Good hiking socks will help prevent blisters and keep your feet warm, dry, and comfy.
Many casual hikers do not put enough thought into the socks they choose to wear hiking. However, the wrong socks can cause all sorts of foot problems, including blisters and painful hot spots.
There are a number of factors to consider when purchasing hiking socks. Material, density, thickness, style, and fit are all important features.
First, the material. Hiking socks are usually made of wool, a synthetic material, or a blend. Wool or a wool blend is best for cold weather. Wool has the best insulating ability, but is still able to effectively wick moisture away from your feet. As a bonus, wool dries fast and is somewhat antibacterial. Choose wool socks made from Merino wool, which has softer fibers than regular wool and is not at all itchy.
Synthetic socks do a better job of wicking away sweat than do wool socks. If you’re not concerned about cold, or if you tend to have warm feet anyway, you would be better served with a pair of synthetic socks.
Avoid cotton socks. Cotton absorbs moisture, which can lead to cold feet, or wet feet, which lead to blisters and hot spots. While cotton socks are usually cheap and comfortable, and are fine for casual daily wear, they ultimately cause more problems than they are worth.
Second, the density of the socks. Whether you choose wool socks or synthetic ones, you want those socks to be made of a dense fabric. The best way to check out how dense a fabric is to look at the underside of the fabric – the tighter the fabric loops are, the better the sock is. It will not only last longer, but it will be more comfortable.
Third, thickness and weight. Thickness is really a matter of preference. Try them on with your hiking boots or, better yet, buy the socks first. The thickness of the sock will help to fine-tune the fit of your hiking boots, filling in the areas that are a little big and helping to keep your foot from sliding around inside the boot.
Several manufacturers produce socks in different weights for different applications. Consider whether you will be hiking for a day, or a week. Consider whether you’ll be carrying a heavy pack, or just a fanny pack, whether you’ll be hiking over steep, rocky terrain or on a flat, easy surface. These considerations will help you decide which weight to choose. Generally, the heavier weight socks have more cushioning, are thicker, and cost more. They are best for longer trips and difficult terrain. The lighter weight socks still provide good cushioning and are thinner and (usually) somewhat cheaper. These are best for shorter trips, day hikes, and over easy terrain.
Fourth, consider the style of sock that you want. Hiking socks, like all other socks, come in a variety of styles – shorties, knee-length, extra support in the arch, extra room in the toe box, extra cushion in the heel, less bulk, etc. Look over the selection at your local sporting goods store, try some on, and decide which features fit your foot, and your gait, the best. I personally prefer to have a variety of styles available – I wear short socks most of the time, but I have knee-length socks for those times when I want extra protection for my lower legs. Most of my socks have extra arch supports, since my arches tend to get tired, but I have a pair without the extra support for those days when I don’t feel that I need it.
Fifth, consider the fit of the sock. Socks should be snug, but not tight. The sock should fit your foot heel to toe, with your heel snugly in the heel pocket, and your toe comfortable in the toe box. Check for bagginess – if the sock is baggy on your foot, try the next smaller size.
There are also some characteristics that all quality socks have in common. Look for flat seams that won’t press into your feet as you hike. An elastic material blended into the sock material will help prevent sagging.
Your socks are equipment just like your boots or your pack, and they require good care to ensure a long life of satisfactory performance. Here are some tips for proper sock care:
- When on long hikes, take periodic breaks to air out your boots, socks, and feet. Check your feet for blisters during these breaks and promptly attend to any hot spots that develop.
- Carry extra socks in your pack and change your socks during your breaks. A fresh pair of socks will leave you feeling energized.
- Air dry your hiking socks if possible. If that’s not possible, at least take them out of the dryer before they’re totally dry.