Walking socks may be not the world’s most exciting bit of kit, but they are actually essential items of outdoor clothing. A decent pair of socks can make the difference between excruciating blisters and pain-free hiking. Put simply, finding the best hiking socks equals more comfortable walking. But what makes a good pair of socks?
Brands offer a large and sometimes bewildering range of options. All the socks on test here are designed for hiking, walking and mountaineering, but it’s still important to pick the right sock for you. For year-round walking in the UK for example, we’d go for a mid-weight hiking sock. If you’re mountaineering at higher altitudes, you may want thicker, heavier weight socks, though your toes still need room to move.
“A decent pair of socks can make the difference between excruciating blisters and pain-free hiking”
The best hiking socks are usually ‘mapped’ or ‘zoned’ in construction. This means there are different weights of fabric for different parts of the foot. The heel and ball of the foot usually has a heavier fabric for cushioning and durability. Thinner areas around the top of the foot allow more breathability. A tighter weave around the arch of the foot adds support and helps to keep the sock in place.
Socks also come in different heights. ‘Crew’ socks are most common, coming an inch or so above the top of a boot, but calf and even knee length socks are also available.
Most socks are made from merino wool, nylon or polyester (or a blend of these fibres), with elastane for stretch. Nylon and polyester are synthetic fibres that are quick-drying and hard-wearing. Merino wool is a natural fibre that stays warm even when wet, is naturally odour-resistant and is very comfortable. It wicks moisture away from the skin too. Basically, merino socks are the best hiking socks. The downsides are that merino is an animal product, and there are instances of animal cruelty in the merino wool industry. Fortunately, most products in the outdoor sector now certify their merino wool.