Socks are a major point of debate in the hiking and backpacking world. Or are they? Some brands and materials are better than others. Lets dive into them.
What are the most comfortable socks? For me the answer is always Merino wool socks. When its hot out I put on some thinner ones and when its cold out I take a mid weight sock. And everything in between.
Merino wool socks work best because they wick the moisture away and lessen the chance of blisters. Pay attention to the lessen the chance. Because blisters are always a possibility. Merino wool and wool in general has the ability to maintain temperature on your skin. So your feet do not get hot or cold as quickly. With 100 % synthetic socks I notice this almost directly.
Hiking sock brands
You can buy hiking socks pretty much anywhere and in every store. The brands you will encounter will differ quite a bit. There are however some brands that will pop up wherever you look. Lets give a brief overview of those brands down below. These four brands are trusted by hikers all over the world. I suggest you first start with one of these socks to test them out. And see which one you like best.
Bridgedale is the sock brand that I have the most experience with since 2012. This brand is well established in the Netherlands partly because the big outdoor stores carry them.
When I started hiking I tried a lot of different socks and landed on Bridgedale for their slightly cheaper price and their combination of wool and synthetic mixes. I still have a few pairs of my first hiking socks that I bought in 2012 and they are still serviceable. The wool they use in their socks are not Merino wool but from their own blend called enduro wool.
Darn Tough socks are very popular with the hiking community and construction workers. They make socks for heavy use out of Merino woolen blends and synthetic. They started in 1978 in Vermont and are still there to this day. In 2004 they launched their hiking socks and gave away 3500 free pairs at a marathon. That paid off as they are now one of the leading brands in the outdoor industry.
What sets them further apart is their lifetime guarantee on socks and all their manufacturing still happens in Vermont in the USA. Somewhat of a rarity these days. As other mayor brands have started to outsource. Their warranty is hassle free and for a lifetime. No other sock company that I know of has that same warranty policy.
Smartwool was started in 1994 in the United States and prides itself with their Merino wool socks for outdoor activities and sports. Their socks next to Bridgedale are the ones that I know best. Their medium weight hiking socks are still one of my favorite socks.
They claim that the Merino wool that’s used in their socks are Moisture wicking and odor reducing. I can back up those claims. Their medium weight socks and heavyweight socks have a different texture on the inside of the socks. That method is extremely comfortable.
Falke has been around a long time, started in 1895 in Germany and been going ever since. Their socks for hiking and outdoor activities are popular in Europe and in the rest of the world.
The socks they make come in some material variation but they are best known for their synthetic blend of socks. In the later years they also offer Merino woolen socks and a combination of both. Falke always makes their hiking socks for the left and right foot and are recognizable by the L and R on their socks.
A note on Durability
Woolen socks are great, but they have one downside. When you go for the almost 100% merino wool or woolen socks they tend to only last one season of hiking. Or a couple of weeks depending how much you hike.
Wool socks are notorious for wearing out faster than other materials. This is a sore point that often comes up if you look at 100 percent woolen socks reviews and test it out for yourself.
That is why manufacturers often combine wool and synthetic fibers to give them the advantages of both. More on that later in the article.
If you want your socks to last as long as possible then go for completely synthetic socks. This makes for a tough sock that can withstand a lot of abuse.
Material mixes of Hiking socks
Wool, Synthetic, Coolmax, Cotton. There are a bunch of different sock materials to choose from.
Lets start with the Synthetic Fabric Coolmax. This is a material that you will encounter a lot off in the outdoor world. Coolmax is a blend of synthetic materials that keep the skin cool and wick away moisture. You will see the same material in other hiking and sport clothes.
When you like synthetic material on other products such as shirts or underwear you have a decent chance that socks with Coolmax can work for you. If like me, you always wear wool or natural fibers Coolmax may not be the choice for you.
Wool socks often get mixed with a percentage of Polypropylene, Nylon and Lycra. This is for the flexibility and durability of a sock. Like we discussed before 100% woolen socks do not last long while out on trail. With a mix of Nylon and other synthetic fibers you will have better durability.
When looking for socks always check the label or specification tab on a website for their exact blend and materials. Even within the same brands you will encounter a different mix of materials.
Merino Wool Socks are considered by many to be the best option for a hiking sock. In the 4 brands we discussed merino wool is often most used. Merino Wool is a special type of wool from a Merino sheep that is thinner, more odor resistant and more comfortable than normal wool. Merino Wool socks do get blended with both normal wool and synthetic fibers.
To Double sock or Linersock or to Single sock?
That is the question. Short answer is do what works for you. But lets go over the reasons for having multiple socks in your hiking shoes. Or just the one pair.
Try all the different methods when you are experiencing blisters or hot spots while hiking. It might save you from having foot problems.
This method is an old method used by soldiers around the world. 2 socks makes it so that your foot has another barrier against the harder leather or hot spots from the shoe. Your inner sock rubs against the outer sock to prevent friction.
Army socks tend to be the older style wool socks that can itch a bit and are a bit rougher. Having two socks with those style makes sense in that way. I have tried this method on multiple hikes but double socking is not for me. My feet get hot enough as is and two socks only add to the problem.
Liner socks is the same idea as two pairs of socks. A liner sock is only much thinner than a full on hiking sock. They tend to be made from ultra comfortable material and are nice to have underneath a sometimes rougher outer sock.
I have hiked with liner socks quite a bit and can recommend them for people that are having issues with hot spots. Or hike with higher boots in winter and Autumn. However having hot spots in your shoes are a big issue. One that needs to be addressed more than a different kind of sock.
Liner socks serve the purpose of preventing hot spots and friction from forming and to wick away more moisture from your foot. When you walk with socks from one of the four brands mentioned above in the right footwear this tends to not be an issue for my feet. But your experience may vary.
Single pair of socks
In 99% of the days of hiking that I do I opt for the single pair of hiking socks. Once your hiking shoes or boots are broken in don’t really see an upside to walking with more material on my feet than necessary. A single pair of socks in my opinion are best if your feet get sweaty.
With the technology and experience that the socks of today get build a liner sock or two pairs of socks is no longer necessary. However like a lot of topics in hiking communities, your own preference and experience counts the most. Do what works for you.
Cost of hiking socks
The cost of hiking socks are usually around 20 dollars or euros. The Bridgedale socks are usually a dollar or two below that line. But it depends on the material and the type of sock. The same goes for all the different brands of socks.
I would suggest not bothering with cheaper hiking socks. They tend to fall apart or are made of cheap material. Something you do not want on your feet. The old saying if your not standing in your boots your sleeping in your bed counts here as well. Invest in the best you can afford for both.
Shop around on Amazon to find the cheaper price or support your local outdoor store by shopping with them.
Other ways you can improve your feet for hiking
There are a lot of tips and tricks that come with hiking shoes and boots. From the shoes that your wearing to the different lacing methods. I will try and explain the tips and tricks that I always use when hiking and backpacking.
The right insoles for your shoes can make all the difference. When you have comfortable shoes, comfortable socks but the wrong insole your feet will still suffer. Try to stay away from the cheaper plastic or rubber insoles, these sweat a lot and can cause hotspots while hiking.
The insoles I have always used are the Superfeet insoles. These offer more support than a regular insole and are meant to keep your feet in line and not stand to far to the outside with your feet.
Superfeet have different insoles for different kinds of shoes, since I have the lighter weight Meindl Sahara shoes I have always used the Blue kinds. With my Meindl Borneo shoes which are class B shoes I always used the Green ones.
You can also get Merino wool insoles for your hiking shoes, these are extra comfortable in colder weather and a good choice for when your hiking in winter.
Toughen your feet up
Getting used to walking and walking a lot is the best method for preparing for a hike or maintaining your feet. Some callous on your feet can do wonders to prevent blisters and your overall hiking experience. Just as with soft office hands that work a day in the garden, some callous makes a lot of difference.
I hope this post about hiking socks can help you make up your mind about which hiking sock to buy for you next hiking adventure. Hiking socks and boots are the foundation of hiking and can bring success or failure to your hiking. Pay attention to all the differences between the socks and test some different materials out.
Happy hiking and hike for a purpose!