A guide to the best hiking socks for men and women thru-hiking in 2019.
When heading out to enjoy a day on the trails, the last thing you want to worry about is a pesky blister. With modern technology and more hiking sock options than you can count, there’s no reason a blister should ever be a problem. However, there are a few features you’ll want to look for and consider when picking out your next pair. We’ve rounded up the top benefits of hiking socks and help you choose the right pair of socks for your next outdoor adventure.
Breathability: Hiking socks are specifically designed to regulate your body's temperature, and sooth the friction that occurs between the abrasion of your foot and the hiking boot. All good-quality hiking socks are created from breathable materials that are designed to keep your feet airy, dry and blister-free.
Comfort/Cushioning: Most hiking socks you find will have the largest amount of cushioning in the same two locations: near the heel and the ball of the foot. Taking into consideration the number of miles you plan to cover, along with the climate you’ll be exposed to during your hike can help determine the level of cushioning you’ll want for your hiking socks.
Durability: A sock’s durability varies depending on the number of miles they'll hike, but also on how the person walks, how hard their foot-strike is, and even how often they wash their socks (side note: It’s better NOT TO wash your hiking socks every time you wear them, as this will break down the composition of the fabric faster). Most companies won’t guarantee a set number of miles, as wear-and-tear can vary from person to person.
Wicks Away Moisture: When it’s a scorcher of a day, your socks need to be working hard to ensure your feet stay dry. One of the most important features about hiking socks is their ability to wick moisture away from your body. Because of this, merino wool has been deemed the ‘best-of-the-best’ material for hiking socks. The fibers in the wool can detect your body's temperature and begin cooling you down long before you even start sweating.
Keeps Odors Away: When hiking long miles, socks will inevitably start to smell. One of the benefits of hiking socks though is that they're effective at eliminating bacteria and thus odor. Again, merino wool comes first-in-class here as it is naturally odor-resistant.
Dries Quickly: When hitting the trails, it’s inevitable that at some point or another you will come into contact with water. Whether it starts down-pouring during your hike or you stumble your way into a stream, having a pair of socks that will dry fast is important for avoiding blisters. Ultralight and lightweight socks are known for their quick-drying capabilities. Merino wool and polyester, which are both common materials used in thicker hiking socks, are also known to wick away moisture and dry quicker than other fabrics.
Damscacus Lightweight socks by Farm to Feet
Hiking socks fall into four categories: Ultralight, Lightweight, Midweight and Thick/Heavy. To determine which kind you need for your hike, you’ll first need to determine where you’re going, how far you’re going, and how long you plan to take to get there.
Ultralight: Ultralight socks are best suited for short hikes or trail runs, either in hot or warm weather. They’re thin, breathable, and come in a range of sizes from no shows to crews. They’re the fastest drying option for hiking socks and are typically made of polyester blends, nylon, and spandex. Ultralights can be worn alone or underneath thicker socks as liners, as they have minimal padding, but are excellent at keeping moisture away. These are the perfect socks for a day hike in summer, but for a longer or colder trek, you’d want to opt for a thicker sock option.
Lightweight: Lightweight socks are a step up in thickness compared to Ultralights. They’re ideal for longer day hikes and overnight backpacking trips during warmer weather, and range in lengths from ankle to crew. The cushioning on the lightweight sock is strategically placed on the heel and balls of the feet for added comfort. Most lightweight socks are made from polyester/wool blends, nylon, and spandex, and like the ultralight sock, they will dry fast if they get wet. Although a lightweight sock would be a great option for a longer hike or shorter backpacking trip during the warmer months, you’d likely want to move up to a midweight sock for any longer or colder adventure.
Midweight: Midweight socks are ideal for colder climates, higher mileage hikes, or longer backpacking trips. Compared to the lightweight sock, a midweight sock will feel much thicker, focusing on extra padding in the toes, heel, and balls of the feet. You can find midweight socks available in crew, quarter and knee-length height. A Midweight sock is usually composed of merino wool and polyester blend. If going on a long backpacking trip, a good tip to save on space and weight may be to bring a pair of midweight socks to wear overtop of your ultralight socks. By doing this, your ultralight socks will soak up any excess moisture, and you can easily wash and dry them overnight while keeping your midweight socks dry and ready to be reused. It would be harder to wash and dry a midweight sock overnight, as its thickness causes it to dry slower.
Thick: Thick socks are as heavy and durable as you can get for hiking socks. This is the level of hiking sock that’s worn when mountaineering, hiking through tough terrain or heading out on a multi-day backpacking trip in colder temps. Thick socks are designed to keep your feet warm and extremely well padded. They typically come in quarter- to knee-length height and are composed of merino wool or blend. Although these socks will keep your toes toasty and protected in colder climates, you wouldn’t want to wear them in warmer temps due to their thickness.
The Light Hiker lightweight socks by Fits
Cotton is probably the worst kind of fabric to wear while hiking, jogging, or really doing anything that involves physical exertion. Instead, aim for fabrics such as Merino Wool, Nylon, Spandex or even Polyester blends. These fabrics all have specific features that focus on breathability, flexibility, moisture-wicking factors, and odor-resistant technology. Below is a run-through of the benefits you'll get from common hiking sock materials:
Merino Wool: Wool is the best-of-the-best in hiking sock material. It regulates your body temperature, has micro-bacterial features that help keep the stink away, and is also quick-drying and comfortable.
Polyester: Most hiking socks will blend wool and polyester. Polyester is beneficial because it insulates, dries quickly, and is a champ when it comes to wicking away moisture.
Nylon: Nylon is another quick-drying option that adds flexibility and durability.
Spandex: What would a hiking sock be if it wasn’t flexible? This elastic material provides flexibility so that your hiking sock can form to your foot, hold its shape, and move with ease.
Silk: Some hiking socks may include traces of silk because of the material’s durability and smoothness.
Hiking socks come offered in four main heights. To determine what height may be best for you, we’ve provided a detailed look into the benefits of each below.
No show: No show socks are the shortest hiking sock option. They’re ideal for trail runners or easy hikes, and should be worn with low-cut footwear like running shoes or light hiking boots. These socks do not provide any ankle protection.
Ankle: A little higher than a no show sock, the ankle sock does cover your ankle bone offering more protection. This height sock would be ideal for a mid-level day hike, or if you have hiking boots that sit at or below your ankle bone. The added length will help to protect your ankle and avoid rubbing.
Crew: The most popular hiking sock height, a crew level sock cuts off a few inches above the ankle bone providing protection against boot abrasion. You can also wear this sock with ankle shoes if you like, as the extra height can protect against bugs, mud, and other outdoor elements.
Knee-high: Knee-high socks are typically used for mountaineering, as their extra height is beneficial in providing warmth. The added length and thickness also protect against any rubbing that can occur on your calves or shins with high-rising mountaineer boots.
For the overall comfort and wellbeing of your foot, the level of cushioning you choose for your hiking sock is a very important factor. There are four main levels to choose from:
No cushioning: Designed with hot weather hikes or trail runs in mind, this is the thinnest, least-cushioned hiking sock option. Most would consider this a “liner” sock, and it does well at keeping your feet cool and properly ventilated.
Light cushioning: Another great option for a warmer day, this level of cushioning will provide added protection with little added bulk. The extra padding lies in the heels and balls of the feet.
Medium cushioning: Medium cushioning provides heavier padding in the heels, balls of the feet, and toes resulting in an overall thicker sock construction. This would be a good choice for longer hikes, backpacking trips, or when heading out into colder weather.
Heavy cushioning: The thickest and warmest option, heavy cushioning socks are ideal for longer trips into cold weather and tough terrain. This sock is most popular among mountaineers.
How great would it be to buy a pair of hiking socks, and know that no matter what you drag them through, they’re warrantied for life? Lucky for all of us, there are manufacturers that offer lifetime warranties. No questions asked!
Although hiking socks aren’t guaranteed a set number of miles or years, they’re specially designed to last through tough conditions. In our list of “Best Hiking Socks” provided below, we’ve included a few of these companies with lifetime warranties.
If you're prone to blisters or sweaty feet, you may want to look into toe separating socks. Socks like the Injinji Outdoor Original Weight Micro NuWool are a good choice, as this sock specializes in keeping your toes separated, eliminating friction and abrasion of any skin-to-skin contact.
The Outdoor Original Weight Micro NuWool socks by Injinji
Material: 51% US Merino Wool, 46% Nylon, 3% Spandex
Price: $22.50 at Amazon
Farm to Feet is an environmentally friendly company that prides itself on having all of its materials 100% sourced in the USA. Each Farm to Feet pair of hiking socks features comfort compression technology that helps to keep foot fatigue at bay, seamless toe closure for additional comfort, and cushioning and reinforcement in the places it counts. The Damascus lightweight sock was named after one of the most hiker-friendly towns along the Appalachian Trail.
Also available in a women's version.
Material: 54% Merino Wool, 38% Nylon, 6% Polyester, 2% spandex
Price: $18 at Fox River
Warranty: One-year manufacturing defect warranty
Fox River is proud to be America’s oldest performance sock brand and has been a leading US Manufacturer of outdoor sport and lifestyle socks since 1900. All Fox River products are produced out of Iowa, and the brand is committed to continuing to be a strictly American-made product. In 1985, the company introduced its signature Wick Dry moisture management technology that focuses on eliminating hot spots and stopping blisters before they start.
Material: 61% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 3% Lycra Spandex
Price: $23 at Moosejaw
Darn Tough is a well-known company that has all of its products made in Vermont from sustainably-sourced materials. The Micro Crew Cushion sock rises just above the top of a standard hiking boot. It was built with thru-hikers in mind and features a mid-level cushion, high-density knitting, and seamless stitching. It’s a very comfortable and durable pair of socks that carries a hefty price tag. A liner may be best with this sock, as the thicker wool has been reported to cause blisters.
Also available in a women's version.
Material: 61% Merino Wool, 37% Nylon, 2% Lyrca Spandex
Price: $18 at Moosejaw
The Quarter Sock Cushion socks by Darn Tough are guaranteed to keep your feet dry, snug and smell-free on long-distance hikes. Made from merino wool, they are soft, moisture-wicking and naturally antimicrobial. They also feature built-in side-vents that help with breathability. Last but not least, this ankle sock has all-weather performance capabilities, meaning it’ll keep your feet cool in the summers and warm in the winter.
Also available in a women's version.
Material: 63% Merino Wool, 18% Nylon, 15% Olefin, 4% Spandex
Price: $21.99 at Swiftwick
Swiftwick is an American-based company making sustainably-made performance socks for adventurers. The Pursuit Hike Six Light Cushion hiking sock built to keep feet dry. The footbed of the sock incorporates the companies’ signature Olefin fiber which helps to wick away moisture. With seamless toe construction and a light underfoot cushion, these socks are ideal for short trips such as day hikes and overnight backpacking trips.
Material: 43% NuWool, 43% Acrylic, 12% Nylon, 2% Lycra
Price: $16 at Injinji
Warranty: 60-day return policy
Injinji Outdoor is a toe sock company based out of California that is dedicated to the overall health and performance of feet. The company is best known for its patented five-toe sock design, which helps to enhance the natural function of your foot when it’s in a shoe. The Injinji Outdoor socks eliminate the risks of blisters due to the rubbing of toes with one another. They are built with Injinji’s proprietary merino wool blend which regulates the temperature of feet and wicks away moisture.
Material: 65% Merino Wool, 27% Nylon, 6% Polyester, 2% Lycra
Price: $22 at Fits
Warranty: 30-day return policy
Fits is a lifestyle sock company that’s dedicated to providing great fitting socks at a fair price for both retail partners and consumers. The Light Hikers are hiking socks known for neatly hugging the contours of your foot without bunching thanks to its sculpted shape, deep heel pockets and a roomy yet snug toe box. For added comfort, Fits has designed the Light Hikers with added cushioning following the arch of the foot. They’re warm socks and are best for winter hiking.
Material: 63% Merino Wool, 35% Nylon, 2% Elastane
Price: $24 at Moosejaw
Warranty: 2-year warranty
A pioneer in merino wool clothing, Smartwool was the first outdoor company to make performance wool ski socks. The PhD Outdoor Medium Crew socks, on the other hand, are versatile socks that are as enjoyable on the trail as they are on the slopes. Midweight, they are best for cooler weather. They feature mesh ventilation for added breathability and flat seams to prevent friction and blisters.
Material: 62% Merino Wool, 34% Stretch Nylon, 2% Polyester, 2% Spandex
Price: $16 at Moosejaw
Warranty: 30-day return policy
Wigwam is an environmentally-conscious company based out of Sheboygan, Wisconsin that has been producing lifestyle socks for over 100 years. They are proud to say they source the wool for their products from American yarn spinners, who buy specifically from local American wool growers. Their Merino Wool Comfort Hiker socks are midweight merino wool socks that are cushioned throughout. They come in a wide range of colors, from green banana to purple velvet. At $16 a pair, they are the most affordable pair on our list.
Material: 65% Merino Wool, 33% Nylon, 2% Lycra
Price: $24 at Moosejaw
Icebreaker is a sustainable company that gets 85% of its global fabric composition from natural fiber, resulting in only 15% of its materials being man-made. The company likes to keep its core values clear and simple, stating that they’re a company that thrives on simple, natural products that are built for longevity, versatility, purpose, and sustainability.
How many pairs of socks will I need on a thru-hike?
The general consensus is that two pairs of thicker socks and two pairs of an ultralight or lightweight sock will do you just fine. If you get a few days into the hike and feel like your socks could use some freshening up, just wash your ultralight or lightweight socks and leave them out overnight to dry. Their quick-drying capabilities will have them good as new by morning.
How should hiking socks fit to avoid blisters?
Your hiking socks should fit like a glove. A nice, not-too-tight and not-too-loose glove. The last thing you want while you're out on the trail (other than just bad hiking socks in general) is ill-fitting hiking socks.
You want to make sure your socks are tight enough to conform to your foot so there’s no sliding, but not too tight to where they’re squeezing off circulation. Just remember, the second your feet begin to slide, it’s only a matter of time before your well on your way to your first blister.
Do I need sock liners?
This is completely up to you - all based on your personal hiking style and foot preference. Some people swear by liners, and others ditched them years ago when the hiking socks really stepped up their game.
Liners can be a great thing to use if you're going on a multi-day backpacking trip, as they can be excellent additions for quick “wash-and-dry” options under thicker socks.
How to wash hiking socks?
Read through the directions before washing your hiking socks, just to be sure there're no surprises. For most Merino Wool hiking socks, washing them is a simple step-by-step process:
By Katie Licavoli: Katie Licavoli is a content writer, author and outdoor enthusiast. When not reading or writing away, she's out running, hiking, backpacking, snowboarding, or sailing the great lakes in northern Michigan.
About Greenbelly: After thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail, Chris Cage created Greenbelly to provide fast, filling and balanced meals to backpackers. Chris also wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail.
650-calorie fuel. No cooking. No cleaning.