Choosing The Best Hiking Socks

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering if you really need special socks for hiking or if this is just a rip-off. Why can’t you just hike in your normal socks?

Hiking socks are more than just a fashion statement, they’re as essential as your pack, tent, and water. You need to take care of your feet on the trail, which means investing in good-quality socks.

Wearing the right socks can mean the difference between blisters and messed up feet wrapped in every piece of gauze and tape you could round-up on the trail, or gleefully pulling off your boots and driving home completely happy and care-free.

You laugh, but I’ve lived that first scenario. It wasn’t pretty.

So yes, you really do need hiking socks, and you should choose them wisely.  We’ll cover how to choose the right hiking sock and give your our top recommendations.

This post contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive payment at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and brands I know, use, and trust and that I think you would like too. You can read my full disclaimer policy here.

Our Hiking And Backpacking Sock Recommendations

BrandNameWool?RetailDetails
SmartwoolLight Cushion Mid Crew56% Merino Wool$21-$23More Details
Darn ToughMicro Crew Lightweight Hiking43% Merino Wool$22-$23More Details
Darn ToughCoolmax® Micro Crew MidweightNone$22More Details
Farm to FeetLight Cushion Crew72%$21-$30More Details
Fox River SocksTrailmaster Medium Weight Crew75%$14-$24More Details
REIMerino Wool Lightweight Crew79%$16.50More Details
SockwellModerate Graduated Compression41%$23-$29More Details
Fox River Liners Wick Dry Coolmax® Liner SockNone$10More Details
Smartwool LinersClassic Zero Cushion Crew Liner59%$15More Details

What Makes Hiking Socks Different?

Hiking socks do a lot of work to keep your feet in good shape on the trail. They offer cushioning, wicking, help keep your feet warm, and prevent sliding in your boot. And yes, they can be a bit expensive at over $20 per pair, but they’re made to be durable and can last years.

If you compare a hiking sock to a regular sock, you’ll notice a few differences.

Hiking socks are thick. They have extra cushioning built by creating loops in the yarn. As you can imagine, this increases the thickness of the sock in specific areas. Most brands make different versions with different grades of cushioning.  

Hiking socks are designed to wick moisture away from your feet. Your socks are part of your base layers and rule number one is that a base layer should help wick moisture away from your skin. With your feet, this is particularly important to help prevent blisters.

Hiking socks are made to help keep your feet insulated. This is a function of the fabric, pile (thickness), and cushioning. Keeping your feet warm and dry is one of the most important things you can do on any hiking or backpacking trip.

Hiking socks prevent your feet from sliding around in your boots. There’s nothing worse than your feet swimming around in your hiking boots or shoes. With every downhill step, your toes will slam into the front. Every twist and turn, you find your feet rolling. The cushioning and fabrics of hiking socks can help your feet “stick” to the inside of your shoe or boot, helping your feet remain more stable as you hike.

Hopefully, I’ve convinced you that you really do need to make the investment in a good pair of hiking socks. Now you just have to rind the right ones. Let’s look at some of the features.

Which Fabric Is Best For Hiking Socks?

Do you need wool socks for hiking? Okay, first off, you will not find a 100% wool hiking sock. If they exist, I haven’t been able to find them. Adding stronger fabrics like nylon increases the strength helping your socks take the beating of hiking miles with weight.

Now, I’m a fan of wool, but I realize not everyone likes or can wear it and that’s okay. Wool socks aren’t necessary for hiking. You just need a fabric that will wick, cushion, and prevent your feet from sliding around in your boots.

If you are partial to wool, be sure to review the product specs before purchasing because the amount of wool varies widely. During my research, I found socks from 32% to 79% wool.

Unfortunately, there’s no way to know what you like without trying it. You can make a few guesses based on other activities. If you run, have you found that certain fabrics don’t work as well? Is there a fabric you really like?

One thing to keep in mind for backpackers, you’ll likely also wear your socks at night, especially in fall and winter. I like to put on my socks for the next day at night, they’re clean and it’s one less thing to worry about in the morning. But, if I had synthetic fibers instead of wool, this wouldn’t work for me.

While not a deal-breaker, it’s something to consider when choosing a sock.

What Length, Thickness, And Fit Should I Choose?

Hiking socks come in more shapes and sizes than women’s jeans.

You’ve got thickness: light, medium, thick.

Next up is length: low profile, ankle, mid-calf, three-quarter, knee.

Let’s not forget fit: Loose, tight, medium.

Then there are the random terms: lightweight, performance.

Now mix those up in every conceivable way.

The good news is that it’s not that hard to find the right options. Finding the right hiking sock is 20% your preference and 80% your footwear.

Length will be somewhat limited by your footwear. You’ll want your sock to cover all the skin your boot could touch. If you wear a hiking shoe or trail runner, you can go with a low-profile sock, but a boot that covers your ankle or higher requires a taller sock.

The fit of your shoe also matters. If you prefer a tighter fitting boot or shoe, you likely won’t be able to wear a thicker sock. Conversely, if your shoe is loose fitting, you may find a thinner sock isn’t enough.

It’s best if you find your footwear first, then your sock. If it’s time for a new pair of boots or shoes, bring your favorite socks with you to the store and try the shoes on with YOUR socks.

The rest is preference. One word of caution, be careful with the knee socks. They are often tight enough to feel like compression socks but not in the “happy, I feel great,” way. As you hike, your feet and legs can swell, and a tight sock can become unbearable.

I received a pair for free years ago and when we reached camp after six hours of hiking, I had to do a little sock surgery. It involved my knife and some duct tape. The sock didn’t make it.

Is There Such A Thing As A Summer Hiking Sock And Winter Hiking Sock?

I’ve seen the “top hiking socks for summer”, and “top hiking socks for winter” lists too. While you may adjust slightly for the season, there’s no reason you can’t hike in the same socks year-round.  

Remember, your socks are limited by your footwear. If you’re wearing the same hiking boot year-round, you can’t just suddenly switch from a thick winter sock to a thin summer sock. You may be able to go from thick to medium, or medium to thin, but you will be limited. Some people lean towards shorter socks in the summer and longer in the winter, but that’s about it.

I’ve found that the length of the trip and the terrain have a larger effect on sock choice.  For example, if we’re hiking long miles on tough terrain in the summer, I still may opt for my thicker, taller, socks.

Do I Need Sock Liners?

This is a good one. Sock liners seem to be a love them or hate them situation.

In theory, liners help prevent blisters by adding additional wicking protection and helping to prevent your boot from rubbing. They come in a variety of fabric options from wool to silk to polyester.

On the one side are hikers that absolutely love their sock liners, wouldn’t dream of heading out without them, and can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to use them. 

On the other side are the hikers that find them incredibly uncomfortable, feel it’s like wearing diapers on your feet, and can’t understand how anyone thinks they’re awesome.

The decision is one hundred percent preference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

If you’re interested in the option, try them out. Sock liners don’t weigh much, it can’t hurt to toss them in your pack just in case. If you find over time you don’t need them, give them to a friend, or sell them.

When purchasing sock liners, make sure they’re taller than your hiking sock. This will allow you to grab the liner and adjust it more easily to prevent bunching.

For the record, I have super sweaty feet and I hate them, but I’m not prone to blisters. Counter that with my friend who swears they save her feet on every trip.

How To Choose A Hiking Sock

Now that you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed, let’s simplify things.

Socks, like everything else with hiking and backpacking, are an evolution. You’ll try a few, like a few, donate a few.

With that being said, we can help narrow down your choices.

Length: Most people prefer the mid-calf length socks in the winter and just to the calf the rest of the year. If you know for sure you love a knee-high, or a low profile, then go for that style. Just make sure the sock covers every part of your foot the boot touches.

Thickness: Medium thickness works for almost everyone. The thicker socks can give you a bit more cushion and may be worth trying. I’d get one of each to start out. Backpackers should avoid thin socks made more for trail runners.

Fabric: If you’re not opposed to wool, it really is your best first choice.

Keep an eye out at outdoor events too. Socks tend to be given away free. We may have to wait a bit for this to start back up, but I’ve procured more than 5 pairs of socks through various events. It’s a great way to give a new brand or style a whirl.

How To Care For Your Hiking Socks

Hiking socks are an investment in the health of your feet while out hiking and backpacking. When washing, follow the instructions from the manufacturer, but most can go in the washing machine.

I’ve been putting mine in with a normal load on cold and then tossing them in the dryer for years – and I mean the same socks for years. Four pairs are at least 4 years old. But I acknowledge that some manufacturers recommend a gentle wash, and others say to line dry.

One important note, don’t wear your $20 socks around the house, grocery shopping, out to dinner, walking the dog, et cetera. Hiking socks are for hiking and backpacking only. They’ll last a lot longer and continue to support you on your outdoor adventures.

Top Hiking Sock Recommendations

This post contains affiliate links. If you click and make a purchase, I may receive payment at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products and brands I know, use, and trust and that I think you would like too. You can read my full disclaimer policy here.

Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Mid Crew

Retail: $21-$23

Fabric: 56% merino wool, 11% nylon, 31% recycled nylon, 2% elastane

Details: Smartwool is a tried and true brand in the outdoor industry.

They offer a variety of colors and patterns so you can express your unique vibe as you hike.

Their socks are made with a Virtually SeamlessTM toe box to enhance comfort.

To help with breathability, the socks have body-mapped zones.

Where to Buy

Darn Tough Vermont Micro Crew Lightweight Hiking Sock

Retail: $22-$24

Fabric: 54% nylon, 43% merino wool, 3% Lycra spandex

Details: Darn Tough Vermont is known for their socks in the hiking/backpacking and running worlds.

They offer a variety of colors and designs so you can add a little jazz to your trail style.

The lightweight socks have a light cushion, but if you need a bit more, their midweight Micro Crew is also a solid bet.

Where to Buy

Darn Tough Vermont Coolmax® Hiker Micro Crew Midweight

Retail: $22

Fabric: 39% nylon, 34% Coolmax® polyester, 19% acrylic, 5% polyester, 3% Lycra spandex

Details: Not all hiking socks have to contain wool and Darn Tough Vermont makes one of the best non-wool socks on the market.

The line has fewer color options, but they still offer the same light cushion and lifetime guarantee as their wool counterparts.

Where to Buy

Farm to Feet Light Cushion Crew

Retail: $15-$30

Fabric: 72% merino wool, 27% nylong, 1% Lycra spandex

Details: I’m a bit partial to Farm to Feet because they source their Merino in the US and manufacturing is done in Mount Airy, NC.

Their Light Cushion Crew is a local favorite, but they have a three-quarter and full length crew available.

My favorite feature is the seamless toe closure. They have a technique that creates a totally flat connection in the toe box which makes a huge difference on steep downhills.

Where to Buy

Fox River Trailmaster Medium Weight Crew

Retail: $14-$24

Fabric: 75% merino wool, 24% stretch nylon, 1% spandex

Details: Fox River is a relatively new player in the outdoor sock field, but they’re already garnering a lot of love from the community.

They have a focus on sourcing and manufacturing in the US which is great.

One of the best compliments I’ve heard from someone wearing them was, “I forgot about my feet”.

Where to Buy

REI Merino Wool Lightweight Crew

Retail: $16

Fabric: 79% RWS merino wool, 20% nylon, 1% Lycra spandex (RWS = Responsible Wool Standard)

Details: If you live in the US and head outdoors regularly, you probably already know REI offers great products and decent prices. It’s no different with their socks.

They use only RWS wool which requires the sheep to be treated in accordance with leading animal welfare standards.

For less than $17, you can get a pair of well-made, ethically sourced socks.

Where to Buy

REI

Sockwell Moderate Graduated Compression Sock

Retail: $23-$29

Fabric: 41% merino well, 39% nylon, 14% Alpaca, 6% spandex

Details: If you need a compression sock for hiking, Sockwell is a great choice.

Their moderate graduated compression sock gives you support just where you need it without being overpowering.

they offer a variety of lengths, so regardless your need and preference, you should be able to find what you’re looking for.

Where to Buy

Hiking Sock Liners

Wool Option

Smartwool Hike Classic Edition Zero Cushion Liner Crew Sock

Retail: $15

Fabric: 59% merino wool, 8% nylon, 30% recycled nylon, 2% elastane, 1% polyester

Where to Purchase

Smartwool

Backcountry.com

Non Wool Option

Fox River Wick Dry Coolmax® Liner Sock

Retail: $10

Fabric: 93% Coolmax® polyester, 6% nylon, 1% spandex

Where to Purchase

Fox River Socks

Walmart

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