Hiking 101: What to Look for in Hiking Socks

What to Look for in Hiking Socks: A close-up of a hiker on a trail wearing crew socks

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Have you ever wondered why your feet feel sore or uncomfortable after a long hike? The secret might just be hiding in your socks. Yes, those seemingly ordinary pieces of fabric play a crucial role in ensuring your adventures are as enjoyable as possible.

In this post, we’ll cover what to look for in hiking socks, including heights, cushioning, and materials, to make sure you will make the best decision on your next purchase.

What to Look for in Hiking Socks

Hiking can be rough on your feet, especially when you consider all the ups and downs, rocks, and roots you encounter. Hiking socks act as a protective barrier between your feet and your shoes.

Wrong socks can lead to issues like blisters and discomfort while hiking. Let’s check out the basics of hiking socks—height, cushioning, and materials—to ensure your next hike is comfortable.

1. Sock Height

When it comes to hiking socks, the height of the sock matters more than you might think. The higher the cuffs on your footwear, the taller your socks should be.

  • No-Show Socks: Imagine socks that are so short they barely peek out above your shoes. They’re a good match for low-cut footwear like trail-running shoes or light hiking shoes. However, be cautious; they don’t provide much protection against friction with your shoes.
  • Ankle Socks: Ankle socks usually cover your ankle bone for a bit more protection. Ideal for low- to mid-cut shoes and shoes, they strike a balance between coverage and breathability.
  • Crew Socks: Crew socks are the classic height for hiking socks. They typically reach a few inches above your ankle bones. Perfect for shoes with high cuffs, they protect against abrasion and provide extra warmth. You can still wear crew socks with low-cut boots or shoes, but they might feel warmer on hot days.
  • Knee-High Socks: You won’t come across knee-high socks very often, and they’re typically designed for mountaineering. They keep your lower legs warm during chilly nighttime climbs and glacier crossings.

So, what does this mean for you? Well, let’s approach it from this perspective:

Sock HeightIdeal FootwearBest Use Case
No-ShowTrail running shoes, light hiking shoesDay hikes hikes in hot weather
AnkleTrail running shoes, low- to mid-cut hiking shoesGood weather multi-day hikes, balance of coverage and breathability
CrewMid- to high-cut hiking bootsMulti-day backpacking, protection against abrasion
Knee-HighMountaineering bootsMountaineering in cold weather

We prefer trail runners and always choose versatile ankle socks. For rough-feeling feet, we carry knee-high compression socks with minimal insulation.

If you experience arch pain, it may be due to the shoe’s width. In such a case, consider using wider insoles for a more comfortable fit and better support.

2. Sock Cushioning

Hiking Socks: An up-close shot of a hiker on a damp trail sporting comfortable crew socks

Cushioning isn’t only about comfort; it also plays a role in how warm your feet stay on the trail, as it typically corresponds to sock thickness. Picking the right cushioning level depends on the type of hikes you plan and the weather conditions you expect:

  • No Cushioning: These ultralight socks are designed for hot weather. They are thin, breathable, and have minimal padding.
  • Light Cushioning: Perfect for warm conditions, these socks prioritize moisture-wicking and comfort over warmth. They are relatively thin but have some cushioning in key areas like the heel and ball of the foot.
  • Medium Cushioning: These socks offer a good amount of cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot. Ideal for hiking and backpacking in moderate to cold conditions, they balance comfort and warmth.
  • Heavy Cushioning: These are the thickest, warmest, and most cushioned socks available. They may be too thick and warm for backpacking in hot weather but are excellent for mountaineering or cold-weather adventures.

3. Sock Materials

The material your socks are made of can determine how comfortable, breathable, and durable they are:

  • Wool: A hiker’s favorite, wool regulates temperature and prevents sweat. It’s naturally antimicrobial, resistant to odors compared to synthetics. Modern hiking socks use softer and less itchy merino wool, often blended with synthetics for durability and quicker drying.
  • Polyester: Is a synthetic material that insulates well, wicks moisture, and dries quickly. It’s sometimes blended with wool and/or nylon to create socks that offer a balance of warmth, comfort, durability, and fast drying.
  • Nylon (Polyamide): Nylon, sometimes the main material in hiking socks, adds durability and speeds up drying.
  • Silk: Is a natural insulator and lightweight material, but it’s not as durable.
  • Spandex (Elastane): Many socks include a small percentage of spandex. This elastic material helps socks maintain their shape and prevents bunching.

So, what does this actually mean for you? Well, let’s consider it this way:

Sock MaterialSuitabilityIdeal Weather Condition
Merino WoolAll hiking and backpacking tripsMedium to cold weather
Polyester/Nylon BlendTrips where quick drying is neededWarm to hot weather
Nylon (Polyamide)Very long trips where durability is keyVariable weather
SilkShort trips, meant for comfortHot weather
Spandex/ElastaneFor fast-paced trips that require flawless fitAll weather conditions

While some socks combine these different materials, you can still make a rough estimate of their characteristics by checking their material content to determine their best use.

Extra Considerations and Sock Options

Before buying new socks, check reviews to see if they fit well. A good fit means the heel cup matches your foot’s heel. Avoid socks that bunch up or have extra material to prevent blisters and discomfort on your hike.

To simplify your selection, we’ve compiled a list of high-quality hiking socks suitable with trail runners:

Brand / ModelMaterial
Darn Tough Element 1/4 Length Light Cushion Socks55% Merino Wool , 42% Nylon , 3% Elastane
Bridgedale Trail Run Ultra Light T2 Coolmax Sport37% Polyester / CoolMax , 60 % Nylon / Polyamide , 3% Elastane
CEP Hiking Light Merino Low Cut Socks79% Polyamide , 10% Merino Wool , 11% Elastane
Injinji Run Lightweight No-Show Socks35% CoolMax EcoMade, 63% Nylon, 2% Elastane

If you’re curious about toe socks, we have a separate article on them here. In summary, they could be a worthwhile investment if you can find a quality pair.

Conclusion

As you gear up for your next hiking adventure, keep in mind that your feet are your most dependable companions on the trail.

Ensure your sock height matches your footwear for protection. Choose cushioning based on weather, from none for heat to heavy for cold. Consider materials – wool is comfy and moisture-wicking, and synthetic blends work well.

Treat your feet right with proper socks for more enjoyable, blister-free hikes. Happy trekking!


Interested? You can also check out our TOP 5 Guides for the lightest socks on the market for men and women.

FAQ

Are seamless hiking socks better than those with seams?

Seamless hiking socks are generally considered better than socks with seams for blister prevention and overall comfort. The lack of seams eliminates abrasion from stitches in friction-prone areas like toes and heels. This helps prevent painful blisters caused by repetitive rubbing on seams over long distances. Seamless socks are also smoother over the entire foot for reduced irritation. However, seamless socks are typically more expensive. Quality socks with strategically placed, flattened seams can also provide good blister protection if seamless socks are not an option. But for the ultimate in blister prevention and next-to-skin comfort during long hours on the trail, seamless hiking socks are a smart choice.

What socks should you wear when hiking?

When hiking, choosing the right socks is crucial. Opt for hiking socks with the appropriate height, like ankle or crew, based on your footwear. Select cushioning (light, medium, or heavy) depending on the terrain and weather. Materials like merino wool for moisture-wicking and comfort, or blends with synthetic fibers for durability, are ideal. Ensure a snug fit to prevent blisters and enhance overall comfort during your hiking adventures.

What are the usual costs for good-quality hiking socks?

The price for good hiking socks can be $10 or $40, depending on the brand. For around $10 to $15, you can get decent socks with moisture-wicking and cushioning. However, serious hikers suggest investing up to $20 to $25 for better comfort and blister prevention during long treks. Premium socks with advanced features like cushioning zones, seamless construction, and merino wool blends usually range from $25 to $30 or more. Although pricier, these socks are designed for an excellent fit, moisture control, and reduced friction, making them ideal for dedicated hikers.

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