by Diane Spicer
What are the best hiking socks?
Well, that's a matter of opinion.
Allow me to share my favorite socks for the trail. I'll back up my opinions with technical details and lots of trail experience.
We'll focus on REI Co-op as our source for the best hiking socks, for all these reasons:
Hiking For Her is proud to be an REI Co-op affiliate. When you purchase through this website, your total price is not affected. HFH may earn a small commission for showing you the best of the best hiking socks.
Socks are one of the few hiking apparel choices which can be considered unisex.
But for the best fit and performance, I recommend women's hiking socks because the sizing is more exact.
If you're a guy reading this, you can still buy these socks in versions that will fit your feet.
That's why you need technical hiking socks!
To get into the details which matter most to a hiker, let's focus on the type of hiking you're doing.
That in turn dictates which sock choices you'll make.
Your goal: to keep your feet as comfortable as possible inside your trail footwear.
Click to skip down to the details for each type of hiking socks:
A dayhiker has a light load and covers fewer miles, compared with a long distance backpacker.
Yet a day hike demands good socks to fight the friction and to wick up moisture. Hey, it happens to all hiking feet!
To choose the best hiking socks for day hikes, match them to your footwear.
If you prefer low cut trail runners or trail shoes, these are one of your best choices for socks:
Darn Tough Hiker No-Show Light Cushion Socks
If you stick to well packed trails without a lot of irritating debris, give these a try.
55% Merino wool, 42% nylon with a bit of Lycra spandex for comfort.
Do you prefer a bit more ankle protection with your trail shoes? I hear you! You need slightly higher hiking socks.
These Darn Tough Hiker Quarter Cushion Socks are a versatile option when you wear mid-cut shoes and boots.
60% Merino wool, 38% nylon, with 2% spandex give you cushioning and protection.
Hiking socks should fit the contours of your foot.
Too much fabric leads to bunching and chafing, possibly even blisters.
Too little fabric creates pressure on your skin. The sensation of tightness will be distracting as you hike.
Make sure the heel cup lines up with the heel of your foot and you have a bit of wiggle room in the toe area.
Just getting started as a hiker? You'll notice that hiking gear and women's outdoor clothing can get expensive in a hurry.
And what's up with the price tag on hiking socks?
One word: performance.
Technical socks are made of natural and created fabrics. Various blends deliver a lot for your money.
As you can see, hiking socks need a bit more technology than your basic cotton socks for daily wear.
So start with the basics for your day hikes:
Your feet are worth it!
A crew sock is versatile, which saves you money.
Roll them down when you're wearing low cut trail shoes so you'll feel cooler.
Wear them pulled all the way up for more ankle coverage in scratchy and insect intense terrain.
Fold them over liner socks (see below) when you want a two layer hiking sock system to prevent blisters.
Lots of mileage out of one pair of hiking socks!
Here's a great choice of beginner hiking socks.
These Smartwool Crew Hiking Socks check all the right boxes:
cushioning, good fit, durability, moisture wicking, breathable and odor control.
Can you wear the same socks on a weekend backpacking trip that you use for day hikes?
So let's look at more hiking socks with light density cushioning.
You also want a good fit to prevent slipping and friction, and some odor control from the right materials.
And rest assured.
"Light cushioning" doesn't leave your heel and ball of the foot without protection.
REI Co-op Merino Wool Lightweight Tech Crew Socks
The blend of 79% RWS Merino wool, 20% nylon and 1% Lycra spandex gives you moisture and odor control and a good fit.
Just the right socks for a short trip!
Want to go even lighter?
REI Co-op Merino Wool Ultralight Tech Crew Hiking Socks flip the ratio.
53% nylon, 45% RWS Merino wool and 3% Lycra spandex for more "give".
It's possible that you want a bit more cushioning than your day hike socks can give you.
After all, your backpack will be heavier with camping and backpacking kitchen gear.
So keep reading for medium cushion socks that can stand up to backpacking loads.
When you're going for the long haul (literally) you can't bring along lots of socks unless you want to leave something else at home.
So make your sock choices with care.
You're looking for technical hiking socks that can stand up to the grit and abrasion of the trail.
Along with friction and moisture control, you also want odor control.
Fast drying materials enhance your nightly sock washing ritual, too.
Can one pair of socks do all that?
Oh yes, and here they are.
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Socks have high density cushioning beneath your feet.
Wide ribs hold them up but don't dig into your legs.
Check out the reinforced heels and toes.
Elastic support around the arch add to your comfort as well as the lifetime of the socks.
That's a lot of sock love right there!
Backpacking socks tip #1:
Keep a dedicated pair of socks in your sleep system. It feels luxurious to slip on clean socks after a hard day on the trail!
Backpacking socks tip #2:
How many pairs of socks should you bring on a multi-week or months long backpacking trip?
If you want a "safety" pair of backpacking socks, and can manage the volume and weight of it, I won't tell ;)
Ultralighter backpackers will cringe.
Thick cushioning will keep your feet warm. Soaking up the moisture generated inside your boots, no problem!
REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition Hiking Crew Socks feature 79% RWS Merino wool for warmth, 20% nylon for durability, and 1% Lycra spandex.
Waterproof socks are also a good choice for cold wet weather.
These Sealskinz Waterproof Cold Weather Mid Socks aren't the cheapest socks you've ever owned.
But they are 100% waterproof, windproof, breathable and comfortable.
Thanks to their 3 layer system, that is!
These are technical socks at their finest, and a great investment in your safety.
Sealskinz is a well known brand for waterproof hiking socks, and we took a look at a cold weather pair above.
Hiking in mild and wet conditions? Consider these Sealskinz Waterproof Warm-Weather Mid Length Socks.
Same 3 layer system, with a bamboo lining for comfort.
Flat toe seams, so no rubbing or chafing as your feet stay dry within your footwear.
Headed into tough conditions?
One of the most important pieces of clothing you will wear are heavy duty, extra thick mountaineering socks.
Not only will your feet face cold temperatures in high alpine. You will submit them to the shock of variable terrain: snow, ice, rocks over and over again.
want need thick socks!
Ditto for your snowshoeing adventures.
These Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Heavy Crew Socks are 80% Merino wool.
Warmth and cushioning!
One caution: They are unisex, so the sizing will not be as exact.
Be careful to look at the sizes when you order.
Here's another full cushion choice, with the same caveat for lack of women's sizing:
Darn Tough Hiker Boot Full-Cushion Socks
Note the thickness. These socks give you lots of cozy warmth.
They also absorb jarring impacts on frozen ground inside your weatherproof boots.
Sometimes the best hiking socks are long.
Compression socks cover your feet and calves up to the knees.
They are useful for hikers who want to maximize circulation on long hikes.
They're also used for prolonged periods of inactivity in daily life.
So you can get a lot of mileage out of buying one pair of compression socks.
Sockwell Ascend II Knee-High Compression Socks are reasonably priced for hikers.
They give you moderate, graduated compression: support without a lot of pressure except where it's needed.
If you're a backpacker, consider adding a pair of these socks to your gear list.
For detailed tips on how to choose the best compression socks for hiking, go here.
You want your children to have a great experience when they take a hike with you, right?
Then pay close attention to their feet.
Give them medium cushioning hiking socks like yours.
Note how these hiking socks have reinforcement at the wear points: toes, heel, and foot bed.
Ribbed cuffs keep them up.
The seamless toe area prevents chafing.
More comfortable feet per mile + less chance of a blister on those tender little feet = a great hike.
You can feel good about putting these hiking socks on your kids. They're compliant with Responsible Wool Standards (RWS) for humane treatment of sheep.
Some hikers use a second pair of thin socks called liner socks to wick moisture away from skin and direct it into technical hiking socks.
They're not meant to cushion your feet.
Their purpose is to give you a barrier against chafing before you pull on your outer pair of socks.
Many hikers skip liners, while others like an extra thin layer between skin and footwear.
REI Co-op offers you two good choices for thin liner socks.
REI Co-op Merino Wool Liner Crew Socks are your first choice.
64% RWS Merino wool for softness, 34% nylon for durability, and 2% spandex for a comfortable fit.
Choose these as stand alone socks for day hikes in hot weather.
Layer them under technical hiking socks for multi-day trips and tough day hikes.
Your second choice for good liner socks:
REI Co-op COOLMAX EcoMade Liner Crew Socks are a delight on your feet. Moisture wicking but light as a feather!
50% polyester, 49% nylon, 1% spandex.
Now that's a cool way to re-use plastic bottles!
(One reason they're my personal favorites.)
Sometimes a girl just wants to have fun.
That's all the time on a hike.
So these are the socks to shove into your boots and take out at a rest stop to make your trail buddies smile.
Still technical hiking socks with all the bells and whistles.
But in fun patterns like these:
Express yourself in Smartwool Hike Light Margarita Crew Socks
Every hiker has an opinion about which hiking socks are best.
Now that you've seen all your choices it's time to build your own opinion.
Use this best hiking socks guide to enjoy a little experimenting.
Soon enough you will find the best socks for your unique feet.
A few more hiking sock tips for you
It's been my pleasure to welcome you into Hiking Sock World.
You're gonna love it here ;)
Craving more best hiking sock tips? Here they are.
Best Hiking Socks For 2020
About the author
Diane is the founder of Hiking For Her.
She's been on a hiking trail somewhere in the world for 5+ decades & loves to share her best hiking tips right here.
All rights reserved.
Photo credits: All photos on this website were taken by David Midkiff or Diane Spicer except where noted.
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