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Best Hiking & Walking Socks

Best Hiking & Walking Socks

What is the best choice for socks for Hiking and Walking? To a large extent, it is down to individual preferences but there are some hard and fast rules to take into consideration such as fabric, sock weight, sock length and the fit, plus of course, the terrain you’re walking across and the weather conditions you are likely to face.

Are you a hardened hiker or an occasional walker? Do you walk a mile or twenty kilometres each time? Do you go every day or very rarely? Do you walk on the flat for long distances or enjoy the challenge of varied and difficult terrain? All these factors should be considered.

Rule #1 – No cotton!

For serious walkers, avoid cotton! You should look for a hiking sock made with some wool (such as merino wool) or a synthetic polymer (i.e., polypropylene, acrylic, polyester or natural fibre alternatives). These materials have properties that actually “use” moisture as an insulator to keep your feet warm (even if it's cold outside). In your search, you should avoid cotton or cotton blends. Cotton fibres hold water and do not actively look to get rid of it easily which in socks, is a no no.

The 4 Key Considerations for Hiking Socks

The average person takes roughly 2,000 steps to travel one mile. On an average walk or hike, factoring in the ups and downs of a normal hiking trail as well as the varied terrain you are likely to encounter, that number only gets higher. With every step you take, the right socks will play a critical role in keeping your feet comfortable and blister-free.

To choose the best hiking socks for your needs, it’s important to consider these four things:

  • Sock Height: Sometimes referred to as length, but the right height sock protects against abrasion within your footwear and from external factors and can be an important factor when looking for the right hiking sock.
  • Sock Weight: The amount of cushioning affects comfort, performance and warmth like liner socks.
  • Fabric Composition: Most good hiking socks feature wool as a primary fibre, but some are made from synthetics, and both can have merits especially for Vegans and those with wool allergies.
  • Sock Fit: Be sure your socks fit well to fend off the dreaded blisters and hot-spots on the feet.

Hiking Sock Height

Sock Height Image

There are several sock heights to consider but ostensibly they fall into the following four categories:

  • No-Show socks: These are short socks should only be used with low-cut footwear or trainers for trail running, gym or leisure
  • Mini-Crew socks: Slightly higher than a No-Show, these will usually come up to or over the ankle bone and will offer more protection. They are good for low profile footwear. 
  • Crew socks: These are by far the most popular sock height for walking and hiking socks as they also have wide leisure use too. Generally sitting above the ankle bone, they offer good protection against footwear abrasions and external elements such as dry grass and brambles. 
  • Knee High: As the name implies…..these sit up to the knee. You’ll generally only find a few options in the knee-high hiking sock category, and if they are there, they’ll probably be for mountaineering and endurance. Knee High socks do, however, protect against abrasions that big, chunky boots can cause around your shins and calves. The coverage can also help keep your lower legs warm when you’re climbing through the night or crossing winter terrain.

DO CONSIDER YOUR FOOTWEAR FIRST WHEN CHOOSING!! It’s pointless getting a No-Show sock then wearing ankle boots.  You will suffer…..of that we guarantee.  Always choose socks that sit “above” your boot/shoe line.  The cuff may become relaxed but if they slouch, they will only do so to the shoe cuff itself and always protect your foot and achilleas.

Sock Weight

Sock Weight

Your Sock Weight is also referring to the cushioning level. The amount of cushioning a sock has, gives you an idea of how thick the sock is and how warm it will be.

The right amount of cushioning for you depends mostly on the types of hiking and trails you go on as well as the weather conditions you can expect. A bit of cushioning can protect your feet during high-impact activities like running and back-packing, but keep in mind that thicker socks can impact on your footwear fitting. If you have shoes that can handle thick socks then fine but wearing a heavier weight sock for added cushioning and then forcing your feet into shoes only suitable for very lightweight socks, is counter-productive.

Also the thicker the socks the warmer they will be even with high-breathe footwear and can cause your feet to sweat more than usual. You may have to experiment to find the right balance of cushion-to-warmth that works for you and your footwear. Having a variety of socks to choose from in your sock drawer is helpful depending on the terrain and weather conditions you face.  The four main weights for socks are:

Ultra-Light / Lightweight: These offer little or no cushioning. They are designed for use in hot weather or where you simply need a thin barrier between the skin and your footwear such as running or cycling. They are very breathable and have little or zero padding at all. Socks that fall into this category are Liner Socks, which some hikers like to wear underneath a lightweight, midweight or heavyweight hiking sock. Before the advent of modern fabrics and advanced fabric technologies, Liner Socks were very popular for their ability to wick moisture and to keep feet dry, but nowadays many hiking socks perform well enough to not require a liner sock. However, Liner Socks are a great second layer that can offer significant warmth for your toes on really cold days and if you know Liner Socks work for you, then keep on using them.  PS they’re also good for work and weddings too so there is a practical element there as well.

Lightweight Cushioning: Great for warm or variable conditions. Socks with light cushioning prioritise moisture wicking and comfort over warmth. They are relatively thin but can have some light cushioning in key areas such as the heel, ball of the foot and toe-box and will often have strategic vented “zones” to aid moisture transport.

Medium Weight Cushioning: Or Mid-Weight. These socks provide a good amount of cushioning at the heel, toes, and ball of the foot ideal for hiking, trail running and backpacking and have enough warmth properties for use in moderate to cold conditions.  Mid-Weight hiking socks are probably the most popular of the sock weights.

Heavyweight Cushioning: So called because they are generally the thickest, warmest and most cushioned socks available. They are made for long trips, tough terrain, and cold temperatures. They’re often too thick and warm for your average hiker especially in warm weather and are recommended for mountaineering, endurance hikes or on cold-weather backpacking trips……with the right footwear of course.

Hiking Sock Fabrics

Hiking Sock Fabrics

There is a plethora of fabrics and fibres used in sock manufacturing. Hiking socks are rarely if ever, made from a single fabric type, but rather from a blend of fibres that create the right balance of comfort, warmth, durability and fast drying fabrics. The most common materials you’ll find in the hiking sock category are:

Wool: Wool is the most popular fibre used for hiking socks and the one that most footwear specialists recommend. Wool regulates temperature very well to keep your feet from getting too hot and sweaty plus it is has volume and so provides natural cushioning. Another plus is that wool is naturally antimicrobial meaning it offers superior defence against smells caused by bacterial infestation, far better than synthetic fibres alone and without any antimicrobial treatments. Many socks are made with a high percentage of Merino Wool but other wool is also frequently used.  Almost all wool-rich socks use a blend of wool and synthetic fibres for better durability and faster drying.  100% Wool socks won’t stand the intensity of mega-hikes on their own, the wool needs some help!  Fibres used in socks include:

Polyester/Polypropylene: These synthetic materials offer insulation and moisture control and dry quickly. Often blended with wool and/or nylon to create a good combination of warmth, comfort, durability and a fast-drying performance fabric.

Nylon: Nylon is a strong, thin, man-made fibre ideal for adding strength to clothing and socks. This is another synthetic fibre that is occasionally used as the primary material in socks too. It adds durability and can help improve drying times.

Silk: Silk is regarded as a natural thermo-regulating fibre. Silk is comfortable and lightweight and more frequently used as a cool fibre, but it’s not as durable as other options. It's occasionally used in sock liners for reliable moisture wicking, but the cost and lack of durability can make it a less attractive option in socks.

Spandex/Lycra:  Both are brand names for elasticated fibres. Many hiking socks include a small percentage of one of these to give the necessary stretch and recovery needed in socks. This elastic material helps socks hold their shape and keep bunching and wrinkling to a minimum.

Modal/Tencel: Made from wood pulp, these have become accepted alternatives to man-made fibres for many manufacturers as they move towards more sustainable production that is less impacting on the environment.  Modal is a good natural alternative to Nylon and Tencel can replace Poly based products.

Hiking Sock Fit

Quite possibly the most important aspect for your socks. Getting socks that fit right will help keep your feet comfortable on any walking or hiking trips. If your socks are too big, they can fold or wrinkle which may cause them to rub and may cause blisters or hot spots. Too small and they can create pressure points and sock slippage.

To find the right size, it’s helpful to know the size of your actual foot rather than your shoe size because sometimes people size-up in shoes, which can lead to buying socks that are too large. But most people will know their size range.  Do also remember that every brand tends to have it’s own size guide so do check sizing each time, never assume.  Every individual pair of socks on our site has an associated size guide on the product page.

If you are between sizes, size down to avoid excess material that can bunch up and cause blisters or if unsure, buy across two sizes and just double check for safety.  You can always bounce back the un-wanted pair.

When you try socks on, look for a snug, but not overly tight fit and do ensure the ankle cuff is not too tight either as this can restrict blood flow to the rest of the foot. A sock fits properly when the heel cup lines up with the heel of your foot and you have good “wiggle” room for your toes.

Sock Type – Conventional Socks or Toe Socks

Injinji Toe Socks

Finally……not all socks are the same.  If you have never seen or heard of Toe Socks before, do give these due consideration especially as a Trail Run or Liner Sock Injinji Toe Socks are just awesomely brilliant at helping prevent blisters which, for hikers, is as we all know, a big issue.  The individual toe pockets, rather like gloves, offer a guaranteed barrier between the toes thereby ensuring no skin on skin rubbing if your feet get sweaty.  If you are worried about blisters, then here’s an option to dispense with the Compede’s {other blister plaster brands are available} and ensure you hike or bike for hours without a care in the world.  For trail runners, there are bespoke Lightweight and Mid-weight Toe Socks for your trainers. Also available with a blend of fibres including Merino Wool.

So, what do we know?

Well, we are a retailer of various branded goods including socks we totally acknowledge, and we have embedded some links within this article for sure all designed to help you so you could argue we have an agenda. But we are also passionate walkers and hikers here, one and all.  Have we tried every sock on the planet?  No, and we’re unlikely to do so.  But we do have some excellent brands who are equally passionate about the hiking world.  Our ranges cater for every walk of life (no pun intended).  Equally, we’d love to hear from you so if you want any further advice, feel free to call us on 01689 603675 or email