Sock Liners for Hiking and Backpacking 101 - Greenbelly Meals

Sock Liners for Hiking and Backpacking

A guide to blister prevention with the two-sock-system.

hiking sock liners

What are sock liners?

Sock liners or 'liner socks' are thin socks designed to be worn underneath your main hiking socks.

Sock liners significantly help prevent blisters. Specifically, in two ways:

1) Reduce Friction: Hiking shoes and boots will inevitably rub your feet and create friction. They frequently cut in too tight around the toe box and heels creating hot spots that, over time, can turn into blisters. Stiff boots are usually the biggest culprit.

The extra layer of a sock liner will really help absorb the friction and motion in these hot spots, and ultimately, reduce likelihood of developing a hot spot.

2) Whick Away Moisture: Thick socks inside thick shoes can create hot and steamy feet. These feet will not be breathing well, especially on a strenuous day of hiking or in warm weather. Without proper ventilation, your steamy skin will get wetter and wetter. Ultimately, wet skin is softer and more vulnerable to tear which causes the blisters to form.

Sock liners act as a base layer and help wick that steam and moisture away from your foot and into the thicker outer sock. Less foot moisture = less blisters. 

types of sock liners for hiking and backpacking


How necessary are sock liners, really? 

If you are going for a day hike with well-fitted, comfortable shoes and a pair of quality hiking socks, then you probably do not need any liners.

I backpacked frequently for nearly a decade in tennis shoes and Wal-Mart socks and never had an issue. However, 100 miles into the Appalachian Trail, my feet were a bloody blister mess. Sock liners were a savior and I never hiked a day without them after that.

In short, you won't know you need them... until you need them. They usually weigh under an ounce, so why not pack the insurance policy? 

Sock Liner Considerations

Material: Silk, nylon, polyester, wool are the most common. No cotton please.

Thickness: Unless you are hiking in sub-freezing temperatures, keep them thin. Otherwise, they could affect your shoe sizing.

Length: Low-cut liners are light and compact, but nearly impossible to adjust once your outer socks have been put on. Therefore, for easy adjustability, I always recommend keeping your sock liners longer than your outer hiking socks. Also, be sure to pull them snug (not tight) to minimize any wrinkles or folds which can result in friction-induced blisters.

What are the best models?

Most popular: Fox River (polypropolene), Smartwool (wool), Wigwam (nylon) and Injinji (toe-separated).

DIY: Some hikers use nylon pantyhose, cut them down, and fold over the outer socks. Others use nylon dress socks.

chris cage greenbelly

By Chris Cage
Chris launched Greenbelly Meals in 2014 after thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail for 6 months. Since then, Greenbelly has been written up by everyone from Backpacker Magazine and Bicycling Magazine to Fast Company and Science Alert. He recently wrote How to Hike the Appalachian Trail and currently works from his laptop all over the globe.

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