A lot of liner socks, running socks, and hiking socks are made from polypropylene (other called polypro). Very often, they’re also mixed with synthetics and wool. The largest manufacturers that use polypropylene are Bridgedale, Fox River, Danish Endurance, and Zensah.
But are polypropylene socks any good for hiking? And how are they different from other synthetics? In this article, I’ll explain why polypropylene is used in hiking socks, compare it to other fabrics commonly used in hiking socks, and tell you what situations polypropylene socks are good for.
Why Polypropylene Is Used In Hiking Socks
Polypropylene is a cheap and widely available synthetic fabric, and it has some useful properties that make it good for physical outdoor activities. Most importantly, polypropylene is a good insulator and doesn’t absorb almost any water. That’s why it’s often used in applications where these two features are necessary, including baselayers, running/hiking socks for wet conditions, and skiing/winter hiking liner socks.
Pros Of Polypropylene In Hiking Socks
- Good insulation properties. Polypropylene is most commonly used in thermal underwear and baselayers due to its ability to keep you warm in winter. It’s not as good as merino wool, but it’s much cheaper, making it a good alternative. This is especially useful for winter liner socks, where an additional layer of warmth is important.
- Doesn’t absorb almost any water. Polypropylene is one of the least water-absorbant fabrics on the market, even better than nylon and polyester. This makes it an ideal choice for wet-weather hiking socks.
- Dries very quickly. Because polypro doesn’t absorb water, it also dries much more quickly.
- Good compression features. Similar to nylon, polypro also isn’t very stretchy, which makes it a good choice for compression socks.
- Very durable. Polypropylene is often added to wool to make the fabric more durable, as it’s abrasion and tear-resistant.
Cons Of Polypropylene In Hiking Socks
- Not as soft as other synthetics. Polypropylene has a bit rougher feel to it than nylon or polyester. But in general, it still feels pretty soft on the skin.
- Polypro isn’t breathable. The main disadvantage of polypropylene is that it isn’t breathable, being even less breathable than polyester and nylon. That’s why socks with a high polypro content are usually offered only in very thin sizes, otherwise, excessive sweating is guaranteed.
- Harder to take care of. Polypropylene can’t be washed on a hot setting and it can’t go into the drier, otherwise, the fabric will get ruined due to a much lower resistance to heat than polyester or nylon. Also, polypropylene socks are easy to burn holes into when dried next to the fire.
When To Use Polypropylene Hiking Socks
The best application for polypropylene in hiking socks is using them as sock liners. Very thin ones will offer excellent insulation and water resistance properties in combination with good enough breathability. This makes it ideal for cold weather hiking, where you can wear a polypropylene sock liner (like the Fox River polypro liner socks) underneath a merino wool sock to keep your feet warmer and reduce blister formation.
Another good application for polypropylene in hiking socks is to blend it with other materials (between 15-40% polypro), like merino wool, Coolmax, polyester, and nylon. This improves the sock’s ability to retain warmth, its durability, and its drying time while sacrificing only a bit of breathability. A good example of this is the Bridgedale Midweight Endurance socks, which are made from 17% polypropylene, 44% wool, 38% nylon, and 1% elastane.
When To Use Merino Wool Hiking Socks
In general, polypropylene is most commonly used only in cheaper hiking socks. Although it does have good insulation properties, durability, and moisture resistance, a merino wool and nylon blend will offer much better properties for a hiking sock.
Merino wool gives the sock better insulation, thermoregulation, breathability, and odor resistance, and nylon its durability, fit, and water resistance. The best hiking socks are made from 30-70% merino wool, 30-70% nylon, and 1-5% elastane or spandex.
Even for liner socks, 100% polypropylene isn’t really the best choice. A slightly better option would be to get a blend that contains a bit of merino wool (20-40%) in combination with polypropylene, Coolmax, acrylic, or nylon. The downside is that this blend will be more expensive, and might cost 2-3x as much as pure polypropylene sock liners.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are polypropylene liner socks good for hiking?
Thin polypropylene socks make up for really good hiking sock liners. They’re insulating, durable, and they resist water very well. The only downside to polypro is that it isn’t breathable and it isn’t very stretchy. So if you get a polypropylene sock liner that’s too big for your feet, it will have some movement and result in blisters. And if you’d use it in extremely active conditions, your feet would probably sweat too much from the lack of breathability and also get blisters.
That’s why polypropylene is usually mixed together with a bit of merino wool or Coolmax in sock liners, to give the sock more breathability. This mix will be a slightly better choice than 100% polypropylene sock liners (or anything over 80% polypropylene).
Are polypropylene socks good for summer hiking?
Pure polypropylene socks aren’t good choices for summer hiking due to their lack of breathability. They will make your feet sweat and eventually cause blisters. They’re better than cotton hiking socks, but still not ideal.
For a summer hiking sock, polypropylene should be mixed ideally with merino wool, but another vegan alternative is Coolmax or Bamboo rayon, which will give the sock more breathability.
Are polypropylene socks breathable?
Polypropylene socks are some of the least breathable hiking socks out there. That’s why they’re usually only used when the fabric is very thin, to provide an acceptable level of breathability.
On the other hand, because polypropylene isn’t breathable, it’s a very good insulator. In combination with their ability to resist water, polypropylene socks are good options for extremely wet conditions, such as canyon hiking.
Which hiking socks are better – polypropylene or wool?
Wool hiking socks are much better than polypropylene ones. That’s because wool is much more breathable, a better insulator, it’s thermoregulating, and also antibacterial.
However, it doesn’t mean that all socks that contain polypropylene are bad. In fact, polypropylene can be added to wool in small quantities (10-40%) to improve its durability, drying time, and compression. So if a sock contains a bit of polypro, it’s only a good thing.