An Expert Guide to Hiking Socks

Published on 03/14/2023 · 12 min readChoosing the right hiking socks is an important step in keeping your feet happy on any hike! Read on to get all the info on how to choose the right sock for you!
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
By Camping Expert Hunter Reed

Photo by Yann Allegre

TL;DR: If you have a long trek coming up, it's important to wear a high-quality pair of hiking socks. Hiking socks feature many qualities that regular socks do not, such as moisture-wicking capabilities, targeted cushioning, and extra ankle support. These help keep your feet happy for long days of walking on trails.

I have been hiking and camping since I was a child, and have had my fair share of foot injuries—including plantar fasciitis and a heel blister the size of a golf ball. Because I’ve tried so many options, I know how overwhelming it can be to look for hiking socks. In this guide, I will narrow down some of the key types of hiking socks, expand on features to look for, and identify the best sock option for different types of hikers.

What Is a Hiking Sock?

Photo by Clay Banks

A hiking sock is typically thicker and more durable than a regular sock, and offers a variety of features ideal for outdoor activities. These features help to keep one’s feet comfortable and protected during long hikes or treks, and can help prevent common foot problems like blisters and hot spots.

Hiking socks are usually made from materials like wool, acrylic, or a blend of synthetics—which offer effective moisture-wicking properties to help keep feet dry and comfortable. They are also often padded with extra cushioning in the heel and toe for added support and to help reduce friction and blistering. Some hiking socks also offer special features like ventilation panels, anti-odor properties, and seamless construction.

What to Consider When Buying Hiking Socks

Here are four questions to ask yourself before making a purchase:

What Type of Hiking Will I Be Doing?

If you're planning a day hike on a well-groomed trail with relatively flat terrain, your best bet is a lightweight hiking sock made from synthetic materials. It will provide moisture-wicking properties and some cushioning, without adding too much bulk.

Though, if you're organizing a multi-day backpacking trip over rough terrain with a heavy pack, you'll want a more heavily cushioned hiking sock—which will protect your feet from impact and reduce the risk of blisters. Additionally, you may want to choose a sock with reinforced arches and ankles to provide extra support and prevent injuries on uneven terrain.

What Type of Weather Will I Primarily Be Hiking In?

In cold weather, socks with a high percentage of wool are a great option. They are naturally insulating to keep your feet warm—even when wet. In hot weather, synthetic materials such as polyester or nylon are safe choices, as they are lightweight and quick-drying.

Do I Have Any Specific Foot Issues or Needs?

If you're prone to blisters, a sock with anti-blister technology or seamless construction will help prevent rubbing and friction. The Wrightsock Coolmesh II Tab sock, for example, features a double-layer design that helps reduce friction and hot spots. Last year, I started wearing these on runs after experiencing some blister issues, and I haven't developed one since.

Hikers who struggle with plantar fasciitis need a sock with extra arch support to help reduce strain on the plantar fascia. The sock I use is the Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Relief sock. Though I only have to use these once in a while, they help to relieve my Plantar Fasciitis pain.

Those with flat feet require a sock with extra cushioning to help absorb shock and reduce the risk of injury; the Thorlos Clinically Tested Padded Hiking Crew fits those needs.

Lastly, always test your new socks out on a short hike before heading into any multi-day backpacking trip.

How Much Do I Want to Spend?

Hiking socks typically average around $20 a pair. While this may seem like a high price for a single pair, I have never regretted my purchase. In fact, I view hiking socks as an investment: they have always lasted me many hikes, and have saved me from many foot issues a classic cotton sock wouldn’t protect me from.

Certain brands, such as Darn Tough Socks, offer a lifetime guarantee on their socks. If you have any issues, or develop a hole, you can simply reach out to the company for a replacement pair.

What Are The Different Types of Hiking Socks?

Photo by Ian Taylor

Lightweight Hiking Socks

Lightweights are typically made from synthetic materials and are designed for use on day hikes or in warm-weather conditions. They are lightweight, breathable, and moisture-wicking.

Benefits:

  • Lightweight and breathable; great for warm weather conditions
  • Often made from moisture-wicking materials to help keep feet dry and prevent blisters

Be Aware:

  • May not provide enough cushioning for longer hikes or rugged terrain
  • Will wear out more quickly than heavier hiking socks due to their thinner material

Midweight Hiking Socks

Midweights are slightly thicker and more cushioned than lightweights, making them a good choice for longer hikes or colder-weather conditions. They are often made from wool or a wool blend for added warmth and insulation.

Benefits:

  • More cushioning and insulation than lightweight hiking socks, making them suitable for longer hikes or colder-weather conditions
  • Often made from wool or a wool blend, which is naturally moisture-wicking and can help regulate temperatures

Be Aware:

  • Too warm and bulky for use in very hot-weather conditions
  • Take longer to dry than lightweight hiking socks when wet, which increases the risk of blisters or other foot problems.

Heavyweight Hiking Socks

Heavyweights are the thickest and most heavily cushioned hiking socks, making them a good choice for backpacking trips or hikes in very cold-weather conditions. They are often made from a blend of natural and synthetic fibers to provide warmth, cushioning, and moisture-wicking properties.

Benefits:

  • Provide the most cushioning and insulation of any type of hiking sock, making them ideal for cold-weather conditions and extended hikes
  • Thick cushioning also offers added protection against foot injuries, such as blisters or bruises
  • Do not wear out as fast as lightweight or midweight hiking socks, since they are thicker material

Be Aware:

  • Too warm and bulky for use in hot- or warm-weather conditions
  • More expensive than lightweight hiking socks due to their thicker materials and added cushioning

Liner Socks

Liner socks are worn underneath other hiking socks and are designed to wick away moisture and prevent blisters. They are typically made from lightweight, synthetic materials and are very thin.

Benefits:

  • Reduce friction and prevent blisters when worn underneath other hiking socks
  • Lightweight and thin, which prevent overheating or excess bulk

Be Aware:

  • May not provide enough cushioning or warmth when worn alone
  • Can slip or bunch up when worn underneath other socks, causing discomfort or blistering if not properly adjusted during a hike

Toe Socks

Similar to a glove, toe socks feature individual compartments for each toe, and are designed to reduce friction and blisters between the toes. They can be worn alone or as a liner sock.

Though these socks often receive mixed reviews. Some hikers swear toe socks help them avoid blisters, others say they make their blister problem worse.

Benefits:

  • May help reduce friction and blisters between toes, particularly for individuals with foot issues or deformities
  • May offer a more natural, barefoot feel while still providing some protection and moisture-wicking properties

Be Aware:

  • May not fit well in some hiking shoes or hiking boots, particularly those with a narrow toe box
  • May be more difficult to put on or take off due to the individual toe compartments

Compression Socks

Compression socks are designed to improve blood flow and reduce muscle fatigue during long hikes. They are often made from a blend of synthetic and natural fibers and feature graduated compression to provide support and improve circulation.

Benefits:

  • Improve circulation and reduce swelling during a hike
  • Added support and stability for the foot and ankle, particularly for individuals with joint pain or weakness

Be Aware:

  • May be too tight or uncomfortable for some individuals, particularly if not properly sized

Features to Consider When Buying Hiking Socks

Photo by Matt Gross

Material

Merino wool wicks away moisture and keeps the feet dry. It is also naturally antimicrobial (resistant to odors) and insulating—making it a great choice for cold-weather hiking.

Synthetic fabrics tend to be more durable—making synthetic hiking socks a solid choice for rugged terrain or extended hikes. They are also more quick drying than wool, which aids in preventing blisters when hiking in wetter areas.

Cushioning

Rugged, rocky, or uneven terrain calls for a sock with more cushioning to protect the feet from impact and prevent injury. For those with sensitive feet, high arches, or other foot issues, a sock with more cushioning provides added support and reduces the risk of pain or injury.

Ultimately, some hikers prefer more or less cushioning in their socks simply based on their own comfort preferences. Though always keep in mind the specific hiking conditions you expect to encounter.

Diagrams from Darn Tough

Type of cushioningDescriptionBest for
Light CushioningThinner and provides minimal cushioning-Warm weather hiking
-Individuals who prefer a minimalist feel
Medium CushioningModerate amount of cushioning with added comfort and protection without being too bulky- Wide range of hiking conditions
Heavy CushioningThe most cushioning; designed for cold-weather hiking or rugged terrain- Provices excellent protection against impact and great for cold weather hiking

Height

The four most common hiking sock heights are: ankle/no show; quarter; crew; and over-the-calf. Consult the table below for an example of each:

No-Show/Ankle Height

These socks sit just above the ankle bone and offer minimal coverage. The most low-cut option available, they are a smart choice for warm-weather hiking or individuals who prefer a minimalist feel. These are preferred by trail runners and hot–weather hikers.

Quarter Height

Quarter height extends just above the ankle bone and provides a bit more coverage and support. They are a versatile option that can be worn in a variety of conditions. These socks are preferred by day hikers of moderate trails.

Crew Height

Crew height extends to the mid calf. They are a good choice for colder weather hiking or for hikers who prefer extra coverage and support. These are a great option for backpacking trips or long days of hiking in rugged terrain where you want added support and protection.

Over-the-Calf Height

These socks extend up to the knee and provide the most coverage and support of all heights. They aren’t as common, or necessary, for most hikes, but they are an effective choice for cold-weather hiking and individuals who require extra support or compression for their lower legs. They are preferred by mountaineers and winter backpackers due to their maximum coverage.

Fit

Proper fit is crucial to preventing chafing and discomfort on the trail. Further, blisters and a multitude of other foot pain possibilities can arise from socks that are either too loose or too tight.

Hiking socks should have a snug fit. There should be no wrinkles or bunching, which will cause blisters and discomfort. The toe box should have enough room to wiggle your toes comfortably, and the heel should fit snugly and not slip. There should also be adequate arch support without being too tight or restrictive.

To tell if a hiking sock is the right fit, wear them around the house for a bit and look for any bunching, wrinkles, or hotspots.

How to Choose the Best Hiking Socks for You

To better illustrate how to choose a pair of hiking socks, here are three examples of real customers I have helped. Each hiker has a unique set of needs that better help Real Experts to narrow down the perfect sock for them.

Tom: an Experienced Backpacker

Tom is a veteran hiker who enjoys tackling challenging trails in all types of weather conditions. He often takes multi-day backpacking trips and has had issues with blisters in the past. Features Tom should look for in a hiking sock:

  • Durability to last for many uses
  • Ample cushioning and extra padding for rugged terrain
  • Moisture-wicking capabilities to prevent blisters

Sock examples: Darn Tough Men's Hiker Boot Merino Full Cushion Socks, Smartwool Men's PhD Outdoor Heavy Crew Socks, Wigwam Men's Merino Comfort Hiker Socks

Sarah: a Newby

Sarah, a new hiker, is looking forward to some summer hiking, and wants a comfortable pair for the heat. Since she's just getting into the sport, and only planning shorter day hikes, she doesn’t want to spend a ton of money on hiking socks. She also has sensitive skin, and needs socks that won't cause irritation or blisters. Features Sarah should look for in a hiking sock:

  • Breathability
  • Affordable price
  • Seamless design with moisture-wicking capabilities

Sock examples: Darn Tough Women's Light Hiker No Show Lightweight Hiking Socks with Cushion, Thorlo Women's Light Hiking Socks, Injinji Women's Trail Midweight Crew Socks

Dale: a Long-Distance Thru-Hiker

Dale is a thru-hiker who is planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. He needs socks that can handle the rigors of a long-distance hike while accommodating his blisters issues. Features Dale should look for in a hiking sock:

  • Lightweight material
  • Quick-drying and moisture-wicking capabilities
  • Blister-prevention features

Sock examples: Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew Socks, Drymax Hiking HD Crew Socks, Darn Tough Men's Ranger Micro Crew Midweight Hiking Socks

Reach Out to a Real Expert

Hiking in my Wrightsock Coolmesh II Tab sock! Photo by Hunter Reed

It’s important to take care of your feet while on the trail. If you use a regular sock, you are more inclined to develop blisters, sore feet, and ankle injuries.

Hopefully this guide has helped you to identify your specific needs. Remember to try your hiking socks on with the shoes you intend to wear prior to hitting the trails.

If you still have questions regarding the right hiking socks for you, reach out to a Camping & Hiking Expert. We offer free, customized gear recommendations for those looking to take advantage of the great outdoors—our favorite pastime!

Curated experts can help

Have a question about the article you just read or want personal recommendations? Connect with a Curated expert and get free recommendations for whatever you’re looking for!

Shop Camping & Hiking on Curated

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Written by:
Hunter Reed, Camping Expert
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Hunter Reed
Camping Expert
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103 Customers helped

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