If you’ve ever worn cotton socks on the trail, you know how bad things can get for your feet: Cotton socks hold moisture next to your skin, which can cause chafing and blisters galore. That’s why you need at least a few pairs of moisture-wicking wool or synthetic hiking socks in your pack.
To bring you the best hiking socks of 2018, we looked to our customers first. Each pair of hiking socks on this list is top-rated by verified purchasers. That means your fellow outdoors people wore these socks for hundreds of miles, through rain and snow and heat waves, through dust and mud and rocky inclines, and came back to tell us how they performed. After perusing customer reviews, we tested the socks ourselves, walking in each pair for several miles on Pacific Northwest trails. We did a smell test, spritzed each pair with water to see how fast it dried, and checked to see which pairs picked up the most debris while hiking in brush. After all this research, here’s what we found.
Best All-Around Hiking Socks
Fabric: 54% nylon, 42% merino wool and 4% Lycra spandex (women’s); 56% nylon, 40% merino wool and 4% Lycra spandex (men’s)
Height: Micro crew
The Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew socks were the most comfortable and breathable socks we tested for summer, fall and spring hiking. Darn Tough socks are made in Vermont and they promise an ideal mix of breathability, comfort and quality. The micro crew length means the socks come up to your lower calf, helping keep out loose brush. The light cushion makes for excellent breathability without influencing the fit of your boot and shoe, too: Because the socks fit fairly tightly, we didn’t experience any bunching in the toes or heels, which could lead to blisters. We climbed steep trails and trotted back down them in these socks with no hot spots or blisters to be found. An added bonus: Darn Tough socks are relatively smell-proof, too, because they’re made with high-quality merino wool.
Says one customer: “I've been wearing [Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew socks] since 2013, doing hundreds of miles every year, and have yet to see any kind of failure whatsoever.”
Yes, Darn Tough socks are a bit pricier than other hiking socks, but there’s a good reason for that: Darn Tough offers a lifetime warranty so you’ll only have to buy these socks once. If you ever get a hole in your socks, Darn Tough will send you a replacement pair for free.
Best Non-Wool Hiking Socks
Fabric: Inner: 70% polyester/26% nylon/4% spandex; Outer: 71% polyester/24% nylon/5% spandex
If you’re looking for a non-wool hiking sock option, we think the Wrightsock Escape is the best choice for most people who want to hike during the fall, summer and spring months. The Escape is breathable and wicks away moisture flawlessly. Although it holds on to smells a bit more than the wool socks we tested, it did smell better post-hike than most of the other synthetic socks we tried. Wrightsock’s double-layer design, which knits together two sock layers, helps prevent hot spots and blisters. These are also the softest socks we tried.
Although this model technically comes in men’s sizes, it’s actually unisex. Check the size chart on the product page for details about what size you should buy for your unique foot.
“No issues, no blisters, no pain,” wrote one customer. “I have been looking for a good combination of hiking sock and liner, and I've tried several liners all with an eventual blister or sore skin on feet. [The Wrightsock Escape’s] all-in-one liner and light cushion socks are a dream.”
Best Hiking Socks for Winter Trekking
Fabric: 66% merino wool, 32% nylon and 2% Lycra spandex
If you need a good pair of hiking socks for cold weather hiking, snowshoeing or mountaineering, the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion socks are our top choice. Like their lightweight cousins, they wick moisture well. This is especially important in winter temperatures: The more your foot sweats, the more moisture lands in your sock. Wet socks can be problematic in below freezing temperatures so wearing a sock that wicks away moisture quickly is paramount.
These full-cushion Darn Tough socks were some of the thickest socks we tried and we were glad to find they felt padded but not too padded; you won’t have to go up a size in your boots. Again, all Darn Tough socks have a lifetime warranty. As one customer explained, “I finally put a small hole in a pair after 3 years! Sent them back and [Darn Tough] sent me a brand new pair! No questions asked. They are the only socks I will ever wear!!”
Hiking Socks Buying Advice
The number one rule for hiking socks (and most other outdoor gear) is no cotton. “Cotton is the fabric of our lives but it is also the product of many blisters,” says Beth Henkes, footwear sales lead at the Alderwood, Washington, REI store. Wet, cotton socks don’t wick moisture: Instead, they trap moisture next to the skin, which can cause chafing and blisters.
Wool, on the other hand, is king. It is the best material for regulating temperature in the outdoors because wool fibers have hollow shafts, which allow heat to escape quickly. If you’re shopping for outdoor gear, you’ll likely see labels that say “merino wool.” Merino wool comes from Merino sheep, which are prized for their high quality, super-fine wool. Merino wool is typically processed via a boiling protocol that removes many of the microscopic barbs, making it a good option for people who sometimes find themselves irritated by the itchiness of non-merino wool. Wool does not retain smell like other materials: The lack of barbs in the fibers means that smell filters right through.
“You can take three pairs of wool socks on a three-week trip and that’s all you need,” Henkes says. “One on your feet, an extra dry pair in your pack, and one hanging off the back of the pack to dry.”
Synthetic materials (typically made with polyester and nylon) dry more quickly than wool materials, but you’ll likely sweat a bit more in them, compared to wool. Synthetic items are also more likely to retain smell and your feet may slip a bit more in a pair of synthetic socks, compared to wool. That said, if wool irritates your skin, synthetic materials are a good back up choice.
Hiking sock fit largely depends on the shoes you own and the size of your feet. Head into an REI store to get your foot fitted for the right pair of shoes: REI shoe experts are trained to help you assess foot volume, which is the most important part of hiking boot fit. Volume is the depth of your foot—it’s not the same as your arch—and it determines the width and size of the best shoe and sock for you.
Once you’ve gotten your foot measured and you have your socks, here are a few other tips to keep in mind: A good pair of hiking socks won’t bunch. “Pay attention to the fit of the toe and heel. If a sock is too long, it will bunch over your toes. And if the sock is too short, it will slide down into the shoe and feel tight,” says Julia Borsari, REI’s assistant category merchant for socks.
You should also watch for where the seams hit, ideally right below the tips of the toes, Henkes says. If the seams hit in the wrong place, you may get blisters. Ill-fitting socks may slide down the heel (this means the sock is too small) or the seam may hit at the top of the toes (this also means the sock is too small). If you’re wearing through the heels of your socks every few months, the problem is likely an ill-fitted shoe.
REI typically sells four sock heights: no show, ankle, crew and knee-high. If you’re wearing a boot that comes up over your ankle bone, you probably need crew-length socks; your sock should be fully under your boots or it will rub on your legs or ankles and promote blisters. If you’re wearing hiking shoes (below the ankle bone) or trail runners, an ankle or no-show sock might be more comfortable. Some trail runners may prefer an ankle sock over a no-show sock because it keeps trail debris out of the shoe. Knee-high socks are best for people who plan to hike in significant brush or in areas where there may be ticks.
In this guide, we’ve recommended only crew-length socks because these socks are the most commonly-purchased item for three-season hikers (summer, spring and fall) who plan to hike on moderately groomed trails in hiking boots and shoes. However, all of the socks we picked come in other lengths.
REI typically sells socks in four thicknesses: No cushion, light cushion, medium cushion and heavy cushion. For most people who plan to hike on moderate terrain, a medium or lightweight hiking sock is the best choice. Typically, it makes sense to start with a lightweight sock and work your way up, if you find that your feet are getting cold. A medium-weight sock may be a good fit for people who like a bit more padding while hiking.
If you have perpetually cold feet, if you like to hike at cold times of day (in the early morning or late evening), or if you plan to hike in the winter or are a mountaineer, you may want heavy cushion socks. However, Henkes says many people will be just fine with a light or medium-weight socks, plus liner socks. Heavy socks add a lot of bulk to a shoe, meaning you’ll be prone to blisters unless you go up a half size in your boots. Plus, a light or medium-weight wool sock will typically keep your feet warmer than a thick sock because thinner socks wick moisture quickly and sit close to the foot. Your socks won’t be as wet in a thinner sock and thus, your feet will stay warmer.
Do I need liner socks to prevent blisters?
“The most common reason for people getting blisters from hiking is not wearing proper hiking socks,” Borsari says. When you’re considering blister prevention, the first step is ditching your cotton socks and picking up a pair of wool or synthetic socks. This may fix your blister problems entirely but if it doesn’t, some people also prefer adding liner socks into the mix. Liner socks are thin socks that add extra protection between your foot and your hiking sock. If you’re new to hiking, Henkes recommends trying liner socks during a basic hike to see what you think. (We didn’t test liner socks for this guide, but the Wrightsock, our best synthetic sock pick, has a built in liner sock).
If you are wearing a liner sock, Henkes says to match like with like: Pair a wool sock with a wool liner sock, or a synthetic sock with a synthetic liner sock. If you put a synthetic liner sock under a wool sock, the synthetic sock will trap heat and overwhelm the wool—you’ll be extra hot. If you’re looking for an alternative to a liner sock, Henkes recommends adding a layer of Body Glide to your feet, under your socks. Surgical tape is also often recommended as a blister prevention tool.
Are men’s and women’s socks different?
Take it straight from the expert: “In most cases, there’s no difference between a men’s and a women’s sock besides the color,” Henkes says. There are a few pairs of running socks that are tailored to women’s and men’s feet (the women’s socks tend to fit more narrowly, says Henkes). But most people have triangular feet and will fit into a unisex sock option.
How can I make my socks last longer?
Don’t wash your socks very often. The more you wash your socks, the more the fibers break down and the less useful they become. Some socks will also shrink in the wash. (According to Henkes and customer reviews, Wrightsocks are known for this.)
Instead of throwing your socks straight in the wash, turn them inside-out and let them dry on their own. Then give them a smell test. If they don’t smell, don’t wash them. If they do smell, “Wash inside-out on a warm setting, tumble dry low and avoid fabric softener,” Borsari says. Most hiking socks should last for several years if you’re hiking a few times per month, but watch for sock breakdown. If your socks are all breaking down in a certain spot (especially in the heel), you probably need a new pair of hiking shoes.