There is this myth floating around that merino wool is only good for winter hiking. I understand where it comes from though because wool apparel is usually only worn in winter.
However, merino wool is different from regular wool. Its properties actually make it an ideal choice for summer hiking socks. I’ve thru-hiked 500 miles with merino wool socks in Spain in the peak of summer, and I can confirm that they were a perfect choice.
Why Merino Wool Socks Are Perfect For Hiking In The Summer
Merino wool is different from regular wool because it’s harvested from a single sheep breed called Merino, which has much thinner fibers. This gives the fabric many advantages over regular wool.
1. As Opposed To Regular Wool, Merino Wool Isn’t Itchy
Because merino wool is made from thinner fibers, you won’t feel them when they brush against your skin. Instead of poking your skin, each fiber will bend instead, so merino wool doesn’t feel itchy, even when the fabric gets wet in the summer.
The thin fibers of merino sheep also allow manufacturers to weave merino wool fabrics in much thinner yarns. That’s why there are plenty of thin merino wool socks, which are perfect for the summer and other high-performance activities.
2. Merino Wool Socks Will Keep Your Feet Cool And Dry In Hot Weather
The most important feature of merino wool is that it’s thermoregulating. This essentially means that it will feel cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Wool fibers attract vapor but they resist water in liquid form. When put next to the skin, merino wool fabrics will absorb the sweat from your feet while it’s still in vapor form. Then, because wool doesn’t like water, it will release it into the atmosphere through the outer layers of the fabric. And wool can soak up a lot of vapor, up to 1/3 of its dry weight. Whenever you’re doing something active, wool fabrics will feel dry for longer and also speed up the sweating process of your body, thus decreasing the overall temperature of your skin.
This also works the other way, keeping you warm in winter. Because wool evaporates the sweat, it won’t really get wet and lose its insulation properties, as cotton or synthetics would. It allows your body to stay at a constant temperature whether the temperature outside is cool or warm.
3. Socks Made From Merino Wool Smell Fresh For Much Longer
Merino wool isn’t necessarily antibacterial, but it does limit the growth of bacteria because it very effectively evaporates the sweat from your body. Because it’s so effective, the fabric itself usually stays dry. And in dry conditions, bacteria grow at a much slower pace. From my own experience, in real-life hiking conditions, merino wool will stay smelling fresh for roughly 2x as long as synthetics (especially polyester) and cotton.
An added benefit is if the merino wool socks are also infused with silver yarns like they are in my Silverlight merino wool hiking socks (with 5% silver yarns). That’s because silver actively kills bacteria, which keeps the socks smelling fresh for even longer.
4. Merino Wool Socks Are The Best Option For Avoiding Blisters
In the summer, blister formation is usually accelerated due to over-sweating. Due to merino wool’s ability to stay dry, its softness, and its antibacterial properties, merino wool socks cause the least amount of blisters. Of course, there are other factors in play as well, like the fit of the sock and its padding. But generally, good-quality, well-fitting merino wool socks combined with good-fitting shoes won’t cause you any blisters.
What Else To Look Out For In Summer Hiking Socks
- Choose ultra-lightweight or lightweight hiking socks. Hiking socks are split into different categories based on the thickness of each yarn in the fabric and the padding of the sock – ultra-lightweight, lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. For summer hiking, you should only hike with ultra-lightweight or lightweight hiking socks, as they’ll be thinner and more breathable.
- An added benefit is if the socks have built-in mesh panels. Some summer hiking socks will also have panels made from more breathable fabric fitted on top of the sock, which will help your feet to stay dry.
- They shouldn’t be too long unless you’ll be hiking on overgrown trails. Although hiking with longer socks does have its benefits, like protection against sharp things and more compression, it will also make your feet a bit sweatier. So it’s advisable to choose socks that are just 1-2 inches above your hiking shoes or boots.
- A bit of compression will reduce the swelling of your feet. If your feet are swelling after a long day of active hiking, you may want to consider hiking with compression socks or semi-compression socks.
- There should be some padding on the heel and toebox. To reduce blister formation in key areas, most hiking socks will be made from a bit thicker fabric around the toes and the heel.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much merino wool should be in summer hiking socks?
Summer hiking socks should contain a bit lower percentage of merino wool than winter hiking socks. Ideally, summer hiking socks should be made of 30-60% merino wool, 40-70% nylon or polyester, and 1-5% elastane or spandex. That’s because merino wool is less durable than synthetics, it dries more slowly, and it also doesn’t provide a tight enough fit, which all can be fixed by adding a bit of synthetics. Plus too much merino wool may also make your feet too warm.
Are merino wool socks good for sweaty feet?
Merino wool socks are the best option for people with sweaty feet, especially in the summer. That’s because merino wool is very good at absorbing sweat while it’s still in the vapor form and slowly releasing it through the outer layers of the fabric. So if your feet are extra-sweaty, you should choose socks with a higher merino wool content, ideally between 50-80%.
What’s the difference between cheap vs expensive merino wool socks?
I used to hike with cheap merino wool socks, and I still got blisters with them. When I switched to expensive merino wool socks, I stopped having blisters entirely.
The main reason why expensive merino wool socks are better is because they’re built from better-quality merino wool, which has a thinner fiber length that improves its thermoregulation, odor resistance, and softness properties. Expensive merino wool socks will usually also be better designed – with a better fit, more padding in key areas, breathable mesh panels, two-layer construction, and so on. Generally, socks in the 20-40$ range made by Darn Tough, Farm to Feet, Smartwool, Danish Endurance, Silverlight, and other large hiking sock brands will be good choices.
Are merino wool socks good for running in summer?
Merino wool socks are perfect for trail running in the summer because they’re really good at keeping your feet dry from excessive sweating. Also, when running through a stream, if they do get wet, the fabric doesn’t become too abrasive. These features will drastically reduce blister formation.
Which are the best thin merino wool socks for summer hiking?
In my opinion, the best summer hiking socks are the Silverlight ankle merino wool hiking socks. I thru-hiked over 500 miles with them, and I didn’t get a single blister. They’re built from 53% merino wool, 40% nylon, 5% silver yarn, and 2% spandex. They also have great cushioning, compression, and breathability, which make them the perfect choice for summer hiking.
Another really popular choice among hikers are the Darn Tough 1/4 Quarter Lightweight hiking socks with cushioning. They’re a bit cheaper than Silverlight, and most people report that they also don’t get any blisters or sweaty feet when hiking with them.