Hiking socks play an important role in keeping feet comfortable and blister-free inside boots. There are many brands and designs, so what are some of the ‘things-to-look-for’ that might affect a buying decision?
Length: Crew- or Knee-length socks are the most suitable for hiking. The socks need to extend above the cuff of the boot to provide protection from rubbing while walking. A knee-length sock can also offer protection to the shins from brambles and nettles but might be too warm on a summer day.
Fit: Hiking socks should fit snugly but not too tightly. The heel cup should line up with the wearer’s heel. If socks are too small, the foot can be constricted and the sock can be pulled down over the heel. If socks are too big, bunching and wrinkling can lead to discomfort and blisters.
Cushioning: Cushioning, particularly in the heel and ball of the foot, adds to foot-comfort by reducing the effects of boot impacts on the footpath.
Reinforcement: Durability is added by reinforcement in the heel and forefoot areas.
Arch-bracing: Bracing beneath the foot’s arch can help reduce muscle strain on rough trails.
Fabric: Socks are often advertised according to qualities conferred by the fabric e.g. flexibility; breathability; anti-odour; moisture-wicking; wear-resistance.
The best hiking socks are made from wool, or a wool-synthetic blend. Wool is naturally anti-microbial (and thus woollen socks can be less smelly than some synthetic materials) but polyester or nylon are often included for durability or the ability to move moisture away from the foot. Merino wool is preferred for softness.
A small amount of spandex is also commonly incorporated. Spandex’ elasticity helps socks keep their shape: it can deter bunching and wrinkling in the boot, and stretching in the washing machine.
Weave: The sock’s weave can be arranged to provide cushioning, reinforcement and bracing (as above) in the shape of heel- and toe-pockets, and elasticated or padded arch-supports. We look for seamless toe-closures for the smoothest fit and a reduced chance of rubbing and blistering.
Men’s or women’s: Hiking socks are often offered as Men’s or Women’s designs. This is usually just a matter of the colours or sizes offered, and sometimes price. However, we believe that this is generally a false distinction and that both sexes make the same demands of their hiking socks. Accordingly, choice should be based on fit, comfort and durability irrespective of sex.
There are socks that incorporate some or all of these features, available across a wide range of prices. Hikers looking to re-equip will consider the demands they make on their gear and their personal choices for comfort and style. It is impossible to recommend a ‘best hiking sock’ since so much depends on individual preferences and conditions-of-use. However, we have highlighted six examples of hiking socks that we believe are worth your consideration.
Best hiking and walking socks
Vihir Cushioned Hiking Sock
The Vihir sock is woven from a fibre with a high Merino-wool content (80%), blended with nylon for comfort and durability. The sole and heel are cushioned throughout and the interior is looped for a full terry finish. Elasticated ribbing from the heel to the cuff helps hold the sock in place and prevents slipping around the heel. These socks are sold in a 3-pair pack in a choice of Army Green, Black, Grey or one-of-each, and are a great value.
Yuedge Merino Wool Hiking Socks
These Yuedge-brand socks are manufactured from 80% Merino wool, with 15% polyester and 2.5% spandex. The heel and toe are reinforced, and the arch and area above the heel are elasticated for support; the sole of the sock is padded for additional comfort. Users have provided generally positive reviews, especially regarding the socks’ warmth in winter conditions, and they are a better quality item at an everyday price.
Bridgedale Wool/Fusion Trekker Socks
Bridgedale is a well-regarded brand, offering socks for various outdoor pursuits in a range of specifications. These ‘Trekker’ socks are knit with a blend of Merino wool and the manufacturer’s ‘Coolmax’ polyester. Lycra is included in the weave beneath the arch and above the heel to help keep the sock in place on the foot. Extra comfort is provided by padding in the underfoot area. Warm enough for cold conditions but breathable enough for warmer days, this is a versatile, hard-wearing sock.
Smartwool Trekking Heavy Crew Socks
These are a thick sock from another well-known brand, offering padded comfort and good wear-resistance. They are fashioned with an arch brace and underfoot-cushioning using a blended yarn of Merino wool (77% ) and polyamide (22%). Elastane (spandex) is used in the arch, around the heel and in the cuff to help maintain the sock’s shape and keep it in place on the hiker’s foot. Smartwool socks are made in the USA.
Darn Tough Merino Cushion Hiking Socks
Darn Tough is based in Vermont, USA, which, the manufacturer claims, is the ideal environment for designing and testing its products. These are true seam-free socks which provide a smooth fit with no slipping or bunching. They are constructed with a close weave of a Merino wool/nylon blend (64%/33%) with spandex in the cuff. The underfoot is cushioned. These are a high-quality sock, earning rave reviews, that justify their higher cost.
SealSkinz Waterproof Hiking Socks
These socks are constructed of three layers. The outer layer is closely-woven from a nylon-elastane blend and provides a snug fit. The inner layer is merino wool for comfort and breathability, and the middle layer is a hydrophilic membrane that provides waterproofing but allows sweat to pass away from the foot. The heel, toe and footbed are padded and the heel and instep are elasticated for additional support. They are offered in two colour styles: all black and black/anthracite. SeealSkinz waterproof hiking socks are a premium product, with excellent reviews, designed for serious outdoors-men and -women.