Best Winter and Cold Weather Socks of 2020 (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 winter socks for cold-weather pursuits. We reviewed socks for all budgets, seasons, and styles of travel, and highlighted our top socks for 2020. We also assembled a sock comparison table with the most important characteristics, pros, and cons of each of the 15 contenders on our list to help you get a quick review of the essentials.

Most of our favorites are made with merino wool and a combination of synthetic fibers, most often nylon, polyester, acrylic, and spandex/elastane/Lycra. There’s also one model with the more exotic alpaca wool. Materials, designs and constructions, thickness, cushioning, prices, etc. are essential elements in choosing socks and performance outdoor apparel. Hence, we tried to explain everything you need to know about socks and their features, characteristics, and properties.

For those interested in hiking footwear, we recommend reading our articles about hiking boots and summer footwear for hiking.

Winter wool socks

Quick answer: BEST WINTER & COLD WEATHER SOCKS FOR 2020

1. Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion                                    View on Amazon

2. Carhartt Arctic Wool Sock                                                          View on Amazon

3. Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Cushion                       View on Amazon

4. Smartwool PhD Ski Medium                                                       View on Amazon

5. People Socks Below Zero Crew                                                View on Amazon

6. Heat Holders Thermal Socks                                                      View on Amazon

7. Darn Tough Hunter OTC Extra Cushion                              View on Amazon

8. Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion                 View on Amazon

9. J.B. Field’s Icelandic -50 Below Wool Socks                       View on Amazon

10. Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion                                View on Amazon

11. Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew                                          View on Amazon

12. Danish Endurance Unisex Premium Merino Wool      View on Amazon

13. Farm to Feet Kodiak Full Cushion                                         View on Amazon

14. Warrior Alpaca Socks Toasty Toes Comfort                    View on Amazon

15. Wigwam The Ice Socks                                                                 View on Amazon

 

Best overall winter socks

#1 Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

Height: Mid-calf

Category: Midweight

Price: $$$ (come at around $26)

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 comfort and durability
  • With a flat toe seam

Pros:

  • Top-quality hiking socks with great cushion
  • Tough and comfortable: can be worn year-round for just about everything
  • Great performance in line with the Darn Tough’s reputation as one of the leading manufacturers of hard-wearing and functional socks
  • Very warm – perfect for winter adventures

Cons:

  • A bit pricey though the premier quality is worth it
  • Run small

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

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

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best socks for extreme cold

#2 Carhartt Arctic Wool Socks

Carhartt Extremes Arctic Wool Sock

Height: Crew (Lower calf)

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (usually come at 18.99)

Materials: 74% wool, 10% polyester, 9% nylon, 6% acrylic, 1% spandex

Notable features:

  • FastDry technology is sweat-wicking (providing better thermal regulation) and odor-fighting
  • Reinforced heel and toe for increased durability
  • Ribbed cuff and non-binding stretch top to keep the sock in place

Pros:

  • Built for harsh conditions (extreme cold) that’s why they can be a bit thick and bulky for regular boots
  • Thick cushioning for support and comfort
  • Great for any indoor or outdoor activity – walking, fishing, hunting or work or just being outdoors in the cold
  • A good quality sock that’s comfortable and super warm

Cons:

  • Not the most durable socks
  • Quite thick in the ankle and calf areas but the top part is a bit loose (unless you have big calves)

Best for: Extreme cold

See the Carhartt Arctic Wool Socks

 

Best mountaineering socks

#3 Darn Tough Mountaineering Over-the-Calf Extra Cushion

Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Extra Cushion

Height: Over the calf

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$$ (the usual price is $30)

Materials: 73% Merino wool, 25% nylon, 2% Lycra (men’s); 72% Merino wool, 26% nylon, 2% Lycra (women’s)

Notable features:

  • All-weather performance + custom fit without slipping and bunching: fast-wicking, fast-drying
  • Extra cushioning
  • High-density knitting for unprecedented durability and comfort

Pros:

  • Top-quality winter and cold weather socks for hiking, backpacking, mountaineering expeditions as well as a range of sports and activities
  • Heavy-padded
  • Very comfortable and very warm (though not hot), they thrive in harsh environments and cold weather conditions
  • Durable but if something happens, you can still rely on the lifetime warranty to fix it

Cons:

  • The hefty price tag of $30 may seem a lot but with these socks, there is a big payoff
  • A little tighter for those who are not used to wearing sock like this

Best for: Mountaineering and backpacking in cold temperatures

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

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best socks for winter sports

#4 Smartwool PhD Ski Medium

Smartwool PhD Ski Medium

Height: Over the calf

Category: Midweight

Price: $$$ (the usual price is $26.95)

Materials: 62% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 2% elastane

Notable features:

  • Targeted cushioning for protection and mesh ventilation zones for optimum moisture management and maximum breathability
  • 4 Degree™ Elite Fit System: performance-oriented fit with flex zone at ankle joint
  • Indestructawool™ technology features a patent-pending construction method for exceptional durability and comfort

Pros:

  • Well-made high-performance socks
  • Excellent craftsmanship and high-quality fabric that breathes well and feels very comfortable
  • Not too cushy but provide enough padding for support and comfort during skiing, snowshoeing, and other snow sports
  • Stay in place and don’t slip down

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Not very warm but considering the intended use of the Smartwool PhD Ski Medium, it’s fully justified

Best for: Skiing

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

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

Best casual winter socks

#5 People socks below zero crew

People socks below zero crew

Height: Crew

Category: Midweight

Price: $ (the usual price is $39.90 for 4 pairs)

Materials: 71% Merino wool, 21% nylon, 7% polyester, 1% spandex

Notable features:

  • Heel and toe support; arch support
  • Reinforced toe and heel
  • Medium thickness

Pros:

  • Affordable with good price/quality ratio
  • With relatively high merino wool content making them warm in cold environments, cool in warm temperatures and conditions (wool should be washed at low temperature to avoid shrinkage)
  • Fit well but not too tight
  • Wash and dry nicely

Cons:

  • Bulky toe area
  • Durability issues as the toe and heel areas are among the weakest spots

Best for: Casual use

See the People Socks Below Zero Crew

 

Best non-wool winter socks

#6 Heat Holders Thermal Socks

Heat Holders Thermal Sock

Height: Crew

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $15.99)

Materials: 91% Acrylic, 5% nylon, 3% polyester, 1% elastane

Notable features:

  • Specially developed advanced fibers for high-performance insulation: extremely high Thermal Overall Grade (TOG) of 2.34
  • Innovative long looped thermal pile knitting technology
  • Brushed inside for soft and smooth feel

Pros:

  • Warm and comfortable in very cold environments; they can also be worn year-round
  • Thick socks that ensure a snug fit
  • They look and feel good thanks (in part) to the smooth and soft lining
  • Diabetic-friendly and provide relief for cold feet due to circulation problems

Cons:

  • Biggest downside is that they don’t feature merino wool
  • Durability issues – these socks wear out quite fast especially in the heel area

Best for: Those with cold feet even when it’s not that cold outside

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon

Find the latest price:

Amazon | CampSaver

 

Best of the rest

#7 Darn Tough Hunter OTC Extra Cushion

Darn Tough Hunter OTC Full

Height: Over the calf

Category: Midweight

Price: $$$ (the usual price is around $30)

Materials: 79% Merino wool, 19% nylon, 2% Lycra

Notable features:

  • Thick and with extra cushioning without being too bulky
  • Extra merino wool for warmth, breathability, and comfort
  • Fine gauge knitting guarantees unprecedented durability and happy feet

Pros:

  • High-quality socks that provide durability, warmth, and comfort
  • Well-padded and supportive for a prolonged time in the outdoors in the cold
  • Fit snug and stay put; don’t bunch up
  • These are the best socks for hunting but can be used for an array of cold-weather activities such as hiking, skiing or work

Cons:

  • A bit pricey, but it’s worth buying them because of their overall quality, warmth, and comfort
  • Warm but not the warmest socks (which is justified as they are made for hunting)
  • They tend to pill a bit too much

Best for: Hunting in cold weather

Women’s Version: Not Available

Find the latest price:

Amazon | CampSaver | Backcountry

 

#8 Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion

Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion

Height: Over the calf

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $24.99)

Materials: 60% Worsted wool, 26% Exclusive THOR•LON Acrylic, 11% nylon, 3% elastic

Notable features:

  • Exclusive Thor-Lon and natural wool construction with unique padding designed for extreme cold
  • Ventilation panel provides extra moisture control and allows for increased breathability
  • Cushioned arch for a better fit and more support; low profile toe seam for comfort

Pros:

  • High-quality winter and cold weather socks, these work well even in very low temperatures
  • Effective moisture management for dry feet
  • Thick, cozy, toasty, and super comfortable no matter the weather
  • The extra padding in the heel, ball, and toe help keep your feet comfortable while walking or sitting in the woods

Cons:

  • A bit itchy
  • Fit snug but it may be too tight to those who need circulation

Best for: Extended cold weather activities

See the Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion Unisex

 

#9 J.B. Field’s Icelandic -50 Below Wool Socks

J.B. Field’s Icelandic -50 Below Wool Socks

Height: Over the calf

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $ (come at $30 for 2 pairs)

Materials: 85% Pre-Shrunk wool, 15% nylon

Notable features:

  • Suitable for weather up to -50
  • High wool content for better regulation of the body temperature, to prevent blisters, and for odor control
  • X-Hi Cushion insulates from the cold, protects and cushions

Pros:

  • Very thick, soft, and warm – suitable for harsh winters and snow – maybe the warmest socks you’ve ever worn
  • Do their job without making sacrifices on comfort
  • High wool content ensures excellent moisture management, odor-resistance, hypo-allergenic, and insulating properties
  • Stay rugged without losing their shape and thickness

Cons:

  • Very bulky and heavy – they are so thick that you have to get a size or two bigger boot to accommodate your feet – so consider shoe fit prior to purchase
  • Not very comfortable on bare skin; it’s much better if you wear these socks with a pair of liner socks underneath

Best for: Extreme cold temperatures

See the J.B. Field’s Icelandic -50 Below Wool Socks Unisex

 

#10 Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion

Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion

Height: Over the calf

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$$ (the usual price is $26)

Materials: 76% Merino wool, 23% nylon, 1% spandex

Notable features:

  • Seamless toe box reduces bulk and eliminates blister-generating friction
  • High-density cushion helps for all-day performance
  • Reinforced construction and low-stress seam placement for better wear and tear resistance

Pros:

  • Constructed with high-quality materials – soft merino and sturdy nylon blend
  • Versatile – fit nicely in all kinds of boots – can be worn with heavy boots in extreme cold or with non-insulated boots in warmer weather
  • Great feeling thanks to the quality materials and heavy cushioning placed wherever needed most without making them look too bulky
  • Offer good snug fit and stay up

Cons:

  • The sock reaches just below the knee, which might seem and feel a bit strange to all those used to wearing OTC socks (it’s longer than most OTC models)
  • Might slide down the leg when worn with a boot with a high ankle cuff that’s too soft

Best for: Hunting in colder conditions

See the Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion Unisex

 

#11 Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew

Smartwool Hiking Heavy Crew

Height: Crew

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $21.95)

Materials: 70% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 1% elastane

Notable features:

  • Heavy cushioning for shock-absorption and added insulation
  • Flat knit toe seam makes the feel much smoother and softer
  • Elasticized arch brace holds the sock in place and ensures the sock doesn’t slip down the leg

Pros:

  • Thick socks that insulate very well (thanks to the heavy cushioning) and keep feet warm in the cold
  • High-quality merino wool for soft and no-itch comfort
  • Durable as the Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew are made for enduring hard conditions
  • The socks seem to be wearing well

Cons:

  • Run big and seem a bit bulky, which means that these are not for wearing with your regular boots
  • The high content of merino wool helps the sock soak the sweat but also makes it a bit slow to dry

Best for: Winter and cold weather hiking and backpacking

Women’s Version: Not Available

Find the latest price:

Amazon | REI | Backcountry

 

#12 Danish Endurance Unisex Premium Merino Wool

Danish endurance premium socks

Height: Crew

Category: Midweight

Price: $ (come at 22.95 for 2 pairs)

Materials: 38% Merino wool, 35% polyamide (nylon), 24% polypropylene, 3% elastane

Notable features:

  • Crafted in CLIMAYARN, a special merino wool blend engineered to regulate the temperature effectively by reducing the chances of heat accumulation
  • Anti-blister cushioning insulates and ensures a more comfortable experience on and off the trail
  • Ventilation for dry and well-ventilated feet

Pros:

  • Warm, sturdy, and comfortable socks made from a blend of merino wool, nylon, and polypropylene to keep your feet warm and dry in less than ideal conditions (they’re also very effective in warmer climates as the fabric helps keep the feet cool in such conditions)
  • Cushy; the fit is also very good (the essential element of preventing blisters during long hikes and walks)
  • Fantastic price/quality ratio – these socks come at roughly half or even a third of the price of other popular cold-weather sock brands/models
  • Eco packaged

Cons:

  • The merino wool content could’ve been higher for cold weather socks
  • The top of the sock is a bit too tight, which restricts circulation

Best for: Hiking and backpacking in cold temperatures

See the Danish Endurance Unisex Premium Merino Wool

 

#13 Farm to Feet Kodiak Full Cushion

Farm to feet Kodiak Socks

Height: Extended crew (to the base of the calf)

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $25)

Materials: 70% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 1% spandex

Notable features:

  • High-density cushion from top to toe for all-day performance
  • Seamless toe closure
  • Reinforced construction and low-stress seam placement reduce wear and tear

Pros:

  • Tactical boot sock engineered for use in extreme cold environments
  • Thick, with heavy padding that insulates well and provides more comfort while moving or sitting in the cold
  • Solid, sturdy construction that could withstand some intense activity and low temperatures
  • Good moisture-wicking properties for dry and happy feet

Cons:

  • A little tight
  • Once wet, the wool inner part of the sock is slow to dry

Best for: Extreme cold environments

See the Farm to Feet Kodiak Full Cushion

 

#14 Warrior Alpaca Socks Toasty Toes Comfort

Warrior Alpaca Socks Toasty Toes Comfort

Height: Crew

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$$ (come at $30)

Materials: 47% Alpaca wool, 38% acrylic, 9% nylon, 6% Lycra

Notable features:

  • Fully lined with terry loops from toe to sock opening for cloud-like softness
  • Fitted toe box and heel; ribbing and a comfort band for a comfortable non-binding fit
  • Reinforced toe, heel and arch support with a smooth toe seam

Pros:

  • With a decent percentage content of Alpaca wool – a soft and silky natural fiber similar to but warmer than sheep’s wool
  • Incredibly soft, warm, and comfortable – those with cold feet will be happy to wear these socks at night
  • Great for those with nerve and temperature sensitivity
  • Well-made, they are perfect for outdoor pursuits as well as casual wear (yes, the Toasty Toes Comfort look stylish and elegant)

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Tight, fit snug and might constrict blood circulation

Best for: Casual wear

Women’s Version: Available -> Amazon

Find the latest price:

Amazon

 

#15 Wigwam The Ice Socks

Wigwam The Ice Sock

Height: Crew

Category: Heavyweight

Price: $$ (the usual price is $18)

Materials: 80% Wool, 20% stretch nylon

Notable features:

  • Reverse toe closure for a smooth feeling inside (there is a slight bump on top on the outside)
  • Heavyweight cushioning throughout that emphasizes comfort and warmth
  • Stay put ribbing helps keep your sock in place and reduce bunching

Pros:

  • These are extremely warm socks suitable for colder climates and arctic temperatures
  • Thick cushioning works great for insulation and comfort during cold weather pursuits
  • Excellent breathability and moisture management properties
  • Soft and comfortable for dry and happy feet

Cons:

  • These are thick and bulky so you can’t use them with boots that are snug – make sure there’s enough room in your boot for a sock like this
  • Slow to dry because of the high wool content

Best for: Extreme cold environments and conditions

See the Wigwam The Ice Socks

 

Table 1: Best hiking socks – comparison table

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

#1 Best overall sock for winter/cold weather



Height -> Mid-calf
Category -> Midweight
Price -> $26
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

Carhartt Extremes Arctic Wool Sock
Carhartt Arctic Wool Sock

#2 Best sock for extreme cold



Height -> Mid-calf
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $19
Material -> 74% wool, 10% polyester, 9% nylon, 6% acrylic, 1% spandex


-> Built for harsh conditions
-> Thick cushioning
-> Great for any indoor or outdoor activity in the cold
-> Good quality, comfortable, and super warm sock


-> Not the most durable socks
-> Thick in the ankle and calf areas but a bit loose in the top part

Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Cushion
Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Cushion

#3 Best mountaineering sock



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $30
Material -> 73% Merino wool, 25% nylon, 2% Lycra


-> Top-quality winter and cold weather socks for a range of pursuits
-> Heavy-padded
-> Thrive in harsh environments and cold weather conditions
-> Great durability plus lifetime warranty


-> Hefty price tag but it's worth it
-> A little tighter

Smartwool PhD Ski Medium
Smartwool PhD Ski Medium

#4 Best sock for winter sports



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Midweight
Price -> $27
Material -> 62% Merino wool, 36% nylon, 2% elastane


-> Well-made high-performance socks
-> Excellent craftsmanship and high-quality fabric
-> Provide enough padding for support and comfort
-> Stay in place and don’t slip down


-> Expensive
-> Not very warm

People socks below zero crew
People Socks Below Zero Crew

#5 Best casual winter sock



Height -> Crew
Category -> Midweight
Price -> $40 for 4 pairs
Material -> 71% Merino wool, 21% nylon, 7% polyester, 1% spandex


-> Good price/quality ratio
-> With relatively high merino wool content
-> Fit well but not too tight
-> Wash and dry nicely


-> Bulky toe area
-> Durability issues

Heat Holders Thermal Sock
Heat Holders Thermal Socks

#6 Best non-wool winter sock



Height -> Crew
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $16
Material -> 91% Acrylic, 5% nylon, 3% polyester, 1% elastane


-> Warm and comfortable in very cold environments; they can also be worn year-round
-> Thick socks that ensure a snug fit
-> They look and feel good
-> Diabetic-friendly


-> Don't feature merino wool
-> Wear out quite fast especially in the heel area

Darn Tough Hunter OTC Extra Cushion
Darn Tough Hunter OTC Extra Cushion

#7



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Midweight
Price -> $30
Material -> 79% Merino wool, 19% nylon, 2% Lycra


-> High-quality socks that provide durability, warmth, and comfort
-> Well-padded and supportive
-> Fit snug and stay put; don't bunch up
-> Great for hunting and other cold-weather activities


-> A bit pricey, but it's worth buying them because of their overall quality, warmth, and comfort
-> Warm but not the warmest socks
-> Tend to pill a bit too much

Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion
Thorlos EXCOU Extreme Cold Thick Cushion

#8



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $25
Material -> 60% Worsted wool, 26% Exclusive THOR•LON Acrylic, 11% nylon, 3% elastic


-> Work well even in very low temperatures
-> Effective moisture management
-> Thick, cozy, toasty, and super comfortable no matter the weather
-> Extra padding in the heel, ball, and toe


-> A bit itchy
-> Fit snug but it may be too tight to those who need circulation

J.B. Field's Icelandic -50 Below Wool Sock
J.B. Field's Icelandic -50 Below Wool Socks

#9



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $30 for 2 pairs
Material -> 85% Pre-Shrunk wool, 15% nylon


-> Very thick, soft, and warm - suitable for harsh winters and snow
-> Efficient without making sacrifices on comfort
-> High wool content
-> Rugged; keep their shape and thickness


-> Very bulky and heavy
-> Not very comfortable on bare skin

Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion
Farm to Feet Cedar Falls Full Cushion

#10



Height -> Over the calf
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $26
Material -> 76% Merino wool, 23% nylon, 1% spandex


-> Constructed with high-quality materials
-> Versatile
-> Quality materials and heavy cushioning without being too bulky
-> Offer good snug fit and stay up


-> Longer than most OTC models
-> Might slide down the leg when worn with a boot with a high ankle cuff that's too soft

Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew
Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew

#11



Height -> Crew
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $22
Material -> 70% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 1% elastane


-> Thick socks that insulate very well
-> High-quality merino wool for soft and no-itch comfort
-> Durable, made for enduring hard conditions
-> Seem to be wearing well


-> A bit bulky, not for regular boots
-> The wool need more time to dry

Danish Endurance Unisex Premium Merino Wool
Danish Endurance Unisex Premium Merino Wool

#12



Height -> Crew
Category -> Midweight
Price -> $23 for 2 pairs
Material -> 38% Merino wool, 35% polyamide (nylon), 24% polypropylene, 3% elastane


-> Warm, sturdy, and comfortable socks
-> Cushy; offer good fit
-> Fantastic price/quality ratio
-> Eco packaged


-> The merino wool content could've been higher for cold weather socks
-> The top of the sock is a bit too tight, which restricts circulation

Farm to Feet Kodiak Full Cushion
Farm to Feet Kodiak Full Cushion

#13



Height -> Extended crew
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $25
Material -> 70% Merino wool, 29% nylon, 1% spandex


-> Tactical boot sock made for use in extreme cold environments
-> Thick, with heavy padding that insulates well
-> Solid, sturdy construction that could withstand some intense activity and low temperatures
-> Good moisture-wicking properties


-> A little tight
-> Once wet, the wool inner part of the sock is slow to dry

Warrior Alpaca Socks Toasty Toes Comfort
Warrior Alpaca Socks Toasty Toes Comfort

#14



Height -> Crew
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $30
Material -> 47% Alpaca wool, 38% acrylic, 9% nylon, 6% Lycra


-> With a decent percentage content of soft and silky Alpaca wool
-> Incredibly soft, warm, and comfortable
-> Great for those with nerve and temperature sensitivity
-> Stylish, elegant, and well-made


-> Expensive
-> Tight, fit snug and might constrict blood circulation

Wigwam The Ice Sock
Wigwam The Ice Socks

#15



Height -> Crew
Category -> Heavyweight
Price -> $18
Material -> 80% Wool, 20% stretch nylon


-> Suitable for colder climates and arctic temperatures
-> Thick cushioning for insulation and comfort
-> Excellent breathability and moisture management properties
-> Soft and comfortable


-> Thick and bulky
-> Slow to dry because of the high wool content

 

Winter and cold weather sock buying advice or what to consider

There are some really important factors to consider when choosing the right winter and cold weather socks for you. Don’t worry, we’ve tried to organize them carefully so that everything sounds logical and learning it is a no brainer. We’d like to begin with the key objective factors. Then, we’d point out the critical subjective factors for choosing winter socks.

Materials

One of the most important factors when choosing a pair of winter socks is the fabric it’s made of. If you’d remember no more than three rules, try to remember these:

#1 Forget about cotton

Cotton is an excellent fiber that has many different applications but it is not a good option for winter socks. In a previous post, we compared cotton with polyester and pointed out the differences between these two fibers. Basically, cotton absorbs a lot of moisture, and when wet it feels cold and clammy. Once wet, cotton takes ages to dry. Moreover, wet cotton loses its insulation abilities and ceases to provide insulation, which might be highly dangerous in cold conditions. Wet cotton also wrinkles easily and softens the skin, which increases the likelihood of the formation of hot spots and blisters. In short, forget about cotton.

#2 Merino wool rocks

A crash course in merino wool:

  • Probably the most popular type of sheep’s wool used in the outdoors industry
  • Generally, finer, softer, more comfortable and retains its shape longer than traditional wool
  • There are different grades of merino wool fineness from 17 to 25 μm – superfine (with a soft texture similar to cashmere) to strong respectively
  • Wicks moisture and transports it to the outer side of the garment so that the wearer might not even feel wet
  • Provides lightweight insulation, retains body heat and feels warm even when wet
  • Dries relatively fast
  • Merino is naturally antimicrobial and is much more resistant than most fibers to odor-causing bacteria
  • It’s much less likely (than traditional wool) to irritate the skin
  • It has many positive characteristics of synthetic fibers
  • Blends well with various man-made materials for increased functionality (durability, moisture management, and thermoregulation, elasticity, etc.)
  • Merino wool is considered one of the luxury yarns; it’s more expensive than other typical fibers used for making winter and cold weather socks such as traditional wool, cotton or basic synthetic fibers such as polyester, nylon, acrylic, polypropylene, and elastane

All these characteristics and properties have made merino wool one of the most sought after materials for socks and garments worn close to the body.

Pair of blue socks hanging

Contrary to popular belief, wool socks can be used in all seasons    Photo by Susanne Jutzeler

#3 Synthetics are used for improved functionality

While “functionality” often sounds too vague, in the case of winter socks it could be defined easily: durability + wear and tear resistance + insulation + moisture management properties + lower weight + elasticity – shrinkage – pilling.

Man-made fabrics and materials are quite popular among manufacturers of winter socks because they are modified to meet specific requirements of the wearer. For example, polyester and nylon are famous for their durability and high abrasion resistance, acrylic is lightweight and has a wool-like feel, polypropylene is tough and flexible and remains dry while transporting moisture (just like polyester), whereas spandex or elastane or Lycra is used because of its exceptional elasticity and good recovery properties. While man-made materials have many positive characteristics, they do not come without disadvantages. Some of these disadvantages include odor retention (polyester, polypropylene), poor elasticity, pilling (nylon and polyester), low melting point, heat shrinkage, fibrillation (acrylic), poor dimensional stability or elongation at break, etc.

Note that there are various merino and synthetic blends with different wool/synthetics ratios. The manufacturer might have a ton of reasons for manufacturing a particular blend – from lowering the costs to achieving better functionality (increased durability, insulation, elasticity, etc.). So more merino does not always mean better quality product (for instance, more merino wool content means softer and warmer but also less durable garment) just as less merino content does not always mean a poor quality product.

Cushioning

An important function of winter socks is to cushion and insulate the feet. Tightly woven socks provide more support, better cushioning, and feel more comfortable against the skin. It’s important because socks should also reduce friction between the foot and the inside surfaces of the boot. Usually, high-quality socks have different densities of material at different points for more cushioning or warmth or both. Such points with added cushioning are often heels and soles. The density of the fabric within the sock plays a crucial role in the protection of the foot. The extra padding also makes the socks warmer, more comfortable, and reduces the chances of blister formation.

Thickness and warmth

In most cases, there is a strong connection between overall sock thickness and warmth. For winter and especially for extreme cold, heavyweight socks almost always provide more warmth than their lighter counterparts. It’s the same with the cushioning as thick soles are cushier than the lightweight versions. Keep in mind that heavy thickness does not always translate into warmer socks though. There are quite too many examples of thick and heavy socks that failed to insulate well when they were expected to do so. It’s no coincidence that many experienced outdoorsmen prefer wearing two or three pairs of socks inside the boot. Such combinations (a thin synthetic inner layer underneath a merino blend outer layer is classic) reduce the incidence of blisters compared to single-layer sock systems.

Sock height

Many people consider this factor as not-so-important but often wearing the sock with the right height could literally make or break your experience. Sock Sizing TableHere are the most popular types of sock heights (the figure to the right comes from Darn Tough and is included for easy reference; keep in mind that sock sizing can vary significantly among manufacturers):

Micro (mini) crew

Not a very good choice for winter, the micro crew is usually preferred for warm weather. Models such as the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion are a great example of functionality and comfort. However, this length is quite short for cold weather conditions and we do not recommend it for winter.

Crew

Probably the most common height for socks, crew or lower calf (as it ends just below the calf muscle) is a standard height used for all-year-round socks for universal applications. It’s the optimal height for most environments and conditions, which makes it a great option for three-season socks but not-so-great for cold weather, at least not for high-intensity activities such as climbing or skiing. Nevertheless, there are some great models suitable not only for socks for casual use in the cold but also for pursuits where high performance is required.

Boot height and mid-calf

The height of boot socks is somewhere between lower and mid-calf but it’s a bit closer to mid-calf. Many backpackers prefer socks with this height as it somewhat combines well with both hiking shoes and boots. Hunters, backpackers, and professionals from different areas wear mid-calf socks mainly with boots.

Over the calf+

Over-the-calf and knee-length socks rise to (at least) just below the knee. This length is typical for some types of sports socks such as ski, football (soccer), endurance running, and mountaineering socks. Compression and elasticity in the leg or at the top of the sock are important for the over-the-calf design because they keep the legs from sagging and slipping down and may have clinical and performance
benefits for some people. Darn Tough Mountaineering OTC Cushion is a good example of a tough, warm, and comfortable heavy-padded sock suited for various sports and activities.

Price

The prices for good winter socks vary quite a lot – from less than $10 to more than $30 a pair. The main factors behind this disparity include:

  • Brand awareness and popularity – Darn Tough, Smartwool, Thorlos, Farm to Feet are renowned as manufacturers of great socks, which means that many consumers are prepared to pay a premium for their products
  • Features – more technical features usually translate into a higher price
  • Materials and the quality/quantity of insulation used – the utilization of high-tech fibers and yarns such as merino and alpaca wool, modified polyester fibers (COOLMAX, Thermolite, Hollofil) is more expensive than the use of other fibers like acrylic, polyester, and nylon
  • Product lifetime and warranties – the longer the useful life of a pair of socks, the higher its price

While the factors above are more or less objective, some of the most important factors are subjective ones. Here’s what you need to know about three of them.

Durability

There is a huge difference between sturdy winter socks built to last for ages and flimsy constructions that won’t survive their first use. Manufacturers use mainly synthetic fibers such as polyester and nylon for reinforcing their constructions. Many popular and not-so-popular companies make socks that hold up fairly well. By this, we mean that good socks can last at least a couple of seasons if properly treated. Nevertheless, Darn Tough are still a mile ahead. Simply, their socks are a symbol of toughness.

Comfort

The perception of the presence or absence of comfort is strictly individual. Comfort depends on fit, sock materials, breathability, price, i.e. on everything that contributes to the overall experience. No single manufacturer makes the most comfortable socks. Some people prefer Smartwool while others swear by Darn Tough or Wigwam. Sometimes comfort is brand specific but more often than not, it isn’t as there are often differences in the level of comfort among different models and designs made by the same manufacturer.

Feet wearing winter socks

No matter how they look, cold weather socks should be warm and comfortable    Photo by Maksim ŠiŠl

Various winter sock warranties

Unfortunately, this is not always an objective factor as different manufacturers have established different policies related to the warranties they offer. For example, Darn Tough offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee for its clients from the US (apparently, the warranty policies for internationals differ). Others such as Farm to Feet offer a satisfaction guarantee so that if you aren’t completely satisfied with the durability or performance of your socks, you can return them for a replacement pair or a refund (with proof of purchase). Smartwool’s warranty policy is very similar to this but it comes with a set timeframe of 2 years. Other companies offer more limited policies like the standard 30 or 60-day return policy.

Generally, be careful when you see something such as “lifetime guarantee” or “lifetime warranty” or “2 years guarantee”, etc. Often, in order to be eligible for a replacement pair or a refund, you must satisfy certain condition(s).

Conclusion

The socks marketplace is a highly competitive field filled with good products. When looking for winter and cold weather socks, look for socks that are comfortable, fit well, cushion feet, reduce abrasion from your footwear, have decent moisture management properties, and can ensure proper thermoregulation for the feet.

What’s your favorite choice for winter 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 between 0 and $15 -> $
  • price is between $15.01 and $25 -> $$
  • usual price is above $25 -> $$$

 

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Best Hiking Socks

Best Summer Hiking Socks

Properties of Cold Weather Clothing

Hiking Boots: How to Choose

Best Footwear for Summer

Basic Foot and Shoe Care

 

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