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Choosing Hiking Socks That Work Best For You

When you're ready to hit the trail, the last thing you want to think about is your feet. It's a bad sign when your footwear starts to pull focus from the scenery. At the end of the day, you probably don't want to finish your hike with blisters, injuries, or swollen legs.

The optimal time to think about hiking socks is before you head out on an adventure. By planning ahead now, you may be able to save yourself heartache and discomfort later. Before you buy a pair of hiking socks, consider how and where you plan to wear them.

Ask yourself a few questions :

  • What type of terrain am I going to be exploring?
  • Am I going on short hikes or long multi-day excursions?
  • Will I wear my new socks with tall boots or low-profile trail runners?
  • Do most of my hikes take place in warm weather or cold temperatures?

With so many options, you'll need to narrow down the choices to find the best hiking socks for your lifestyle. We recommend evaluating pairs of socks based on fabric, length, features, cost, design, and fit.

Fabric 

Once you start shopping, you’ll notice that the majority of hiking socks contain some blend of wool and synthetic materials. You can find socks that are made of 100% wool, but those tend to lose shape over time, which can create uncomfortable bunching. For that reason, most manufacturers offer socks made from a combination of wool and other high-performance fabrics.

Merino wool socks have dominated the market for many years, thanks to their natural ability to wick moisture. But modern technology has enabled a few important innovations in the past decade.

Now, many synthetic fabrics are more odor-resistant and faster-drying than non-synthetic socks. Breathability issues, common with old-fashioned polyester socks, have been reduced or eliminated. For the first time, wool blends have some serious competition. 

Try to find high-tech fabrics that will extend the life of your socks and enhance comfort. For example, Companions feature natural silver ions that bind to the fabric of the sock on a molecular level. The result: reduced odor, fewer holes, and fresher feet.

Length

Hiking socks come in a variety of lengths, including no-show, ankle, micro crew, crew, and knee-high. When selecting a sock length, you need to consider the shoes or boots you’re going to wear while hiking. If you pair a no-show sock with a tall hiking boot, it will cause friction where the boot meets your bare skin. This can lead to blisters and bruising, so it's best to protect yourself with appropriate coverage.

Many people choose knee-high socks because they can be worn with a variety of different shoes. Ultimately, sock length is a matter of preference. In the past, knee-high socks were thought to be ideal for colder weather and rougher terrain. Nowadays,  innovative fabrics have made knee-high socks a great option for any climate.

Knee-Length Compression

Compression socks have long been a popular choice for hikers who want less swelling and fewer aches and pains. Although they come in a range of different lengths, including ankle and knee-high, not all compression socks have the same medical benefits.

Only taller socks can offer graduated compression, with a gradient of pressure from the feet to the calves. Studies have shown that this form of compression therapy promotes good circulation and encourages healthy venous return (Lim E391). So, if you’re looking for the medical benefits of graduated compression therapy, try to find socks that hit above the calf. 

Features

Some socks offer special features intended to improve your hiking experience. We’ve outlined a few of the extra perks that may enhance long, short, and overnight hikes. 

Long Hikes 

If you love high-mileage treks, look for socks with medium cushioning in the toe and heel. A hand-linked toe cap (rather than a seam) won’t rub against your toes, so it’s a great choice for all-day adventures. 

Look for socks that are moisture-absorbent, especially nylon blends, since they can stand up to variable weather conditions. For frigid temperatures, you might want to select a heavy or medium weight sock to add a layer of protection from the cold. 

Short Hikes 

For shorter hikes, opt for light cushioning and a lower profile. Lightweight synthetic blends work well for quick jog on a local trail, especially when you don't want to feel any heaviness or warmth from wool. 

Since you won’t be stuck wearing your new socks all day, short hikes give you an ideal opportunity to test out unusual gear. You might want to try something trendy, like toe socks with five individual toe compartments. Wear liner socks if you want an extra layer of protection underneath another pair. A short hike is a great time to give unusual features a test drive. 

Overnight Hikes 

For backpacking and overnight trips, we recommend bringing socks that don't need to be washed after every wear. In particular, choose odor-reducing and sweat-wicking fabric to increase the number of uses you get before each laundering. For instance, socks made with SmartSilver™ antimicrobial technology can be worn 35 times between washes. 

Graduated compression is another smart choice for multi-day trips. Knee-length graduated stockings have been shown to improve functional recovery in runners (Armstrong et al. Abstract). Scientists found that cyclists who wore compression gear during recovery also saw improvements in subsequent athletic performance (de Glanville Abstract). A number of studies featuring different kinds of athletes have shown similar results. The research suggests that compression may help you to perform better after athletic exertion

When you want to be able to put in the extra mile tomorrow, be sure to bring a pair of compression socks. They're likely to reduce your recovery time and enable you to start each day strong.

Cost

Most hiking socks range from $15–$40. Typically, ankle and crew socks cost less than knee-length socks.

This may seem expensive compared to regular socks, but you can also find promotional offers to make your purchase more affordable. For example, Comrad offers multi-packs ranging from 10%–20% off multiple orders. You also receive a $20 gift card when a friend tries Comrad with your referral code.

The amount of money that hikers spend on socks is usually a matter of personal preference. Compared to other camping and sports equipment, socks have a more direct impact on your experience than some other gear. And, surprisingly, the range between the most expensive and least expensive socks is not very wide.

When buying socks, be sure to look at manufacturers' guarantees and return policies. You can also read product reviews to be sure you're getting a great value.

Design 

Most traditional hiking socks from major sporting goods stores have a particular aesthetic. When you think of these socks, you probably picture something greyish-brown, ribbed, and woolen. In fairness, wool fibers do come with some limitations. High-tech fabrics lend themselves to a wider variety of designs.

Luckily, in recent years, manufacturers have taken advantage of modern materials to produce hiking socks that look downright fashionable. You can find good-looking options without sacrificing function, so don't hesitate to look for socks that reflect your personal style.

Fit 

Finding the most comfortable pair of socks often comes down to issues of fit.

Proper sizing is the key to blister prevention. You need socks that hug the lower leg, ankle, and foot while allowing for ease of movement. If your sock is too loose in the leg, it may start to sag. Too tight, and it could cut off circulation.

When the foot of your sock doesn’t fit properly, you’re more likely to develop heel and toe blisters. Check to make sure that your toes line up with the toe box and your heel fits into the heel cup.

Look for socks with extended sizing options, such as additional calf-width measurements, so you're not relying on shoe size alone when you make your purchase. 

Lastly, before you head out, make sure that your new hiking socks don’t sag or chafe. If you’ve chosen the correct size and style, your new gear should stay put no matter where the trail takes you.

Sources:

Armstrong, Stuart A., Till, Eloise S., Maloney, Stephen, & Harris, Gregory A. "Compression Socks and Functional Recovery Following Marathon Running," The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, Vol. 29, Iss. 2, 2015, pp. 528-533, https://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2015/02000/Compression_Socks_and_Functional_Recovery.30.aspx.

de Glanville, Kieran M., and Michael J. Hamlin. “Positive effect of lower body compression garments on subsequent 40-kM cycling time trial performance.” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, vol. 26, iss. 2, 2012, pp. 480-486, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22240553/.

Lim, Chung Sim and Alun H. Davies. “Graduated compression stockings.” CMAJ, Vol. 186, Iss. 10 pp. E391-E398. July 08, 2014, https://www.cmaj.ca/content/cmaj/186/10/E391.full.pdf.

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