Socks are essential to wear when going on a hike. However, there are different types of socks, including hiking socks. So, what hiking socks are best for beginners?
The best hiking socks for beginners have moisture-wicking and blister-preventing properties and are thicker than normal socks. The best hiking socks are typically made out of polyester or wool. Make sure the hiking socks fit well and are comfortable to wear before wearing them while hiking.
To find out more about hiking socks, keep reading.
Why Do I Need Hiking Socks?
While hiking socks aren’t necessarily a piece of gear that is going to make the difference between life and death if you get into trouble while out hiking, they can absolutely make the difference between an enjoyable hike or a miserable one. Hiking socks are specifically designed for hiking, which can provide many benefits that your regular, everyday socks cannot. While your everyday socks are primarily meant for comfort, hiking socks have additional benefits including durability, warmth, blister prevention, and moisture-wicking.
Consider the environment and situation you would wear your everyday socks for versus when hiking. Throughout everyday life, it is likely that you are on smooth, flat terrain that is free of debris and natural obstacles and aren’t walking a significant number of miles each day.
Your everyday socks are designed to provide comfort in these conditions. While hiking, you will be walking on various elevations of terrain that is varying in smoothness and roughness. There will also be debris you will run into and have to maneuver over while hiking a significant number of miles more than you would every day.
Hiking socks are designed to keep up with the demands your feet go through and are adjusting to. This can help prevent discomfort and blistering that would surely occur with your regular socks. You bring loads of additional gear while hiking designed for that purpose, your socks should not be any different. (Source)
It is safe to say that your everyday socks are most likely made out of cotton. For hiking socks, there are two different types of material that the majority of hiking socks are made with: merino wool and polyester. Either material is better than cotton, but there are differences between the two materials that may be more helpful than the other depending on the hike you are planning to take.
In the past, most hiking socks were made out of a combination of cotton and polyester. Now that merino wool has come along, it has very quickly put that combination of cotton and polyester to shame. Merino wool comes from sheep that are native to the Southern Alps in New Zealand. This wool is the chosen wool to use for hiking socks because of the harsh conditions these sheep live in. Their wool is meant to be comfortable, wick moisture away, but still allow breathability and warmth at the same time. It checks all the boxes that are necessary to create the perfect hiking sock.
Understand that hiking socks are not solely made of Merino wool. It is a combination of polyester and Merino wool, which while it still contains polyester is countered with the effects and benefits of the wool. (Source)
When you first buy a new pair of regular socks, they may have a thick cushion to begin with, but after the first couple of wears, that thickness and cushion begin to disappear quickly. If you have never tried on hiking socks before, you may feel that they are more thick and tight on your foot than your everyday socks, almost to the point where they may feel a little uncomfortable.
Everyday socks also only have one level of thickness. Hiking socks have varying levels of thickness which allow you can decide on how much of a cushion you want depending on how long and strenuous the hike you are going on is.
Most hiking socks are categorized into 1 of 4 categories: ultralight, lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. Each of these categories correlates with different activities. Ultralight socks are meant for three-season hiking and backpacking, and casual wear.
The warning that comes with the ultralight socks is that they are the hiking socks that provide the least amount of cushioning so it would be wise to only wear these on shorter hikes, with relatively easy terrain. On the opposite end, you have the heavyweight thickness which is meant for winter hiking and will help keep your feet warm and cushioned sufficiently. (Source)
Just as your regular, everyday socks vary in height, so do hiking socks. The height options are similar: crew, quarter, no-show, and over-the-calf. Each of these types of heights is going to have different benefits than the other, so it is helpful to try out a few different heights to decide which ones you prefer.
Crew socks are your typical, most popular height for hiking socks. They reach about 6 to 8 inches up the calf depending on the person’s shoe size. This height is considered the perfect amount of fabric coming out of the hiking boot. It allows enough room for the leg to not feel restricted, but still covers enough leg where any grass, brush, or rock could irritate or harm the skin.
Quarter socks are a little bit lower than crew socks. They reach up just high enough to cover the heel and ankle but leave a lot of the lower leg exposed. This length of sock is a great option for still having a little bit of protection on the lower leg, but want to have a little more breathability in the heat of the day. Quarter socks are also versatile in the sense that you can wear them with either hiking boots or running shoes.
No-show socks reach just barely to your ankle. These socks are only going to be helpful with low ankle hiking boots or running shoes. If you try to wear them with high ankle hiking boots, they may rub and create friction on the skin, which can cause discomfort and even blisters.
Over-the-calf socks quite literally go over the calf. They are just a little bit higher than crew socks, almost reaching the bottom of your kneecap. If you are planning on hiking on any off-trail terrain where there is going to be a little more debris and natural elements that could scrape up and irritate your leg, these are a great option for extra protection.
Compression is often a word used to advertise various clothing items in the world of professional athletes. The idea of using compression socks for hiking is that it will do the same thing it does for athletes, which is an aid in muscle recovery and overall fatigue during and after a strenuous hike.
This is especially helpful when you are hiking long distances, where the extra support from the compression element of the socks can help relax sore muscles and encourage blood flow. The most beneficial type of hiking sock with compression is the over-the-calf because it gives more support to the leg overall.
In addition to hiking socks being more expensive than regular socks, compression hiking socks are even more pricey than hiking socks. If you aren’t sure you want to spend the money on compression hiking socks, start out with the basic hiking socks and then try out the compression ones and see which you like better.
Even if you aren’t doing a 20+ mile hike, your feet can and will get tired after a lot of hiking, especially if you are hiking on rough terrain. That is why making sure the pair of socks you choose to wear and the extra pairs you pack are comfortable. Most people find that the thicker the sock, the more comfortable it is when hiking long distances. The key to this is making sure the thickness of the sock is comfortable for you personally and it’s not too tight that when your feet swell from walking so much wearing the socks could become painful.
Toe socks are a great option for comfortable hiking socks. The separation of the toes from one another reduces hotspots on the foot and toes as well as makes the foot more comfortable overall. Toe socks aren’t everyone’s preference, but if you feel like your toes specifically could use some more support they are a good option.
Do you have a favorite pair of socks you’ve had for a long time? Does it seem they just get more and more comfortable with each wash? This is because that pair of socks has great durability, allowing the quality to last for a long period of time while in use. The key to finding solid, durable hiking socks is to try different brands and decide which you like best. Some of the more well-known brands regarding durability are Smartwool, REI, and Darn Tough.
Smartwool is a great option if you are looking for a wool hiking sock that is particularly soft and not itchy, although it has been found that they are more susceptible to holes quicker than other brands. REI uses durable fabric, but they tend to lose their grip and loosen quickly. Darn Tough is not the option you would want to go for if you are looking for soft socks, but they certainly are “darn tough” when it comes to holding up against any holes or wear compared to other brands.
If you are someone who is always making an effort to care for the environment in everything you do, you can continue to do that even by purchasing hiking socks. Many manufacturers have made this one of their top priorities and use wool that is up to the standard of the Responsible Wool Standard as well as using a variety of recycled materials.
While we previously discussed that a large majority of hiking socks are still made out of sheep’s wool, there are brands that are moving toward using only materials that abide by wildlife and environmental safety standards.
This is becoming a more popular practice in more and more brands that, hopefully, will put at ease those of us who want the best of the best hiking socks while treating the environment and its wildlife with kindness. While it may not dramatically affect the feel or performance of the hiking socks, it is comforting knowing where and what the socks came from.
If you are considering solely wearing liner socks on your hike, think again. Liner socks are not designed to care for your feet in your shoes or hiking boots like hiking socks are. They are thin, and often made of slick material that can slide around in your shoe causing friction and potential for blisters and hotspots to develop.
Because of the lack of thick material, the liner sock will wear down faster which can significantly decrease the lifespan of your socks. With hiking socks being higher quality and having so many more benefits, it would be smart to go with hiking socks as opposed to the liners.
If you want absolutely want to put your liner socks to use, you can layer them under your hiking socks for an added layer of cushion between your foot and the hiking boot but a good pair of hiking socks are much more recommended than layering various types of socks.
Hiking Socks Care
We have discussed a lot of great qualities of hiking socks, but it takes work and following specific directions to help maintain these great qualities. If you have hiking socks that are made of wool, most of the time the best way to wash them is to wash them in cold water and then allow them to air dry. Just as hiking socks wear down as you use them and hike, they can also be worn down by frequent and improper washing.
Every brand of socks is different because every brand manufactures its product differently. It is important to read the care instructions on the package to make sure you take care of your hiking socks properly to ensure they last a long time to make them worth your money.