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6 Different Types of Hiking Socks

Standing outside in hiking socks and boots

Your feet matter. They’re responsible for every step you take, they support your entire body weight every single time you stand up. You rely on them and yet, you probably rare.ly think of them. Feet are so important that not taking care of them can actually lead to death. Trench foot, a condition caused by feet being cold and wet for too long, killed thousands of soldiers during World War I. Around 75,000 British soldiers alone died of trench foot. So…yeah. Feet are pretty important. Taking care of them is kind of a big deal. And that’s why you might want to learn a whole lot more about the types of hiking socks that you should be wearing.

Socks and Foot Health

Keeping your feet dry is an essential part of keeping them healthy. Wet feet can become blistered and pieces of your skin can even come off your feet. Your feet might feel numb, itchy, tingling or painful. Dry feet are integral to your overall health, something that soldiers learned the hard way. Now, socks are standard-issue for soldiers in most world militaries. Everyone knows the value of healthy feet.

So where do hiking socks fit in when it comes to your feet and foot health?

Hiking Socks in the Beginning

Hiking in a hilly landscape

Where do socks come from, anyway? Like so many things, socks have their origins in ancient Greece. Those ancient socks were hardly recognizable as socks by today’s standards, of course. The first socks are believed to date to around the 8thcentury B.C.E. and they weren’t made of soft fabric like your socks today. They were made with animal hair. Ancient Romans upgraded their socks a bit. They used animal hide, leather, and tied it around their feet.

Later, Romans would start to stitch fabric together to create a sock-like item known as udones. This was a clear ancestor of the modern socks people now wear. But what about specialized socks like hiking socks? Aren’t all socks the same? After all, how can a sock actually perform a specific function in addition to all the other stuff that socks do?

What Hiking Socks Do

Putting on bright red socks

Do you even need hiking socks? Isn’t this just one of those things dreamed up by clothing companies so you end up buying stuff you don’t really need? Actually, no. Hiking socks are designed with unique features that protect your feet and help your feet perform better when you’re walking and spending time out in nature.

Hiking socks are made to cushion your feet while you step, absorbing impact from each foot strike. They’re also made to prevent moisture on your feet. That means they wick sweat away so your skin stays dryer, which as you know is essential. They prevent friction that can occur when you’re doing a lot of walking. Friction can create blisters and chafe on the skin, which can be pretty painful.

Because they’re made to wick moisture, hiking socks are often compromised in whole or in part with wool. This is a natural material that absorbs moisture but also dries quickly, so your skin stays drier while you wear it. Wool is also naturally insulating, another huge feature that make them perfect for hiking socks.

Types of Hiking Socks

So what should you be looking for in hiking socks? When you’re thinking about the type of hiking socks you want to wear, consider several different factors that will determine everything about how your socks perform, how they fit and how they feel when you’re wearing them.

Height

Women's Hiking Walking Socks, FEIDEER Multi-pack Outdoor Recreation Socks Wicking Cushion Crew Socks(5WS18105-M)

The height of the hiking socks matters. You need your socks to be tall enough to protect your feet from your boots. Your socks should be at least almost exactly as tall as the hiking boots or shoes you’re wearing. Socks are meant to protect your feet from rubbing, chafing and irritation that can be caused by the interior of boots. They also protect your boots and socks from foot sweat, dead skin cells and all those other drawbacks associated with human feet.

Socks are made in all heights, from no-show designs that don’t even cover the ankle to knee-high options that go all the way up the lower half of the leg. Ankle-high socks are made to just cover the ankle. Crew socks are a standard height and one that you’ll find often made in hiking sock styles. Crew socks are meant to rise as high as the mid-calf. You can wear them cuffed or pulled up.

Cushioning

Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion Sock - Men's Lime Large

 

Hiking socks are meant to be worn when you’re hiking, which just means you’re walking using your feet. So it makes sense to seek out hiking socks that have cushioning to soften your steps and protect your feet from impact.

If you’re hiking in hot weather, however, you may want as little cushioning as possible or no cushioning at all. These low cushioning socks are more breathable, more lightweight so that your feet don’t get too hot in warmer summer temperatures.

Socks made with medium and heavy cushioning are good for colder temperatures and work for longer hikes where your feet will need more impact resistance. Well-cushioned hiking socks actually make it possible for you to hike even longer.

Fit

Time May Tell Mens Merino Wool Hiking Cushion Socks Pack (Brown(2 pairs), US Size 9~13)

The fit of hiking socks, of any pair of socks, is absolutely essential. You want to have a great fit that is comfortable on your feet. This will prevent blisters, chafing and other issues that can hurt your feet and create pain.

When it comes to finding the right sock fit, things are more difficult than they should be. You shouldn’t necessarily go by your shoe size when it comes to determining your sock size. It’s important to match your sock size to your actual foot size. Measure your foot from the end of the toe to the back of the heel and then across the bottom of the foot at its widest point. This will give you an accurate height and width measurement. Use this to find your correct sock size and you will be sure to get the right sock size every time.

Fabric

Compression Socks Women & Men 20-30mmhg Knee High Socks- Best for Running, Nursing, Hiking, Recovery&Flight(Multicoloured 1aa,Large-X-Large)

The fabric composition of socks does matter. If you’re wearing wool, you will have socks that are insulating and warm on your feet. The material decides how the sock will feel, how warm or cool it will be on your feet, even how well it wicks moisture away from your feet.

Many different materials are used to make socks, from nylon and silk to wool. However, there are some fabrics that are much more common than others. Wool, polyester, nylon, bamboo, acrylic, cashmere, silk and spandex are found often in socks, with many of these materials appearing together in various fabric blends.

Most hiking socks don’t contain cotton. This is a nice, lightweight fabric but it doesn’t dry quickly. Wet socks can be extremely bad for your feet. This is why most hiking socks are made with quick-drying materials, such as wool. Many socks also contain at least a little spandex to add stretch and flex, which helps socks fit better.

Season

FREE SOLDIER Men's Tactical Boots 6 Inches Summer Lightweight Breathable Desert Boots with Thin Durable Fabric(Tan, 11 US)

 

Some hiking socks may be sold by season. For example, summer hiking socks will be made to be moisture-wicking and cool on feet. Winter hiking socks will be thicker and more insulating. It’s common to find hiking socks that are classified for a specific season or a specific outdoor temperature range, such as cool or hot hiking socks. This stuff does matter! Don’t wear cold weather hiking socks in summer or feet will get too hot and sweaty. Your feet may feel too cold if you wear thin summer hiking socks in colder temperatures.

Features

Women's Athletic Ankle Socks Quarter Cushioned Running Socks Hiking Performance Sport Cotton Socks 6 Pack (Multicolor)

Some hiking socks are made with extra features that are made to make hiking even easier and keep your feet even more comfortable. Some designs may have flat-knit seams that fit flat against feet, for example. Designs made with extra arch support are also common.

What Type of Hiking Socks Do You Need?

So, what type of hiking socks should you wear? Choose your hiking socks depending on the hiking footwear you’re wearing on top of them. Make sure the socks are tall enough to match the footwear. You should also pick socks based on the weather conditions you’ll be hiking in. Look for the features that are going to match the tasks required of your feet for the hike and you won’t go wrong. Proper hiking socks allow you to hike more comfortably in any outdoor conditions and keep your feet healthy while you’re doing it.

FAQs

Hiking in a green terrain

There’s a lot more to hiking socks than what meets the eyes. There are a lot of things to consider and a lot of decisions to make. It can all get pretty overwhelming and you may still have questions about choosing the right pair of hiking socks and finding the ones that are going to work best for your feet. We’ve got the answers to the most commonly asked questions about hiking socks to make it easier.

Do you need hiking socks? Do hiking socks make a difference?

So…do you really, really need hiking socks? If you’re going to do a significant amount of walking, yes! Hiking socks are engineered to keep your feet dry and healthy even on strenuous hikes and they’re made in different designs with different materials in order to suit specific weather conditions. Choose the right hiking socks and your feet will stay healthy even when you’re hiking in rough outdoor conditions. Hiking socks keep your feet more cushioned and much better protected from whatever the world might throw at them.

Are hiking socks compression socks?

What’s the difference between hiking socks and compression socks? Are they the same thing? There are a lot of socks out there and it can get super confusing knowing which socks do what. Hiking socks are not compression socks. Compression socks are specifically designed to put pressure on the feet for specific reasons, usually relating to various medical concerns. Because compression socks tightly hug the feet, you probably wouldn’t ever want to go hiking in compression socks. Stick to hiking socks if you’re walking and if you need compression socks for a different activity or just to hang around, put those on instead.

Can you wear hiking socks for skiing?

Can you wear hiking socks for skiing? In some cases, yes. Some hiking socks are made to be heavily insulated to protect your feet from the cold, which means they can be suitable as skiing socks as well. However, skiing socks are designed with extra insulation and warmth to keep your feet warm even in very cold conditions. Make sure the hiking socks are designed for the coldest conditions so they can substitute for skiing socks.

Can you wash wool hiking socks in the washing machine?

Wool of any kind, in any garment, is infamously tricky to machine wash. You may have been told that they must be dry cleaned or hand washed. Beor you wash any wool item, you should check the care label first. This label will tell you exactly how to wash and dry the item. If this tag is not present for whatever reason, that’s when things get a little confusing.

Wool can be machine washed but it much be done so with care. Wash wool only in cold water with mild soap. Do not use an excessively heavy wash cycle. The most gentle cycle possible is best. Wet wool, when pulled and stretched, can lose its shape.

Will hiking socks shrink in the dryer?

Will your hiking sock shrink in the dryer? Well, yes. Sometimes they will. It all depends on how you dry them. For the most part, it is probably better to allow wool socks to lay flat to dry. Place them on a towel and allow them to air dry. But if you can’t wait for that, put them in the dryer on a low heat setting. Heat can make wool shrink, which you definitely don’t like.

Hiking in a mountain vista

Should you wear two pairs of hiking socks?

Some people actually wear two pairs of socks, rather than one, while hiking. This is thought to provide extra cushioning and protection from the ground and the hiking boot or hiking shoes you’re also wearing. It offers another layer of protection from cold weather and wet, as well.

This all works in theory but it’s a little more difficult in practice. The sock worn closest to your skin should be thin and highly moisture-wicking. You don’t want your feet to sweat because they’re too warm inside your double layer of socks, after all. Something made with wool or synthetic fabrics will wick sweat and dry quickly to help keep your skin dryer.

How should hiking socks fit?

Finding socks that fit perfectly is, frankly, more of a challenge than it ought to be sometimes. Sock sizes don’t always perfectly match your shoe size, which can make things even more trying. Your socks should fit your feet to absolute perfect if you want to stay comfortable and use your feet freely.

The socks should fit snugly everywhere, but not so snugly that you feel pulling or pinching or any type of discomfort. The socks must not be loose, either. You don’t want your feet sliding around in the socks. Check the fit specifically at the heel, the toes and through the arches of your feet. The socks should sit flush against your heel, not fitting tightly. There shouldn’t e any excess fabric here. The toes are the same. The seam of the toes should fit against your own toes but not so much that it restricts the movement of the toes or doesn’t give them plenty of room to fully stretch out. Likewise, there can’t be too much room. If you can’t feel the end of the socks with your toes, they’re too big.

In the arches, the socks should follow the curves of your feet and allow your feet to fully extend and flex without any pulling or tightness.

Can you wear hiking socks in summer?

Hiking socks are often made with cushioning and insulation to protect feet from wet and cool conditions during outdoor hikes. But what if the weather is warm or hot instead? Can you wear hiking socks in the summer? Yes! Many styles of hiking socks are made for warmer and even hot weather. Look for hiking socks that are specifically designed for summer or hot weather wear. These hiking socks will be thin and lightweight ad usually, they are made to be breathable so your feet don’t get sweaty while you’re wearing them.

Sources:

CamoTrek – What Kind of Socks to Wear for Hiking: 10 Hiking Socks FAQs

Healthline – What Is Trench Foot?

Hiking Dude – Hiking Socks

Nike – How to Choose the Right Pair of Hiking Socks for You

REI – How to Choose Hiking Socks

Soxy – When Were Socks Invented? A History of Socks