Hiking is demanding on your feet, so hiking socks need to raise the comfort bar. Your socks are your best defense against blisters; sweaty, itchy feet; frozen toes; and can make a big difference in how well your hiking shoes perform.
We’ve tested merino-synthetic blends as well as 100% synthetic blend hiking socks, and we break down the benefits and detractors of each material (including cotton, silk and bamboo) at the end of the review. To choose the best hiking socks of 2017, we looked at comfort, warmth, durability, drying speed, breathability and wicking (drawing moisture away from your foot).
For more on hiking footwear, check out our review of the year’s best hiking boots.
Top Pick: Falke TK2 Trekking Socks
An amazingly reliable all-rounder, these socks will keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable in three seasons of hiking. They have cushioning that isn’t too weighty or bulky. They performed exceptionally well in both warmth and drying speed, but are better value thanks to their all-round suitability and incredible durability. Made in Germany, these certainly give a good name to that german engineering we have all heard about. The TK 2 is the thicker and more popular with a bit less wool than others in the TK line. Falke is finally starting to take hold in the US, although there are many who are very familiar with the brand.
In Europe, Falke is well known for producing a great product that screams quality in design. The overall fit didn’t seem to be tight like a compression sock, but they weren’t loose and saggy to the point where they will keep falling down around your ankle either. They fit just right and stay that way.
With features such as anatomical cushioning, left and right foot specific fit, and climate control properties that allow this pair to be used for just about any outdoor activity that you may be involved in, these are a sure winner. Though more popular in Europe, the TK 2 is starting to make a name for itself everywhere else as well.
Merino wool blend
Excellent moisture control
Great thermal insulation
Each sock fit for specifically for left and right foot
A bit expensive
Warmth and comfort
These merino wool blend socks did an awesome of job of keeping our feet warm in cold weather, even when they got wet. The weave is tight and holds in body heat well. This is not a high sock, so it stops under the calf. Still, it does well even with many higher boots We found it was able to retain a decent amount of warmth down into the 30s. It’s not quite as warm as the Smartwool PhD, but was a very close second. These really aren’t intended for extremely cold weather, or even long winter hikes, but it is hard to tell. They perform great in most climates. However, you might want to double up with a liner for the frostier conditions.
These dry out pretty quickly. Not as fast as some of the thinner socks, but still quickly. If you take them off and give them a good ring, that definitely helps to speed it up. The cushioned portions of the TK 2 tend to take a bit more time to dry, obviously, but we didn’t think it was too bad.
Falke make great products. They offer socks for just about any outdoor use, including running. Having owned a few pair, I can tell you that these are certainly built to last, and will do just fine with whatever you get into involving the great outdoors. The ribbed ankle doesn’t seem to stretch out too much, becoming deformed and falling down, causing them to bunch up. They stay right where you want them to. The cushioning might help a little with this, but the heels and ball of the foot areas don’t seem to wear away very quickly either.
Breathability and wicking
Climate control is on the the real strengths of the TK 2. They offer exceptional moisture wicking properties, which is always a great thing, especially on those hikes of a longer duration. They also breath quite well. Paired with footwear that offers good breathability, you will have a great setup for a long and comfortable hike.
Runner Up: SmartWool PhD Medium Outdoor Crew
A superbly warm and comfortable sock, with excellent fit and compression for running around all day long. The SmartWool PhD has definitely upped the game on SmartWools regular Hike Lite Crew, with great support for your instep and arch and a stretchy ‘X’ bracing the top of the sock. There are three levels of cushioning available for different activities and different bodies: Ultralight, Light and Medium.
The Lightweight model provides ample underfoot cushioning for all sorts of day-hiking, trail-running, cycling and other demanding athletic activities, while retaining a really beautiful mix of thin, breathable material everywhere else. The Lightweight model breathes really well underfoot, possibly thanks to all that extra support that keeps the sock close so there’s no bunching and very little air is staying trapped.
The Medium Cushioning Outdoor Crew is where it’s at for multiple-day hikes and backpacking, with even more underfoot cushioning and much more warmth.
One common detractor with Merino thermals is that they don’t last forever: after a few years of wearing your favorite thermals day in day out, they tend to develop tiny holes and runs around areas of high abrasion (say around where they meet your belt-line, or on your shoulder blades). Merino socks are no exception, though we think it’s well worth the extra performance you get from merino. In 2016, SmartWool smashed it out of the park by introducing their Indestructawool technology. As a result, the heel and toe of the SmartWool PhD seem to be a little more durable.
Incredible fit for active use
The warmest sock we tried out
Comes with a no-itch guarantee
Not quite as breathable as we’d like
They hold their shape really well, but the material still isn’t quite as durable as the Darn Tough blend
Warmth and comfort
Luxury! These were the warmest and most comfortable sock we tried in the medium weight hiking sock category (the Icebreaker Multisport Mini was really comfortable and light, but they’re apples and oranges). Even warmer than the Darn Toughs.
Not bad, not great. Quick drying speed compared to department store sports socks, unimpressive drying speed compared to the other superbly designed and tested hiking socks on this list.
With the SmartWool PhD Midweight, you’re looking at great durability of the shape and fabric, and continued performance in all the other key areas. Just not quite as durable as the Darn Tough range, whose lifetime guarantee is hard to beat. All SmartWool PhD hiking socks come with a two year satisfaction guarantee.
Breathability and wicking
The warmest and cushiest sock we tested, and understandably not the most breathable, though they came pretty close. Very good wicking ability. The Lightweight version of SmartWool’s PhD hiking sock range is a much better model for breathability, combining ample cushioning below the foot but minimal thickness everywhere else.
Best Hiking Socks for Warm Weather: Icebreaker Multisport Cushion Mini Light
The Multisport Cushion Light from New Zealand’s Icebreaker is one of the most comfortable socks ever made. It’s designed for hardcore cyclists and runners, but performs excellently as a warm-weather hiking sock. It features a sleek, lightweight design, without the bulk or the seams and tangible reinforcement you get with most hiking socks. I say without tangible reinforcement, because the Multisport Cushion Mini Light are definitely reinforced (in the heel and toe) for durability, but they’ve been specifically engineered so as to make every seam as unnoticeable as possible, to prevent any chafing, so these socks are just as comfortable ten hours into a sweaty hike.
Natural, soft, breathable merino wool
Just enough cushioning under the foot and arch while still wonderfully lightweight
Can be worn as a ‘liner’ under a more cushioned, insulating winter hiking sock
Ethical: Icebreaker can tell you exactly where in New Zealand the wool in your socks came from.
Low rise ‘Mini’ socks might not give enough coverage for higher hiking boots. You can go for the Hike+ Light Crew instead.
A bit expensive
Comfort and warmth: wool isn’t always hot and itchy
You’d be forgiven for thinking that wool garments are warm, and have no place in technical clothing for hot conditions. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that woolen socks would be more itchy than a cotton-synthetic blend, not less. Icebreaker’s range is wide and each item is engineered from a specific wool-weight to meet different conditions: I can tell you from experience that their lightweight merino shirts and underwear are as cool in Californian summer as their mid-weight layers are in a Norwegian winter.
Breathability and wicking
Merino wool is an amazing material, and Icebreaker do it better than anyone else. Many of Icebreakers more technical models, like the Multisport Cushion Lite, incorporate 5-39% synthetic materials, combining the superior breathability, wicking power and odour-resistance of Merino with greater durability and less weight.
Merino is naturally more odour and bacteria resistant than even the most advanced synthetic fabric. These socks will wick sweat away from your feet all day long, stay dry and stink significantly less than other socks. This same quality is going to keep your boots drier and less smelly too. Over time, this means the life of your boot’s inner materials is extended.
Icebreaker’s Multisport Light socks are engineered with 35% Nylon and 2% LYCRA® to make them extra durable, especially around the heel, toe and instep.
Excellent. At just over 60% wool, this sock isn’t too heavy to dry fairly fast.
Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
A burly, no-nonsense midweight hiking sock that makes up for in ruggedness whatever it lacks in fancy features, the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro are also the cheapest hiking sock on our list. They don’t have as much warmth or coverage as the Darn Tough Full Cushion, as much support as the SmartWool PhD, or dry as fast as the Injinji, but for all that they performed very well as a durable all-round, all-condition hiking sock. Combined with a hiking sock liner to make up for the wicking issues and the looseness, this is an excellent sock, with an excellent price tag.
Warm and cozy
Quick to dry
Room for a liner
Little support, can bunch a little in the toe
Loose enough to fall down your leg
Warmth and comfort
Made of propylene, nylon and acrylic, the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro does a lovely job of keeping your foot warm and cozy in the majority of conditions. It insulates well and provides decent cushioning, though we think it could have more of that over the key parts of your foot that are really pounding the pavement. This sock has a lower percentage of LYCRA than any of the others reviewed for this list, and as a consequence both the weave and the overall shape of the sock are looser. This isn’t necessarily a problem, and it makes pairing this sock with a liner easy.
Being 100% synthetic, this sock dried pretty fast. It’s got a lot more bulk to it than the Injini NuWool Crew, though, so still ranked third on our list for drying time.
Ridiculous. You can hike 50 miles in these socks and not be able to tell. They don’t look fancy, they’re not supremely comfortable straight out of the box and they’re looser than we’d like, but they will keep trekking, and trekking and trekking.
Breathability and wicking
They may not look it, but the Wigwams were really breathable! They are 100% synthetic, unlike any other pair of hiking socks on this list. We expected them to therefore be the least breathable, but they weren’t. It might be down to the fact that the weave in these socks is quite open and loose. They really on bulk and an overall effect of layers and air in the weave to warm you up, not a tight weave of the fibers.
The Wigwams to a great job of both breathing and wicking in hot weather, but watch out when the mercury drops – once it’s cold, they don’t wick anywhere near as well as merino. They also don’t keep you warm as well when they get wet. But for the price point, we were pleasantly surprised by the breathability of these socks.
Injinji 2.0 Midweight Crew NuWool Hiking Socks
Fancy! These five-finger beauties feature a lightweight, technical design and were the fastest drying hiking socks we tested. The toes are meant to prevent blisters and even improve your balance and posture (more so if you wear them with five-finger running shoes). This sock was easily the fastest drying, but overall we felt that it didn’t really offer enough comfort and warmth for the price.
Five-fingers give your toes wiggle room (and make these suitable to pair with five-finger hiking shoes)
Warm and cozy
Not as durable as other socks on this list
Toes can get clammy in sweaty conditions
Warmth and comfort
The Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool was quite warm, but not really satisfying for the price point. The five-finger design is a novel experience and lovely if that’s what your used to, but can become a little stifling after a long hike.
The Injinji NuWool may be the fastest drying thick hiking sock out there. It was definitely the best of the bunch this time round.
Not as impressive as other hiking socks in this testing round. The soles have a tendency to generate fluff, suggesting that this fabric might start to wear through faster than we’d like.
Breathability and wicking
These offered good breathability thanks to the airflow panels around the top of the foot.
Icebreaker Hike Lite Liner
This lightweight crew gives you an extra layer of blister protection, thermal regulation and moisture management. Comes in four sizes and is machine washable.
High-performance warmth and comfort from one of the world’s best merino thermal brands
Do not retain moisture
Quite durable for liners
Not meant to be worn on their own
Warmth and comfort
Silky smooth. Counter-intuitively, wearing a liner can actually reduce hot spots, spreading the warmth in your boot out better and preventing rub areas from focusing all the heat.
Whoosh! They weigh two and a half ounces, and barely hold water. They didn’t win our speed test though, because they’re liners and we felt it would be cheating.
Not much! That’s not what they’re there for. Having said that, the heel and toe are pretty sound, the weave is tight, and I’d say these will outperform your average cotton department store sock.
Breathability and wicking
Made of 60% merino wool, 38% Nylon and 2% LYCRA, these socks do a great job of transferring moisture and breathing, and feel positively airy when worn around the house.
Other considerations to help you choose the best hiking sock
1. What level of cushion do you need?
Most people who hike or backpack cold weather are familiar with glove liners. It’s amazing how much extra warmth you get out of your gloves when you add a wafer-thin, weighs-as-much-as-a-penny 100% merino glove liner. In my experience, expensive glove liners under an affordable pair of unfussy gloves keep my hands just as warm as a single pair of gloves that cost in excess of $100.
The same logic is true of sock liners. They’re simple in construction: thin and uniform, without any cushioning. There’s a bit of compression, but no patches of extra thickness, reinforced sections or elasticated support panels. Because of this, they’re pretty cheap, even the ones made of the highest-quality materials by the best designers. Yet adding one of these liners to an average pair of hiking socks makes a world of difference, increasing the performance (and therefore the value) of the sock.
You can wear liners by themselves in a pinch, on a warm day, but be aware that you’ll wear out the heel in no time.
Best for easy treks and summer weather, ultra-lightweight hiking socks are basically sport socks like any other: they stress airflow and moisture-wicking over warmth or the ability to perform well in cold, wet weather. Ultra-lightweight socks tend to be cushioned only under the sole, leaving the rest of the foot covered by a thin breathable material. Slightly more sock than a liner.
Lightweight socks are a little warmer and more cushioned than ultra-lightweights, and suitable for multiple day hikes on decent terrain in nice weather. They’re often nicely fitted and supportive feeling though, even without thick fibers or dense weaves all over. Can be worn with or without a liner.
Midweight hiking socks offer more warmth, and are ideal for extended hiking in three or four seasons, depending on where you’re traveling to. They usually have some extra cushioning thickness around the top of the foot and the ankle as well as underfoot. They should have durable, reinforced heels and toes, but, worn by themselves. aren’t so bulky as to push your hiking boot size up a level.
Mountaineering socks or full-cushion socks are the thickest, warmest, most protective socks you can get. They are made for extended trips, rough trails, and alpine or arctic conditions. In anything milder, they are hot and heavy and you will regret carrying them around in your pack after you realize it’s way too hot to wear them. Usually tall enough to sit over the calf or under the knee, and thick enough to deflect lots of trail debris and blackberry snags.
2. What conditions are you hiking in?
Some materials perform relatively well under the majority of conditions, only to let you down when you needed them most. As long as you know the rules, you can still choose hiking socks made from any material, and save yourself from being caught by surprise in contrary conditions.
Woolen socks keep you warm almost as well when they’re wet. This wonderful naturally occurring property of wool has been keeping sheep alive in the most miserable conditions on earth for millennia, and it will be keep your toes warm too. Or at least warm enough. The more synthetic a sock is, the less well they function when wet.
3. Layers and Liners
Pairing a durable synthetic cushioning ‘outer’ sock with a luxurious, wafer-thin merino liner can be a great way to enjoy the best of both.
Layering your socks can also prevent blistering, i.e. two lightweight socks prevent blistering better than one thick sock that weighs as much as both put together. This is because the layers of sock rub against the shoe and each other, and rarely your feet. If you’re breaking in new hiking boots or expecting a particularly slippery hike, consider using a liner or layering lightweight socks. There’s no rule that says you can’t layer with an ultra-lightweight sock instead of a cushion-less liner.
If you’re really pushed for space in your pack, liners are your friend: take seven pairs of liners and two pairs of thick socks instead of seven pairs of thick.
4. What material suits you best?
You’ll probably experiment for a few years with different blends before you’re confidently picking the right socks for every hike with no regrets. In the meantime, it’s great to travel with options and layer/swap out as needed. You’ll get to know what performs better in your conditions, and which materials your feet like to have on them.
A very popular choice for hiking socks, wool provides fantastic all-round performance in terms of comfort, warmth, breathability, moisture wicking and durability, with the added advantages of being anti-microbial and odour-resistant. Can be heavier than synthetics, and take a little longer to dry.
Many people remember wool as itchy, but new Merino blends are incredible soft and wearable. Some brands even offer an itch-free guarantee. Icebreaker have been making merino underwear for over a decade now, so it must be ok!
Although 100% merino thermals can be found, pure merino isn’t quite as durable or as stretchy as 90% wool blends. As a result, most high-performance hiking socks incorporate 30-50% synthetic to increase elasticity and durability.
Dries fast, weighs less than wool, and is cheaper to produce. Synthetic blends made from propylene, nylon and acrylic do a good enough job of mimicking wool or cotton, with the advantage of being longer-lasting.
Silky smooth and naturally insulating, bamboo is lightweight and comfy. Blended with synthetics or cotton, it makes hiking socks feel softer and better fitting. A fast-growing, lower-resource-intensive renewable resource. Bamboo-blend hiking socks are a good choice for vegans looking for extra comfort but wanting to keep clear of silk and wool blends.
Not recommended for hiking socks, cotton tends to absorb sweat instead of wick it away, and gives no insulation whatsoever when wet (have you ever tried to grab a hot oven tray with a wet kitchen towel?). Cotton takes ages to dry, and due to a combination of all these factors, cotton socks can cause blisters if worn when hiking.
Exceedingly comfortable and lightweight, silk socks are superb at wicking away sweat. Silk is often used in high-end sleeping bag liners to trap extra warmth without the sweatiness that contact with synthetics can induce, and silk does just as well in sock liners. Not durable enough to feature in ‘outer’ socks very often.
Hiking socks come in a really wide variety of sizes as well as thicknesses. Generally, the more expensive the sock and the more dialed-in the fit, the more sizing options the company will give you. Sock sizings are usually done in ranges (Eg. 11-14). If you are at one end of a range and your feet are a little broad or a little narrow, go up or down to the next size to ensure a better fit. Remember that your feet swell, and you want to accommodate that. Socks that are too small might dig into your calves or cramp your toes, and also don’t give you any room for liners.
Top tip: Try before you buy
Icebreaker concept stores have all their most popular hiking sock styles on hand to give you a first-hand (or first-foot) experience of what levels of comfort and cushioning you can expect from each model.
You may have to (and want to) wear a sock liner, meaning you can’t feel how silky smooth the sock does or doesn’t feel against your skin, but you do get a sense of how much compression you’ll get, how much underfoot cushioning, how snugly the end sits on your toes, how high the sock comes up your leg and how well it sits on your calf. Obviously it will be a fraction looser without the liner, but remember that feet do tend to swell up within a couple of hours of activity.
Top tip for drying (clean) wet socks
Lay the socks over half of your towel, fold the other half of the towel over the top, fold this in half again or roll up (depending on the size of your towel – you basically want to make sure the socks won’t slip around in there) and then “wring out” the towel. Lay your towel flat again, open it up, and voila! Your socks are 75% drier. Do this before you hang them up to dry, and it will speed up the process magnificently. Wring the socks inside the towel is so much better than wringing them out with your hands because a) you avoid stretching and stressing the fibers and weave of the socks, which become vulnerable to over-stretching and snapping when wet, and b) water transfers under pressure to the towel via pressure much more effectively than it transfers via gravity to the floor.