On The Trail: What socks should I wear hiking?


When packing for a trip to the great outdoors, items like a tent, cooking supplies, and hiking gear are the main things people think about, while socks usually fall to the bottom of the list. It’s important to pack socks both for staying warm during cold nights and for protecting your feet during long hikes. When it comes to hiking socks, you want them to keep your feet cool and dry. The main properties to focus on are the socks’ height, cushioning, and fabric type. Based on the following guidelines, you can find the best socks to keep you cool and comfortable during your hiking trips.

Sock Height

Socks can be found in a variety of heights, including no-show, ankle-length, crew-length, and knee-high. The height of your socks often depends on the height of your shoes and serves to prevent shoes from rubbing against the skin. For hiking, crew-length socks are a popular choice because they prevent hiking boots from forming blisters on the ankles. If your hiking boots are lower cut, ankle-length socks are a better choice.

Sock Cushioning

When hiking in the summer, it is important to keep your socks lightweight to stay cool. A lighter sock will also lessen perspiration and keep your feet dry and comfortable. Specialized hiking socks may have extra cushioning at the heel and ball of the foot for comfort during long hikes.

Fabric Type

The best fabrics for hiking are wool and specialized synthetic fibers such as Coolmax fibers and Olefin fibers.

  1. Wool is one of the best materials for hiking socks because it prevents your feet from getting too warm and it also cushions your feet so they don’t get sore and blistered. Wool is naturally good at wicking away moisture and allowing it to evaporate, as well as keeping you warm in cold weather. A common type of wool used in socks is merino wool, which comes from merino sheep. This wool is antimicrobial which prevents bacteria from growing and it can absorb a good percentage of its weight in water before becoming wet.
  2. Coolmax fabric is an engineered synthetic fiber made of polyester and is often mixed with wool, cotton, and nylon. This fabric was invented specifically to wick away moisture from the feet. Coolmax fibers are hydrophobic and push water away from the feet to the outside material.
  3. Olefin fibers are similar to Coolmax fibers except they are made from polyethylene instead of polyester. These fibers work the same way as Coolmax fibers and wick away moisture while also drying quickly. Olefin fibers have antimicrobial properties as well and can limit bacterial growth.

When picking out hiking socks, one type to avoid is 100% cotton. Cotton is very absorbent and will keep your feet sweaty instead of wicking away the moisture. It doesn’t take long for cotton to become soaked with moisture, but cotton socks will take a long time to dry off, during which time bacteria can grow on them. Socks often contain a small percentage of cotton, but socks completely made of cotton are best left for more casual use.


Note: This is the first installment of a new series called On The Trail. These articles will explore the world of the trails including how to prepare for hiking, what you can see and discover in the natural world, and how to stay safe when hiking.