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Published Nov. 3, 2021

One piece of hiking apparel that is often overlooked and thought of last is your hiking socks. But if you don’t have happy feet while you’re hiking, chances are, you’re not happy either. 

The best hiking socks are ones that you can comfortably wear for days on end, help prevent blisters, and last for years (or are at least repairable). There are other important aspects of hiking socks, so read on to learn not only what our top picks are for year-round adventure and the criteria you should use to choose the best hiking socks for you.

Things to Consider Before Buying Hiking Socks

Before you buy any new piece of gear or outdoor clothing, there are always some considerations to take into account. Don’t skip this part! Knowing what to look for can not only save you time as you’re shopping, but it can help save you money in the long run by directing you to higher-quality, longer-lasting items.

Intended Use

Be intentional about your purchases. Your feet are how you get from point A to point B on the trail, and you need to take good care of them. Identifying the intended use for your hiking socks is the best launching point. 

Do you primarily hike in the summer? 

Or are you looking for cold weather hiking socks because you only have thin, breathable pairs?

Do you mostly do day hikes, or are you looking for socks that work well for backpacking or long-distance treks?

Knowing the season, climate, frequency of use, and any other personal preferences or needs will help you with the rest of the considerations on the list.

Length or Height

There is a wide range of heights and lengths of socks on the market. Each one has its pros and cons, but in all honestly, this particular consideration usually comes down to personal preference and the types of hiking shoes you wear. 

Most sock brands will have four choices when it comes to the height or length of the sock:

  • No-show: As the name suggests, no-show socks are not visible when wearing shoes because the fabric doesn’t go higher than the standard trail running shoe height. These are popular among trail runners or during warm weather hikes. However, they do not provide much protection other than the area covered by the shoe. This length is only recommended when wearing shoes with no ankle support and be aware that they allow more debris to enter the shoe and sock, which can cause irritation. 
  • Ankle or quarter: Offering slightly more protection than a no-show sock, ankle socks (also known as quarter socks) generally sit slightly above your ankle bone. These work well for low and mid-cut hiking boots/shoes and are popular in the summer. They are also a popular choice among trail runners to avoid the sock riding down as you run. 
  • Crew: The more traditional hiking sock length, crew cut socks sit about six to eight inches above the heel and work well with all types of hiking boots, especially the ones with high cuffs. The taller length helps to protect more of your leg while hiking, but they can still be comfortable (pending thickness) when hiking in warm weather. 
  • Knee-high: Knee-high socks are not terribly popular for hiking. This length is most often used by mountaineers due to the use of taller boots that can rub against your calves and shins more dramatically. Since mountaineering usually means colder weather, higher socks also provide more warmth. 

There are other variations in the names of sock heights, but for the most part, you’ll find four lengths.

Materials Used

Like other types of outdoor clothing, your socks should be moisture-channeling, quick-drying, and odor-resistant. That means you should avoid wearing cotton socks just as much as you avoid wearing jeans or a cotton shirt. 

Most hiking socks are made from a blend of materials to achieve higher performance and durability. The most frequently used materials include: 

  • Merino wool: Wool may be the most popular material for hiking socks because of its natural ability to regulate temperature, cushion your feet, reduce smell with natural antimicrobial properties, and stay dry. Merino wool is the usual choice for wool hiking clothing of any kind because it is lighter weight and comfortable. While wool seems to be the gold standard among hiking socks, most wool socks still contain some synthetic fibers blended into the material. 
  • Silk: A less common but reliable material used in socks is silk. Silk is a natural lightweight material that offers comfort and moisture-wicking properties. It is most often used in sock liners and blends of materials. 
  • Polyester: A popular synthetic material used in the outdoor industry because of its ability to insulate, dry quickly, and wick moisture. It is often blended with other materials like nylon, wool, and spandex to create a better-performing fabric. 
  • Spandex: Rarely the primary or base material, spandex is still a synthetic that makes its way into a lot of hiking socks. Spandex is added to socks to help improve elasticity, help them hold their shape, and prevent the sock from bunching up as you hike. 
  • Nylon: Another synthetic material we will see often but is less likely to be the primary material. Nylon is more frequently used in blends to add durability. 

Even the top-rated wool socks on the market are blended with a synthetic of some kind. This helps with fabric elasticity, comfort, and durability.

Sock Thickness and Padding

Returning to your identified intended use, the padding and thickness of the sock will become more important. For the most part, how thick the sock is will determine how warm it will be. So, the thicker the sock, the better it is for cold weather hiking. The thinner the sock, the better for warm weather. 

Thickness can also be a factor for comfort as some hiking socks will add extra cushioning on the bottom of the foot for high-impact activities like backpacking. When a sock has no cushioning and is very thin/breathable, it is either a summer hiking sock or a sock liner. Sock liners are not as popular as they used to be because hiking socks have improved overall performance but are sometimes used to prevent blisters and improve moisture wicking. 

In most cases, light cushioning will be for thin, warm weather hiking socks. The cushioning will be isolated to the bottom of the sock strictly for comfort. The rest of the sock will remain thin and breathable enough to be worn in the summer months. 

Medium and heavy cushioning in socks are meant for cold weather as they help increase warmth. When a company describes that a sock has medium cushioning, they usually mean it is thicker on the heel and the ball of the foot, but the sock itself will still be thicker than one with light cushioning. The medium cushioning socks are great for shoulder seasons but not extreme cold. 

Then, heavy cushioned socks will be the thickest available. They are intended for cold weather backpacking, mountaineering, and any other cold, winter activity. Heavily padded socks are also a frequent shoulder season sock for wearing while you sleep.

Durability

When the intended use is an outdoor activity like hiking, durability is always a priority. The sock’s durability often boils down to the quality of the materials but can also be impacted by care. 

Although wool is a popular material used for socks, it isn’t necessarily as durable as synthetics. For the most part, the life of wool socks can be extended by line drying them as this prevents pilling or shrinking.

Other considerations regarding sock lifespan will be if the company has a warranty of any kind or a repair policy.

Best Overall Hiking Socks: Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full Cushion Darn Tough

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Key Features 

  • Length: crew cut – high calf
  • Materials: 66% merino wool, 32% nylon, 2% Lycra spandex
  • Thickness: medium/midweight 

Why It Made the Cut

The Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion socks are our top pick for the best overall hiking socks due to their all-season comfort for extended days on the trail and their astounding durability. 

Pros

  • Comfort: temperature regulation 
  • Fit: snug and no bunching 
  • Durable: blended materials and lifetime warranty

Cons 

  • Thickness: may be too thick for some hikers in summer
  • Length: some may not like how tall they are

Darn Tough is the creator of an amazing line of hiking socks for any season and any hiker’s preference. All of their socks have a lifetime warranty. Their Hiker Full Boot Cushion socks made our top pick for their versatility, comfort, and durability. 

You can wear these socks for the most casual day hikes to week-long hiking expeditions with comfort the entire time. The blend of materials and a wool base helps the sock improve temperature control, eliminate odors, and wick moisture away from your skin. 

The height of the sock is a standard crew cut, but some consider it a little higher, calling it a high calf cut. Either way, the height of the sock is usually best determined by the type of boot you’re wearing and your personal preference. 

Another awesome feature of these socks is their heavy cushioning. While some folks may not favor more cushion, this adds a layer of comfort for longer hikes, especially for high-impact activities like backpacking.

Best Wool Hiking Socks: REI Co-op Merino Wool Ultralight Crew Hiking Socks

REI Co-op Merino Wool Ultralight Crew Hiking Socks REI

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Key Features 

  • Length: Crew
  • Materials: 75% RSW merino wool, 26% nylon, 2% Lycra spandex
  • Thickness: ultralight cushioning 

Why It Made the Cut

There are a ton of wool hiking socks to choose from, but the REI Ultralight Crew is our top pick for its affordable price, performance in the field, and long-lasting durability. 

Pros

  • Materials: responsible sources and quality materials
  • Price: durable socks at an affordable price
  • Design: prevents chafing and blisters

Cons 

  • Fit: can be a bit tight for some hikers
  • Versatility: not suitable for cold weather

REI has a wide range of hiking socks to choose from, and their merino wool Ultralight Crew is among our favorites. It is a lightweight sock that is snug (can be a pro or con depending on the wearer) that utilizes ethical sourcing of their wool certified by the Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). 

The sock design is ideal for warm weather and shoulder season hikes but is a little too breathable for cold weather. The ultralight cushioning is only in the heels, toes, footbeds, and Achilles to keep these socks comfortable without adding too much warmth. This reinforces to reduce wear as well as protects high friction areas of your foot. 

Compared to other merino wool blended socks of similar quality, the REI price is one of the lowest. Don’t let that trick you into thinking the quality is compromised, though. These are designed for long-lasting value, and if you don’t like them, you always have the amazing REI return policy.

Best Hiking Socks to Prevent Blisters: Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks

Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks Injinji

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Key Features 

  • Length: ankle
  • Materials: 58% nylon, 39% CoolMax polyester, 3% Lycra spandex
  • Thickness: medium cushion

Why It Made The Cut

The unique between-the-toe design of the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks not only minimizes friction not only around your ankles, heels, and footbed but these socks are also the best hiking socks to prevent blisters. 

Pros

  • Breathable: vented mesh on top of the foot
  • Comfort: intentional cushioning
  • Versatility: great for trail running and hiking

Cons 

  • Design: not for everyone in fit and feel

The Injinji Trail Midweight Mini-Crew Socks are a unique pick with an intentional design. Toe socks are not for everyone and can take some getting used to. But their fit and friction barriers are helpful for hikers that struggle with foot issues like hot spots and blisters. 

They have some cushioning on the bottom of the foot in problem areas like ankles and footbeds or even the base of your toes, but they remain breathable by having a mesh upper on the sock. Labeled as a “mini-crew,” these are true ankle/quarter socks that are great for summer hikes and trail running. 

You won’t need a sock liner when you wear these because of their snug fit and ability to lessen friction even between your toes. 

Best Hiking Socks for Summer: Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Low Cut

Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Low Cut Smartwool

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Key Features 

  • Length: low cut (between no-show and ankle)
  • Materials: 48% merino wool, 47% nylon, 5% elastane 
  • Thickness: ultralight cushion 

Why It Made The Cut

The best hiking socks for summer need to be breathable while still offering the much-needed foot protection, and that’s why the Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Low Cuts are our top pick. 

Pros

  • Design: indestructawool technology
  • Durability: PhD = performance in the highest degree
  • Breathable: moisture-wicking, fast-drying, breathable fabric

Cons 

  • Fit: feels tight to some wearers 

Smartwool socks are often a top pick for the best hiking socks, and their PhD Run Ultra Light Low Cut socks are an awesome pick for summer or hot weather hiking. Their low cut is not quite a no-show height but isn’t as high as some ankle or quarter socks either. It’s the in-between option. 

The snug band on the top of the sock helps keep debris out when hiking, but this tight fit is sometimes a complaint from some users. The thickness of the sock is perfect for hot and humid hiking conditions with minimum cushioning to increase breathability. 

Although they are an ultralight sock design, the indestructawool technology and PhD shred shield keep these socks in action for several hiking seasons. They’re built for performance and are reinforced in high-risk areas like the toes and heel. These socks are ready for anything and are high-performing, durable, and comfortable to wear.

Best Winter Hiking Socks: Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Cushion Crew Socks

Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Cushion Crew Socks Smartwool

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Key Features 

  • Length: crew
  • Materials: 68% merino wool, 30% nylon, 2% elastane 
  • Thickness: extra cushion 

Why It Made the Cut

Warmth, durability, and moisture channeling are all a priority when winter hiking. As the best winter hiking socks the Smartwool Mountaineer Extra Cushion Crew socks do that and more to ensure comfort even in the coldest temperatures. 

Pros

  • Warmth: heavier and denser cushioning
  • Comfort: itch and stink-free fabric with virtually seamless toes
  • Drying: some mesh venting for moisture management

Cons

  • Fit: feels tight to some wearers

Having the right sock for winter or cold weather hiking is necessary. Happy feet mean a happy hike, and the Smartwool team took that into account with this design. This crew-cut sock is great for standard boots in winter hiking conditions, especially for hikers that don’t favor the knee-high sock designs. 

The extra cushioning adds to the warmth of the sock and more comfort for long days on the trail. The sock design also utilizes a virtually seamless toe box area to prevent any friction and lessen the chance of hot spots forming. 

While some hikers may think the sock fits a bit too tight, others will enjoy the 2-degree elite fit system and the performance flex zone added at the ankle joint. While you don’t want too much venting in a winter hiking sock, some can help with moisture control, which is why they intentionally placed ventilation zones in these socks.

Methodology

Having the right socks can make or break your hiking experience, and that’s why choosing the perfect socks became a priority in my life outdoors. After many expeditions filled with problematic foot issues, tons of trial and error, and finally finding the right fit—I was happy to put together a list of the best hiking socks to help other adventure lovers keep their feet happy and healthy on the trail. 

  • Fit: Does this sock fit my feet while I’m wearing my hiking shoes? Does this sock fit the season and climate I plan to hike in during use? Does this sock fit my intended use? 
  • Comfort: Are these socks going to be comfortable for the type of hiking I’m doing? Does the thickness match the time of year and climate where I’m hiking? Do these socks help me regulate temperatures? Do the sock materials naturally wick moisture and dry quickly? Are these socks comfortable to wear for extended periods and multiple days in a row? Does the sock prevent blisters and other potential foot issues?
  • Durability: I want my hiking socks to last for a few seasons and hopefully a few years. So, before I invest in a new pair, I always take durability into account. I’ll ask myself if there are weak spots in the material that would make them wear down faster? Can they be repaired easily? Does the fabric weaken with washing?

Supporting companies that use sustainable and ethical practices is an important part of my buying decisions. That’s why I most often choose to buy natural fibers over synthetics whenever possible. With hiking socks, this can be a challenge because blends are so widely used. So, I also look for company repair policies, warranties, and verified customer durability reviews.

FAQs

Q: Are cotton or wool socks better for hiking?

Wool socks are one of the best and most popular materials used for hiking socks. Cotton is never a good option for hiking socks because it holds onto moisture and takes a long time to dry. Those qualities in a sock can increase irritation while hiking, increase the risk of blisters, decrease temperature regulation, and lead to other foot issues.

Q: Should hiking socks be thick or thin?

Sock thickness will vary according to personal preference and the hiking season. For instance, hiking in the summer or hot weather in general, a thinner sock is ideal. On the other hand, a thicker sock will work well if you are hiking in cold weather.

Q: Should you wear two socks while hiking?

It used to be far more common to wear a sock liner while hiking because thicker socks were good at insulating but not as good at moisture-channeling. Now that hiking socks have developed in fabric technology and perform better, wearing a sock liner isn’t as common. However, some hikers find those sock liners work best to reduce friction, better regulate temperature, and prevent blisters.

Final Thoughts on the Best Hiking Socks

Finding the right hiking socks can take some time, and having a few choices in your outdoor apparel bin is an excellent investment. Be prepared for all of the hiking seasons and get the most out of your hike by making sure your feet stay dry and comfortable no matter what. Whether or not you choose one of our top picks as your favorite hiking socks, use our buying considerations and methodology to help drive your next purchase to ensure you find the best hiking socks for your needs.

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