There is this advice floating around that you should be changing your hiking socks often when hiking. But how often should you change them, and is it really that important?
In this article, I’ll explain why you should be changing your hiking socks, how often you should be doing that, and tell you some other tips to avoid blisters. For context, I’ve finished an 800 km / 500-mile thru-hike without getting a single blister.
Changing Your Socks Regularly Will Reduce The Chances Of Your Feet Forming Blisters
Hiking socks will start to perform worse and increase the chances of blister formation after each hour they’re being actively worn because of two things.
The first reason is that whenever you’re wearing socks in hiking boots, your feet naturally sweat from being active. This makes your shoes and socks damp and increases their friction, which in turn causes blisters. So if you’re hiking on a hot summer day, you should be changing to a new pair of socks at least twice per day. In colder weather, it’s fine to change them once per day – at the end of your hike, just before going to sleep.
The other reason is that over time, hiking socks attract bacteria and become stiffer from all the dried sweat. This also greatly speeds up the process of blister formation. That’s why you should be washing your socks with soap ideally once every two days when thru-hiking.
It’s Also Important To Wear Wool Socks And Good-fitting Shoes
Changing between a pair of cotton socks regularly won’t do you any good, and you’ll still get blisters. It’s important to get good merino wool / synthetic socks. Ideally, you should get socks that are made of 40-70% merino wool 30-60% polyester or nylon, and 1-3% elastane, spandex, or Lycra. These socks are like day and night compared to cotton hiking socks – when switching to my Silverlight merino wool socks, I stopped having blisters while hiking altogether. Merino wool socks are much better at keeping your feet dry, they themselves dry much quicker, they’re softer to your skin, more breathable, and more odor-resistant.
But having good socks isn’t enough – you also need good hiking footwear. Regardless of whether you go with hiking shoes, trail runners, or hiking boots, they need to fit your feet perfectly. It also doesn’t matter whether they’re cheap or expensive – they must have enough room around the toebox, they should not move around your heel, and they should have plenty of padding.
Other Tips That Will Help You Prevent Blisters While Hiking
Some other tips that you should follow are:
- Tape your feet as soon as you feel some irritation
- Consider wearing two pairs of hiking socks
- Before setting out on longer hikes, gradually increase your hiking distance
- Always gradually break in a new pair of hiking footwear
- Lace your footwear in a way that your toebox is loose and ankle tight
- When resting, take off your shoes and socks, and dry them in the sun
- Don’t hike long distances with wet feet
- Cut your toenails short
Frequently Asked Questions
How often should I change socks when hiking?
When hiking in the summer, ideally change your socks twice per day – once during the day, and once just before going to sleep.
For winter hiking, it’s enough to change your socks just once per day – before you get into your sleeping bag.
When hiking in rain, change your socks as soon as the rain stops. Also, take off your shoes and squeeze them as dry as you can before putting on the dry pair of socks. If it’s raining all day, it isn’t worth it to switch to a new pair of socks while hiking – only at the end of the day before going inside your tent.
How many days can I wear hiking socks?
Hiking socks should be washed somewhat often. That’s because over time, they soak up sweat, lose their elasticity, become stiffer, and start to rub against your feet and form blisters. This process is accelerated with bacterial buildup, which naturally happens over time.
To avoid this, wash your merino wool socks once every 2 days when thru-hiking. I’ve found this to produce the best results from my own experience. Buy some eco-friendly soap, and wash the pair that you aren’t wearing in a nearby river, lake, stream, or any other water source. To dry them, tie them to your backpack, or spread them out in a mesh pocket on the exterior of your pack.
What happens if I don’t change my hiking socks?
If you don’t change your hiking socks often, especially when hiking in the summer, you’re more likely to develop blisters. Keeping your feet dry (not even slightly moist) is one of the most important things that you can do to avoid having blisters. So ideally, change your socks 1-2 times per day, maybe even more often if your feet are sweating a lot.
How many pairs of hiking socks should I bring?
I finished my thru-hike only with two pairs of hiking socks. However, I was using somewhat expensive hiking socks, the Silverlight merino wool hiking socks. This allowed me to stay blister-free during my whole thru-hike. I was switching between them only once per day, just before going to sleep, and I washed them once every 2-3 days.
If you don’t want to invest so much into hiking socks, then you should be prepared to deal with blisters. To minimize the chances of having them, you should switch between them more often. Ideally, you should have two pairs of hiking socks, that you switch between during the day, and one pair of comfy sleeping socks.
Should I wear two pairs of hiking socks?
A lot of hikers swear by hiking with two pairs of hiking socks. I’ve tried it, but personally, I don’t get any blisters with a single pair of good hiking socks, so I don’t see any point in it.
However, each one of us has different feet, and what works for me, maybe won’t work for you. So if you’re still getting blisters after switching to a pair of good merino wool socks and your shoes fit you perfectly, you should try the two-sock system.
Essentially, the idea behind wearing two pairs of socks is that you wear a thinner, well-fitting, breathable, and water-resistant liner sock, and a thicker sock on the outside. This way any friction happens between the two socks, not on your feet. The liner sock keeps all the sweat away from your feet, and the outer sock provides cushioning. The best combination is usually a synthetic or silk liner sock in combination with a merino wool outer layer of socks. For most people, this fixes any blister issues, but it requires you to size up your footwear by half a size or even a full size.