If you have ever hiked with cold, sore, or blistered feet you know how miserable it can get. For your feet to carry you comfortably on the trail, you need to set yourself up for success. After countless hiking and backpacking trips, I have learned that prevention is the most effective method of keeping your feet happy. In my opinion, it all starts with a great pair of hiking socks.
To help you find the best hiking socks for your next outing, I put together a list of my top choices. Over the years, I have field tested these socks and more in a wide variety of conditions and terrain – from unexpected, knee-deep snow in the High Uintas of Utah to incessant rain in the Cascades of the Pacific Northwest to the sun-baked sky islands of the Sonoran Desert.
To get an idea of the rationale behind my picks, read the next section. Here, I break down the top things to consider when purchasing hiking socks. If you are nipping at the bit and ready to jump in, scroll down to see the five best hiking socks along with images, descriptions, and links to select vendors.
Top Things to Consider
1. Wool, merino wool, or synthetic?
As you decide what hiking socks to buy, the first decision to think about is what material to go with. It is safe to assume experienced hikers know this, but just in case you are new to the activity, cotton is out of the question. It does not wick moisture, takes a long time to dry, and won’t insulate whatsoever.
That leaves you with three materials to choose from: Wool, merino wool, and synthetic. Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, a breed domesticated in New Zealand and Australia. It is finer than other types of wool and it is softer. As a result, merino wool is more comfortable for wearing against skin. If you have ever worn scratchy wool, you understand the benefit of a soft textile.
Both merino wool and synthetics can have superb warmth to weight ratios, so the question is: Which makes a better hiking sock? Because everyone has their own preferences, the answer is not absolute. What can be said is that merino wool and synthetics react to moisture in different ways.
As you hike, your feet will become moist from perspiration. In some instances, they will get sopping wet from mud puddles, stream crossings, rain, or snow.
Synthetics are hydrophobic, which means they dry fast and propel water away. This is an excellent feature for layers that are worn against skin. As you sweat, the moisture is pushed away.
In general, merino wool insulates better than synthetics do. It also reduces moisture, but in the opposite way – by soaking it all up. Yes, merino wool takes longer to dry than synthetics, but it keeps you warmer when wet.
Based on this information, you can develop an approach of your own that makes your feet happy on the trail. Personally, I have discovered that synthetic sock liners combined with merino wool socks provide the best of both worlds.
Ultra thin, synthetic sock liners work to wick sweat away from your feet and keep them dry. The extra layer also prevents friction between your foot and hiking boot, which reduces hotspots and blisters. As an outer layer, merino wool socks give you the warmest possible option for all types of conditions.
If you have not tried the hiking sock and liner method, give it a shot. There is a good chance your feet will thank you for it.
2. Ultralight, light, medium, or heavy cushioning?
As you shop for a new pair of hiking socks, you are sure to encounter a range of cushioning and thickness options. If you are unsure of what to go with, medium is a safe bet. Too light and you risk cold and blistered feet. Too heavy and you risk hot and boggy feet. For most scenarios, medium is going to give you the perfect balance of cushioning, breathability, and warmth.
If you are planning to hike in hot weather, you could opt for thinner socks to prevent your feet from overheating and to keep them dry. If you are looking to shave ounces off your backpack’s weight, you might also justify ultralight or lightweight hiking socks. Please note that if you haven’t already, there are other effective ways to lower your backpacking weight.
Few hiking and backpacking trips warrant the need for heavy cushioned socks, but they are available. These are a good buy for alpinists and mountaineers. If you trudge up snowfields and glaciers in below freezing and subzero temperatures, you deserve the warmest socks money can buy.
3. Hiking sock fit and height
Unlike hiking boots, you can’t always go to a brick-and-mortar to get fitted for hiking socks. Luckily, most online stores have size charts (based on your shoe size) to help you find the right sock fit. Stay away from socks that are too tight or too loose. Both can cause discomfort, pain, and/or blisters.
When it comes to sock height, make sure to choose socks that are tall enough to cover skin that comes in contact with your footwear. Otherwise, you risk rubbing and abrasion. I am no expert on fashionability, so I can’t speak on that aspect.
Best Hiking Socks
1. Darn Tough
Fabric: 61% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 3% Lycra® Spandex
Features: Ultra-comfortable, warm, fast drying
Darn Tough socks are the holy grail of hiking socks and are sure to exceed your expectations in every category. If you feel overwhelmed by all of the different pairs Darn Tough makes, go for the Hiker Micro Crew Cushion. This is a fan favorite of thru-hikers and the most well-rounded sock made for hiking in existence.
Fabric: 63% Ultra Soft Merino Wool, 33% Nylon, 4% Spandex
Features: Ultra-soft, comfortable, warm, durable
The only reason Cloudline socks are in second is because Darn Tough makes a wider variety of socks for different uses. Among hiking and trail running aficionados, Cloudline socks are hailed as legendary. Founded in 2015, Cloudline is new on the sock scene, but look for them to continue gaining popularity, because their socks rule.
Fabric: 70% merino wool, 29% nylon, 1% elastic
Features: Ultra-durable, comfortable, warm
Smartwool also makes great hiking socks that are built to last. Several years ago, I bought a few pairs and have machine washed and dried them many times. They have stood the test of time and remain in great condition. As an added bonus, Smartwool socks run you a few bucks cheaper than the brands above.
4. People Socks
Fabric: 71% merino wool, 21% Nylon, 7% Poly, 1% Spandex
Features: Durable, comfortable, warm
People Socks are an excellent choice for the budget conscious hiker. On Amazon, you can often pick up four pairs for less than $30. I sprung for a four-pack a year and a half ago. I have machine washed and dried them throughout that time. They are still in great condition. People Socks are not as soft and comfortable as Darn Tough or Cloudline socks, but the price is unbeatable.
Fabric: 66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra®
Features: Light cushion, comfortable, breathable
Icebreaker makes a great sock for hikers that want a lighter cushion. If you are hiking in a climate with hot days and cold nights, Icebreaker socks are a good option. They are sure to provide the right amount of thermoregulation to keep your feet cool during the day and warm at night.
Best Vibram FiveFingers Socks
If you prefer to wear Vibram FiveFingers over traditional hiking footwear, than Injinji makes the best hiking sock for you. To learn more about the effects of wearing five-toed shoes, read this study.
Fabric: 67% nylon, 30% CoolMax polyester, 3% Lycra spandex
Features: Breathable, comfortable, wicks moisture