Hikers and adventurers know the importance of quality footgear. Knowing how to keep feet clean, warm, and dry is key to staying comfortable and safe…healthy too.
Keeping feet dry during outdoor activities is crucial to proper foot care so what kind of socks are best for hiking?
Hiking means tight confined shoes for 8+ hours of consistent movement, this makes merino wool the best material as it repels smell while maintaining a good consistent heat even while damp. Many hikers will choose to wear Ininji liner socks under wool socks as a way to cut blistering chances also.
Feet that are consistently wet can cause a variety of foot maladies. This can then cause the deterioration of foot health, which in the worst cases can be a major health risk. So, what kind of socks are best for hiking?
Best Sock Choices for Hiking and Outdoor Adventures
The average walker takes about 2,000 steps to travel one mile. This means that for a 5-mile walk or hike, around 10,000 steps will be taken.
When the elements including the weather, the walking surface, and the obstacles including rocks and roots that may be encountered, wear and tear to socks can be expected.
The type of socks adventurers choose can help feet to stay free of blisters, and comfortable.
Merino Wool Socks
Merino wool socks are the most popular choice for hikers and outdoor adventurers. Why use Merino wool for hiking? Merino wool is wool produced by New Zealand Merino sheep.
It is softer and thinner than regular wool. This natural fiber wicks away moisture, helps regulate body temperature, and decreases foot odor. It has the same water repellency as traditional wool, but feels softer to the touch and does not tend to have the common areas of hot spots that traditional wool has.
The moisture-wicking benefits of Merino wool are well-known by adventurers or hikers. It is a porous, natural fiber that wicks sweat and moisture away from the body as a vapor.
This leaves the skin feeling comfortable and dry, not cold, damp, or wet. Since it is a natural fiber, it is porous. Synthetic fibers are not porous, and therefore can cause the skin to become damp, clammy, and cold when the wearer sweats or becomes exposed to moisture. The qualities of Merino wool help keeps adventurers dry and warm during outdoor activities.
Merino wool also helps to keep body temperature at a stable temperature. When temperatures are warmer, the material helps keep sweat away from the skin, to keep the wearer dry and cool. In colder temperatures or climates, Merino wool fibers help trap air, which helps insulate the skin.
Merino wool is softer than regular wool because the fibers are very fine. It isn’t prickly like traditional wool but is so fine that it is 1/3 the width of human hair. It isn’t prickly like traditional wool, because it is not thicker and stiff. It bends, and so remains soft to the skin.
Polyester is also a fabric that is used to craft hiking socks. It is a synthetic material that is known to be effective for wicking moisture away from sweaty or wet feet. It also insulates the feet providing warmth and comfort. It is durable and dries fast, which is beneficial to hikers and people on outdoor adventures.
Another popular choice of material for outdoor socks is nylon. Nylon is sometimes used as the primary material for hiking socks but is more commonly blended with other fabrics and materials. Nylon helps make socks more durable and longer-lasting, and can help socks to dry quicker.
Spandex is another material that is frequently used in hiking socks. It is included in small percentages in socks made of blends of fabrics. The inclusion of spandex helps socks to stay in place and helps prevent socks from becoming stretched out and retain their shape.
There are many options when choosing socks made from blends of fabrics. Many hiking socks are made of a weave blend of both synthetic and natural materials.
Spandex and nylon are the most common synthetic fabrics used in blends. They help keep the socks looking good and fitting well. This is key to helping the socks retain their shape and fit and keep them from sliding on the foot and ankle.
Too much give or gap in the fabric can cause frequent rubbing, which may cause uncomfortable rubbing, chafing, and blistering. Nylon, silk, spandex, polyester, and rayon are just some of the materials used in hiking socks.
What Material to Avoid When Purchasing Hiking Socks
The cotton fabric used for hiking clothing and socks may be extremely comfortable when starting, however it is a material to be avoided. While it is cheap, natural, and feels good against the skin, it lacks breathability, which can become a safety issue.
Cotton acts as a sponge, soaking up sweat and moisture and keeping it next to the skin. Cotton also does not dry as quickly as other available materials.
Just remember this, cotton kills. On the trail once wet it takes forever to dry and can leave you in dangerous positions!
This can lead to chafing, dampness, discomfort and can also lead to more serious situations like hypothermia and in the worst cases, even death. Cotton should be avoided for the majority of outdoor adventures.
What to Look for When Choosing Hiking Socks
Moisture-wicking, the ability of the fabric to move moisture from the inside of the sock to the outside, should be one of the top priorities when choosing which hiking socks to purchase.
This ability is crucial to cut the risk of foot infections, chills, hypothermia, and in the most severe cases…death. The breathability of the fabric used in hiking socks is a feature to be seriously considered. Breathability is a feature that, along with moisture-wicking, is crucial to hikers and adventurers.
The length of hiking socks is also a crucial consideration before making a purchase. No-show and ankle-length socks are lengths to consider only when wearing light hiking shoes or shoes used for trail running.
The most popular lengths of hiking socks are crew or knee-length. Crew length is the most popular length, because they cover the ankle bones, and help prevent the chafing or abrasions that can be caused by hiking boots.
Knee-length hiking socks are the preferred length for hikers who wear weightier, more sturdy boots. The coverage they provide shin and calf areas helps keep the lower areas of the legs insulated and protected against the elements when hiking in colder regions, or for extended periods.
Conversely, knee-length socks can be too warm in the spring and summer months.
The amount of cushioning in hiking socks should also be taken into consideration when purchasing. Cushioning can range from those not cushioned, to those with heavy cushioning.
Un-cushioned socks are designed to be worn in warm and even hot temperatures. This type of cushioning helps the socks to remain more breathable. Since they aren’t cushioned, wearing them may cause abrasions, chafing, or blistering.
Lightly cushioned socks are also popular choices for warmer weather use. They are comfortable choices and are good for wicking moisture away from wet or sweaty feet. They are generally cushioned on the balls of the foot and the heel area.
Socks with medium cushioning are designed to cushion the heel and balls of the feet and are good for use in moderate to chilly conditions. They are sturdy enough to use when climbing, hiking, and backpacking in a variety of terrains and conditions.
Hiking socks made with heavy padding are recommended for longer hiking and adventuring expeditions. They can withstand climbs and hikes on difficult types of terrain and in cold temperatures. Heavily padded socks are recommended for colder weather, as they will be too warm for higher temperatures.
Final Thoughts on What Kind of Socks Are Best for Hiking
For hikers and adventurers, feet are the most important body part to care for. Care and attention should be given to the choice of hiking socks, in addition to the footwear to be used. With numerous options available, hikers can find just the right sock to meet their needs.