Best Hiking Socks

Updated September 2021
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Buying guide for best hiking socks

Socks have been used to protect, warm, and cushion feet and ankles since ancient Egyptian times, and Roman soldiers often wore socks in cold climates. Yet, sock technology has only recently progressed from basic sewn or knit pieces of cloth to purpose-built technical gear designed specifically for performance outdoors. Hiking socks are at the forefront of this change, and for good reason: a well-designed sock is not only comfortable but it can also save your feet from injury and even help save your life.

If that sounds like hyperbole, it isn’t. The right hiking sock can keep your feet warm and dry in cold conditions, helping to prevent hypothermia – which can torpedo a hiking trip in a hurry. The wrong hiking sock can break down quickly on the trail. On a short hike of just four miles, a hiker takes more than 9,000 steps, not including detours around impassable features like boulders or the wear and tear of clambering up and over smaller obstacles. Beginning hikers averaging eight miles a day on a clear trail take around 18,000 steps. A basic sock, made for business wear or casual sports, won’t hold up long under those conditions.

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A quality hiking sock has reinforcing fibers in the toe and heel, stretchy material midfoot, and elastic in the calf and ankle.

Key features of hiking socks


The amount of cushioning determines the weight of hiking socks.

  • Very Light: These “no-cushioning,” lightweight hiking socks are mainly worn to wick moisture away from the skin. Sock liners fall into this category as well.
  • Light: Thin, light hiking socks have some cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot. Light hiking socks are designed to wick away moisture yet stay comfortable, with little to no scratchiness and little added weight. These hiking socks are most popular in the hottest months of the year.
  • Medium: Ideal for moderate to cold conditions, medium-cushioned socks are a good hiking sock to wear year-round. They’re warm and have plenty of cushioning in the ball and heel of the foot.
  • Heavy: These hiking socks keep feet toasty warm in cold temperatures. The extra cushioning makes them a popular choice for hikers on long backpacking trips carrying heavy packs, as well as winter hiking and mountaineering.
"Low-cut hiking socks won’t protect your ankles from cuts and abrasions. Consider crew socks when hiking through brush or rocky areas."


As with sport socks, hiking socks come in different lengths.

  • Low-Cut: These short hiking socks include no-show socks, ideal for lightweight trail running, and ankle socks. Low-cut socks are no more than four inches long from the heel to just beneath the ankle bone.
  • Crew: The classic crew sock is the most common height for hiking socks, extending a few inches above the ankle for a total height up to 12 inches. You can also find mini-crew socks (up to seven inches high) and quarter-length crew socks (about nine inches high).
  • Knee-High: Over-the-calf hiking socks may be labeled as mountaineering or skiing socks. These often have added cushioning along the shin, which makes wearing footgear with high uppers, like mountaineering boots or ski boots, much more comfortable.
"When your hiking socks get worn, develop holes in the heel or toe, slip down frequently, or bunch up inside your shoe, toss ‘em and buy new ones."


The material used to weave the hiking socks is the biggest determinant of the socks’ performance when it comes to wicking away moisture and retaining warmth.

  • Wool: A popular and generally affordable choice for most hiking socks. While ragg wool was more common in the past, merino wool is fast gaining in popularity as it’s less itchy, and it can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water.
  • Polyester: Don’t dismiss hiking socks made of this synthetic material. Polyester wicks away water and dries quickly. It’s usually blended with wool to provide warmth and cushioning.
  • Nylon: Similar to polyester in its wicking and quick-drying capabilities, you can find hiking socks make primarily of nylon.
  • Silk: Very lightweight and comfortable silk also wicks moisture and dries quickly, but silk hiking socks don’t hold up as well as wool. Many hikers use silk socks as liners under wool socks.
  • Spandex: Most hiking socks on the market today contain some spandex, but it isn’t used as the primary material. Spandex provides shape to the sock and helps prevent bunching and wrinkling, which can cause blisters and raw areas on the feet on a long hike. For all of its elastic qualities, spandex tends to pick up and retain odors, meaning socks with a higher percentage of this material could get smelly.

Choosing hiking socks

Cheaper isn’t better

Knowing the features of hiking socks, why not just head to the discount store and buy the first pair you see? A bargain-basement sock might be just fine for a day hike of a couple miles in good weather, but longer hikes, rough terrain, hiking with a heavy pack, and hiking in colder weather can quickly take their toll on socks not designed for the task – and hurt your feet in the process.

  • Unreinforced toes and heels can wear through in hours, exposing your skin to rubbing against your leather boots.

  • Some socks that contain cotton retain water and sweat, becoming soggy and slippery. Wet socks won’t keep your feet warm in cold temperatures.

  • The wrong sock can contribute to and aggravate blisters, hot spots, bunions, corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, and plantar fasciitis.

  • A sock material that doesn’t breathe can exacerbate athlete’s foot.

"Know ahead of time the terrain and climate of the region in which you plan to hike, and pick your hiking socks accordingly."

Examine the socks

Most stores won’t let you try on hiking socks before buying them, but you can inspect the socks.

  • Check the label. Identify the fabrics used in the socks’ construction. Make certain that cotton is not part of the blend.

  • Look at the toe and heel of each sock. Look for some cushioning (it varies depending on weight) and a strong, reinforcing fabric.

  • Turn the socks inside out to look at the seams. The seams should lie flat against the fabric or they’ll rub against your feet. The toe section should be one continuous piece, with no seam in the front. The seam should attach the toe section to the sock just before reaching the ball of the foot.

  • Note the size of the fabric loops. Dense, tightly woven loops indicate a more durable sock that will cushion your foot and absorb water.

  • Tug lightly on the sock at different points. It should have some, but not too much, elasticity, just enough to retain its shape after you let go. Too much or too little elasticity and the sock may not stay in place on your foot.

"Follow washing instructions closely for hiking socks. Frequent washing in hot water or with lots of soap can break down the fabric more quickly."


Once you’ve determined the fabric and overall quality, choose the sock size that most closely matches your shoe size. In the U.S., socks are labeled with size ranges and differentiated by gender, such as Women’s 4 to 7, Men’s 10 to 13, and so on.

Labels sometimes include the most closely corresponding EU and UK sizes. For example, a Women’s 5 to 10 has an EU size of 36 to 41 and a UK size of 3 to 8. Note that women who have larger feet might be more comfortable wearing men’s hiking socks. In this case, using the unisex EU sizing guide can help you choose a more accurate size.

"The gender designation on hiking socks isn’t a strict rule. It’s more important that the socks fit well."

Get used to your hiking socks

Once home, try on your hiking socks right away. Wear them the way you plan to wear them on the trail.

  • Make sure your feet are clean.

  • If you use thin sock liners, put those on first.

  • Note how easy or hard it is to put on the hiking socks.

  • Note where the heel of the sock sits in relation to your heel.

  • Note how comfortable the socks feel (or not).

  • If the socks are comfortable and fit well, try on your hiking shoes or boots.

  • If the socks aren’t comfortable or don’t fit well, exchange them for a different size or brand. Don’t assume the socks will somehow be more comfortable on the trail.

Hiking sock prices

Hiking sock material is the main factor in price. Expect to pay between $5 and $37 for hiking socks.

  • Silk hiking socks range in price from $6 to $20.  

  • Polyester-nylon blend hiking socks range in price from $10 to $25.

  • Merino wool hiking socks range in price from $5 to $35.

  • Nylon hiking socks range in price from $9 to $37.


  • Make sure your hiking socks fit correctly. The socks should feel snug but comfortable and not too tight. The sock’s heel cup should line up with the heel of your foot without needing much adjustment.
  • When trying on new hiking boots, always wear the socks you plan to wear when hiking. Hiking socks can improve a boot’s fit. In fact, socks and boots should be considered a system, with both playing an essential role in the health of your foot.  
  • Never choose cotton for a hiking sock or liner. Cotton may be cozy and comfortable when clean and dry, but it holds water like a sponge, dries very slowly, and doesn’t retain warmth when wet.
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Always carry an extra pair of dry hiking socks even if it’s just a short day hike. Change out of wet or muddy socks, and cover blisters right away.


Q. I’m interested in protecting the environment from synthetic materials and plastics. What hiking socks can I choose that help the environment?
There is an effort in the industry to offer hiking socks that are “ethically sourced” and have less of an environmental impact in their manufacture. Look for companies that create environmentally friendly socks using recycled synthetics, fair-trade wool, or locally produced wool.

Q. I have long and wide feet, and most women’s socks are tight and uncomfortable. What are my options?
Head over to the men’s department! Women’s socks are usually sized smaller and have a different heel-width-to-ball-of-foot ratio than men’s socks. There is no rule that you can only wear women’s socks. (It would be nice if the industry acknowledged that many taller women with larger feet would like to buy the prettier hiking sock designs, too.)

Q. How many pairs of socks should I take on a multi-day hiking trip?
That depends on the length of the trip, miles hiked per day, and where you’re hiking. In a hot, dry climate you may only need to take two or three pairs, switching them out daily and letting them dry completely. In a wet, chilly climate, you might need more pairs. If you’re going on a guided trip, check with the company ahead of time for recommendations. Many websites for outdoors enthusiasts have packing guides based on season and region. Also, don’t assume that just because you’re hiking on a popular trail or near settled areas you can skimp on socks. For example, New Hampshire’s Presidential Range has notoriously fickle and dangerous weather year-round, and veterans of the Pacific Crest Trail have plenty of tales about sudden summer blizzards.

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