Sometimes costing over $30 a pair, hiking socks have a steep price tag compared to a pair of normal cotton ones. But it’s not obvious to the naked eye that hiking socks are highly engineered for comfort and performance while protecting your feet on challenging or multi-day hikes. A technical pair is worth investing in if you’re an avid hiker. In a saturated market, here’s what you need to know about finding the most durable, breathable and moisture-wicking socks for long-distance trail running, day hikes and backpacking adventures.
There Are Different Cushioning Levels
These activity-specific socks differ in cushioning level, ranging from ultra-lightweight socks with minimal padding to heavyweight socks with thick cushioning. Consider the weather, terrain and length of your hike when picking a pair. More cushioning provides more warmth as well as protection during high-impact activities that put extra strain on your feet, like running and trekking up and down steep and uneven trails.
Lightly cushioned socks are relatively thin with minimal padding in critical places like the heel and the ball of the foot and are a practical option for summer hikes due to their breathability. Socks that have medium cushioning, which is the most popular choice, come with moderate padding in the heel and toebox. This is the most versatile option for day hikes and multi-day backpacking adventures, as they’re suitable for a range of moderate to cold weather conditions. Heavyweight socks are the most cushioned option available and tend to appeal to mountaineers and winter backpackers. Because of their thickness, these are the warmest but least breathable socks.
Beyond offering support, cushioning also provides comfort for the feet. If your boots are slightly large, consider going for a more cushioned heel and toe area to prevent your feet from sliding in your shoes during a hike.
unsplashBecause of its ability to regulate body temperature and stave off odours, merino wool is one of the most popular materials used in designing outdoor adventure clothing, from undergarments and base layers to hiking socks. To boost durability, most high-performing hiking socks are crafted from a blend of merino wool and synthetics like polyester and nylon.
Though 100 per cent synthetic socks come at a lower price point, the downfall is that they tend to lose their warming capabilities faster and retain more odours, which means you have to toss them in the wash more frequently. Each brand and style differs in the percentage of merino wool and synthetics used, but by combining the two, the product benefits from the strengths of both materials for maximum comfort, warmth, durability and moisture-wicking capabilities. Spandex, though only incorporated in socks in a small amount, ensures a good fit by helping the sock hold its shape and keep it from bunching on your feet, which could cause blisters over time.
Pick the Right Fit
unsplashThe right fit is crucial. Socks range in length from no-show and ankle socks to cuffs that hit the lower calf or even the knees. Socks that go above your boot or hiking shoe protect your skin from chafing against the boot, which makes no-shows and ankle socks more suitable for summertime hikes when you’re wearing low-cut shoes. Crew length is a common length for hiking socks and offers protection for those wearing taller boots and when hiking in tall grasses.
Socks should feel snug. Tight socks create more pressure points on your feet, while socks that are too loose will bunch in your shoe and cause blisters. When choosing a size, choose according to your foot size instead of your shoe size, especially if you tend to size up or down for shoes.
Here are some hiking socks for every budget:
J.B. Field's Super-Wool Hiker GX Socks
This budget option is well-loved for light outdoor use, including casual hikes and camping. These all-season socks come up to the mid-calf and are made with 74 per cent merino wool and 20 per cent nylon for a blend that’s warm and soft, yet durable.
Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Ankle Socks
This lightweight and thinner model makes an ideal choice for summer hikes in low-cut boots. With 56 per cent responsibly sourced merino wool, these feel almost cloud-like. The addition of 31 per cent recycled nylon makes these socks a sustainable choice.
Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Two
Those looking for extra ankle support should consider the Flite XT Trail series by Swiftwick, which uses a strong elastic to stabilize your ankles on uneven and challenging terrain. Plus, the mesh upper and use of 23 per cent Olefin help to keep sweaty feet at bay.
Darn Tough Midweight Hiker Boot Socks
With plenty of cushion in the shin and along the bottom of the foot, this is a top pick for comfort among hikers and backpackers. Though Darn Tough socks come at a higher price point, they also come with a lifetime guarantee, meaning you’ll be sent a replacement if yours wears out. For a long-lasting sock, this is worth the investment.