Image Courtesy of Guillaume Simon | Walkabout Gourmet Adventures | France
How to choose a pair of hiking socks?
Here are some tips we hope might help make choosing your next pair of hiking socks a little easier...........
TIP ONE: What sort of hiking you're going to be doing?
I know this may sound obvious, but we cannot emphasize how important this is. For example, if you plan on carrying a heavy pack for days on end this will impact on your choice of hiking socks. On the other hand if you're planning on walking well formed paths you'll need a different hiking sock again. Here's a few examples:
Expedition (High Altitude Climbing 6,000 metres+)
If you're planning on some serious climbing / high altitude walking you should be looking at a quality sock. There's no mucking around the higher you climb. Secondly, your sock must be very well cushioned and thick enough to keep you warm. Obvious points I know, but often overlooked. Wear resistant with reinforced impact zones is a bonus and some sort of wicking system a must! We'd aways recommend Merino or a combination of technical fibres for warmth. Whatever you do steer clear of all polyester or cotton socks.
Alpine Trekking (4,000 metres +)
These group of socks are more geared towards those of us lucky enough to venture over to say Nepal and walk in some of the higher regions there.
You'll want a sock with a high amount of cushioning and at least crew in height. This will help protect your feet, ankles and shins and keep you comfy on the trails. Quality socks don't tend to hold the 'pong' as well as cheaper socks, due to superior fibres and the ability to wick moisture way from the foot. No one's going to be happy if your socks clear out a mountain hut!!!
As alpine trekking often involves walking over rocky and uneven ground, a sock with instep and shin protection is recommended. It probably goes without saying, but your socks should also be wear resistant and must possess a quality moisture management system e.g. Coolmax, Thor-lon or a combination of technical fibres.
These socks are among the most common socks sold and the qualities are similar to the above mentioned hiking socks, with the exception that many of these socks have only a medium amount of cushioning. Another difference is some of the hiking socks in this category are designed for membrane lined boots i.e. boots with a Gortex lining, allowing the sock and boot to both breathe and expel excess moisture. It is important with this category that you select the sock that best suits the climate that you will be hiking. i.e. hot climates will require a fast drying sock, whilst cooler mountain regions will require a heavier warmer sock.
Examples: Any of the above Alpine Trekking Socks and Bridgedale, Smartwool, Wigwam, Rohner or Thorlo socks
These socks are a bit more streamlined, are somewhat lighter and are more geared towards those of us who may just be venturing out for a day trek. Ordinarily a moderate amount of cushioning should suffice, but do make sure you get a sock that wicks moisture away from your feet to prevent any nasty blisters from appearing. Depending on your intended location, wicking fibers are important i.e. in hot climates you'll want a sock that will keep you cool (Coolmax®) and likewise in cooler environments one that will keep you warmer (merino wool).
Crew height is preferred so as to provide good ankle protection.
Those of us in this category are likely to be walking on well formed trails carrying a light day pack, if that. Consequently, you don't need a super thick sock for this type of walking unless you really want one or need one. Generally the type of shoes designed for trail walking aren't going to allow you to fit that expedition monster sock anyway.
Note: If you get sore feet you should read here about the protective benefits of Thorlo socks.
Trail walking socks are usually 1/4 crew in height and so provide good ankle protection. Again I would always recommend fibres such as Dri-Release®, Coolmax®, Thor-lon etc to make sure your walk is not only comfortable, but more importantly you prevent any foot problems of future walks.
TIP TWO: Buy your hiking socks before your boots?
This may seem obvious, but it can save a lot of heart ache down the track. Hiking socks will only do so much and they'll be nothing but a hindrance if you have to squeeze them into your boot and they end up being too tight because there just isn't room. Likewise, if you have to buy a thick expedition sock because your boots are too big your feet are going to COOK!
Remember if your boots/shoes are the wrong size, it will make no difference how good your socks are. Do yourself a favour and buy your socks first (or take them along) when buying your hiking boots / trail shoes.
TIP THREE: Sock Liners
We often get asked about sock liners and whether you really need them. It's a good question.
The reason why sock liners are sometimes recommended is because they are super lightweight, are exceptional at wicking moisture and being next to the skin do an amazing job. They are thin so don't expect any cushioning, but when worn with a quality hiking sock do a great job at making your experience a better one! If you have a membrane boot (e.g. Gortex inner or the like) liners really shine.
If not, that's okay as today's hiking socks are so advanced (superior comfort, wicking, fit etc) that you don't have to wear a pair of liners. It really is a personal thing.
Hiking Socks Wrap Up
As you can see there are many different hiking socks for different purposes. Choosing the right hiking sock for your intended activity is the most important part when selecting a pair of hiking socks. Do this and you will be more comfortable and enjoy the experience so much better. No blisters or tired feet at the end of the day too, which is a bonus!
We have separated hiking socks, based on activity, so use our navigation tools (at the top of the page) to help find a sock to suit your needs. As always if you have any questions, just sing out anytime and we'll help you choose the best pair of hiking socks to suit your needs.
Thanks also to Guillaume Simon who shared the above image, whilst on a guided trek with Walkabout Gourmet Adventures in France. He is wearing a pair of Smartwool PhD Outdoor socks.