Choosing Hiking socks that keep your feet comfortable and in good condition is imperative to enjoyable hiking. Any problems with your feet will affect the adventure and likely your mood as well!
Fortunately with advances in natural and synthetic fibres, together with sock design technology it is now easier to avoid the most common disagreements between your feet and your footwear(*1) that used to ruin many a hike in the past including;
- Fungal infections
- Overheating feet / sweating
- Cold feet (except when they want you to walk a single wire over a gorge!)
These leaps in design and material mean that modern hiking socks;
- Move moisture away from the feet. (wicking)
- Pad high impact areas
- Dry fast
- Not irritate your feet
- Be Durable and long-lasting
- Keep your feet warm or cool depending on your application
Choosing hiking Socks
The hardest part of finding the right socks for your feet, is wading through all the different brands to find one that best matches your needs including;
- Thermal profile (your body heat)
- Hiking environment (Where and when you hike: hot or cold temperatures
- Your preference in footwear construction (leather, synthetic, waterproof/ breathable )
- Physical comfort(padding and feel)
- Length (depending on the footwear you are wearing)
- Price ( but remember like boots its worth spending as much as you can afford on an essential piece of kit)
Features to look out for when trying Socks;
- They extends 10-15 cm above the tops of your hiking footwear when first put on.
- Fit your foot with out wrinkles or excess yet comfortable.(friction points = blisters)
- Comfortable inside your footwear (always take your hiking footwear with you when trying socks, just as you take your socks when trying boots)
- Cushioning Extra thickness around the heel and ball of the foot.( and line up with)
- Feature moisture wicking and fast drying properties.(prevents blisters & foot fungi)
- The right fibre weight for the type of hiking you are doing. In New Zealand sub Alpine areas that means consider a Summer weight and a Winter Weight.
My Sock Preference
Having started hiking back when the only socks available where standard thick wool “work socks” when blisters where common place and wet socks stayed wet.. I am well glad to see the back of that era and the huge range of hiking socks available today
My journey of trial and error has brought me to several types of sock depending on type of hiking;
Hiking Boots: Thorlo Light hiker crew (moderate cushion) All year round in temperate North Island, New Zealand.
Hiking Boots: Cold winter conditions(ie: Alpine South Island) Swazi New Zealand’s Hunters sock.
Hut Socks: At the end of a days hiking, damp socks(particularly in cold or damp locations) drain the heat from your feet. So when I take off my boots, I also remove my day socks and replace them with a pair of the warmest socks ever: Swazi Cabin Sock (and hut footwear to improve insulation)
While good quality modern hiking socks can seem crazy expensive,($30-50NZ) In the outdoors when you are depending on your feet to get any where you will soon understand the value.
I still see people out hiking wearing two pairs of socks.
While this was necessary 30+ years ago when hiking boots were pretty rough and your feet needed all the protection they could get. Now its more often a sign of ill-fitting boots or the wrong socks for your thermal profile, and set you up for over heating and blister.
(*1) Socks are one part of the equation the other things to consider in preventing or resolving foot problems are;
- Incorrectly sized hiking footwear
- Preventing Bits of the track getting in your footwear with Gaiters
- Choosing footwear that allows your feet breath better on hot days and stay drier longer in wet weather
(*2) In my day job I use Throlo running crew socks with my high cut leather work boots on 12-14 hours shifts, and its dry comfortable feet all year around.