Socks are such boring, and often smelly, pieces of equipment that many people might wonder why I’ve created a page about them. Well, it is quite simple. The boring sock can make or break a hike. The sock is, second to the hiking boot, the most important piece of equipment worn hiking.
|A Smartwool Mid-Weight Hiking Sock. An ideal sock for hiking. View more Smartwool Hiking Socks at Amazon|
Why are socks so important? There’s a multitude of reasons.
First, wearing the wrong type of sock hiking is a guaranteed route to acquire the nemesis of all hikers—blisters.
Second, a dedicated hiking sock prevents stinky feet—another curse of hiking, especially in warm weather.
And finally, but not lastly, hiking socks provide comfort and cushion to the foot when out on longer hikes.
Due to the importance of the hiking sock, and to prevent hiker's in Montana and elsewhere from having a miserable hiking experience, I've prepared this guide.
This article covers the following topics:
If you’re shopping for hiking socks, here's some suggestions:
Good Brands of Hiking Socks - There's no shortage of hiking socks sold today. However, many brands have suspect durability. I own, and use, hiking socks from Smartwool, Thorlos and Wigwam. I've tried several big box store brands and, well, haven't had much success with them. In particular, stay away from the so-called hiking socks found at Kohl's.
If in Doubt, Go With Smartwool - If you're bewildered by what type and brand of sock to get, my suggestion is to go with Smartwool Hiking Socks. There's several other quality brands available, particularly Thorlos, but the feeling of soft shearling lying against the foot is hard to beat on a long hike.
Sock Thickness - For summer weather, go with a lightweight or mid-weight sock. For colder weather, go with a mid-weight or heavyweight sock.
Hiking Socks Aren't Just for Hiking - They make superb "around the house" socks too, especially during the winter. Smartwool socks, in particular, work superbly to keep the feet warm.
I could probably write a small book about the benefits of wearing hiking socks. However, to spare site visitors a boring book, I'll just summarize the benefits a hiking sock provides - benefits learned from painful experiences while hiking before I became a hiking sock "convert."
Cushioning the Foot
Hiking Socks are specifically designed to provide additional cushion to the front and the heel of the foot. This extra cushion also has a happy side-effect - it makes the socks more durable, too. Now, you may think you don't need extra cushion. Think again. Try a ten mile hike over rocky terrain, with some long uphill and downhill climbs thrown in for fun. Every little bit of cushion helps prevent the foot from "throbbing" towards the end of a long hike.
A hiking sock is crucial to prevent blisters. A hiking sock, unlike a wimpy, stinky cotton sock, won't constantly rub against the back of your foot and provides significant protection against rubbing that your boot might cause. For more detailed information, please read the article How to Prevent Blisters While Hiking.
Keep the Feet Dry
A dry foot is a happy foot. A wet foot is a stinky and painful foot. Why? The stinky part is self-explanatory. But a wet foot is also prone to blisters. A hiking sock, takes the foots perspiration (also known as water) off the foot and puts it into the sock instead. This keeps the foot dry and goes a long ways towards preventing blisters.
Warm Feet = Happy Feet
Hiking socks, even the lighweight styles, are thick. This thickness keeps the feet warm. This leads to a question, though. Who wants warm feet during the summer? Well...a quality hiking sock, particularly socks by Smartwool (my recommended sock for hiking), keeps feet cool during the summer by preventing outside heat from reaching the foot (it traps external heat in tiny air bubbles). At the same time, the socks wisks away the foots own heat and perspiration. A pretty neat trick, and one reason I suggest Smartwool socks for summer hiking.
Comfy & Cozy
Once a person starts wearing a good hiking sock, cotton socks often are soon relegated to a forgotten bedroom drawer - or the basement. Most people who buy quality hiking socks soon find themselves wearing them around the house, at the office, and even to bed. The reason for the multitude of uses is simple - the socks keep the feet at just the right temperature (if you have Smartwool socks). Moreover, Smartwool socks are very soft and feel perfect against the foot.
Hiking socks aren't the most technical piece of gear. Thus, there aren't too many "things to remember" when shopping around for them. Still, here's a few things hiker's should consider when shopping for a hiking sock.
Get the Right Size
Standard stuff here. But before plunking down money for a hiking sock, read the "sizing guide." For Smartwool socks, most men will want the "large" size while women will gravitate toward the "medium" size. But that's just a general rule. To avoid purchasing an ill-fitting sock, read the sock's sizing guide first.
The Sock's Thickness
Hking socks typically come in three thicknesses : lightweight, medium weight and heavy weight. Smartwool, and a few other sock manufacturers, also make an extra-thick style called a "trekking style."
How thick a sock to buy depends on when you hike and personal preferences. However, here's a few general guidelines:
- For summer hiking, choose a lightweight or medium weight.
- For colder weather hiking, choose a medium weight or heavy weight.
- For extreme cold weather, choose the trekking style.
For most hiking, I find the medium weight sock the most versatile. The medium weight sock easily fits in all my hiking boots/shoes (including athletic shoes), and provides more cushioning than a lightweight sock. Still, for winter hiking or for a "lounging around the home" during the winter type sock, the trekking style of Smartwool socks work superbly.
Will The Sock Fit Your Shoes or Boots?
Since hiking socks vary significantly in thickness, how well a particular style of sock fits your shoe is variable (greatly dependent on how tight your shoe or boot already is). In general, I've noticed the following:
- Lightweight & Medium Weight Hiking Socks - Fit virtually all types of shoes and hiking boots. The medium weight sock might prove a "tad tight" when worn inside athletic shoes without changing how the shoe is laced.
- Heavy Weight Hiking Socks - Often prove "too thick" to be worn in sneakers and tight fitting hiking shoes, but usually work well with hiking boots. Still, if you're hiking boot is already tight, then a heavy weight sock might pose problems. I have worn heavy weight hiking socks in athletic shoes, but doing so requires significant loosening of how tightly the shoe is laced.
- Trekking Style Hiking Socks - These socks are exceptionally thick. Will only fit inside boots that are "roomy." Of course, they work great around the house during the winter, too.
Hiking socks come in a wide variety of colors. For hiking, choose whatever colors meets your fancy. Just remember, a "darker sock" is better at hiding dirt than lighter socks are. While this isn't a consideration for day hiking, for overnight hikers the ability to "hide the dirt" often comes in handy.
Quality hiking socks are widely available, both online and off. However, don't look for them at your local big-box store. I've never found a pair of Smartwool or other quality hiking socks at Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl's or similar stores.
Instead, the best place to purchase quality hiking socks is at specialty outdoor sporting good stores. In particular, both Cabela's and REI sell a wide assortment of hiking socks from Smartwool, Thorlo's and Wigwam.
Online, many specialized outdoor retailers sell hiking socks. The first retailer I'd suggest visiting is Amazon.Com. They carry the full assortment of Smartwool hiking socks, as well as other quality hiking socks from Thorlo's and Wigwam.
Other online retailers that have a large selection of quality hiking socks available include:
- Zappos - They sell the full assortment of Smartwool socks.
- Eastern Mountain Sports
Amazon.Com - Amazon has a massive selection of hiking socks available, including many brands I've never used. For simpler searching, I also created several links that lead to socks specifically from Smartwool, Thorlo and Wigwam, too.