I know you want to get outside and hit the trails, but as you sift through your drawers, you only find regular cotton socks. So you think to yourself – Are hiking socks necessary? What do they bring to the table that my good ‘ole classic cotton sock doesn’t?

No, hiking socks are not necessary, BUT they will provide additional comfort and blister protection that normal socks will not. The benefits of hiking socks are that they are better at wicking moisture from wet feet and are more durable than your everyday sock.

Are hiking socks necessary - I think so, especially after a sandy hike in Utah
My merino wool hiking socks keep my feet dry and help prevent blisters even when my boots are full of sand, like on this hike in Southwest Utah.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at what are hiking socks anyway and why I think you should get yourself a pair or two before your next hike…

Elements of Hiking Socks

These days you want to look for merino wool hiking socks instead of 100% wool socks that are designed to provide warmth in cold weather. Often when people see the word ‘wool’ attached to a product, they raise an eyebrow and instantly think that it will be too hot.

But merino wool does two things efficiently that make it the ideal material for hiking:

  1. Merino wool is moisture wicking. Wet feet are a recipe for gnarly blisters, and we do NOT like blisters! So keeping your feet as dry as possible will go a long way to ensure you have a pain-free hike.
  2. Merino wool reduces odor as well. Nobody likes stinky feet!

Besides those two features, socks made for hiking will typically be more reinforced in the toe and heel areas. This is because these spots are prone to extra wear and tear during hiking going up and downhill.

A couple of factors will determine the length and thickness of the socks you choose…

  1. If you wear hiking shoes, you might not need longer socks like you would if you use boots instead. However, get socks that go above the top of your footwear, whatever shoe height you prefer.

    This will also help provide a barrier between your skin and the shoe materials. Remember, we do NOT like blisters, so anything we can do to prevent that from happening is what we want to do.

    We tend to prefer crew length socks. If we are wearing shorts on hot weather hikes, it gives our lower legs a little protection from any brush, debris, or rocks along the trails.
  2. The thickness of your hiking sock will be determined by the time of year, but a more significant factor will be how your current hiking boots or shoes fit. Don’t make the mistake of purchasing thicker hiking socks only to find that your footwear is too tight now.

    Or, on the other end of the spectrum, choosing a lightweight sock when you will then have too much room between the end of your toes and the front of your boots.

    Sometimes it can be hard to know how the different thicknesses will fit from one brand to another. Most retailers have good return policies, so we often buy two versions and return any that don’t fit right.

Why Wear Hiking Socks vs Regular Socks

The advantages of hiking socks over regular socks are their structure and materials. Hiking is a unique activity over varying terrain. Your foot moves in ways it does not normally do when you are walking around town or going for a run on a nice smooth paved trail.

Having extra padding in the heel and moisture-wicking properties of a hiking sock will make you a happy hiker at the end of a long day on the trails.

And if you are like us, you would rather not have a beautiful scenic hike interrupted because all you can think of is how uncomfortable your feet are. Not to mention that hiking socks help prevent blisters, and I am guessing you don’t like blisters – or do you!

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Our Favorites

Two of our favorite hiking sock brands also happen to be Made in the USA – Darn Tough and Smartwool. With Andrew being a US Navy Veteran, we always try to buy American-made products when they are available.

Darn Tough prides itself on comfort and making durable socks, which is why they guarantee their socks for life. I not only love all their designs, but Darn Tough socks are made to last, and I have yet to replace any of mine – so that says something in itself.

Three pairs of Darn Tough socks we like are…

The Darn Tough Spring Garden Crew Light sock, yes, partially because I like flowers, but also because they are perfect for warmer days on the trail, and they don’t fall down!

When I want to wear a pair of hiking socks with a little more cushion or on cooler days, I grab my pair of Darn Tough Bear Town Micro Crew socks.

Andrew’s favorites are the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks. They are not too cushioned but instead the right amount to provide all-day comfort, and they perform well in cooler temps and even on hot summer days.

Smartwool hiking socks feature a seamless toe area design that helps to prevent chafing. And probably a more significant reason to choose Smartwool’s socks is that their merino wool is ZQ-certified, meaning it is responsibly and ethically sourced.

Here are our favorite Smartwool socks for hiking:

The Smartwool Performance Hike Light Cushion crew socks (Women’s version, Men’s version) are comfortable on any length of hike. One feature we like is that on the top of the foot, Smartwool uses mesh venting material to help with breathability.

Another reason we like the Smartwool Performance line is that they are fast-drying hiking socks that can pull double duty when we go trail running. They are not too thick and stay in place as we bound around the trails!

How To Care for Merino Wool Socks

Here is an excellent tip to extend the life of your new pair of hiking socks…Please don’t put them in the dryer! Instead, wash all of your merino wool products in cold water and hang dry them. The material will last longer, keep performing like it is designed to, and help prevent shrinking.

Wrapping It Up…

Hopefully, by now, you better understand why hiking socks are necessary. I can’t stress enough how important it is for any hiker to take care of their feet. For the same reason we recommend people get good hiking shoes or boots, we want folks to do the same with their socks.

High quality socks are the first barrier between your feet and footwear. When you have sweaty feet, proper hiking socks will make the difference between an enjoyable time in nature or one you would rather soon forget.

I know you may get sticker shock at the price of merino wool socks, but for blister prevention and the durability of socks made for hiking, it is a small price to pay!

A couple of our favorite pairs of merino wool hiking socks
Are Hiking Socks Worth It?