Your feet are the most important part of any hiking setup, and you should use the same attentive care that you apply when selecting the right pair of hiking shoes or boots as you do for selecting your hiking socks. The following topics will help you learn how to choose the best hiking socks for your next trip down the trail.
Types: Having the right weight, materials, and style for the activity you’re doing makes the difference between having red-blistered barking feet and happy feet.
Liners: If you’re having problems with blisters, liners might solve them. These extremely thin silk or synthetic polypropylene socks wick moisture away from your feet thereby removing the blister-causing agent. Wear the liner alone on the hottest days or pair them with another lightweight sock for a terrific hiking setup.
Lightweight: Quality lightweight hiking socks are an essential component to your hiking gear. Built to wick moisture and keep your feet cool and dry, these are the socks best fit for warm-weather hiking, and can safely be worn without liners.
Mid-weight: These heavier socks provide warmth and comfort. They typically feature additional cushioning in the ball of the foot and in heel of the sock. This is useful for extended days on the trail or for climbing mountains that require hiking across talus scree fields.
Winter weight: These are the warmest, heaviest, and most cushioned socks available. Their intended purpose is for alpine pursuits and mountaineering expeditions, but they are great to bring along as your cozy camp socks on any trip.
Materials: Different materials have different wicking, drying, and heat holding/dispersing properties.
Cotton: Cotton is one of the most comfortable all-natural fabrics in the world, but because it absorbs moisture, dries slowly, and provides no insulation when wet, 100% cotton is a poor choice for the outdoors. Many socks however do take advantage of the comfort and provide blends. The wetter or hotter it’s going to be the lower you’ll want the cotton ratio.
Silk: Silk is an advanced natural fabric. It’s luxuriously comfortable while also capable of wicking moisture away from your foot. It also has natural insulating properties that make it a great choice for warm weather hiking or as the main material in a sock liner.
Wool: Wool is the original, all-natural fabric for hiking socks. It’s insulating and moisture-wicking capability is top notch, and over the years its ragged, rough texture has been greatly minimized in high-end garments by using soft merino wool or weaving it with other synthetic fabrics. It makes a fantastic fabric for a mid-weight hiking sock.
Merino Wool: Merino wool is the fabric that reinvigorated the wool market. This unique material comes from a specialized New Zealand sheep that has softer wool than ordinary wool. It has the same insulating and water repelling qualities as ordinary wool, but the softer feels tends to create less hot spots on your foot while hiking.
Alpaca: Alpaca wool is less itchy than ordinary wool because the individual fiber length is much shorter than that of ordinary wool. This makes alpaca wool soft and comfortable against your skin. If you have sensitive skin you might prefer alpaca instead of merino since alpaca is a hypoallergenic material that contains no lanolin. It is also a terrific insulator and wicks-moisture well, making it an extraordinarily versatile fabric.
Lightweight synthetic: The modern hiking sock is typically a weave of multiple natural and synthetic materials. Coolmax and polypropylene increase the moisture-wicking capabilities of cotton or wool socks. Nylon and spandex are added to many hiking socks of all kinds to provide a fitted design. This is especially important for maintaining the socks’ shape, which prevents it from sliding on your foot, thereby reducing blister-causing friction.