Best Hiking Socks of 2021 (Buying Guide)

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The main aim of this blog post is simple: giving you the most valuable information there is to help you choose the best hiking socks for your next travel adventure.

In this in-depth guide, we highlighted our top hiking socks for 2021. We reviewed socks for summer and winter, for all budgets, seasons, and styles of travel. We also assembled a sock comparison table to help you get a quick review of the most important characteristics, pros, and cons of each pair of socks on our list. You can find it just below the last item on our list i.e. #15 Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight.

Wondering what to expect from different types and models of hiking socks available on the market? Don’t worry. The rest of this text will explain everything you need to know about hiking socks including main materials and their characteristics, sock design and construction as well as functions and benefits of trekking socks. After you read this article, you’d know not only more about socks but you’d also know how to combine the right socks with the right boots.

Let’s jump in.

Adventurer washing his socks in nature
When backpacking, it’s important to change your socks regularly; in hot weather – once or twice a day

Quick answer: BEST HIKING SOCKS FOR 2021

1. Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion                          View on Amazon              View on REI

2. Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion                                View on Amazon              View on REI

3. REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew   View on REI

4. Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew                                View on Amazon              View on REI

5. Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool                         View on Amazon

6. Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker                                   View on Amazon              View on REI

7. Balega Silver No Show Running                                            View on Amazon              View on REI

8. Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro                             View on Amazon

9. REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Ultralight                   View on REI

10. Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Knee                View on Amazon              View on Backcountry

11. Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew                              View on Amazon              View on REI

12. Farm to Feet Damascus Light Targeted Cushion     View on Amazon              View on Backcountry

13. Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion        View on Amazon              View on REI

14. Injinji 2.0 Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool            View on Amazon

15. Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight                           View on Amazon              View on Backcountry

 

Best overall hiking socks

#1 Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion

Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew

Height: Micro crew

Cushion: Medium

Price: $$* (the usual price is $24)

Materials: 61% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 3% Lycra (men’s); 59% merino wool, 39% nylon, 2% Lycra (women’s)

Notable features:

  • Built to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter
  • Fine gauge knitting for durability and performance fit; undetectable seam fusion
  • Guaranteed for life

Pros:

  • Premium quality and functionality: excellent cushion, breathability, wicking and quick-drying abilities
  • The Hiker Micro Crew Cushion are built to last and yet if something happens to these super durable socks, there’s a lifetime warranty on them
  • Great style and softness make them suitable for various activities including everyday wear
  • Lightweight and comfortable – these socks feel great on the feet, keep them dry, and stay in place; if you need even thicker socks, take a look at the Darn Tough Number 2 Micro Crew

Cons:

  • Sizing problems – run small
  • A bit shorter for those used to wear high-cut boots

Best for: High-intensity outdoor activities

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best hiking socks for winter/cold weather

#2 Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

Height: Boot height (sits mid-calf)

Cushion: Heavy

Price: $$$ (come at around $27)

Materials: 66% Merino wool, 32% nylon, 2% Lycra (men’s); 69% merino wool, 27% nylon, 4% Lycra (women’s)

Notable features:

  • Performance fit: knitting techniques for the finest fitting performance
  • Fine gauge knitting guarantees unprecedented durability
  • True Seamless: with a flat seam on the toe

Pros:

  • Excellent hiking socks with great cushion
  • Tough and comfortable: can be worn year-round for just about everything (the Nomad Boot Midweight Hiking Sock is another great option with great padding for year-round hiking)
  • Great performance in line with the Darn Tough’s reputation as one of the leading manufacturers of hard-wearing and functional socks
  • Very warm, these cold-weather hiking socks are what you need for your winter adventures (yet many people wear them year-round)

Cons:

  • A bit pricey though the premier quality is worth it
  • Run small, can shrink further after washing

Best for: Cold weather hiking and extreme pursuits in the backcountry

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best hiking socks for summer/hot weather

#3 REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew

REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew

Height: Crew

Cushion: Light

Price: $$ (usual price: $16.95)

Materials: 79% RWS merino wool, 20% nylon, 1% Lycra

Notable features:

  • Ultrasoft RSE (Responsible Wool Standard) merino wool with anti-microbial abilities provides long-lasting and itch-free comfort
  • Reinforced heel, toe, footbeds, and Achilles provide durability
  • Made in USA

Pros:

  • A great mix of cushioning and breathability for all-day comfort on the trail
  • Able to keep the wearer’s feet cool and dry all day long in predominantly warm conditions (work well in not-so-warm temperatures too)
  • These socks contain almost 80% merino wool for an odor-free experience
  • Nice and relatively comfortable, plus the merino wool does not itch

Cons:

  • Stretch a bit and cannot retain their shape
  • Not really lightweight

Best for: Thru-hiking in warm weather, their breathability makes them a good choice for really hot days.

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

REI

 

Best light hiking socks

#4 Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew

Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew Sock

Height: Crew

Cushion: Light

Price: $$ (come at around $23)

Materials: 56% Merino wool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% elastane (men’s); 56% Merino wool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% elastane (women’s)

Notable features:

  • Mesh body-mapped ventilation zones provide excellent ventilation and moisture management
  • Virtually Seamless toe for enhanced comfort
  • Construction method: Indestructawool technology for exceptional durability and comfort

Pros:

  • Updated performance hiking socks (formerly PhD Outdoor) built for adventures: durable, comfortable (+ they don’t itch), more environment-friendly, improved mesh zones for cooler experience on warmer days
  • Not true ultralight socks but still lightweight – weighing only 68 g (2.4 ounces), these Smartwool hiking socks come with light cushioning (don’t worry, it’s the right amount of cushion that you need to avoid blisters) and can be used as liner socks if necessary
  • Fit very well and do not fall: well-placed heel, no sliding thanks to the “stay put” fit
  • Odor-resistant: don’t get stinky easily thanks to the relatively high merino content

Cons:

  • The snug fit might restrict blood circulation
  • Thin

Best for: Warmer days on the trail

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best budget hiking socks

#5 Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool

Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool

Height: Crew

Cushion: Medium

Price: $ (can be found for as little as $14.95)

Materials: 30% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 33% acrylic, 1% elastane

Notable features:

  • Targeted ventilation zones provide constant airflow for fresh and dry feet
  • Temperature-controlled technology to prevent cold feet
  • Thick cushioning to save the feet from hotspots and blisters

Pros:

  • Great price/quality ratio and rich colors – the Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool offer a fantastic experience at roughly half the price of other popular brands and models; can be bought as a 3-pack at a lower price
  • OEKO-TEX certified materials guarantee that the socks are made from textiles free from harmful chemicals and substances
  • The good fit and cushioning do a wonderful job of preventing blisters during long hikes and walks
  • Hard-wearing and versatile – suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities in different conditions

Cons:

  • The merino wool isn’t premium quality and its content is just 30%, which isn’t great for cold weather socks
  • The top of the sock is too tight (it’s also very thin)

Best for: Hiking and backpacking in cool-to-cold temperatures

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon

 

Best quarter hiking socks

#6 Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker

Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker

Height: Quarter crew

Cushion: Medium

Price: $$ (come at around $19)

Materials: 61% Merino wool, 37% nylon, 2% Lycra (men’s); 60% Merino wool, 38% nylon, 2% Lycra (women’s)

Notable features:

  • Performance trail fit cuts down on slipping
  • Undetectable seam fusion
  • All-weather performance and “put it on, forget it’s on” feel

Pros:

  • High-quality materials, fine craftsmanship, and top moisture management abilities (really do wick sweat away your feet) for all-weather performance
  • Stylish look and feel, excellent fit
  • Unlike lightweight quarter socks, the extra thickness and medium cushioning of the Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker help to maintain all-day comfort even during long and tough hikes
  • A good choice for those who like using low-cut hikers and running shoes (these shorter socks sit just above the ankle)

Cons:

  • The cuff of the sock can be too tight and restrictive around the ankle
  • Run smaller than expected and what’s more, they may shrink after washing

Best for: Low-cut hikers and running shoes

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best no-show socks

#7 Balega Silver No Show Running

Balega Silver No Show Running

Height: No-show

Cushion: Medium

Price: $$ (come at around $17)

Materials: 75% polyester, 23% nylon, 2% elastane

Notable features:

  • Encapsulated silver ions with antibacterial properties
  • Compression sock arch support bands
  • Seamless, reinforced toe and extra-deep heel

Pros:

  • No odor: the silver ions make these socks odor-resistant and reduce sweating
  • Supportive and extremely comfy for running, riding a bike, hiking, walking, working out at the gym or working all-day
  • Great fit, stay on the foot without shifting reducing the chances of blisters
  • Light but strong and durable synthetic material

Cons:

  • Very colorful, those who love more neutral colors would not be very happy
  • Not for everybody, only for those who like no-show socks
  • Not specific for the left or right foot

Best for: Warmer days on the trail/track

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI

 

Best non-wool hiking socks

#8 Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro

Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro

Height: Crew

Cushion: Medium

Price: $$ (the usual price is $16)

Materials: All colors: 32% Polypropylene, 29% X2O acrylic, 23% stretch nylon, 15% polyester, 1% spandex; for color Navy/Pewter: 34% X2O acrylic, 31% polypropylene, 23% stretch nylon, 11% polyester, 1% spandex

Notable features:

  • Reinforced heel: reinforced in major wear areas with synthetic fibers to keep the socks from wearing thin and extend the life of the product
  • Ultimax moisture control: keeps feet dry by getting the moisture up and out
  • Handcrafted in the USA

Pros:

  • Warm and comfortable, these socks are made to keep the feet warm, dry, and cozy in any temperatures
  • The Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro socks are able to hold up long term
  • Versatile: perfect for outdoor activities as well as everyday and casual wear
  • Affordable – cheaper than most products on this list – a good option for value-oriented buyers and those who have a wool allergy

Cons:

  • The all-synthetic clothing items usually tend to stink after use; these socks are no different
  • Not the best socks for long hikes/thru-hiking

Best for: Day hiking and backpacking in cool-to-cold conditions

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon

 

Best eco-friendly material hiking socks

#9 REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Ultralight Tech Hiking Quarter

REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Ultralight Tech Hiking Quarter

Height: Quarter crew

Cushion: Ultralight

Price: $ (come at around $14)

Materials: 56% COOLMAX EcoMade polyester, 41% nylon, 3% spandex

Notable features:

  • EcoMade COOLMAX polyester for better moisture management; dries fast especially in warm conditions
  • Contains recycled materials
  • Reinforced heels, toes, Achilles, and footbeds

Pros:

  • Eco-friendly COOLMAX polyester
  • COOLMAX is a modified polyester fabric engineered to meet the performance needs of the wearer: great for warm months and climates but can be worn in various environments and conditions as well no matter the temperature
  • Built for high-performance, these synthetic socks will keep your feet cool and dry
  • Fit snug without restricting the circulation

Cons:

  • The all-synthetic construction is prone to retain more odor than merino wool socks
  • The ultralight cushioning works well for short trips but isn’t that good for long hikes
  • Only one color is available

Best for: Ultralighters

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

REI

 

Best waterproof socks

#10 Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Knee Socks

Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Knee Sock

Height: Knee-length

Cushion:

Price: $$$ (come at around $55)

Materials: Inner Layer: 35% Merino wool, 35% acrylic, 23% polyester, 3.5% nylon, 3.5% elastane; Outer Layer: 90% Nylon, 10% elastane

Notable features:

  • Waterproof breathable membrane with Hydrostatic Head of >20,000mm
  • Durable nylon blend exterior with 4-way stretch
  • Extra layer of terry-loop knitting for added warmth

Pros:

  • Fully waterproof thanks to the 100% hydrophilic membrane placed between the inner and outer layer
  • Really thick, heavy-duty knee-high socks designed for colder temperatures and wet weather; for a wide range of activities such as hiking, hunting, fishing, kayaking
  • Hand made and hand-tested to ensure they work as intended and do not leak
  • Flat seams along the toes for blister prevention

Cons:

  • Cleaning can be laborious especially after getting muddy; slow to dry
  • Though you’ll never need to re-waterproof, this kind of socks still need special care
  • Very expensive, cost top dollar

Best for: Wet weather outdoor adventures

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon | Backcountry

 

Best of the rest

#11 Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew

Height: Micro crew

Cushion: Light

Price: $$ (come at around $22)

Materials: 54% Merino wool, 43% nylon, 3% Lycra (men’s); 54% Merino wool, 43% nylon, 3% Lycra (women’s)

Notable features:

  • Fast Action Wicking
  • Lifetime warranty
  • Undetectable seam fusion for a smooth feel

Pros:

  • Light but strong: surprisingly durable for such a lightweight sock
  • Excellent moisture management thanks to the mesh panels ensuring increased breathability; dry fast
  • Super comfortable in warm and cold weather, your feet will be comfortable all day long during your hikes
  • Clean easily and don’t lose their shape/fit after a few trips on the trail

Cons:

  • Tight fit that can be uncomfortable for some people especially during long walks (tighter than the Hiker Micro Crew Cushion)
  • Small fit, plus they lack some elasticity so you definitely need to get the right size for your feet

Best for: Hiking technical trails on warmer days

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon | REI | Backcountry

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

#12 Farm to Feet Damascus Light Targeted Cushion

Farm to Feet Damascus Light Targeted Cushion

Height: Crew

Cushion: Light

Price: $$ (the usual price is around $24)

Materials: 51% Merino wool, 46 % nylon, 3% Lycra

Notable features:

  • High-density cushioning at critical performance areas throughout the sock
  • Seamless toe closure reduces wear and tear and provides a blister-free experience
  • Super-fine US Merino wool; reinforced construction

Pros:

  • Sturdy and hold up well
  • Extra padding in the right places (including ribbed padding on the top of the foot) and snug fit make these socks very comfortable and prevent them from sliding around for a real blister-free experience
  • Excellent wicking abilities and incredible moisture management thanks to the fine-gauge merino wool
  • Good design and interesting color combinations

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • The length is a bit too much for those who don’t want to wear with boots (check out the 3/4 Crew
    Light Targeted Cushion)

Best for: Thru-hiking

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon

Find the latest price:

Amazon | Backcountry

 

#13 Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion Crew

Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion Crew

Height: Crew

Cushion: Heavy

Price: $$ (the usual price is $23)

Materials: 56% Merino вool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% еlastane

Notable features:

  • Heavy cushioning absorbs impact for a more comfortable experience
  • Elasticized arch brace holds the sock in place and ensures the sock doesn’t slip down the leg when on the trail or anywhere else you go
  • Flat knit toe seam for additional comfort

Pros:

  • Great craftsmanship
  • Sturdy construction built for enduring hard conditions
  • Soft, cushioned, breathable, and very comfortable
  • Thick and insulate very well (even when wet) thanks to the high percentage of merino wool; the Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion Crew will warm your feet in all conditions

Cons:

  • A bit bulky but considering the intended use of these socks, it’s not that surprising
  • The wool is a bit slow to dry

Best for: Winter and cold weather

Women’s Version: Not Available

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

#14 Injinji 2.0 Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool

Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool

Height: Crew

Cushion: Medium

Price: $$ (come at around $21)

Materials: 43% NuWool 43% acrylic, 12% nylon, 2% Lycra

Notable features:

  • Five-toe design prevents skin-on-skin friction for a blister-free experience
  • Extra cushioning on the footbed and arch support
  • Mesh top part for maximum breathability and ventilation

Pros:

  • Just like most other models of Injinji socks, they offer foot-hugging fit and top-notch comfort
  • Versatile – great for hiking, running, and casual wear; keep the feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer
  • The five-toe design keeps the toes separated, reduces sweating and the chances of blisters
  • Offer good support and stability

Cons:

  • Durability issues – the socks wear down too fast and are too flimsy especially the toes and around the ball of the foot
  • Too expensive considering the quality
  • Too thick for long summer hikes and hot weather (will need something lighter)

Best for: Cold and wet conditions

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon

 

#15 Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight

Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight

Height: Crew

Cushion: Ultralight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $21.99)

Materials: 48% Merino wool, 28% nylon, 11% olefin (polypropylene), 13% spandex

Notable features:

  • Flex zones to prevent bunching at the foot’s flex points
  • Thin channeled upper for added ventilation
  • Reinforced Y-shaped heel

Pros:

  • Lightweight and breathable sock
  • Fit well and comfortably into lightweight technical shoes: can be used as cycling, running or hiking sock
  • Compression fit: no slipping or bunching
  • Move moisture well; the material is quick to dry

Cons:

  • Not very durable – wear out too quickly in comparison to other products on this list
  • Nice material but the seam may cause friction and feel uncomfortable

Best for: Lightweight technical shoes

Women’s Version: Unisex

Find the latest price:

Amazon | Backcountry

 

Table 1: Best hiking socks – comparison table

PRODUCTDESCRIPTIONPROSCONS
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Sock
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion

#1 Best overall hiking sock



Height -> Micro crew
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $24
Material -> 61% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 3% Lycra


-> Premium quality and functionality: excellent cushion, breathability, wicking and quick-drying abilities
-> Super durable plus a lifetime warranty
-> Stylish and versatile
-> Lightweight and comfortable


-> Sizing problems - run small
-> Short for those used to wear high-cut boots

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

#2 Best hiking sock for winter/cold weather



Height -> Boot height
Cushion -> Heavy
Price -> $27
Material -> 66% Merino wool, 32% nylon, 2% Lycra


-> Excellent hiking socks with great cushion
-> Tough, comfortable and versatile
-> Performance socks: hard-wearing and functional
-> Very warm


-> A bit pricey
-> Run small

REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew
REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Hiking Crew

#3 Best hiking sock for summer/hot weather



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Light
Price -> $17
Material -> 79% RWS merino wool, 20% nylon, 1% Lycra


-> Combination of cushioning and breathability for all-day comfort on the trail
-> Work well in warm as well as in not-so-warm temperatures
-> Contain more merino wool for odor-free experience
-> Good craftsmanship


-> Stretch a bit
-> Not the lightest socks

Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew Sock
Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew

#4 Best light hiking sock



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Light
Price -> $23
Material -> 56% Merino wool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% elastane


-> Updated performance hiking socks built for adventures on warm days
-> Lightweight
-> Fit very well and do not fall
-> Odor-resistant


-> The snug fit might restrict blood circulation
-> Thin

Danish Endurance Merino Wool
Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool

#5 Best budget hiking sock



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $13
Material -> 30% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 33% acrylic, 1% elastane


-> Great price/quality ratio and rich colors
-> OEKO-TEX certified materials
-> Suitable for a wide range of outdoor activities in different conditions
-> Good fit and cushioning for blister-free experience


-> Just 30% merino wool doesn't sound optimal for cold weather socks
-> The top of the sock is too thin and tight

Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker
Darn Tough Quarter cushion Hiker

#6 Best quarter hiking sock



Height -> Quarter crew
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $19
Material -> 61% Merino wool, 37% nylon, 2% Lycra


-> High-quality materials and fine craftsmanship
-> Stylish look and feel, excellent fit
-> Comfortable even during long and tough hikes
-> A good choice for those who like using low-cut shoes


-> The cuff of the sock can be too tight and restrictive
-> Run smaller than expected; can shrink

Balega Silver No Show Running
Balega Silver No Show Runnning

#7 Best no-show sock



Height -> No-show
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $17
Material -> 75% polyester, 23% nylon, 2% elastane


-> No odor due to the the silver ions
-> Supportive and extremely comfy
-> Great fit
-> Light but strong and durable material


-> Too colorful
-> Only for no-show sock lovers
-> Not specific for left/right foot

Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro
Wigwam Ultimax Hiking/Outdoor Pro

#8 Best non-wool hiking sock



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $16
Material -> 32% Polypropylene, 29% X2O acrylic, 23% stretch nylon, 15% polyester, 1% spandex


-> Warm and comfortable in any temperatures
-> Sturdy
-> Versatile
-> Affordable - a good option for value-oriented buyers and those with wool allergy


-> All-synthetic - prone to retain odor
-> Not the best socks for long hikes/thru-hiking

REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Ultralight Tech Hiking Quarter
REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Ultralight Tech

#9 Best eco-friendly hiking sock



Height -> Quarter crew
Cushion -> Ultralight
Price -> $14
Material -> 56% COOLMAX EcoMade polyester, 41% nylon, 3% spandex


-> Eco-friendly COOLMAX polyester
-> Suitable for various environments and conditions
-> Will keep your feet cool and dry
-> Fit snug without restricting the circulation


-> Prone to retain more odor than merino wool socks
-> Not for long hikes
-> Only one color available

Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather
Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Knee

#10 Best waterproof sock



Height -> Knee-high
Cushion ->
Price -> $55
Material -> Inner Layer: 35% Merino wool, 35% acrylic, 23% polyester, 3.5% nylon, 3.5% elastane; Outer Layer: 90% Nylon, 10% elastane


-> Fully waterproof
-> Designed for colder temperatures and wet weather
-> Hand made and hand-tested
-> Flat seams along the toes


-> Slow to dry
-> This kind of socks still need special care
-> Very expensive

Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew

#11



Height -> Micro crew
Cushion -> Light
Price -> $22
Material -> 54% Merino wool, 43% nylon, 3% Lycra


-> Light but strong
-> Excellent moisture management
-> Comfy
-> Don't lose their shape/fit easily


-> Tight fit
-> Lack some elasticity

Farm to Feet Damascus Light Targeted Cushion
Farm to Feet Damascus Light Targeted Cushion

#12



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Light
Price -> $24
Material -> 51% Merino wool, 46 % nylon, 3% Lycra


-> Sturdy and hold up well
-> Extra padding in the right places and snug fit for a real blister-free experience
-> Excellent wicking abilities and incredible moisture management
-> Good design and interesting color combinations


-> Expensive
-> The length is a bit too much for those who prefer low-cut shoes

Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion Crew
Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Extra Cushion Crew

#13



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Heavy
Price -> $23
Material -> 56% Merino вool, 31% recycled nylon, 11% nylon, 2% еlastane


-> Great craftsmanship
-> Sturdy construction built for enduring hard conditions
-> Soft, cushioned, breathable, and very comfortable
-> Thick and insulate very well even when wet


-> A bit bulky
-> The wool need more time to dry

Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool
Injinji 2.0 Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool

#14



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Medium
Price -> $21
Material -> 43% NuWool 43% acrylic, 12% nylon, 2% Lycra


-> Foot hugging fit and top-notch comfort
-> Versatile - great for hiking, running, and casual wear
-> The five-toe design keeps the toes separated, reduces sweating and the chances of blisters
-> Offer good support and stability


-> Flimsy
-> Too expensive considering the quality

Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight
Swiftwick PURSUIT SEVEN Ultralight

#15



Height -> Crew
Cushion -> Ultralight
Price -> $22
Material -> 48% Merino wool, 28% nylon, 11% olefin (polypropylene), 13% spandex


-> Lightweight and breathable sock
-> Fit well and comfortably into lightweight technical shoes
-> Compression fit
-> Good moisture management


-> Not very durable
-> The seam may cause friction

 

Choosing the best hiking socks – what to consider

Outdoor socks are often under-appreciated because they seem like a generic item, but they are not as their materials, thickness, and construction greatly affect their performance. Designed to provide significant functional and protective benefits for the active person, hiking socks are an essential component of footwear for every backpacker – from the absolute beginner to the very experienced outdoorsman.

Materials

Most trekking socks are made from synthetics (mainly polyester), merino wool or blends of wool and various synthetics such as nylon for improved durability or spandex for optimum elastic fit.

Wool

Wool is a natural, sustainable, and biodegradable fiber used for producing socks and other garments that can adapt to different climates and situations. In addition, wool has some other positive characteristics of benefit for trekking socks.

Generally, wool socks cushion your feet, keep them warm in winter and cool in summer, wick away sweat, and retain warmth when wet. Wool fiber is hygroscopic. Interestingly, its core is hydrophilic, whereas the surface of the fiver is hydrophobic. The wool fiber contains natural grease called lanolin that protects sheep from wind, cold, and water. Sometimes it is removed but when the lanolin isn’t removed, the woolen garment is water-repellent and offers excellent protection from the elements. Wool is a good insulator and also keeps its shape when damp, which reduces the danger of your wool socks causing blisters. One of the typical characteristics of wool is that it feels warm when wet – wool can absorb up to 35 percent of its own weight in moisture and still feel dry and warm. In footwear without lining, wool socks can keep your skin dry and comfortable because of their highly effective moisture wicking abilities.

Wool has a natural ability to breathe, which makes it suitable for high-intensity pursuits such as hiking and backpacking. It is also antimicrobial and odor resistant, with the added bonus of eliminating the need for constant laundering. All you need to do is air your wool hiking socks to remove much of the build-up of odor. Wool is relatively durable, reliable, and quality material and typically has a long life as it can last for hundreds of years without losing its appearance. However, the material isn’t very abrasion-resistant so nylon is often added as reinforcement at the heel and toe.

Wool is classified according to its thickness, which varies between 24.5 microns for fine wool to more than 35.5 microns for coarse crossbred. Coarse wool feels scratchy, while fine wool is actually soft and very comfortable next to the skin.

Merino wool

Specialized wool yarns known as merino wool have been developed that have many of the characteristics of synthetic fibers. Compared with traditional wool, merino wool has longer, softer, and finer fibers, making it more comfortable, giving a softer feel and more airspace for moisture movement. Additionally, merino wool is light and ensures a no-itch feel, while regular wool socks and apparel have tendencies for skin itch. It has superior water vapor permeability, dries fast, insulates very well, and can also retain its shape longer than other wool. Just like other types of wool, merino wool can absorb up to 30% of its dry weight in moisture but because of the fiber construction, you may not even feel wet (hydrophilic interior that attracts and absorbs moisture from the body and hydrophobic exterior). Moreover, this type of wool provides excellent insulation even when wet, has natural antimicrobial properties and doesn’t retain odors.

Because of all these qualities, merino wool is widely used for base layers, underwear, and socks designed for activewear and sportswear. Merino wool is often blended with other fibers (mainly synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, spandex, polypropylene, and acrylic) for increased durability, elasticity, and better thermoregulation. For example, some of the best merino wool hiking socks such as the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion are not made of pure merino but of a nice blend of merino, nylon, and Lycra/elastane.

In addition to all its advantages, merino wool has also some downsides. The biggest of them all is that merino wool is expensive. Considered by many the ultimate in wool luxury, it’s often blended with other expensive fibers such as silk, cashmere, and alpaca.

Pair of green-blue socks hanging
Wool socks should not be dried under direct sunlight unless you don’t have another pair of dry socks handy

Photo by Susanne Jutzeler

Care for wool

Proper care for wool garments is not hard. Generally, the best way to wash wool socks is at low temperature and short-duration washing. Note that wool properties can often change due to improper care and maintenance practices so always read clothing labels and follow the care instructions recommended by the manufacturer. Don’t wash woolen items with other clothing to avoid leaching of dyes, cross staining, and pilling of woolen items. Use mild detergent and avoid bleaches since they damage the wool fiber.

Don’t dry wool socks (and wool garments in general) under direct sunlight or in the dryer to help them retain the shade and to avoid shrinkage. Also, avoid hanging wool clothing after washing as it can lose its size and shape easily. Moreover, if you want your woolen items to retain their original shape after washing and drying, allow about 24 hours before wearing them again. After cleaning, store all your wool clothes in dry and clean storage space.

Synthetics

Synthetic fibers have been engineered to have some important physical properties for athletic performance: water resistance, wicking, hydrophobicity, thermal insulation, wind resistance, anti-microbial resistance, durability, maintenance of shape when wet, quick-drying, reduced weight, cushion and resiliency, and reduced coefficient of friction.

Polyester and acrylic

The most popular synthetic fibers used for sports socks are acrylic and polyester. Synthetic socks, made from acrylic, polyester, polypropylene, and nylon are supposed to wick moisture faster than wool and dry more quickly. Acrylic and polyester have several advantages over cotton fibers: they’re hydrophobic, have superior wicking properties, and dry faster. In contrast to wool, synthetics feel damp when only a small amount of moisture is present. While both acrylic and polyester remain soft with multiple machine washings, resist wrinkles and stains, and retain their shape with moisture exposure, COOLMAX and other polyester fibers have a 15% faster drying time compared to acrylic fibers. For summer hiking and/or in hot weather, COOLMAX socks are a better option than acrylic socks because, generally, acrylic provides poor insulation and, on hot surfaces, acrylic fiber socks can conduct heat.

COOLMAX, Hollofil, Dacron, Capilene, Thermolite, etc. are often used for manufacturing quality hiking socks. Many people become confused because they think that the aforementioned materials are different fibers. However, these are not different fibers but rather fancy-sounding brand names of modified polyester fiber. Polyester and its blends are preferred for sportswear and performance clothing mainly because of their strength, hydrophobicity, low absorbency (means also resistance to staining), and the ability to retain size and shape. Acrylic is a common substitute for wool. It is resilient, durable, wicks moisture, absorbs little water, dries quickly, and is a low-maintenance fiber. Acrylic can often be found in blends with wool and other natural fibers.

Nylon

Polyamide also known as nylon is one of the most widely used fibers for performance outerwear and technical fabrics. Nylon is widely acknowledged as the first commercially successful synthetic polymer. In Germany, a type of nylon (Nylon 6 or Perlon) was decreed a military material and as such it was used as reinforcement for German military socks. Nylon fibers are light and fine, but also durable and abrasion-resistant. They are also easy to wash, quick-drying, and have good shape retention. All these characteristics of nylon explain why the fiber is used for manufacturing socks and especially for reinforcing hiking and outdoor socks.

Drawbacks to synthetics

The main drawback to synthetic fabrics is that they tend to stink quickly and retain odor after several wearings. Additionally, due to their low absorbency, most synthetic materials don’t wash as well as wool or cotton in cold water. Moreover, cleaning synthetics socks and garments is more difficult and because of their inherent resistance to chemicals.

Care for synthetics

Excessive cleaning and washing too often can wear out clothing sooner so consider reusing a garment again before washing if it looks clean and there is no bad odor. The care for synthetics is relatively easy. Generally, any commercial laundry detergent can be used for most synthetic fibers. However, for best results, delicate items should be washed with the use of warm water and gentle detergent. As with wool, always follow the care instructions recommended by the manufacturer.

Cotton

Cotton is a truly trans-seasonal natural fiber used for producing a variety of textiles. It is comfortable to wear when dry but absorbs a lot of moisture, loses its insulating qualities when wet, and is slow to dry. This makes cotton and cotton clothing unreliable for cool-to-cold and windy conditions. However, cotton is breathable, provides sun protection, and in hot weather, it cools well, which makes it suitable for hot days.

Avoid cotton in sports socks; it soaks up the sweat, sticks to the feet, feels cold and clammy, and takes a long time to dry. When wet cotton loses its shape and easily wrinkles, which is uncomfortable and can cause blisters. What’s more, wet socks soften the skin, which leads to hot spots and blisters. Additionally, wearing wet socks for long periods can lead to the development of a dangerous condition called immersion foot (trench foot). See our post about heat and cold-related illnesses and injuries for more information on this condition, its main symptoms, prevention, and proper treatment.

Whatever the material, sweat-soaked socks should be changed for dry ones or your feet will be more likely to blister. Especially in hot weather, you need to change your hiking socks once or twice a day.

Care for cotton

Cotton clothes can generally be easily machine washed and dried. Check the care instructions and follow them for best results. Separate light and dark cotton clothes to avoid the leaching of dyes. Lighter colors can be washed in warmer water with regular detergent while dark colors can be washed in cool water. Excessive drying should be shunned to avoid wrinkles along with shrinkage. Hanging cotton shirts and pants after washing is recommended in order to prevent wrinkling.

Hiking sock design and construction

A crew length sock is a traditional hiking sock used all-year-round by many backpackers. The upper of the crew sock ends just below the calf muscle. The mini-crew (or micro crew) design ends just above the malleoli of the ankle and is a popular choice primarily for summer hiking. Quarter socks sit even lover than mini-crew designs. No-show socks such as the Balega Silver No Show Running are often preferred by ultralighters who want to minimize bulk. Of course, boot height (sit mid-calf) and knee-length socks are also popular among outdoorsmen. The image below shows three of the most popular designs of hiking socks. Keep in mind that the difference between the height of a boot sock and a micro crew sock is way bigger than what you see in the picture. In reality, the height of the micro crew sock in the middle reaches just below the Darn Tough logo on the boot sock to the left.

Sock length comparison
Example of sock designs: boot length sock (left), micro crew sock (middle), quarter sock (right)

Densely knitted socks cushion better and feel more comfortable against the skin. Because of this and for maximum protection for the foot, many models of expensive socks use more fabric and tightly woven knit patterns.

Ribbed legs with alternating thin and thick sections and elastic fibers in the leg or at the top of the sock keep the legs from sagging and slipping down. Traditional hiking socks are shaped at the heel (have a standard heel gore) for a good fit with no loose fabric as Y-Gore provides the best fit and conformity for the heel. Tube socks do not provide adequate fit since they have loose material around the heel that can slip and bunch up under your foot.

Some outdoor socks have different densities of material at different points for more cushioning or warmth. For instance, the foot of the sock can have a cushioned sole portion and cushioned instep portion. Some outdoor socks have elasticized sections for support and to help with the fit.

The toe area of the sock has a seam that should be flat and smooth; it may be almost imperceptible in finer quality hosiery. There are also seamless socks designed for reducing pressure over the toes.

For cold weather, terry loops on the inside, especially underfoot, are warmer and more comfortable than flat knits. For warm weather, a flat knit over the foot and rib knit on the legs is cooler.

It’s important that the hiking socks you choose fit well. Keep in mind that sock sizes often cover three or four shoe sizes and that most socks tend to stretch over time, so if you hesitate between two variants, the smaller size is usually the better choice.

When putting on backpacking socks, make sure that they fit properly. How do you know if a pair of socks fit properly? As a rule, the heel pocket should be in the right place and there should be no loose fabric anywhere. For best results, your socks need to fit your footwear too. Thus, it is recommended to wear your hiking socks when you fit your footwear.

Functions and benefits of outdoor socks

One of the primary differentiating features of hiking socks, compared to casual socks, is the utilization of high-tech fibers and yarns designed to provide better comfort and protection for the feet.

Moisture Management

In general, cotton fibers and most wool fibers are considered hydrophilic, while synthetic fibers are hydrophobic. Moisture can accumulate in the shoe from three different sources: the foot itself, the legs and trunk of the hiker, and the outside environment.

The production of moisture from the sweat glands of the feet during vigorous physical activity is estimated to be in the range of 2-2.5 liters per twenty-four hours. The production of moisture from the remainder of the body during exercise can exceed one liter per hour. Therefore, in order to keep moisture content at a minimal level on the surface of the foot during exercise, a sock must wick moisture (meaning transport moisture away to the shoe upper for evaporation).

Cotton fibers are hydrophilic and can absorb three times as much moisture as synthetic fibers. Moreover, cotton socks retain moisture and their drying time is much longer compared to synthetic socks. In a sedentary activity, cotton socks may be preferable to synthetic socks, given the low moisture output of the feet, and the better absorptive capacity of these hydrophilic fibers. However, during hiking or another physical activity, the absorptive capacity of any sock will be exceeded, and then you need moisture-wicking socks. They allow movement of moisture from the foot surface to the shoe for evaporation to the outside environment. When wet, acrylic fibers swell 5%, wool fibers swell 35%, cotton fibers swell 45%. Generally, swelling of fibers limits moisture transport and is related to a loss of shape and conformability to the foot.

Hiking socks in shoes
Overall sock thickness plays an important role in the perception of warmth and comfort

Waterproof socks

Wet feet should not be a problem when wearing hiking footwear for short periods. Generally, lightweight hiking shoes and boots without waterproof breathable linings dry quickly when the air is dry. However, in prolonged wet weather, your footwear can stay wet for days. As a result, the skin of your feet gets softer, which can lead to blisters and sore spots. Waterproof hiking shoes and boots are suitable for cold conditions; however, in warm weather, these can be very hot and sweaty.

Some backpackers prefer wearing waterproof breathable socks. Typical 3-layer constructions such as the Randy Sun Waterproof Breathable Crew Socks consist of a knit exterior, waterproof breathable membrane, and moisture-wicking inner with antibacterial abilities. Waterproof breathable socks are much better than waterproof boots when crossing streams and puddles because they give more protection than boots. The reason is that waterproof hiking socks are much higher, some reaching just below the knee. In cold and wet conditions waterproof socks (especially knee-length constructions like the best waterproof sock – Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Knee) can work well, especially when the socks are close-fitting. This promotes blood circulation and keeps your feet warm. Note that the comfort range when wearing too tight socks is too limited because they actually restrict circulation. Seamless constructions reduce friction and the chances of developing hot spots and blisters.

Among the biggest downsides of wearing waterproof socks is that when wet, they are slow-drying. In addition, most models of waterproof socks aren’t very tough or durable.

Waterproof breathable socks do well in wet environments and conditions. Generally, they are suitable for multi-day hiking trips, mountaineering expeditions, running and cycling in the rain along with kayaking and other outdoor activities and sports.

Clinical benefits of outdoor socks

Being the closest layer of protection against the foot, socks have the potential to protect the skin and the deeper tissues from injury.

In walking and running, the primary stresses on the feet are impact, plantar pressure, friction, and shear. Impact forces result from gravity and inertia as the body propels forward. Plantar pressures are the result of impact, bone deformity, and biomechanical issues. Friction and shear occur when the foot strikes the ground tangential to the supportive surface and when the foot pushes off in propulsion. When external movement exceeds the frictional force at the skin interface, shear occurs where layers of skin begin to move upon each other. Initially, shear forces cause exfoliation of the stratum corneum on the skin surface but continued shearing forces can cause a cleft to develop, resulting in a blister.

Hiking sock features diagram
A diagram showing important features of a hiking sock

Modern specialized outdoor socks can significantly reduce impact shock and plantar pressures on the foot. In addition, modern socks might reduce the development of friction blisters. Friction blisters are among the most common skin injuries. They can also result in infection and disability, which has made blister prevention particularly important to powerful institutions and organizations such as the U.S. Armed Forces.

Studies show that double-layer synthetic sock systems are more effective in the prevention of blisters as the use of a polyester (COOLMAX) liner combined with a heavily padded wool-polypropylene outer sock works out best for reducing the formation of blisters. Additionally, the fiber composition of the sock (it seems that synthetic fibers work best) may reduce the friction force on the skin surface. Various studies show that wearing proper outdoor socks reduces moisture content on the feet during activity, which can minimize the chance of friction blisters formation as well as other skin injuries such as calluses, corns, and toenail trauma.

Layering socks

Wearing two or more pairs of socks can provide cushioning, reduce abrasion from your boots, remove excess moisture, and insulate from cold when hiking socks are properly chosen and worn correctly. On the other side, improper wear and/or poor choice of socks and materials can ruin your trip because of negative consequences such as discomfort, hot spots, and blisters.

The conventional three-season backpacking sock system consists of two pairs. Here are some basic rules that will help you with proper layering.

  • The inner layer (a thin liner sock is worn next to the skin) should be made of hydrophobic material. The aim is to manage moisture – it wicks moisture away from your foot and transports it to the outer sock. Lightweight synthetic liner sock with wicking properties will do the job well.
  • The outer layer (between the liner sock and the shoe) should be made of hydrophobic fabric (synthetics), wool or a wool-nylon-spandex blend. The purpose of this layer is to provide insulation, cushioning, and abrasion resistance whereas passing the moisture from your foot outward.
  • A third layer for additional insulation can be added in extremely cold conditions. You can also add a vapor barrier sock. You have two options – to add it between the inner and the outer sock or over both layers. In cold and severe wet conditions adding a waterproof sock over the first two layers to reduce the amount of water that would saturate the foot can be beneficial.

No matter how many layers of hiking socks you wear, it is important to change socks after heavy sweating and to always carry extra socks on multi-day trips. Have at least two sets of inner and outer socks (one set to wear and one to dry after washing it). In good weather conditions, wearing only a liner sock has some advantages too: they dry faster; absorb less moisture, and are cooler in three-season conditions.

What to look for when looking for the best winter hiking socks

In cold weather, it is important that the whole foot-sock-footwear system works together. Thus choosing proper footwear is a must (see our article on hiking boots to learn more about different types of hiking footwear and their features). Your socks are another important component of this system. Use thick socks or several pairs of socks for added warmth and comfort. Layering outdoor socks in cold environments can be highly beneficial because adding several layers of material adds more layers of air between the sock layers (two pairs provide a higher layer of insulation).

The best hiking socks for winter should have the following features and properties:

  • Provide good insulation for better thermal comfort.
  • Offer excellent moisture management to keep the feet and footwear dry and comfortable.
  • Made of wool or wool-nylon blend for more durability and additional abrasion resistance. Thermolite and Hollofil have been developed specially for cold conditions. Designed to trap air, in a way similar to the way wool does it, they provide better insulation for your feet.

Additionally, proper foot and shoe care is critical for you to maintain healthy feet during prolonged cold exposure.

Thick wool socks
Thick wool socks provide better insulation for winter and cold

What to look for when looking for the best summer hiking socks

We’ll start by answering an interesting question: Are wool socks suitable for hot weather? The short answer is: it depends. The thickness of the wool is the most important consideration. Thick wool socks will keep your feet warm but thin wool socks will actually keep them cool especially when combined with a good pair of hiking shorts.

The best hiking socks for summer should have the following features and properties:

  • Moisture-wicking, quick-drying, and breathable constructions to keep your feet cool and dry.
  • Thin and soft for more comfort but also durable and abrasion-resistant.
  • Made of synthetics such as polyester (COOLMAX), nylon, and other synthetic materials made to perform in hot conditions or blend. Thin and lightweight merino wool socks and also wool-nylon blends can be even a better choice.
  • Antimicrobial to prevent the growth of fungus and odor-causing bacteria. Wool has natural antibacterial abilities while synthetic socks should have odor-resistant treatment.

Conclusion

When choosing socks for backpacking, remember that specialized hiking socks may change the fitting requirements of the shoe. Heavily padded socks may require the addition of full shoe size to allow proper room for the foot. The feet should be measured when you’re wearing the outdoor socks intended to be worn during your hiking trip.

Good fit is difficult when socks are offered in sizes covering a broad range (greater than three shoe sizes) and that’s why premium sports socks are usually offered in narrow size ranges. Remember that sock sizes are not the same as shoe sizes.

In the case of chronic blisters, a double-layer or padded sock system is recommended. If there is no significant concern about skin injury, the selection of fiber may be more important than the construction style.

The socks marketplace is filled with products with consumer benefit claims such as blister protection, anti-microbial protection, and insulation which have not been scientifically substantiated. However, based on the best available scientific evidence, remember that:

  • Cotton fibers are not recommended for construction and use in outdoor socks because of poor performance when exposed to moisture. However, some wool-synthetic-cotton and synthetic-cotton blends can work pretty well on the trail.
  • Synthetic fibers have several advantages over cotton: they’re better at wicking moisture and also dry faster; they’re more durable and can maintain their shape when wet.
  • Wool fiber socks, particularly Merino socks, have many positive characteristics of synthetic fibers. Merino wool hiking socks are superior to cotton socks in cold environments and have adequate wicking capacity to keep the feet drying.
  • Padded socks are preferred to thin, un-padded socks because padding can protect the skin surface from friction and shear and can also significantly reduce plantar pressures and impact shock thus reducing the risk of feet injury.
  • The use of a synthetic fiber liner sock, establishing a double-layer sock system, better reduce the incidence of blisters compared to single-layer sock systems.

Finally, when looking for socks, keep in mind that quality hiking socks cushion feet, reduce abrasion from your footwear, wick away moisture, and keep feet at the right temperature.

What’s your favorite choice for hiking socks? What do you look for when choosing socks and why? Drop us a line in the comments section below. Your remarks and opinions will be welcomed.

 

We classified the prices in $-$$$ scale in the following manner:

  • usual price is below $15 -> $
  • usual price is between $15.01 and $25 -> $$
  • usual price is above $25 -> $$$

 

Related Articles

Best Socks for Cold Weather

Best Socks for Hot Weather

Hiking Boots Types and Features

Best Footwear for Summer

Basic Foot and Shoe Care

Characteristics of Hiking Clothing

Properties of Cold Weather Apparel

Guide to Waterproof Breathable Clothes

 

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