Socks are not the sexiest part of a hiking wardrobe, but they are one of the most critical. A good pair of socks can make the difference between happy feet and a sad pile of blisters and oozing skin.
Your hiking socks should be an almost forgotten element of your backpacking apparel system.
You want a pair of socks made with a blend of soft, technical fibers that help wick sweat and keep your feet as dry as possible. If your feet get wet, you want quick-drying socks that won’t stay soggy and contribute to dreaded trench foot.
Your socks should fit well so they won’t rub or bunch, and you don’t want them to sag either. For long-distance backpacking, I like a mid-crew sock (four to six inches above my shoe) which helps keep debris out of my trail runners and protects my ankles from getting scratched.
For this roundup, I was inundated with hiking socks, which is the opposite of a problem. I was able to test socks from Swiftwick, SockGuy, Farm to Feet, Injinji, Cloudline, Point6, Feetures, and Darn Tough.
If your favorite brand isn’t included, it was not on purpose, and we welcome comments below! That said, here’s the breakdown on each brand worn for this roundup.
Best For: Hikers who want a classic, comfortable, no-frills hiking sock from a smaller brand
Details: This cottage-industry apparel company makes a variety of hiking socks in different heights and weights. These are among the softest socks I tested. As I do with most socks, I preferred the lighter weight, as it felt like it fit more comfortably in my shoes for three-season hiking. The crew is perfect for hiking boots, and the 1/4 height is good for trail running, or hikers who like a lower sock with their low-cut hiking shoes. These are classic socks, with ribbed cuffs, neutral grey colors, accented toes and heels, and a remarkable merino knit that stays soft even when other socks feel crusty after a few days of use. These socks are also very reasonably priced, ranging from $14 to $20 depending on height and style.
Best For: Hikers who want a sock with sustainably sourced materials from a small company
Details: This is a brand dedicated to sustainable sourcing and manufacturing. All materials are locally sourced, and Farm to Feet offers several models with proceeds going to different trail organizations and outdoor-oriented nonprofits. I’ve worn their Technical Series on many different backpacking trips, and they are designed with increased ventilation and well-placed cushioning to ease fatigue and keep your feet cool and dry. This company’s emphasis on giving back and keeping all parts of their process as sustainable as possible is part of the reason I’ve been drawn to them in the past. Plus, they make a long-lasting, comfortable pair of socks with a special blend of merino, nylon, and spandex… all sourced from the US. Farm to Feet has varieties ranging from ultralight, no-show running socks to heavy-duty ski socks, and everything in between. Socks range from $16 to $27 depending on the model.
Best For: Hikers who want a time-tested sock with a lifetime guarantee
Details: I have worn Darn Tough socks on and off for years, typically the Hiker Micro Crew Midweight. The fibers are super fine with Darn Tough, and they have that famous lifetime guarantee. I’ve managed to wear through the heels on one pair, and it was after 1,000 miles of hiking. These socks don’t stretch out around the cuffs, and the toes and heels are reinforced. I love the Micro Crew because they’re a bit shorter than the traditional crew without being short enough to let in debris. The socks fit true to size, don’t stretch, and the merino blend is wicking and doesn’t shift or rub inside the shoe. These are some of the most popular socks for thru-hikers for a reason, and as a bonus, they’re made in Vermont. Darn Tough socks cost between $20-24 per pair.
Best For: Hikers who want a non-flashy, hiking-specific sock with lots of life
Details: Swiftwick makes socks specifically by activity. They have socks for running, golf, hiking, cycling and more, all with designs and materials specific to the sport. Swiftwick are made in the US as well, and I’ve been wearing them pretty exclusively for the past year. The Pursuit Hike is their most hiking-centric sock, with a six-inch ribbed cuff. It comes in medium and lightweight varieties, and in muted grey and black. These are socks I forget I’m wearing, and they’ve been incredibly durable, as long as you buy the technical varieties. These socks run between $20-23 per pair.
Best For: Hikers who want a technical sock with a lot of personality
Details: I had never heard of SockGuy before this writeup, and out of all the socks I tried, these are the most wild and fun. The taller TurboWool hiking socks come in fun designs like sasquatch, sheep, trees, and bright colors. Many models have a mesh upper for more airflow without losing the protection of the cuff and the heels and toes are double-stitched for durability. These socks are made in the US and are priced lower than other comparable brands, around $15 per pair, without losing the technical aspect of socks made with comfort and activity in mind.
Best For: Hikers and runners who want a lightweight, minimal sock
Details: The style of Feetures that I most often see are lightweight, no-show socks, or other low-cut models. While I wouldn’t wear such a low sock for backpacking, I love them for trail running. These socks have targeted compression and a highly engineered fit to help reduce blisters. The Low Cut models have about two inches of cuff, and the ones I tried were the maximum cushion variety, which felt great on the uneven trails near my house. The merino version is similar to other lightweight running socks, and the Elite are made from their proprietary iWick fabric blend, soft and dry against your feet. Plus, the Elite socks are made with material from recycled plastics. The socks I tried are around $17 per pair; Feetures has a range of price points and models depending on activity and sock height / weight.
Best For: Hikers who want to try a merino sock made with the 37.5 Technology fibers
Details: I didn’t know much about Point6 before I tried these, but I am familiar with one of their ingredient brands: 37.5 Technology. The fibers in this material activate to keep you both warm and cool, at the “ideal” temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius. Basically, if you start overheating, they work to cool you down. If you get too cold, they activate to warm you up. You can read more about it here, but it was a neat surprise to see a merino sock company partnering with them. The socks are designed to avoid bunching and shifting in your shoes, whether you’re hiking, biking, or just out and about. I love the fit of these socks, and there’s a definite difference in comfort for extreme temperatures when you have clothing with the 37.5 fibers woven in. Point6 socks are made with sustainability in mind, but they are a bit on the pricier side, with the crew-height models upwards of $25.
Best For: Hikers prone to getting blisters between their toes, and who enjoy the feeling of toe socks
Details: These are the famous technical toe socks, not the 90’s fad that I used to wear with sandals to middle school. The idea behind toe socks is that instead of binding your toes together, they allow them to splay out more naturally for agility and grip on the trail. They take a bit of getting used to, but people who wear them swear by them. I wore Injinji liners for a while on the AT, and my hiking partner swore by them. Once he started wearing them, he never got another blister between his toes. These socks have a supportive arch and wicking Coolmax fibers built into the weave to keep your feet dry on hot trails. They are snug enough to not shift in shoes, but also not too tight. Injinji trail-model socks range from around $16 to $19.
Maggie Slepian is a full-time freelance writer based in Bozeman, Montana. She is the co-founder of BackpackingRoutes.com, and spends as much time outdoors as possible. You can follow her here, or find clips and contact info at Maggieslepian.com