking Socks

Hiking socks are a must have when you’re on the trails. They offer numerous benefits to your comfort and safety. Many hiking socks offer benefits that ordinary socks can’t.

Added Comfort/Cushioning

Hiking socks are designed for added comfort. Hikers spend hours a day on their feet so having the right cushioning is a game changer. Quality hiking socks will have extra cushioning in the important areas including the ball of the foot/toes and the heel.

Try on a pair of regular socks, then put on some hiking socks and you’ll immediately notice the extra material. The added cushioning provides relief on these pressure points and eliminate pain that could end your hike early.

There are different levels of cushioning from no cushion (liner socks) to thick cushion for extensive hikes. Extra material means extra warmth so think about some of the following:

  • Winter Hiking- Thick cushioning (thick socks) helps keep your feet warm in cold temperatures while keeping you comfortable.
  • Summer Hiking- Too much cushioning will give you sweaty feet so opt for something with lighter cushioning that prioritizes other features like moisture wicking.
  • Spring/Fall Hiking- In the mid temperatures, opt for medium cushioning as these socks provide enough material to keep your feet comfortable without making you sweat.

Moisture Wicking

It’s a guarantee that you’re going to sweat while you hike. Even in cold weather, your body will sweat. Feet are generally one of the sweatier parts of the body too, so it’s important to have socks that can deal with this.

Luckily, hiking socks are designed to wick away moisture and retain less of the odor that comes with sweating. Merino wool is the best option to wick moisture and keep your feet dry even on the most intensive hikes.

Whatever you do, don’t wear cotton socks for hiking. We always say to avoid cotton clothing on hikes and this holds true with your socks. Cotton absorbs moisture which will cause heat loss in cold weather or trench foot in warm weather.

Durability

The hiking socks currently produced are far more durable than they used to be. A lot of my old wool socks are long gone because they would become stretched out and torn after limited use. The new socks are designed and sewn in a way to withstand extensive use and keep their shape for years.

Hiking sock manufacturers are using merino wool with other synthetic materials to improve the durability of hiking socks. 100% wool socks wouldn’t hold up so they sew it with polyester and nylons to make durable socks that will survive hundreds of miles.

Better Blister Prevention

Blisters are caused by excessive friction on the skin from boots or other material. Hiking socks do a better job at preventing this because of the added cushioning and better fit than looser wool socks.

The added cushion is a protective barrier between your skin and inner lining of your boots. This is the main reason I wear crew socks as they go above the top of my boots. Hiking socks also fit tighter on your foot than the old designs, which eliminates any slippage.

The best way to prevent blisters is to wear a snug pair of hiking socks and tie your boots tight enough to prevent your foot from sliding around.

Things To Look For In Hiking Socks

There are many designs fro hiking socks. Below are the usual options you’ll come across when you’re trying to purchase socks. I’ll give my preferences, but please try some different options to find the best hiking socks for you.

Sock Height

Hiking socks come in four different heights, each with their own fit:

Knee High Socks

The first option is the highest. These will come all the way to just below the knee so they’ll give your lower legs lots of protection. A lot of times these are worn in colder weather because they cover more area. Honestly though, I hate this kind. They’re way too high on the leg for me and I would much rather wear thermal underwear to stay warm than these socks.

It’s all personal preference and I know many hikers who enjoy the added protection and warmth from these socks.

Crew Socks

These socks go above the ankle bone but usually end below the calf muscles. This a standard length for the likes of basketball players and other athletes.

These are my favorite length for hiking purposes and will only wear these on the trails. It covers the ankle and prevents friction between my hiking boots and skin, but is also low enough on my leg to where it’s not annoying.

Ankle Socks

These are slightly shorter than crew, just covering up the ankle bones. These aren’t a bad option either as they’ll still give you cushion against the boot, but not much else.

No-show Socks

Unless it’s more of a walk with tennis shoes, I’m not sure why you’d wear these on a hike. They go below the ankle bone and offer no protection for your ankles. They’re great for every day wear as they allow for the most breathability, but aren’t good for anything active.

These socks are the easiest possible way to get blisters on your ankles as there’s no buffer to stop the friction between the boot and your skin.

Material

In today’s world, hiking socks are usually made from a combination of materials. Each has it’s own benefit, but would not make a great sock if it was the only material used.

Merino Wool

Merino wool socks usually aren’t made of 100% merino wool. Surprising, I know, but hikers actually benefit from other fabrics being added. I’ll cover those other ones in a second, but first, wool offers the most benefits from above.

It provides the most cushion among fabrics, deals with moisture the best to keep our feet cool and dry, and is antimicrobial so it traps odors better than any other fabric. You’re making a huge mistake if you’re not using merino wool socks for hiking.

Polyester

One of the synthetic materials used in clothing, it offers good moisture wicking characteristics and durability. Generally, we think of polyester shirts, shorts, etc. but this fabric being added to wool socks provides more durability for extensive use.

Nylon

Another synthetic material used for durability.

Coolmax Socks

This is another popular choice for hiking socks as it is entirely made of synthetic material. There is no wool in the design but they still offer many of the same characteristics. Coolmax has become a go-to alternate to merino wools socks, especially for people that have allergies to wool.

Cotton Socks

Don’t do it to yourself, that’s all I’ll say.

My Ideal Hiking Socks

When it comes to hiking socks, I always go with crew height socks made from a blend of merino wool and synthetic materials. I find this height to be the most comfortable for me and fit well with my boots.

I also like the benefits of wool. For example, on multi-day hikes, the wool doesn’t hold the odor like other socks which makes for more enjoyable hikes. They’re also incredibly comfortable.

I also have different socks for different seasons. I ave my summer hiking socks that offer less thickness but have the other benefits. I also have heavyweight socks for the colder hikes. It’s tough to have one single type of sock for all my hikes. Your sock drawer should have an assortment of different options.

My Favorite Brands

My two favorite brands are Darn Tough socks and Smartwool socks. They are easily two of the highest quality manufacturers for hiking socks.

Darn Tough socks will run you somewhere around $25 for a pair and offers a ton of options. I have several of their hiker micro crew socks. There are numerous options to filter through from height, material, weight and even patterns. Above all, they’re just darn comfortable.

My other go to company for hiking socks is Smartwool. Same thing, they produce some high quality socks that will run you usually between $20-$25 a pair. I even have a few of their everyday, regular socks and enjoy wearing them.

Care Tips

  1. Follow the manufacturer instructions to make them last as long as possible. Washing them like every other piece of clothing or using harsh chemicals will damage the wool fibers.
  2. Don’t wash them every single time. Sounds weird, but washing the wool often will cause them to go bad faster.
  3. Don’t put your socks in the dryer. Like any piece of clothing containing wool, if you put it in the dryer, it will shrink.

Final Thoughts

Many people who get into hiking start with regular socks and don’t consider investing into a good pair of hiking socks. It’s unfortunate because they provide many benefits to your hiking comfort. Just like choosing good hiking boots, we want quality socks to keep us comfortable and our feet dry on the trails. It’s tough initially to find the difference hiking socks make, but I promise you won’t go back once you get ahold of your first pair.