Lately, toe socks have been gaining some popularity in the hiking community because they prevent blisters. But are they really that good at preventing blisters, or are they over-hyped?
I’ve hiked with toe socks myself, and even though I do think they are marginally better than regular socks, in my opinion, they’re a bit overhyped.
Why Toe Socks Prevent Blisters
Toe socks are better at preventing blisters between your toes. Although I haven’t found any studies on this, I would pretty confidently state this as a fact just from my own experience.
In regular socks, your toes are cramped up and slightly rub against each other. With toe socks, this doesn’t happen because all of your toes are snugly wrapped in fabric. So any friction happens between the fabric, not your skin.
I personally haven’t gotten any blisters with toe socks. But then again, I also don’t get any blisters when hiking with good, regular hiking socks. When hiking with regular socks though, I sometimes feel a bit of soreness between my pinky and the second toe, especially after a few days of hiking every day. Eventually, my skin thickens between them and it’s gone, but for people with softer skin, I can easily see this turning into a blister. With toe socks, this won’t happen.
But toe socks are not perfect either. First of all, wearing them feels weird and it takes a while to get used to feeling the fabric between your toes. Second, they’re harder to put on, especially when you take them off to dry a bit during a pause and then try to put them back on slightly damp feet. You also need shoes with a somewhat wide toebox, otherwise, your toes will get too cramped up. And lastly, it’s really good to find good, long-lasting merino wool toe socks because they usually develop holes in the toes quicker than regular socks.
I’m not saying that toe socks are bad – they do indeed help with reducing blisters between toes. But at the same time, I think that toe socks aren’t for everyone, and they definitely aren’t the “holy grail” of hiking socks. There are other factors far more important in blister prevention, and blisters don’t form only between the toes.
What Other Factors Are Important In Hiking Socks For Preventing Blisters
- They need to fit your feet very well. To avoid getting blisters, your socks need to fit your feet very snugly and not move around. Otherwise, they will rub against your skin and cause blisters. In the summer, you can even wear compression socks, as they will help with the swelling of your feet. Having too much compression isn’t advisable in winter though, because it may make your feet feel cold due to restricted blood flow.
- Your socks need to (partially) be made from merino wool. Merino wool has many important characteristics that make it the best choice for hiking socks, so ideally they should contain 30-70% merino wool. Most importantly, merino wool is thermoregulating and breathable, which essentially means that your feet will stay cool in the summer, warm in the winter, and stay dry when hiking for long periods. This is very important for avoiding blisters. Merino wool is also antibacterial, which also helps with reducing blisters because blisters form more quicker in the presence of bacteria.
- An added bonus is if it contains Silver. Some socks also contain silver yarns (like the Silverlight hiking socks) because silver kills bacteria. Merino wool only provides a poor environment for bacteria, which slows down their growth, but silver will actively kill them.
- It needs to have some cushioning in blister-prone areas. At a minimum, your socks should have padding on the toe area and the heel, where blisters are most likely to form.
- The thickness of the sock is also important. Counter-intuitively you might think that thicker socks are better for preventing blisters. But it’s more important to choose the right thickness socks for each season because having overly-sweaty feet is the #1 cause of blisters. So in summer, you should choose thin hiking socks (ultra-lightweight or lightweight) and thick ones for winter (midweight or heavyweight).
- It has to be longer than your hiking shoes or boots. Another area where blisters are very likely to form is on top of the shoe, under or above your heel, depending on if you’re wearing hiking shoes or boots. Your socks should ideally be 1-2 inches above your footwear, but preferably, they should be even longer. That’s because socks usually have stitched seams on the top, and you don’t want that stitching to be between your feet and the boot because it will cause excessive rubbing.
Sock Liners Also Work Perfectly For Preventing Blisters
One trick that works even better at preventing blisters, is wearing two layers of socks. You do this by wearing a thin layer of liner socks underneath your regular hiking socks. This allows for any friction to intentionally happen between the two sock layers, instead of between your skin and the sock, which drastically reduces blister formation.
The liner sock should not contain any cushioning (ultra-lightweight), it should be mainly made from synthetics, and it should be longer than the outer sock layer. It should also fit your feet very snugly, without any play.
There are also some toe sock liners, for example, the Injinji liner crew toe socks. I think that for liner socks specifically, toe socks are an excellent choice due to improved blister resistance.
Frequently Asked Questions About Hiking Toe Socks
Are toe socks better for blister prevention than regular hiking socks?
Toe socks are indeed better at preventing blisters between the toes. However, blisters also form on other areas of your feet, and other features of the sock are even more important for blister prevention. For example, your sock has to fit your feet very snugly, it should be made from merino wool and synthetics, it should have padding on the heel and toes, and it should be antimicrobial. Your socks also should be the correct length and not be too thick for the season.
Are toe socks good for thru-hiking?
Good-quality toe socks are perfect for thru-hiking, but they aren’t for everyone. It’s hard to put them on slightly damp feet (for example, after swimming or a short break where you’re drying off the socks), they feel slightly weird, and you need pretty wide shoes for them. So I would say that it’s more a matter of preference. When thru-hiking, you’ll develop calluses between your toes anyway, so you also won’t get blisters with regular socks.
What are the best toe socks for hiking?
My personal favorite toe socks for hiking are the Injinji 2.0 Midweight Crew NuWool hiking socks. They’re one of the few Injinji socks that are made from merino wool, which gives all the good thru-hiking benefits that come with it, like thermoregulation, odor control, and breathability. They also have plenty of padding and compression, which allows for a snug and comfortable fit.
What are the best alternatives for Injinji hiking toe socks?
Unfortunately, there aren’t really any other good Injinji alternatives out there. The problem with Injinji socks is that they aren’t too durable, and you usually get holes in them fairly quickly. Some people have reported that the toe socks from Decathlon are fairly good and last a long time, but they don’t contain any merino wool, so you’d be better off with traditional socks from Darn Tough on longer thru-hikes. Smartwool used to make pretty good toe socks but doesn’t anymore.