Socks for hiking are a bit different from the ones your nana gives you for Christmas. Designed specifically to protect your feet, with support and cushioning, they (should) wick away sweat, keeping your feet dry and blister-free.
Oh, and odor-free, if you value your friendships!
At a Glance – Our Recommendations for Hiking Socks:
- Darn Tough Vermont Women’s Merino Socks
- Wigwam Men’s Merino Wool Comfort Hiker
- DANISH ENDURANCE Merino Wool Hiking Socks
- J.B. Icelandic Artic Trail -40 Below Winter Sock
- SmartWool PhD Outdoor Mountaineer Socks
- Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Extra Cushion Sock
- Injinji Liner Crew NuWool Socks
- FoxRiver X-Static Liner Crew Socks
- Wigwam Ultimate Liner Pro Socks
Note: Clicking the above links will take you to further information, current prices and customer reviews on Amazon
What You'll Learn
- Best Sock Liners
- Best Light & Midweight Socks for Hiking
- Best Mountaineering Socks
- How to Choose Socks for Hiking
Best Sock Liners
Sock liners – in my opinion – are an essential part of any hiker’s layering strategy. Worn underneath your (expensive) ‘outer’ sock, they help to prevent blisters by reducing friction between your boot and your sock, and wick away moisture from those sweaty, clammy feet.
Except in high summer, with a pair of well worn-in boots, I’d never hike without liner socks. As a bonus, it means you can change your liner daily and wear your outer sock for 2-3 days in a row.
Toe socks, love ‘em or hate ‘em, these liners provide individual protection for all five of your piggies. They’re not for everyone due to the unique 5-toe design, but if you do like each toe to be individually wrapped, the Injinji Liner is among the best hiking sock liners around.
The design of these socks keeps your toes properly aligned to help combat blisters, but they can take some getting used to. Made from 44% NuWool, they’re warm and your feet stay fresh and dry.
If you’re prone to blisters, you might like to give the Injinji Liner socks a try – I was surprised at how comfortable they are. These unisex socks are available in the usual array of sizes, and there is a polyester variant if you need something a bit cooler for the summer.VIEW ON AMAZON VIEW AT REI
The X-Static Liner socks are crew length and in the “ultralight” class with silky smooth seams.
They’re made from a blend of 60% polypropylene, 20% nylon, 1% spandex and 19% X-STATIC nylon. The latter is a special material coated in antimicrobial silver, reducing odors. It’s also said to help with shock absorption and temperature regulation as well.
The FoxRiver X-Static Liners are around 10 to 12-inches tall and are an excellent choice as a base layer. These liners are available in sizes from Small to X-Large in Grey.VIEW ON AMAZON VIEW AT REI
The Ultimate Liner Pros use a moisture repelling material which wicks sweat from your feet. They’re a great base layer although not the warmest – best for warm weather use..
Comfortable and thin, these socks feature a mix of 45% stretch nylon, 32% X2O acrylic and 21% olefin.
For both men and women, the Wigwam Ultimate Liner Pros are an excellent option if you need a lightweight liner. We also like the Medium-Small sizing option, they come in White or Black.VIEW ON AMAZON
Best Light & Midweight Socks for Hiking
When it comes to hiking socks, Darn Tough tends to be at the top of every shopper’s list. Our first choice from the company is arguably the best wool hiking sock around.
The Darn Tough Vermont socks are made from 67% merino wool and 29% nylon. The sock lives up to its namesake with high-quality stitching and is in the “performance” class.
They’re snug, but not tight, and are comfortable and cool. Perfect for hiking in a variety of conditions and come with a lifetime guarantee.
Women looking for a sock with a bit of pizazz will appreciate these, with six colors available, including Denim, Aqua, and Slate along with patterned alternatives like Plum Stripe. Sizing is the usual from Small to Large.VIEW ON AMAZON VIEW AT REI
This 3-season sock from Wigwam is cushier than most, with a medium thickness that’s great on the trail. Whether you want a sock with a seamless toe or a wide variety of colors, the Wigwam Comfort Hiker should definitely be on your radar.
Merino wool and stretch nylon are the two main materials, so while there’s nothing special about the fabric compared to some, the build quality is top-notch. The socks come with a lifetime guarantee like the Vermonts, although I doubt you’ll ever need to use it.
Wigwam gives you 17 colors to choose from, though sadly I couldn’t find any animal print! There are shades and sizes for everyone including women as long as you heed the sizing chart.VIEW ON AMAZON
Hiking socks don’t have to be boring, and the DANISH ENDURANCE lineup is far from that. These colorful socks are great for warmer weather and padded in all the right places.
The minds behind this sock went with a blend of 33% merino, 33% acrylic, and 33% polyamide. It’s form-fitting, but not too tight, and there are mesh “zones” which help your feet breathe. There is also a ridge across the front of the ankle to prevent bunching, and cushioning which stretches from the toes all the way to the heel.
Both men and women can enjoy the DANISH ENDURANCE hiking socks which come in single pairs or 3-packs. Their size chart is simple, and there are four colors to choose from with Forest Green, Wine Red, Yellow, and Oak Brown.VIEW ON AMAZON
Best Mountaineering Socks
Are you headed to higher altitudes? Freezing conditions? If so, J.B. Icelandic’s Artic Trail socks are the only way to go considering they’re made from 85% wool and rated for sub-zero temperatures.
Wool will keep your feet warm, and we’ve already talked about its natural wicking abilities. They also have a degree of X-Hi Terry cushion for additional protection against the rigors of the trial.
Unlike other socks or wool garments, these socks are preshrunk and safe to tumble dry.
J.B. Fields makes some of the best socks for cold weather, but the color options depend on your size. These Green socks come two per pack for men with shoe sizes 8-12 while women can choose from Beige in a Medium which is sizes 5-9.VIEW ON AMAZON
Most hiking socks are mid-height and sit a few inches above the ankle. That won’t cut it for everyone, which is where socks like the SmartWool PhD Mountaineer come into play.
These socks are 14-inches tall and will go over your calf or even higher depending on your height. They aren’t as thick or warm as the 40-below socks, but are well made with high-density cushioning where it counts.
As they have a graduated compression rating of 20-30 mmHg, they are also among the best compression socks for hiking.
With 50% wool content, they’re a wise choice for winter warriors who want something tall and snug. Despite their vertical stature, they don’t bunch up and are quite flexible.
They also come in several cool two-tone colorways like Orange & Turquoise or Yellow and Red.VIEW ON AMAZON VIEW AT REI
If you’re trekking in the snow or dealing with extreme temperatures, you need a tough sock. If you spend more time in the mountains than desert, the Darn Tough’s Mountaineering OTC sock is worth a look.
Featuring high-density cushioning and fine-gauge knitting, the 72% wool means frosty feet won’t be a concern.
The Mountaineering OTC sock from Darn Tough is only available in Smoke Grey size from a Small to an XXL which is nice for big footed folks or those with wider feet. For women, it’s available in Midnight and sized Small to Large.VIEW ON AMAZON VIEW AT REI
How to Choose Socks for Hiking
Hiking can be rough on your back and legs, but our feet tend to take the biggest beating on the trail. Having a great set of boots is critical, but don’t overlook your socks.
Where will you hike?
Some are better in warmer weather while others can fight the freeze. If you’re heading out in the summer, or hike in dryer climates, moisture-wicking socks will be your new best friend.
You may need something with antibacterial properties, if you tend towards sweaty (and smelly) feet.
For winter, you will want something warm. Wool performs better than synthetics in very cold temperatures.
Layering is a good idea, as sock liners add comfort, warmth and help wick moisture. As well as preserving your outer sock.
What’s the best material for socks?
What your socks are made from will influence how fresh your feet feel at the end of the day – as well as how long they last. The question of wool or synthetic is largely a personal one.
We all lose the occasional sock (or half-dozen) to the dreaded sock monster lurking in the dryer, but nobody wants to deal with holes.
Hiking can be tough on socks, so you need them to be durable.
- Merino Wool – a popular material in hiking socks. Merino has excellent antimicrobial properties and is perfect for colder climates. It also provide more cushioning than a regular or blended cotton sock.By nature, wool is moisture-wicking, and capable of regulating your temperature better than synthetics. It’s environmentally-friendly compared to our next choices but can weigh you down in the warmer summer months.
- Synthetics – This is where good old nylon and polyester come into play – two common materials. Manufacturers use these manmade materials with wool as blends, for the best of both worlds.Quick-drying and lighter than their wooly counterparts, synthetics are great for warmer weather or if you don’t like wool very much.
- Other Materials – As much as we love cotton, you don’t want cotton hiking socks – unless you enjoy blisters. Cotton doesn’t wick well at all, once it’s wet, it stays wet – and you’ll get cold fast.
Silk is sometimes found in liners, providing a lightweight, moisture-wicking layer.
Spandex gives your socks elasticity.
Pull your Socks Up: What about sock height?
You really don’t want the top of your boots rubbing against bare skin, so do be sure that your socks come up high enough.
Here are the common sock ‘heights’:
Ankle – Everyone loves to rock ankle socks in the summer, and those “no-shows” are quite popular with the athletic crowd. Stay away from ankle socks unless you’re hiking in shoes with a low cut.
Crew – Crew socks sit above the ankle and are perfect for hiking boots. Those extra inches protect your ankles.
Mountaineering Socks – At higher altitudes, 3/4 length socks usually don’t cut it, especially if you’re dealing with freezing temperatures. Thermal mountaineering socks sit below the knee. You can also find skiing socks in this range, which can be thick or thin depending on your preference.
Size and Fit
There was a time when you could choose socks by simply going with Small, Medium or Large. The S/M/L rule is still in effect, but you typically get a shoe size to go along with those letters now.
While some of the socks are labeled for men or women specifically, you can often toss gender out the window. We found that many socks are actually unisex, so you just have to keep sizing in mind.
As for the fit, it’s a matter of personal preference as some folks prefer compression socks while others may want something less constricting.
Cushioning for Winter Socks
Winter socks give you padding aplenty due to their design, especially ones made from a high percentage of wool.
When summer rolls around, and wool isn’t as comfy, look for socks with light to medium cushioning in high impact areas.
That would be the heel and around the ball or instep at the front of your feet.
Unless you have a medical condition like plantar fasciitis or flat feet, you shouldn’t need an insole to add extra cushioning as long as you have a solid pair of socks and boots.
If you’re looking for the latter, be sure to check out our guide to insoles which highlights several of the top options available.
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