Most typical running and sports socks are made from polyester. So if you don’t have fancy hiking socks, it should be okay to hike with regular polyester socks, right? After all, they’re also meant to be used for outdoor activities.
Generally, polyester socks are okay to use for hiking. However, not all polyester socks are equally good. Down below, I’ll explain which polyester socks can be used for hiking and tell you what else to look out for when choosing socks for your next hiking trip.
For Hiking, Polyester Socks Are Better Than Cotton Socks
Most everyday socks are made from cotton. That’s because cotton is soft, breathable, and affordable. However, cotton is a really bad choice for hiking and generally any other sport or activity. That’s because cotton soaks up a lot of water, and once it’s wet, it loses all of its warmth, becomes heavy, and causes irritation (and over time blisters) when put next to the skin.
Polyester is a much better choice than cotton because it’s water-resistant and dries quicker. For context, wool can absorb 35% of its dry weight in water, cotton 24%, and polyester less than 1%. For sporting activities, this is much better because your feet naturally sweat, and polyester socks will become wet much slower. Polyester is also much more durable than cotton, so it’s less likely to develop holes.
Some downsides of polyester socks are that they aren’t too breathable, they start to develop bad odors somewhat quickly, and they don’t insulate too well, so they’re really only usable in warm weather.
Socks That Contain Merino Wool Are An Even Better Option
Most good hiking socks will contain a large percentage of merino wool. That’s because merino wool has all the properties that you want in a hiking sock. Most importantly, merino wool soaks up the vapor of your sweat and releases it over time through the outer layers, which allows your feet to stay dry. It’s also antibacterial, which allows you to keep nasty odors at bay and reduce blisters. And finally, merino wool is also very breathable and insulating, which allows you to stay cool in summer and warm in winter.
However, pure merino wool isn’t very durable and it doesn’t resist water very well. That’s why it’s usually mixed with polyester or nylon. The best hiking socks should contain 30-70% merino wool, 30-70% nylon or polyester, and 1-5% elastane.
It’s also worth noting that unfortunately, merino wool is an animal product. If you’re vegan, then polyester hiking socks are pretty much the next best non-animal alternative to merino wool socks. Some hiking socks may also contain bamboo, which has properties similar to merino wool, so it’s another vegan-friendly option.
The Material Is Not The Only Thing That Makes A Sock Good For Hiking
The sock material is probably the most important thing to look out for when choosing hiking socks. But there are other important things to look out for as well, like:
- The socks have to have a snug fit. Hiking socks shouldn’t feel loose on your feet. Otherwise, they’ll rub against your skin and you’ll develop blisters.
- They should have built-in compression panels. This will help keep the sock in place and reduce the swelling of your feet. The compression panels are usually located in the middle of the feet, around the arch, and above the ankle.
- Hiking socks should also have breathability elements. On top of the foot, good hiking socks will have panels made from a breathable mesh fabric to improve overall breathability and reduce sweating.
- They should have padding on the heel and toes. These are the areas where you’re most likely to get blisters, so having some cushioning there is very helpful.
- Your hiking socks should ideally have antimicrobial properties. Merino wool and socks containing silver yarns will smell fresh for much longer due to their antimicrobial properties. This is very beneficial for thru-hiking.
- Your socks should be longer than your hiking boots. To avoid bruising and your socks from slipping down, they should be at least 1-2 inches above your hiking shoes or boots.
- The sock shouldn’t be too thick. For summer, choose ultra-lightweight or lightweight hiking socks, and for winter – lightweight or midweight. Too thick hiking socks will result in excessive sweating, which increases the chances of blister formation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Coolmax the same as polyester?
Coolmax is made from polyester, but it’s slightly different. Its fibers aren’t made in a round shape, which increases its ability to resist water. It’s also marketed as more breathable than polyester. Coolmax is made by the same company that makes Lycra – DuPont. In its properties, it’s more moisture-wicking, breathable, and quicker-drying than polyester.
Are Coolmax socks good for hiking?
Coolmax socks are marginally better than polyester hiking socks. Because they’re marginally better at moisture-wicking and being more breathable, they will also keep your feet slightly drier, and the socks will be able to dry more quickly. However, the improvements are marginal, and merino wool socks are still much better.
Are nylon socks good for hiking?
Nylon is the second most used material in hiking socks after merino wool. It’s usually mixed together with merino wool to make the socks more durable and water resistant. Nylon is also a bit better than polyester because even though it absorbs a bit more water, it doesn’t absorb oils, which means that nylon socks stay smelling fresh for longer periods. Socks with a high nylon percentage are good for summer hiking and for hiking in wet conditions.
Are polypropylene socks good for hiking?
Polypropylene, other called Olefin, is another synthetic that’s often added to hiking socks. It’s similarly durable to polyester, but it’s better at moisture resistance and insulation. Its main downside is that it isn’t very breathable, which is why it’s more often used in winter hiking socks, where insulation is more important. Polypropylene socks are okay to hike with, but merino wool is better.
Are acrylic socks good for hiking?
Acrylic is often used in winter hiking socks because even though it’s synthetic, it has very good insulation properties. Compared to polyester, it’s slightly less durable, less breathable, and absorbs more water. Pure acrylic socks are better than cotton socks for hiking, but definitely not as good as merino wool socks.
Are expensive merino wool hiking socks worth it?
In my opinion, merino wool socks are worth it, even though they cost 20-40$ per pair. That’s because if you purchase good merino wool socks, you won’t be dealing with blisters anymore. Plus, they’ll also last a very long time, so their high costs aren’t too extreme over the long run.
I wouldn’t recommend a beginner hiker to invest 500$ in an ultralight tent, but I would definitely recommend investing 40-70$ for two pairs of good merino wool socks, which would significantly improve their hiking experience.