Three best hiking socks

Samantha Bookman

Purchase hiking socks from a retailer that allows returns or exchanges because you might need to try different types until you find the perfect fit.

Advice about hiking socks can be pretty varied, and it seems everyone from your mom to the clerk at the drugstore is more than happy to give you their take. "Wear thick socks with your hiking boots," one says. "Always wear two pairs of socks," says another. Or this jewel of misadvice, "If you wear anything besides pure wool, you will die."

The truth is, buying the right hiking sock can take as much searching as finding the perfect hiking boot. That's no coincidence. Hiking socks and boots are the key components of a foot protection system.

That's why at BestReviews, we consider the hiking socks on the market with several important factors in mind, so you have the most pertinent information as you shop. Read on for what to look for in hiking socks, along with three brands we think sit at the top of the pile.

Considerations when choosing hiking socks

There are a few elements every hiking sock should have.

Wool or synthetic fabric: Wool is a good insulator, and it wicks away sweat, as do many synthetics. Hiking socks constructed with a wool-synthetic blend are popular for their light weight and comfortable fit. Just be wary of the amount of spandex incorporated into the sock; it tends to retain odors.

Proper fit: Hiking socks need to fit your feet comfortably and snugly. Creases, rolls, and bunching can cause untold discomfort several miles down the trail.

Suit the boots: The fit and finish of hiking boots can dictate the type of hiking socks you choose. Snug-fitting boots could be very uncomfortable if worn with extra-thick socks. Wide boots and thin hiking socks could cause your feet to slide around inside the boots, inviting blisters.

Hiking sock features

Sock height: From no-show to knee-length, consider the height of a hiking sock for comfort and protection from blisters and the elements. For example, a crew sock can prevent blisters where the top of the boot meets the ankle, while knee-high socks provide an added layer of warmth in the winter. No-show socks work best with low-cut trail runners.

Cushioning: This is one of the most important factors in finding the right fit. Too much cushioning can mean bunched-up socks or feet feeling squeezed inside the boot. Too little can impact your comfort during long walks.

Types of hiking socks

Liners: Made of silk, nylon, or a blend of both fabrics, these ultrathin, ultralight socks wick away moisture quickly and typically serve as a base layer beneath a heavier hiking sock. Prices range from $6 to $13.

Low-cut socks: Sometimes labeled "no-show," these hiking socks are meant to be worn with low-cut day hikers or trail running shoes. Prices range from $12 to $16.

Quarter-length crew socks: Also intended for low-cut trail runners, these hiking socks provide some protection for the ankle while remaining lightweight. Prices range from $16 to $21.

Mid-length crew socks: The "classic" length for hiking socks, these rise to the middle of the calf. As this is the most popular hiking sock style, you will find many variations of weight, cushioning, and material. Prices range from $9 to $38.

Knee-high socks: Marketed more often to winter snowshoers, cross-country skiers, and backcountry mountaineers, most knee-length socks are heavier weight, with extra cushioning at the heel, toes, and sometimes the front of the calf (to prevent chafing from mountaineering or downhill ski boots). Prices range from $15 to $35


Q. A friend warned me that all-wool socks will shrink and fall apart quickly. Should I avoid them?

A. That scenario is unlikely if you choose your wool socks well. Hiking socks made of pure wool do have a tendency to lose shape quickly, bunch up, and develop holes over time. Classic ragg wool socks can also be itchy. Look for Merino wool instead. These socks are less itchy and often more durable.

Q. Instructions on my nylon-spandex hiking socks say to wash them in cold water only, but my socks stink after a day on the trail. What happens if I wash them in hot water?

A. Over time, hot water can break down synthetic fabrics. The bigger culprit is a hot dryer, which can cause the fabrics to shrink excessively. Also, spandex washed and dried on hot settings can retain odors, making your hiking socks permanently stinky. Try washing socks in warm or cold water as soon as possible after a hike, then hang them up to dry rather than place them in a hot dryer. This can extend the life of your socks.

Q. My cotton socks are comfortable. Can't I wear those for hiking?

A. As comfy as cotton socks are, leave them at home, and avoid hiking socks that have cotton in them. Cotton soaks up water like a sponge and hangs onto it, leaving your feet wet and creating a misshapen sock that rubs blisters into your feet. In cold conditions, cotton puts you at risk of frostbite, or worse.

Hiking socks we recommend

Best of the best: People Socks Premium Merino Wool Hiking Socks 

Our take: Comfortable, nicely fitting, and warm, these work well for day hikes or day-to-day wear.

What we like: The reinforced toe and heel help prevent blisters and extend the life of the sock. The fabric blend focuses on comfort thanks to high-quality Merino wool, along with just enough synthetic blend for efficient moisture wicking and secure fit.

What we dislike: As with any wool sock, these need some care when washing. Anything other than the gentle cycle and air-drying will drastically decrease their quality. Some people might find them too thin for long hikes.

Best bang for your buck: Darn Tough Micro Hiker Crew Socks 

Our take: Versatile, durable, and stylish, these 100% Merino wool socks stand up to tough hikes.

What we like: Stylish design, almost-perfect fit, and made of high-quality wool, yet still reasonably priced.

What we dislike: The sizing chart can be difficult to decipher, though the socks run true to size. These will shrink in the wash if you're not careful.

Choice 3: Smartwool Ultra Light Mini Socks 

Our take: Trail runners and ultralight hikers unite around this ultra-comfortable, cushiony, yet light hiking sock.

What we like: A flat-knit toe seam makes long hikes that much more comfortable, as does this sock's extra cushioning.

What we dislike: The thickness isn't uniform, which some hikers think feels weird and unstable.

Samantha Bookman is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.

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