The difference between a good pair of hiking socks and a bad pair is the difference between a comfortable day walking in the mountains, and a day of painful feet and managing blisters.
A good pair of hiking socks needs to be your number one priority. You can easily walk with a great pair of hiking socks and a bad pair of hiking boots, but try the other way around, and you’re going to have problems.
A good pair of hiking socks can regulate temperature, absorb shock, prevent blisters, and improve circulation. On a long hike, they can be the difference between completing and giving up.
So What Makes A Good Pair Of Hiking Socks?
The first choice to make is the sock length and how high up your leg you want the sock to reach. Personally, I think you need to go with a full length, knee-high socks, however, I do understand that in the summer months, when your walking in your shorts, full-length socks, probably don’t look the best idea. This is why walking sock typically come in four key lengths;
- Sports Socks – are low-cut socks that should only be used for trainers only and other than walking the dog, should not be used on off the beaten track.
- Heel Socks – are cut slightly above the ankle and given the lack of support they provide can only be used with trail shoes for a quick walk on well-trodden trails.
- Crew/Calf Socks – are the classic hiking socks that you’ll find across the market. Generally, they’re designed to be a few inches above the ankle to that they can provide some shin-support, while also protecting against boots that have a high cuff.
- Knee-High – are typically designed for mountaineering or even skiing where you’re wearing big boots to protect you from the elements. This type of sock will specifically be designed to protect your shin’s and calf’s from abrasions and while also keeping your lower legs warm.
Types of Material
Hiking socks are generally made from five kinds of material; silk, merino-wool, wool, cotton and synthetic that includes cooling technology. Here is a guide to the materials and what you can expect:
- Merino Wool – Made from natural fibres, Merino Wool socks are warm, breathable and soft. So not only will you feel comfortable in them, but you will not feel the burning desire to air your feet as soon as you finally get the opportunity to sit down after a long day’s walk.
- Cooling Technology – as the name suggests, aims to keep your feet cool during hot weather hikes. Whereas other socks merely absorb moisture, resulting in a slightly uncomfortable squelchy feel at the bottom of your boot, socks with cooling technology dry quickly, leaving your feet feeling fresh throughout the day. (Check-Out Iso-Cool Socks)
- Wool – For generations of hikers, wool has been the go-to material for hiking socks, and for a good reason. They are warm, padded and long-lasting. Their only downside is that on occasion, they can be too warm. While they are fantastically cosy and perfect for winter hikes, they can be too hot for summer treks leaving the resulting feeling that your feet are toasting inside an oven.
- Cotton – These socks are cheaper than their peers, but this is as they prove to retain moisture which can potentially lead to blistering feet and should therefore only be worn for short strolls. That said, it is a useful idea to bring a few pairs with you as spares as you can wear them when you are wandering around a town, city or village.
- Silk – High wicking and lightweight, silk socks are great for wearing in hot weather and even better for wearing as lining for other socks. Their only problem is that they damage relatively quickly and it is best to take a few pairs with you if you can afford them, or as already suggested, use them in combination with other types of hiking sock.
Sock fitting is another tiny but vital part of choosing the right socks for your needs. In my experience, socks that are too tight squeeze my toes together to such an extent it feels like my boots are too small when they’re not. If they’re also loose, the opposite happens,
- Too tight and they will cut off the circulation in your feet.
- Too loose then you run the risk of blisters and chafing.
- Too low on the ankle can mean there is a lack of protection from the heel and tongue of your footwear.
- Too high and they may cause your feet to become too warm.
Socks are available in various thicknesses, ranging from very thin lining socks to thick double layered socks.
- Thin light socks are the best hiking socks for warm days or on short easy trails.
- Mid-thickness socks are best for tougher hikes but where it is still reasonably warm.
- Thick socks are the best hiking sock for tough hikes and colder temperatures.
It is vital you choose comfortable hiking socks. Many hiking socks have extra padding around the heel and toe areas and even underfoot to give extra protection as these areas are the most vulnerable. The best hiking socks will provide just enough cushioning but not too much.
Key Features You Should Be Looking Out For
- Flat seams – This will help prevent blisters as there is less chance of them rubbing.
- Anti-bacterial – These types of socks allow a user to wear them for several days with minimal odour.
- Anti-mosquito – These socks are treated with insect repellent to keep the bugs at bay, perfect for hot climates.
You need to remember there is no one size, one sock that fits all users, and all types of hiking. It’s important that you buy socks to match what you’re going to be using them for and not worry that you’ll probably have a selection of different socks in a short period of time.
As a final point, when choosing the best boot, make sure you take your socks with you when you try on those boots. I’ve often found that socks vary so much that my boots are comfortable with one design, and not, with another.
Once you’ve decided on the right pair of socks for your needs, head over to our hiking sock review page choose your socks our walking boot guide.