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Are Hiking Socks Necessary? (The Truth)

Your feet are the workhorses of any hiking trip, and providing them with the best possible protection is vital. While most people focus on their hiking boots, the socks you wear are also key for a comfortable, blister-free hike. However, you might be wondering if hiking socks are really necessary.

Wearing hiking socks is highly advisable, if not absolutely necessary. Hiking socks will protect your feet better than normal socks, as well as wick away moisture and allow your feet to breathe. Hiking socks can keep your feet drier, which helps prevent the rubbing that causes blisters.

Hiking socks are an important part of your clothing, particularly for longer, more strenuous hikes. In this article, we will take a look at the benefits of hiking socks, how they compare to your everyday socks, and how to choose the most suitable socks for your hike.

What Are Hiking Socks?

A decent pair of hiking socks can be the difference between an enjoyable, successful hike and an unpleasant, blister marred hike. Hiking socks are more durable than the average sock and are designed to provide comfort and protection on the trails. Hiking socks are also more breathable to help prevent your feet from sweating too much.

Hiking socks are usually made from wool, polyester, or nylon, and are often a mix of these materials. Such materials are best suited for hiking socks due to their insulating and moisture-wicking properties, as well as being comfortable and durable. Regular socks are often made from cotton, which is highly absorptive of water, making them less than ideal for hiking.

Good quality hiking socks have design features that also set them apart from everyday socks. This can include additional padding on the ball of the foot and heel for extra comfort, as well as for extra durability to prevent wear and tear on the parts of the foot which take most of the impact. The top of the sock may be thinner to allow the foot to breathe.

All good outdoor pursuit stores should stock hiking socks. There can be quite an array of socks to choose from, as different hiking conditions can require a different thickness of sock. Speaking to a hiking expert in-store will help point you in the right direction.

Do You Need To Wear Hiking Socks?

You do not have to wear hiking socks, but it is recommended if you want a more comfortable, blister-free hike, particularly on longer, more arduous hikes. Hiking socks are designed to better cope with the stress and strain your feet go through when hiking on uneven terrain compared to regular socks.

Your feet are less likely to rub when wearing hiking socks. The friction resulting from rubbing is what causes blisters, and they will quickly turn an enjoyable hike into an uncomfortable and increasingly painful experience. Hiking socks are also more durable and can offer greater protection against some of the perils of the trail like rock edges and thorns.

Hiking socks are too often a secondary thought, but they can be just as important as hiking boots in keeping your feet comfortable and dry. Good hiking socks will have moisture-wicking properties as well as anti-microbial properties to help prevent smelly socks and smelly feet. There are plenty of benefits to buying hiking socks, and we shall look at some of these next.

Benefits Of Hiking Socks

Cushioning

Hiking socks offer superior cushioning compared to normal socks. This superior cushioning helps to protect your feet from the terrain as you hike. When hiking, your feet can be subjected to miles of uneven terrain, as well as the impact from walking over rocks, stones, and tree roots. Hiking socks cushion the impact of trails on your feet.

Your feet take the brunt of any hiking trip and therefore, as well as offering good protection, the additional cushioning in hiking socks provides more comfort too. Avoiding sore feet is paramount to a good hiking experience, and is another reason why you should opt for specialized hiking socks, particularly when you intend to be hiking for a good length of time.

Cushioning can vary in thickness, allowing you to pick the most suitable socks for the hiking conditions. Lighter padding may be the way to go for short hikes and when hiking in the heat. On the other hand, heavier duty cushioning can be the better option in the winter and when hiking over more challenging terrain. Most hikes require hiking socks with cushioning levels somewhere in between.

Prevent Blisters

Blisters are one of the main things hikers dread as they can soon turn an enjoyable hike into a fairly wretched experience. Wearing hiking socks can reduce the risk of blisters. This is because, unlike normal socks, they are made using fabrics that help to wick moisture away from the feet, and sweat is often the cause of blisters.

Regular socks are often made from cotton, which as well as making your feet sweat, will absorb the moisture. A wet sock increases the risk of rubbing, creating friction on the skin that causes blisters. Hiking socks are made using merino wool or synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester, which wick moisture away.

Therefore, once your feet start to sweat, hiking socks wick the moisture from the foot, transferring it to the outer part of the sock. This helps to keep your feet dry and reduces the risk of blister-inducing friction.

Breathable

Hiking socks are designed with breathable fabrics. These help to regulate temperature and allow air to circulate around the foot. This works hand in hand with the wicking properties to help keep your foot drier, making hiking more comfortable as well as reducing the risk of blisters.

Alongside the breathable nature of the fabrics used, hiking socks often have anti-microbial properties too. This means that when you finally get to remove your hiking boots after a long day on the trails, they should not smell anywhere near as bad as they would if you were wearing normal socks.

Durable

A good pair of hiking socks will last much longer than a pair of normal socks, as they are better designed to cope with the rigors of hiking trails. When shopping for hiking socks you may at first be a little put off by them being pricier.

However, your everyday socks will wear through faster, and a regular hiker can actually save money in the long run by buying decent hiking socks. Of course, everyone’s foot strikes the ground differently, and a pair of socks may show signs of wear and tear quicker for one person compared to another.

This, plus other factors such as how often and at what temperature you wash your hiking socks, is why it is impossible to say just how long a pair of socks will last. However, while sock durability can vary, hiking socks will be more durable than regular socks.

Insulating

Hiking socks help keep your feet warm, allowing you to enjoy year-round hiking. Feeling your feet go numb is not a pleasant experience, and it can also become potentially dangerous if you are far from the nearest place to warm them back up.

Your feet will sweat less in cooler conditions, butthe wicking properties of hiking socks will help keep your feet dry if they do sweat. Keeping your feet dry will also help prevent them from getting cold. Good hiking socks will dry fast too, a useful property if your socks get wet through rain and snow.

Hiking Socks vs Normal Socks For Hiking

At first glance, there may not seem a lot of difference between hiking socks and a pair of normal socks, particularly with thinner varieties. The main differences come in the materials used and the additional padding found on hiking socks. This extra padding is focused on vulnerable areas of the foot that take the brunt of the foot-strike, like the ball of the foot, the heel, and the toes.

Cotton is a favored material for normal socks due to being soft and comfortable to wear. However, cotton is highly absorbent of water which detracts from its use for hiking socks as moist socks and wet feet increase the chance of blisters.

Most hiking socks are made from merino wool or synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester. These materials dry out faster when they get wet, as well as wick moisture away when the feet sweat. They also tend to be lighter which aids mobility, a key factor for most hikers.

Ultimately, hiking socks are designed for outdoor pursuits, and these designs will have been tweaked and improved upon over the years. While normal socks may see you through a short hike every now and again unscathed, a pair of hiking socks are less likely to rub and cause blisters and are the better choice for regular hikers and long-distance hikes.

Should You Wear Two Pairs Of Socks When Hiking?

Many hikers wear two pairs of socks when hiking. As well as providing extra warmth on winter hikes, the prime reason is they feel it further helps to reduce blisters. However, not just any two pairs of socks will do the job, and you need to ensure you have a dedicated liner sock and an outer sock.

  • Liner sock – a thinner sock usually made from synthetic material, which fits snugly against the foot and prevents the rubbing on the skin which can lead to blisters. This liner sock also wicks sweat away from the foot.
  • Outer sock – thicker than the liner sock and often made from merino wool. This acts as the main sock and is still breathable, as well as providing insulation and comfort. This outer sock will also protect against external moisture such as rain which could cause friction and blistering.

Another benefit of wearing two pairs of socks when hiking is extra padding, which can be helpful for people who struggle to find correctly fitting hiking boots. You do not want boots that are too tight, but you also do not want boots that are too large. If your foot moves within them on each foot strike, it will significantly increase the risk of blisters.

Therefore, by wearing two pairs of socks you can pad out any hiking boots that are fractionally too large, making them a more snug fit on the foot and reducing the chance of the foot and sock rubbing against the inside of the boot.

One further reason for wearing two pairs of hiking socks is the extra level of protection this can provide. This can be protection from dirt and grit which gets into your hiking boot, or from tougher, rockier underfoot terrain. Two pairs of socks can also add extra protection from sharp plants and thorns, as well as from insect bites.

How To Choose Socks For Hiking

1. Thickness

The thickness of hiking socks is a good indicator of the level of cushioning they provide. It is hard to beat a comfortable pair of hiking socks, cushioned to meet the demands of your hike. However, there can be an element of compromise, as the thicker the sock the warmer your feet can become, causing them to sweat more.

There are 4 types of cushioning to consider, taking into account the different conditions you anticipate on your hike.

  • No cushioning – ultra lightweight, thin socks with minimal padding. These breathable socks can be a good option when hiking in hot conditions or on easy terrain. This type of sock can also make an ideal liner when wearing two pairs of hiking socks.
  • Light cushioning – although these socks have an element of cushioning around the heels and balls of the feet, they still prioritize moisture wicking, breathability, and comfort. They are good for wearing in warmer conditions.
  • Medium cushioning – Thicker than lightweight socks, they aregood all-rounders as they provide more warmth in the more moderate to cold conditions you may find in spring and in the fall. Comfortable and breathable, these socks are a good option for longer hikes too.
  • Heavy cushioning – These are the thickest hiking socks, and the ones with the most cushioning. These can be the go-to socks for hiking in cold winter temperatures, as well as for long hikes. The additional thickness means they do not wick moisture well, and therefore are not ideal for hiking in warmer temperatures.

2. Material

The material of your sock determines its breathability, warmth, comfort, and how dry your feet remain. The main materials hiking socks are made from include:

  • Wool – Particularly merino wool, which is breathable, light, comfortable, and does not itch. Wool is a good insulating material, as well as being naturally anti-microbial to help reduce odors
  • Polyester – Although a cheaper option than wool, polyester socks are durable and will dry faster. Polyester also wicks away moisture well and has insulating properties, although it might not keep your feet as warm as wool.
  • Nylon – A synthetic material like polyester,nylon is also durable and dries quickly. However, nylon lacks a little in breathability compared to wool and polyester.

Most hiking socks will be made from a blend of these materials. In this way, manufacturers can use the strengths of different materials for the best balance between warmth, comfort, breathability, and drying times. The one material that is largely avoided for hiking socks is cotton due to it being highly absorbent of moisture.

3. Height

When buying hiking socks you need to consider the height of the cuffs of your hiking boots as you want socks that prevent the boots from rubbing against your skin. The higher the cuffs of your boots the longer the socks should be. You will also want to think about the terrain and whether you need socks to protect against rock edges, long grass, and brush, as well as the weather.

There are 4 main heights for hiking socks:

  • No-show – These should only be worn with low-cut footwear like sandals or trail running shoes as they will not protect against abrasion of the skin from a taller hiking boot. The lack of insulation means it is not a good cold weather option.
  • Ankle height – A good summer hiking option, with the sock sitting just above the ankle. These can be worn with low to mid-cut shoes and boots.
  • Crew height – This isthe standard height for a hiking sock, sitting a few inches above the ankle and providing protection against abrasion for most hiking boots.
  • Knee high – Mostly used when hiking in mountains. They offer extra warmth in colder climates, as well as add protection to the calves and shins when wearing high length hiking boots.

4. Fit

Properly fitting hiking socks are also essential for comfort. Socks that are too small can create pressure points on your feet. But if you overcompensate with socks that are too large you will find them wrinkling up and rubbing against your feet. Either way, ill-fitting socks can lead to sore feet and blisters.

It is a good idea to have your feet measured if you have not done so for a while. Try on hiking socks before buying wherever possible, wearing your hiking boots as well for more authenticity. Your socks want to feel snug but not too tight, with the heel cup correctly aligned with the heel.

Final Thoughts

Hiking socks are necessary to reduce the risk of sore feet and blisters. Hiking socks are designed for outdoor pursuits, and you can buy them in different styles to suit conditions. The extra padding offered by hiking socks helps protect and cushion your feet on trails.