For hiking boots, ideally, you need slightly different socks compared to trail runners and hiking shoes. Of course, you can pretty much use any good hiking socks, but some hiking socks that work great with hiking shoes won’t be ideal for hiking boots.
In this article, I’ll explain how to choose good hiking socks for hiking with hiking boots – including what fabric to choose, how long and thick they should be, and many other important details. I’ve been hiking with a lot of different hiking socks, so I’ll also share my own experience.
Determine If You’ll Need 1 Or 2 Layers Of Hiking Socks
A lot of experienced hikers hike with two pairs of hiking socks inside their hiking boots. The first layer is called a liner sock, which is a thin, breathable, and snugly fitting synthetic sock. The outer layer doesn’t have a specific name, and it’s usually a thicker merino wool hiking sock with more padding.
Hiking with two layers of hiking socks has many benefits. Most importantly, it reduces the chances of forming blisters because any movement happens within the two socks, rather than between your skin and the sock. It also allows you to switch between liner socks as soon as your feet start to become sweaty, instead of switching between bulkier socks. And lastly, this system also keeps your feet warmer and provides better comfort.
Personally, I use the two-layer system only when hiking in winter. In summer, having a single pair of regular hiking socks is more than enough. If you’re a beginner, I recommend hiking with a single pair of good hiking socks first. If it doesn’t work out, you can always purchase a sock liner to wear underneath.
What Materials Should Your Hiking Socks Be Made Of (Wool Vs Cotton Vs Synthetics)
Essentially all you need to remember is this equation – wool > synthetics > cotton.
I would recommend staying away from cotton entirely. It’s good for everyday activities, but hiking involves much more sweat, and as soon as cotton gets wet, it loses all insulation properties, starts to weigh a lot, and it causes a lot of friction which will increase blister formation.
Synthetics (polyester, nylon, and acryl) are a much better choice because they’re the most resistant to water, and they’re also the most durable fabric used in hiking socks. But pure synthetic socks will most likely still result in some blisters because they aren’t very breathable, thermoregulating, or odor resistant.
Wool is the best material for hiking socks because it’s super breathable, odor resistant, and fairly good at resisting water. It’s also thermoregulating, which means that it absorbs the vapor of your sweat and slowly releases it through the outer layers of the fabric. This characteristic allows your feet to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. Merino wool is better than regular wool because it isn’t itchy, so look for hiking socks that contain merino wool. But merino wool also has its downsides – it’s not very durable and it dries slower than synthetics.
Another material that’s added to hiking socks in small quantities is elastane, spandex, or Lycra. They’re all very similar, and their main purpose is to make the sock more stretchy and provide a better fit.
For hiking boots specifically, you want your feet to be able to stay dry because hiking boots are often thicker, longer, and less breathable. So ideally, you want a sock with a high merino wool content, but also some synthetics, which will help with the durability and drying times. I would say that for hiking boot socks, the best choice of material is 50-70% merino wool, 30-50% nylon or polyester, and 1-5% elastane, spandex, or Lycra.
How Long Should Socks Be For Hiking Boots (No-show Vs Quarter Vs Crew Vs Knee-high)
As a general rule of thumb, your hiking socks should be at least 1-2 inches above your hiking boots to avoid them from slipping down and reduce the abrasion from your boots.
Hiking socks are split into 4 different size categories:
- No Show. These will be too short to be used with hiking boots, as they end below the ankle.
- Quarter (other called ankle or 1/4). You may opt to use these socks with shorter hiking boots, but I personally wouldn’t recommend that because quarter socks won’t have good padding around the ankle. This may cause some abrasion just at the top of your boot, even though the sock is slightly higher than it. I would only use them with very short hiking boots.
- Crew. This is the best sock length for hiking boots, both in summer and winter.
- Knee-high. I would use knee-high socks only in the winter with very high hiking boots to provide more warmth to my legs. In all 3 other seasons, they’ll usually be too warm, unless they’re extra thin.
Thin Vs Thick Socks For Hiking Boots (Lightweight Vs Midweight Vs Heavyweight)
Hiking socks are split into 4 main categories – ultra-lightweight, lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. This describes the thickness of each yarn used in the fabric and the general thickness/warmth of the sock. Heavyweight socks will generally be much thicker than other types, and also have much more padding on the heel, toebox, ball, and top sections of the foot. Ultra-lightweight socks won’t have any padding and they’ll be very thin – so thin that they can also be used as sock liners.
When hiking with hiking boots, I would opt to use ultra-lightweight or lightweight socks in the summer, lightweight or midweight socks in spring and autumn, and midweight socks in the winter. I would use heavyweight socks only for extra-freezing temperatures below -18 C / 0 F.
Other Factors To Look Out For When Choosing Socks For Hiking Boots
- Left vs right foot for each sock. Your toe is much larger than your pinky, and if the socks aren’t made for each foot specifically, there will be a bit of excess fabric near the pinky, which can cause blisters. Another option is to purchase toe socks, where the fabric wraps around each of your toes.
- Size. Your hiking socks should fit you very snugly without any free play, but they shouldn’t feel tight. Usually, going with 1 size below your normal size will work perfectly.
- Compression. If your feet swell, getting socks with a bit of compression will definitely help. In general, socks with compression will benefit everyone when hiking in the summer, as your feet will feel better at the end of the day. Just avoid compression socks for winter hiking, as they’ll restrict blood circulation and keep your feet cold.
- Silver yarns. A few manufacturers also add silver yarns to their hiking socks because silver actively kills bacteria. Merino wool is also antibacterial, but it doesn’t actively kill bacteria, it only traps the bacteria inside the fibers. This will help with keeping the sock smelling fresh for longer and also reduce the chances of blister formation.
- Men vs women vs unisex socks. Aside from the looks and available sizes, hiking socks usually don’t offer any differences between men vs and women’s socks. So it doesn’t matter which one you choose.
- Cheap vs expensive socks. I definitely recommend going with more expensive hiking socks in the 20-40$ range per pair. I’ve had experience with cheap Amazon merino wool socks, and they are nowhere near as good as socks made by reputable manufacturers, like Darn Tough, Silverlight, Smartwool, Farm to Feet, Danish Endurance, Injinji, etc. Cheap socks are usually made from worse-quality merino wool, so they don’t perform as well – they result in more blisters, worse breathability and thermoregulation, and so on. Expensive socks will last you a very long time anyway, and in the long run, it really isn’t that expensive, so in my opinion, it’s worth it to not cheap out on a pair of good hiking socks.
- Warranty. Some manufacturers also offer lifetime warranties, including Darn Tough and Silverlight. That said, you’ll still have to pay for the shipping, and they might refuse to swap extra-worn-down socks, so it only makes sense to use this warranty when sending 2 or more pairs.
Frequently Asked Questions
What socks should I wear with hiking boots in the summer?
In the summer, you should wear thin (ultra-lightweight or lightweight) hiking socks with your hiking boots, which will give your feet enough breathability to stay dry and avoid blisters. To further improve the breathability, choose a sock that’s made from 30-60% merino wool and 40-70% synthetics (nylon, polyester, elastane, spandex, or Lycra). Also, avoid getting socks that are much longer than your hiking boots: 2-5 inches above the boot (high quarter or low crew length) is high enough.
What socks should I wear with hiking boots in the winter?
In the winter, you should use two layers of hiking socks (thin sock liner + midweight hiking socks) or a single pair of thick heavyweight socks. They should mostly be made from merino wool (50-80%) in combination with a bit of synthetics (nylon, polyester, acrylic, elastane, spandex, or Lycra) to achieve a good amount of insulation, thermoregulation, and breathability. In very cold temperatures, I would even use knee-high hiking socks, but generally, crew length is fine. Another important thing for winter specifically is to avoid socks with compression, as it will restrict your blood flow and make your feet cold.
Read Next: Can You Use Ski Socks For Hiking?
What socks are the best at blister prevention?
For preventing blisters, the hiking sock needs to be thermoregulating, breathable, and fit your feet very well. This is usually achieved with an optimal balance of merino wool (30-70%) and nylon, polyester, or acrylics (30-70%). It should also have some compression features to keep it from moving around, and also some padding around the heel and the toebox, where blisters are most likely to form. Another thing that may help is antimicrobial features (merino wool or silver yarn) because blisters form more quickly in the presence of bacteria.
Do I really need specific socks for hiking?
Of course, hiking short distances with regular everyday or cheap sporting socks is totally fine. But if you’ll be hiking for multiple days or doing long day hikes, you need to buy somewhat expensive hiking socks (20-40$ per pair). Otherwise, you’ll surely get blisters or you might be dealing with wet feet from over-sweating, which can cause other problems. Good hiking socks will help you have a much more pleasant experience.
Can I hike without socks in my hiking boots?
Hiking without hiking socks in hiking boots will make your feet very sweaty, which will not only make your boots wet and develop bad odors but also result in blisters. Wearing regular everyday socks is much better than wearing no socks, but I wouldn’t even recommend that for longer hikes. Instead, you should invest in a pair of good hiking socks.
How many pairs of hiking socks will I need for a backpacking trip?
For most backpacking trips bringing two or three pairs of hiking socks is more than enough. With two pairs, you’ll be hiking with a single pair during the day, and switching to the dry pair overnight. To get fewer blisters though, you should have 2 pairs to switch between during the day, and another pair of fresh, dry socks for sleeping.