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You can wear the best hiking boots in the world on your next day hike or backpacking trip, but if you’re not equipped with a proper pair of hiking socks, you’re going to be looking at blisters or frostbite — or worse, depending on the conditions. Any military veteran will tell you about the importance of having clean, dry socks while deployed, and experienced adventurers can second that notion, no matter where in the world they’re heading. Socks are just as important as boots when it comes to keeping your feet warm and dry, and because they’re the material that’s coming into contact with your skin the most, they play a crucial role in blister prevention.
I’ve completed solo thru-hikes, motorcycle journeys and mountaineering trips around the world, and in my experience, blisters are the most common issue hikers (and often outdoor adventurers in general) come up against. This is true whether you’re on a three-week trek through the Karakorum or a one-day jaunt at a state park near your house. I’ve seen far more hikers have their trip derailed by blisters than any other injury, and I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of them, too. While blisters might seem minor at first, they’re quite painful, particularly if you develop several at once. More importantly, if you’re on a multi-day trip, you have no choice but to continue hiking. And without proper care, a blister will quickly become infected, blossoming into a very serious injury (and one that’s hard to manage if you’re deep in the backcountry). In short, finding the best hiking socks to prevent blisters is a great way to ensure you can hike in comfort over long distances.
What to look for in the best hiking socks
There are three main things your socks need to do for you. For starters, they need to be comfortable and minimize friction. Blisters are caused by excess friction in specific areas on your feet, also known as “hot spots.” A good pair of socks will prevent hot spots by providing a thick, comfortable layer of padding between your foot and the boot, minimizing friction, and will disperse the natural friction you experience while walking throughout your foot, preventing you from having extreme rubbing in one specific spot. Note: Wearing properly fitted, broken-in boots is extremely important for blister prevention as well.
If hiking in cold conditions, socks also need to be warm to prevent frostnip or frostbite. Finally, they also need to be breathable to prevent excess moisture buildup from sweat. This is relevant both in cold weather and warm weather, since your feet will heat up quite quickly while hiking — even when it’s cold outside. There are a few other things to consider when shopping for the best hiking socks, such as how high the socks reach up your calves. Choosing the right length is not only dependent on personal preference, but also the type of footwear you have on and the conditions you’ll encounter.
Below, I’ve given eight awards to the best hiking socks available for men and women. Keep reading to shop top pairs I’ve tested.
Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion Hiking Socks
Best Merino Wool Hiking Socks
Darn Tough Vermont is a respected leader in the sock business, offering a dedicated lineup of merino wool socks knit on small needle, fine gauge knitting machines and crafted entirely in the U.S. The Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion sock is one of the label’s best pairs, complete with warm, comfortable fabric and fast-acting moisture-wicking properties.
These socks run up fairly high on the calf, so I’ve found that they’re best worn with an above-the-ankle pair of hiking boots, and they’re warm enough for everything from ski trips to moderate alpine expeditions to multi-day cold weather camping and backpacking trips. True to their name, they have more than enough padding to cushion you on rough terrain, and yet they still remain thin enough for high-output activities. The only potential drawback here, as mentioned above, is the relatively high cut, which may not be desirable for some.
Smartwool PhD Run Ultra Light Hiking Socks
Best Low-Cut Hiking Socks
Both these and Darn Tough’s Light Hiker Micro crew socks are great for warm weather, but if you’re looking for a minimalist summer sock, the Smartwool Phd Run Ultra Light is an excellent option. Perfect for high-energy activities like fast hiking and trail running, they feature highly breathable, body-mapped mesh zones and a low profile that works well with hiking shoes or trail runners.
Keep in mind these socks feature an ultralight cushion, however, so when it comes to carrying heavy packs, trekking rough terrain or hiking on long multi-day trips, you may want a pair with more padding. This is also a very thin sock, so it also won’t last forever and isn’t the best when it comes to blister prevention.
Injinji Liner Crew Hiking Socks
Best Hiking Liner Socks
Liner socks are a great way to add warmth to a thin hiking sock during winter trips, or to serve as a standalone sock to keep your feet cool during casual, warmer days on the trail. The Injinji liner crew five-toe sock is one of the best options for a sock liner. It minimizes skin-on-skin contact (and as a result, blisters) due to its individual toe slots. Plus, it allows for much more freedom of movement than in traditional socks, improving tactility and balance compared to normal sock liners — which can feel quite bulky, particularly if paired with a thick sock.
With built-in arch support and a mesh top for maximum ventilation, the Injinji liners will keep feet comfortable in any weather (for cooler summer days, they also pair well with your favorite hiking sandals).
REI Co-op Merino Wool Ultralight Crew Hiking Socks
Best Budget Hiking Socks
As far as budget outdoor products go, you can almost always look to REI Co-op to provide high-tier quality at low-tier prices — whether you’re buying tents, jackets, or, in this case, socks. The company’s merino wool Ultralight crew sock is no exception, with a price point under $16 and a thin, lightweight build that works well in a variety of temperatures and conditions. I’ve worn this sock on hundreds of miles worth of hiking, as well as occasionally on warm days snowboarding and a on handful of glacier climbs, and it’s never let me down.
Despite the socks’ thin build, the merino wool construction keeps you warm in moderate winter conditions while providing breathability in a wide range of temperatures. All told, these budget socks are a great choice for warm weather hikes (they’re some of the best summer hiking socks you can buy) or for fast-moving cold-weather trips. That said, the underfoot cushion is sparse at best, so for longer, multi-day outings, you may find yourself wishing you had a burlier sock.
Icebreaker Merino Mountaineer Hiking Socks
Best Cold-Weather Hiking Socks
Icebreaker’s mid-calf socks are made for expeditions to the high places of the planet. With a thick, full cushion and shaped instep, this mountaineering-ready style can take a veritable beating under a heavy pack and still keep your feet comfy.
Unlike Darn Tough’s Hiker socks and some of the other pairs on our list, these socks focus on warmth above all else, so you won’t want them in your arsenal for summer missions. That said, the 80% merino wool build does a solid job of providing breathability when moving fast, and the socks remain surprisingly lightweight. The $30 price point isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but if you’re looking for serious warmth, the Icebreaker Mountaineers get the job done with aplomb.
Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro Hiking Socks
Best Wet-Weather Hiking Socks
The all-synthetic Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is a stellar sock for wet conditions (think in the Pacific Northwest). The socks have extreme rapid-drying and moisture-wicking capabilities, plus a durable build that has kept them in my drawer several years after other pairs I bought around the same time have worn out. For these reasons, I’ve found the Wigwam Outdoor Pro bests any other sock on this list.
It’s not the warmest sock, but if rain is on the forecast or you’re tramping through wet, boggy turf, you can be sure you’ll stay dry (or more accurately, as dry as possible) with these on your feet. The sock is well-cushioned, but my friends and I have found that the build is a bit loose and prone to slippage. That said, because it’s not as form-fitting as some other socks, you can pair it with a hiking liner (like the Injinji Liner Crew, detailed later on this list) to add extra warmth for cold weather.
Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Hiking Socks
Best Lightweight Hiking Socks
Another sock from Darn Tough Vermont, the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro crew is one of the best hiking socks for individuals with sweaty feet or who hike in warm weather. And, it’s no surprise that it’s one of the best-selling hiking socks on the market.
Despite the thin, breathable build, the light cushion does its job well, so I’ve found these to hold up even on multi-day backpacking trips. Thanks to a higher nylon-to-merino-wool ratio, these socks wick away moisture better than most merino wool blends. The lower cut means this sock won’t work as well with high boots, but if you’re looking for the best hiking socks for sweaty feet, or just a superb pair of summer socks, the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro crew is a surefire buy.
Balega Hidden Comfort No-Show Socks Hiking Socks
Best No-Show Hiking Socks
These synthetic below-the-ankle hiking socks are the most low-cut socks on our list and another nice choice to pair with hiking shoes or a pair of trail running shoes (though the no-show build will naturally let in more moisture and dirt compared to higher-cut socks, so I wouldn’t recommend for hiking trips in rugged conditions). The minimalist design provides just enough cushion for high-impact activities without compromising breathability or adding bulk, and the Drynamix material used in these socks does an impressive job of wicking away moisture.
All told, if you prefer a low-cut style, Balega’s Hidden Comfort socks are some of the best summer hiking socks you can buy. With both these and the Smartwool socks featured above, be careful to ensure that your shoe collar rides below the sock to avoid rubbing and blisters. Balega also offers over a dozen different color schemes and styles, so there’s plenty of variety to choose from to make the look your own.