You come to a stream crossing just as the wind picks up and whistles through the trees, bending back their branches in an undulating wave.
The air is cold but you need to get across to the other side, so you bite your lip and suck in a deep breath.
You plunge feet first into the icy water, grateful for your waterproof hiking boots and the thick merino wool socks you’re wearing.
When you reach the other side of the stream your feet are wet but your socks keep you warm and you continue hiking on dry land, accelerating your pace so that your feet will dry quickly.
You will only start to realize the value of a good pair of hiking socks after you’ve gone on a few hikes.
Proper fit and material construction can prevent the formation of blisters and hot spots while different thicknesses will keep you warm or provide for breathability in humid conditions.
A pair of sturdy hiking socks is as necessary as a good pair of hiking boots — so be sure to take that into consideration when you’re shopping for the best day hiking clothes.
Use this guide as a reference and we’ll also provide you with insight into our picks for the best hiking socks for 2019 — for both men and women.
RANDY SUN Waterproof & Breathable Socks
Best Hiking Socks for Summer
Darn Tough Vermont Women's Spring Garden Crew Light Cushion
Best Women's Hiking Socks
Wigwam Men's Merino Wool Comfort Hiker
Best Men's Hiking Socks
Cloudline Merino Wool Crew
Best Hiking Socks to Prevent Blisters
Smartwool Women's Hike Ultra Light Mini
Best Lightweight Hiking Socks for Women
Smartwool Hike Ultra Light Crew
Best Lightweight Hiking Socks for Men
Smartwool Women's Hike Light Crew Socks
Best Merino Wool Hiking Socks for Women
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Socks
Best Merino Wool Hiking Socks for Men
Most socks are designed based on their designated sport or activity so there are a variety of different types of outdoor socks to choose from.
Evaluate the elements involved in your typical day hiking trips to pick out the appropriate socks for you.
For example, if you do a lot of trail running on your hikes, you might want to get a pair that’s more trail-running specific.
Skiing/Mountaineering: Ski socks are typically taller than most pairs of hiking socks, coming up to just below your knee.
Thicknesses vary from ultralight to very thick as they are designed to fit inside a ski or mountaineering boot.
They need to be snug to avoid rubbing when you’re out on the slopes or climbing a mountain.
Running: Running socks are somewhat the opposite of ski socks in terms of height, typically coming up to just below the ankle.
If you choose to forego taller hiking boots for low hiking shoes, running socks make great companions.
Running socks are thinner than general hiking socks and more breathable, ideal for warmer temperatures or when you’re moving fast.
Hiking: Unless you’re a trail runner or an experienced hiker who also mountaineers, general hiking socks are going to be the most suitable option for you.
As opposed to simple cotton socks, hiking socks are specifically designed to optimize comfort, warmth, and breathability out on the trail.
They usually measure ankle to mid-calf height — so pick out a pair that matches your preference and the style of boots or shoes you’re wearing.
You’ll most likely select hiking socks in correlation with the seasons — summer hiking calls for a thinner, more breathable pair while winter requires a thicker, warmer style.
Toe socks: As opposed to traditional socks, toe socks allow your toes greater range of movement and are considered more natural, attributing to added stability out on the trail.
Whether you pick out a pair of toe socks or traditional hiking socks comes down to your personal preference.
We’ve included this style on our list so that you’re aware of what’s out there to help enhance your hiking experience.
Ultra-light Weight: Socks are available in different styles, which can be loosely correlated with the seasons.
Ultra-light weight socks are the thinnest types of socks, ideal for trail running or fast packing.
They are designed for warm, humid environments and the summer season.
Lightweight: Lightweight socks are designed with thin fabric but still offer a degree of insulation and protection.
They are ideal for warm weather hiking.
Midweight: Midweight socks are the most versatile for different hiking conditions and temperatures.
If you’re looking for one sock to wear in a variety of environments, a midweight sock is ideal.
They are typically more durable than lighter weight socks, offering increased longevity.
Heavyweight: If you’re hiking in winter or cold climates, heavyweight socks will keep your toes warm.
They also offer more padding for increased comfort.
Although they perform excellently in cold conditions, they are not ideal for moving fast or warm climates due to their lack of breathability.
The kind of fabric used in sock construction determines durability, next-to-skin comfort, wicking capability, and also provides for measures of warmth.
There are two primary categories of materials: merino wool blends and synthetic socks.
Merino Wool: Those who like merino wool are more than likely raving fans.
Merino wool is comfortable, breathable, and durable and doesn’t boast the itchiness of traditional wool fabrics.
It provides for a high level of warmth depending on its thickness and is also great at maintaining warmth when wet.
Polyester: This type of synthetic fabric is implemented into socks in order to improve their durability.
They tend to last longer than their merino wool companions, are quick-drying, and likely to maintain their fit over their lifetime.
The downsides? Polyester socks are typically much less warm than merino wool and less likely to regulate your body temperature when wet.
Polypropylene: Polypropylene is coveted for its hydrophobic (water-hating) properties, and tends to absorb less moisture than polyester or merino wool.
It dries faster when wet so is ideal for rainy environments or trails with lots of stream crossings.
This attributes to increased breathability, also ideal for warm and humid conditions.
Nylon: Nylon is often blended with merino wool to provide for added shape retention and durability, but is known to absorb water more easily compared to other synthetics, so isn’t ideal for use on its own.
Elastane/Lycra/Spandex: These three names are used interchangeably and often found in stretchy clothing to help it maintain its shape.
It is frequently blended with merino wool and synthetic materials for this exact purpose.
Ideal for wet and humid environments, these socks excel at keeping your feet dry.
The Y structure of the heel ensures your socks stay up even when the going gets rough.
A combination of nylon, lycra, and elastane make for a coveted synthetic option that will maintain its fit throughout its lifetime.
They are fast-wicking and designed for unisex use — just be sure to use the sizing guide.
Outer: 74% High waterproof nylon
Lining: 64% Coolmax
These merino wool blend socks are as stylish as they are practical for any type of day hike or overnighter.
The Darn Tough brand ensures durability while guaranteeing performance out on the trail — so push the fear of blisters from your mind.
A blend of nylon and lycra combines the fast-drying capacity of synthetics with the comfort of merino wool.
Although lightweight, these socks are designed for all weather performance.
65% Merino Wool
For those who value comfort above all else, these socks are made for you.
They’re midweights – which makes them versatile in changing weather conditions and varied seasons.
Although primarily constructed of merino wool, this product is blended with just enough synthetic fibers to provide for enhanced durability in a fully cushioning design.
The nylon and spandex also make sure these socks stay up so you can worry more about the trail in front of you and worry less about looking down at your feet.
The seamless toe closure makes for an added level of comfort.
67% Merino Wool
21% Stretch Nylon
If you’re new to hiking or prone to blisters, you might want to pick out a pair of socks designed specifically to prevent hotspots.
These socks feature ultra-soft medium weight cushioning that provides for comfort mile after mile, ensuring you never miss a step.
Designed with blisters in mind, the company implements just the right amount of merino wool in spots where it’s needed most.
The wool is blended with synthetic materials to aid with drying and durability.
63% Merino Wool
If you’re looking for something with a lower profile to compliment a pair of hiking shoes or trail running shoes, the Smartwool Ultra Light Minis are an ideal option.
Mesh ventilation zones and a multi-rib cuff ensure the highest level of breathability while still providing for some cushioning and shock absorption.
These socks are suitable for warm weather hiking, fast packing, and trail running.
Close-fitting shoes are important to have when you’re wearing ultra light socks so make sure your boots or shoes fit you well.
67% Merino Wool
If you’re hiking in warmer temperatures and don’t want your feet to sweat, opt for a pair of lightweight hikers.
They’re a step above ultra-light weight options, providing for just enough cushioning and comfort while maintaining breathability.
The Smartwool name is synonymous with merino wool products built to last.
These socks are ideal for day hikers looking for protection from the elements with a high crew-length cut.
The open, mesh fabric and two types of rib provide for excellent breathability in the most humid, hot conditions.
67% Merino Wool
A crew height ensures your ankles will be protected from any plant life you happen to come into contact with.
A light cushion provides for just enough comfort while maintaining a nice, snug fit.
These are ideal socks for the day hiker, offering a coveted blend of support and durability.
Match them with any pair of quality, close-fitting hiking boots and you’ll feel like you can hike for days on end.
67% Merino Wool
This is a great all-around sock cut to a low crew length for just enough protection from the elements.
Mid-level cushion density provides for just enough warmth and comfort while a seamless design ensures performance without rubbing, bunching, or blisters.
The merino wool is blended with synthetic fibers for enhanced durability and excellent moisture wicking.
Merino wool is naturally antimicrobial, easily repelling bacteria and odors.
61% Merino Wool
Happy feet make for happy hikes – and your hiking shoes or boots are only half of the equation. Although often an after-thought, the right socks make up a vital piece of the essential hiking clothes equation.
Pick out the appropriate hiking socks for you depending on your ideal pace, hiking season, and climate.
You might opt for a heavyweight pair for winter and a lightweight pair for summer – or a midweight style for all seasons.
This all depends on personal preference but we hope this guide has made it easy for you to start shopping for the perfect pair of hiking socks.
It’s time to start gearing up to get outside – the trails are calling.
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Ashley's a Florida girl that didn't see snow until her twenty's. Andrew initiated her with a January trip to Breckenridge and the rest is history! A flatlander most of her life, Ashley now craves challenging trails but isn't a fan of log crossings over rapidily flowing mountain streams.
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