Step Up Your Skiing: A Guide to the Best Ski Socks

Published on 06/15/2023 · 7 min readSki Expert Hunter R. explains how ski socks differ from regular socks and lists the top ski socks that will keep your feet happy all season long!
Hunter R., Ski Expert
By Ski Expert Hunter R.

Photo courtesy of Blizzard

Ski Gear Checklist

  • Skis
  • Boots
  • Poles
  • Gloves
  • Pants
  • Jacket
  • Goggles
  • Helmet
  • Ski Socks — Wait a second, I need special socks for skiing?

Socks are an often overlooked yet incredibly important part of your ski gear setup. Working in the ski industry over the last several years, I have often been met with confusion or surprise when I say that there are socks specifically designed for skiing. This is also followed by a hesitant look when I explain that it’s actually important to make sure you wear a sock designed for skiing and that using any old sock can lead to a lot of issues.

In this article, I will break down what a ski sock is, what sets a ski sock apart from other socks, and why you shouldn't just use regular socks for skiing. Then I will provide a list of the top ski socks of the season, with a short explanation of each and details as to how they vary.

What is a ski sock?

As the name would indicate, a ski sock is a sock specifically designed to add warmth, protection, and comfort while being worn inside a ski boot.

What makes a pair of ski socks different from regular socks?

The first main difference in a ski sock compared to a regular sock is that ski socks are made from different high-performance materials. This is normally either merino wool, a synthetic such as polyester, lycra spandex, acrylic, or nylon, or a blend of a synthetic material and merino wool. These materials are meant to wick moisture away from your foot because the key to keeping your feet warm and comfortable is to keep them dry.

Both merino wool and synthetics also have odor-resistant qualities, which is an added bonus and prevents you from needing to wash the socks after every use. Don’t use a cotton sock! Cotton does not wick moisture but instead absorbs it, which ensures your feet stay wet and cold.

The second difference in ski socks is the added padding in high-contact zones. This padding is normally on the ball of the foot, the heel, and the shin. In a normal skiing stance, you are naturally placing a lot of pressure between your shins and your ski boots throughout the day. This can cause what's known as shinbang. Shinbang is a deep, throbbing pain along the muscles of the shin. There are a few other factors that can contribute to this issue aside from wearing the wrong socks, but once shinbang starts, it takes a few days (at least) of keeping your feet out of ski boots for it to go away.

The best way to prevent shinbang from ruining your ski vacation or keeping you off the slopes on a powder day is to mitigate it before it starts. The added cushion on the front of ski socks is designed for just that! The heel and ball of the foot padding is a little more self-explanatory, but it is intended to keep the bottom of your feet from hurting or getting bruises or blisters after long days of being in ski boots. Some socks also have added padding on the ankle to help anchor your foot securely in your ski boot.

Diagram of the Smartwool Targeted Cushion Ski Sock with text by Hunter R.

A third difference in ski socks that isn’t talked about as often is the fit of a ski sock compared to a regular sock. Ski socks are also meant to act as compression socks. If you haven't seen compression socks, you have likely seen compression sleeves worn by basketball players or compression shorts worn by runners and weight lifters. The idea with compression clothing is that it’s tight-fitting and puts pressure on the muscles you are using to prevent more muscle soreness later on.

The pressure also promotes blood flow, which keeps your skin warm and your muscles loose. This helps to prevent injury and keep your toes from getting too cold. Most non-ski-specific socks have a looser fit so you don’t get this benefit, and cotton socks tend to be looser and will bunch up after a few runs. Ski socks also have a non-slip cuff at the top and a tighter elastane arch.

But do I need a ski-specific sock?

Yes! You should always use a ski-specific sock. The issues mentioned above (shinbang, cold feet, cramps) are completely avoidable but can ruin a perfectly good day of skiing. That aside, the most common complaint from skiers regarding pain and discomfort comes from the body parts that are covered by socks (ankle, foot, shin pain or cold feet, sore lower legs, and calf cramps). These issues are often blamed on the ski boot, but a lot of the issues people experience in a well-fitting ski boot can be mitigated by having a well-fitting ski sock.

Okay, which sock should I get then?

Below are a few of the highest-rated ski socks on the market right now. I will go over their warmth, durability, breathability, fit, and value. Ski socks are a bit pricier than regular socks, so it’s smart to do a bit of research beforehand and make sure you get something that will be a good fit for your needs and will last for years to come!

Best Ski Socks

Best Overall

Smartwool Performance Ski Targeted Cushion Sock

This is a comfortable, warm, mid-weight merino wool sock that’s great at wicking sweat away from your foot. It has good mid-range padding that will offer some protection but not feel uncomfortable if you aren’t used to that extra cushion. Overall, it’s been rated the best ski sock this season in multiple gear tests, and Smartwool is a great, reliable brand.

Smartwool PhD Medium Ski Sock

Given the comment above about Smartwool being top-tier when it comes to socks, it probably isn't a surprise that the second-best-overall sock is also from Smartwool. The Smartwool PhD Ski Medium Sock is made with Smartwool's PhD (Performance in the Highest Degree) wool blend, which is meant to be a more durable and comfortable merino wool blend. Among other features, the fibers in its PhD wool have extra moisture-wicking capabilities without adding any bulk. These socks have slightly less ski-targeted cushion than the first sock on this list.

Best Runner Ups

Icebreaker Light Ski + OTC Sock

This is a lightweight sock that still has ski cushioning but is not as thick everywhere else. Quick-dry and comfortable, this is the right sock for you if you are looking for something a little thinner than normal socks but aren’t ready to jump to anything ultralight. Icebreaker doesn't tend to be as durable as other suggestions on this list, which is the only downfall. By the way, OTC stands for over-the-calf, and you will see it a lot when browsing for ski socks!

Darn Tough Light Padded OTC Sock

Darn Tough makes awesome socks out of Vermont that are highly durable and made to last a lifetime. And they mean it, because Darn Tough socks come with a lifetime guarantee. This sock will keep your feet dry even on the warmest, sweatiest days with its incredible wicking capability. They aren’t as warm as a lot of the other options on this list and the shin padding is only on part of the shin, which I don’t feel is enough padding for me personally.

Best Ultralight

Smartwool Performance Zero Cushion Ski OTC Sock

If you would still like the benefits of the compression sock and moisture-wicking material without the added padding, an ultralight sock might be right for you. Personally, I use these on days where I am spending a lot of energy, staying warm, and not skiing as much (ski touring or half days of spring skiing at the resort). They have no cushion but all the other benefits of ski socks, as well as a seamless toe for added comfort.

Best Heated Sock

Lenz 4.0 Heated Sock

I don’t normally recommend heated socks right off the bat, but if you have tried everything else and nothing seems to keep your toes warm, a heated sock might be the best option for you. This one is the best on the market in terms of value, durability, and warmth. They don’t have padding on the shin, but they do act as a compression sock and are made from a high-performance fabric. Bluetooth connectivity lets you adjust the heat from your phone and the rechargeable battery attaches to the top of your sock to prevent any discomfort inside the ski boot.

Still not sure which sock is the best for you? Have another concern or question about ski socks or ski gear that isn’t addressed in this article? Talk to a Curated Ski Expert today and they can send over a suggestion of socks and other ski gear tailored just to your needs!

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 Skis on Curated

Icebreaker Men's Light Cushion OTC Ski Socks
Smartwool Men's Performance Ski Zero Cushion OTC Socks

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