Staff Picks: The Best Socks of 2020

Our guide includes the seven best pairs of socks you can find at REI for hiking, running and more.

33 reviews with an average rating of 5 out of 5 stars

This article is part of our series: Hiking Boot Basics

A hiker puts on a pair of hiking socks while sitting on a rock next to a trail

When you hit the trail for a big adventure, the last thing you want to worry about are your feet. With the right pair of socks, blisters and hot spots may be things of the past, allowing you to fully enjoy that mountain sunset instead of limping into camp.

We polled our expert team, and these seven socks are our staffers’ favorites at REI. They’re trail-tested and hiker-approved, providing the cushioning, breathability and moisture-wicking your feet need for ultimate comfort on trail days.

 

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion

Best Cushioned Hiking Sock

Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion

  • Versions: Men’s, Women’s
  • Fabric: 66% merino wool, 32% nylon, 2% spandex (men’s); 64% merino wool, 33% nylon, 3% spandex (women’s)
  • Price: $26 (men’s); $25 (women’s)

A year-in, year-out favorite on the Pacific Crest and Appalachian Trails, this heavy-cushioned crew sock from Darn Tough has seen its fair share of 30-mile days. Unlike a lighter sock that saves the padding for the ball and heel only, this puppy offers plush, high-density cushioning throughout the entire sock to keep feet happy on tough days of pounding rugged singletrack.

Many hiking socks use the wool/nylon/elastane trifecta, and the Hiker Boot Full-Cushion is no different. Where it does dogleg from the others is in the high percentage of merino wool used—that's where the plush cushioning comes from. And for a poofier sock, it’s not at all sloppy: Our testers laud its snug, no-slip fit. “No bunching means no blisters, even on even the sweatiest days,” says one editor, who’s had the same pair of Hiker Boot Full-Cushions in the rotation for seven years.

What's more, this sock comes with the Darn Tough lifetime guarantee. That’s the sort of durability we can all get behind. Buy here.

 

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew

Best Light Hiking Sock

Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew

  • Versions: Women’s, Men’s
  • Fabric: 58% merino wool, 39% nylon, 3% elastane (women’s); 56% merino wool, 41% nylon, 3% elastane (men’s)
  • Price: $22.95

Wet feet = blister-prone feet. So whether you’re naturally sweaty or hiking in high temps, you owe it to your sole to check out a pair of socks with light cushioning like these. The PhD Outdoor Light has less wool than a full-cushioned sock, reserving the padding in higher-impact zones like the heel and ball. On the top of the foot, Smartwool places thinner, mesh-like fabric that serves as a vent to keep moisture away. “It gives me the benefit of padding without suffocating me,” one staffer says. “I get really sweaty feet when I’m hiking, but when I pair the PhD Outdoor Light with trail runners, I don’t swamp out, even on 80°F days.”

The PhD Outdoor Light features Smartwool’s patent-pending Indestructawool™ technology, which is basically the brand’s way of zoning the merino, nylon and elastane where you need them most without introducing more seams that can chafe or feel annoying. That’s all supposed to make the PhD Outdoor Light more durable—something we haven’t tested in a lab but are into. One staffer has logged about 150 miles and a dozen washes on her trusty pair and the socks are no worse for wear. Buy here.

 

REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition Crew

Best Winter Hiking Sock

REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition Crew

  • Versions: Unisex
  • Fabric: 79% merino wool, 20% nylon, 1% spandex
  • Price: $20.95

This sock from REI Co-op is one of the most budget-friendly expedition-weight socks on the market, so we’ll forgive you for overlooking it at first glance. But on closer inspection, you’ll see why these ultrathick merino babies scored high praise from our experts: Warmth and comfort aren't sacrificed at this price point. You get heavy plush cushioning across the foot with extra padding on the heel, ball, toes and Achilles—enough to keep you protected and warm when the mercury drops. Added bonus: All that merino wool provides natural odor control. And for summertime camping, the Merino Wool Expedition pulls double-duty as a luxurious sleep sock to stuff in the bottom of your sleeping bag.

Feel good about wearing this sock, too. The Merino Wool Expedition is made using wool that’s certified by the animal-friendly Responsible Wool Standard (RWS). Buy here.

 

Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker

Best Quarter-High Hiking Sock

Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker

  • Versions: Men’s, Women’s
  • Fabric: 61% merino wool, 37% nylon, 2% spandex (men’s); 60% merino wool, 38% nylon, 2% spandex (women’s)
  • Price: $18

Do a cursory search for “best thru-hiking sock,” and this fan favorite from Darn Tough comes up every time. The quarter-height hits just above the ankles, making it perfect for hikers who wear trail runners or low-cut boots on excursions, while the medium cushioning keeps it versatile and supportive enough for crushing big miles with a heavy pack. “These are my go-to all-weather socks,” says one member-tester. “I’ll throw them on for a breezy day hike just as willingly as when I wear them on multi-day summer backpacking treks.”

Beyond that, the Quarter Cushion Hiker boasts all of the hallmarks we’ve come to expect from Darn Tough, including a sleek, no-slip fit and extra cushion on the heel and ball. And this sock is also backed by Darn Tough’s lifetime guarantee, which is just icing on the cake. Buy here.

 

WRIGHTSOCK Coolmesh II Crew

Best Double Sock

WRIGHTSOCK Coolmesh II Crew

  • Versions: Unisex
  • Fabric: 70% polyester, 26% nylon, 4% spandex (inner sock); 71% polyester, 24% nylon, 5% spandex (outer sock)
  • Price: $15

Have an issue with blisters? If going lighter-weight hasn’t helped, try going double: The WRIGHTSOCK CoolMesh II has two layers that work together to limit friction caused by repetitive motion. The ultrathin inner layer is so snug that it’s difficult to pinch loose slack; that makes it nearly impossible for the material to bunch, crease or chafe your bare skin. (It also helps wick moisture like a dream to keep your feet dry.) The thicker outer layer, meanwhile, cushions your foot like a standard sock while absorbing any rubbing from your shoe as it slides (friction-free) over the inner layer. Buy here.

 

Balega Silver No-Show

Best No-Show Sock

Balega Silver No-Show

  • Versions: Unisex
  • Fabric: 75% polyester, 23% nylon, 2% elastane
  • Price: $15

Sick of painful heel blisters on pavement-pounding runs? The Balega Silver No-Show is designed to obliterate your fears. With high heel tabs and extra-deep heel pockets, this low-profile sock grips your foot like a hug. Add in a seamless toe, and you’ve got yourself a practically blister-proof running mate. “I never have to yank them up,” one staffer says. “They stay put no matter what, even on soggy runs in the Pacific Northwest.”

The poly/nylon/elastane blend is different from a typical hiking sock like above. In lieu of wool, Balega primarily uses a polyester-based blend. Synthetic polyester dries super quick, making it a great material for sweaty pursuits like running. It lacks the comfort and odor control of natural wool—but that’s where the silver comes in. To increase the sock’s odor resistance, Balega says it encapsulates the polyester fibers in silver ions, a natural bacteria inhibitor. Combined with mesh paneling along the top of the sock, the Silver No-Show is a runner’s dream for hot days. Buy here.

 

Sockwell Circulator

Best Compression Sock

Sockwell Circulator

  • Versions: Women’s, Men’s
  • Fabric: 32% merino wool, 32% stretch nylon, 31% rayon from bamboo, 5% spandex
  • Price: $26.95

Whether you’re eyeing a leisurely recovery day or a long-distance flight, your legs deserve the power of a properly designed compression sock. Using graduated pressure from the Achilles to just above the calf, compression socks can help decrease swelling and increase blood flow. The Sockwell Circulator has moderate (15-20 mmHg) graduated compression that’s highest at the ankles and lightest at the calves, helping push blood up your body toward your heart for maximum circulation. This can help reduce recovery time when you’re training and lessen leg swelling during hours spent sitting in an office chair or on a plane.

The Circulator is designed with a merino/nylon/spandex blend similar to what you might find in a typical hiking sock. But Sockwell also sneaks bamboo into the mix, which has antimicrobial properties. Buy here.

 

Shop All Socks 

 

Buying Advice

When choosing a pair of socks, consider the fabric blend, level of cushioning and cuff height.

 

Fabric

Most technical socks are made with a fabric blend of several materials that bring different properties to the mix. Most hiking socks use some combination of wool, nylon and elastane. Wool is a comfy fiber that insulates when wet or dry, wicks moisture like a dream and is naturally antimicrobial. Nylon is typically used for creating the durable grid that the wool is woven over. Elastane (like spandex or Lycra) provides the stretchiness and shape retention of your sock. The Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion, Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew, REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition Crew and Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker all use this general formula.

Running socks, on the other hand, may include polyester instead of wool. Polyester is a quick-drying synthetic fiber that’s second to none when it comes to wicking moisture away from your body. The WRIGHTSOCK Coolmesh II Crew and Balega Silver No-Show socks use polyester.

Still other socks like the Sockwell Circulator may have a fourth ingredient mixed in; the Sockwell has bamboo for its antimicrobial properties.

Note: Cotton socks are less than ideal on trails. Cotton absorbs sweat and dries slooooooowly—the perfect recipe for a big blister.

 

Cushioning

Finding the right level of sock cushioning requires balancing your desired level of comfort and the amount of warmth you need. In general, there are four categories of cushioning you’ll find at REI: no cushioning, light cushioning, medium cushioning and heavy cushioning. No-cushioning and light-cushioning socks (like the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew and Balega Silver No-Show) are typically reserved for running and ultralight hiking; they’re the most breathable of the bunch. Medium-cushioning socks (like the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion and Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Hiker) provide Goldilocks padding and weight and are great choices for hiking and backpacking. Heavy-cushioning socks (like the REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition Crew) are often best for winter pursuits and as nighttime comfies for cold sleepers.

 

Cuff Height

First: What kind of footwear are you pairing with your socks? You want your sock to be as tall as or taller than your shoe to prevent rubbing and chafing.

Second: What kind of activity will you be doing in your socks? Avoid a sock shorter than your shoes; you may even want to go taller. Knee-high compression might be a benefit if you’re skiing or mountaineering; crew or ankle-high socks may be best if you’re trail-running or heading off-trail.

 

How To Choose Hiking Socks 

 

Methodology

We asked our crew of REI staffers and member-testers for their favorite socks sold at REI, then vetted their nominations against hundreds of purchase-verified online member reviews. We culled the list down to these seven trusted faves.


Article by Emily Pennington. Emily is a freelance writer and journalist with a special focus on the outdoors, national parks, adventure travel and solo female travel. She’s currently on a mission to visit and hike in every U.S. national park. When she’s not slouched over her laptop writing trail guides and gear reviews, you can usually find her sleeping in the dirt all over California. REI member since 2015.

 


How helpful was this article? Click a star to rate.