Best Hiking Socks for Comfort & Performance on the Trail (2021)
By Kay Rodriguez
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Updated July 17, 2023
Every hiker knows that dry, cushioned feet are the happiest feet. A few high-quality pairs of hiking socks can mean the difference between having sweaty, painful feet and being ready to tackle miles of trails ahead. This may come as a surprise to some, but not all socks are created equal, and the best hiking socks have a few critical qualities that are required to keep feet dry and blister-free in your hiking boots.
To narrow down our selection of the best hiking socks, we went through a rigorous research and testing process. Our investigation started with a list of dozens of different socks and brands. Using a mixture of professional review websites, customer reviews, product pages, and our own hiking experiences and standards, we used a very informed and practical approach to narrow down our list and create this guide. We hope it helps you find the best hiking socks for your budget and preferences!
Choosing the Best Hiking Socks
Hiking socks are kind of like an invisible force – the best ones are the ones you never have to think about. If a pair of socks is painful, irritating, or constantly damp, it becomes an annoyance and hazard on the trails. On the other hand, if your hiking socks are dry, warm, and comfortable, you won’t think twice about how you feet feel on your hike. With that said, there are a few main factors that contribute to a sock’s comfort and performance in most trail conditions. Each of these criteria factored into our evaluation of the socks in this guide (and should factor into your purchasing decisions, too!).
Materials & Breathability
What a sock is made of is the #1 most important aspect to consider when choosing a pair of socks for hiking. You may notice that there are exactly zero hiking socks on our list that include cotton as part of the fabric. Cotton absorbs moisture and dirt and doesn’t wick sweat, so we’d strongly recommend to steer very clear of any “hiking socks” that have cotton as an ingredient. Instead, opt for moisture-wicking, breathable fabrics like the following:
Merino wool (our favorite)
Breathability comes as a result of purchasing socks made from the right materials. While the weight and design (see below for more information on these) do play a role in a sock’s breathability, you can be confident that any socks made of the above materials are breathable enough to stay dry and comfortable on the trails.
“Weight” is a term used to describe the thickness of a sock. Lighter weight material is typically thinner and less cushioned, while midweight and heavy weight socks offer more cushion (and are typically larger and bulkier). Lightweight, midweight, and heavy weight socks are useful in different scenarios. During hot summer days or shorter, less technical hikes, a lighter weight sock is usually our go-to. For longer, more strenuous hikes or backpacking trips, we’d generally recommend a midweight or heavy weight sock.
Your hiking boots may also play a role in which sock weight you should choose, as certain boots may fit more comfortably with certain sock weights. Because of this, we always recommend trying on socks with your hiking boots (not on their own, or with different shoes) so you can get a feel for how they’ll perform.
Design & Comfort
A sock’s design and fit on your foot are an essential component to its performance on the trails. Generally, when it comes to hiking socks, the “less is more” trope rings true. Socks with too many bells and whistles can be cumbersome and downright uncomfortable at times. However, some sock manufacturers have mastered their sock designs to add more cushion where it matters, like near the toes, the ball of your foot, and the heel.
Design, combined with materials and weight, usually dictate how comfortable a sock will feel. You always want your socks to be snug and fit comfortably around your foot, without any bumps or sagging fabric. A good sock design can also help prevent blisters and foot pain, a huge plus for avid hikers who spend hours on the trails each day!
Although it may seem trivial, a sock’s color or visual design can also factor into your purchasing decisions! Personally, I like bright colors and fun patterns, so if all other elements are equal, I’ll usually choose a pair that’s fun and bold. Most sock brands do offer multiple colors in each product line, so you’ll often have lots of choices when you go to pick out a pair.
Lastly, one of the final things we considered when determining the best hiking socks was durability. The last thing you want is for your socks to start falling apart or tearing a hole while you’re in the middle of a long hike – ouch! Spending a little bit more and reading customer reviews to get a tough, durable pair of socks is always worth it in the long run.
We also love it when a brand stands behind their products. All of the brands on our list offer some kind of warranty on their products, which is fantastic in the event that your socks do get damaged or aren’t functioning/fitting properly. Some brands, like Darn Tough and Smartwool, even offer a lifetime guarantee on their products! If you’re an avid hiker, these warranties and guarantees are absolutely something to consider when choosing the best hiking socks for you.
While we try not to let price factor too much into our evaluations, this is a very important consideration for you hikers out there. While hiking socks generally aren’t too expensive, you’ll typically need a few different pairs for your adventures. At $15 to $30 per pair, these costs can quickly add up!
Because the differences in price are fairly negligible across the different brands, we don’t recommend basing your entire decision on price alone. Just keep it in mind as you evaluate the options.
Hands down, our pick for the overall best hiking socks are the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew socks. Made of a merino wool blend, these socks do it all: wick sweat and moisture, keep your feet clean and protected, and offer lots of cushion in the areas where your feet need it the most. Smartwool makes versions of this sock for women and men so you can find the perfect fit no matter your foot size. We like the lightweight (Light Crew) version for all-around hiking, but the PhD line also has a midweight crew option for more strenuous excursions.
Smartwool’s PhD line stands for “Performance to the Highest Degree,” and we’d agree that these socks outperform nearly every other sock on our list. Featuring extra durable Indestructawool technology, as well as a Virtually Seamless™ toe, Smartwool took all the best parts of every sock to create the perfect companion for any hike or adventure. While we also love our runner up – the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew socks – the Smartwool PhD line won our hearts (and feet) because the merino wool blend is just so freakin’ comfortable.
In addition to their incredibly tough Indestructawool materials, Smartwool’s socks are backed by their 2-Year Guarantee, which means they’ll replace defective/damaged gear within two years of purchasing. While not quite as generous as the Darn Tough Lifetime Guarantee (see the next section for more information), I’ve never actually had to use this guarantee because my Smartwool socks are the most durable I own. I’ve taken my Smartwool socks on hundreds of miles and 5+ years of adventures, so these socks are here to stay.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR SMARTWOOL PHD LIGHT CREW:
Notable Features: Darn Tough’s Lifetime Guarantee, thoughtful design, exceptional durability
Our runner up is only second place in name – the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew is one of the absolute best hiking socks out there. For years, I’ve used these socks interchangeably with the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew socks for virtually all of my day hiking adventures. While the materials of the Darn Tough socks are slightly different, they’re still incredibly high-performing (and comfortable) hiking socks that wick sweat and provide cushion in all of the most important places. There’s a reason why almost every review site names Darn Tough socks as the best hiking socks on the market!
We love the snug fit and breathability of Darn Tough’s Light Hiker Micro Crew socks. They’re not too bulky, but they still provide the right amount of cushion to nurture your feet after miles and miles of hiking. Personally, I’ve taken these socks out on long day hikes and even a few overnight adventures, and they’ve held up without a single hitch. Additionally, Darn Tough socks come in a super wide variety of colors and designs, which means it’s always a fun experience to pick out a brand new pair!
Founded in Vermont, Darn Tough’s brand and products are built for tough terrain and miles of trails. Their Lifetime Guarantee isn’t something you see too often in the outdoor industry anymore, and it’s literally as good as it sounds – free replacement for damaged products, for life. While we prefer the softer, Merino wool heavy blend of Smartwool’s socks, we’d be remiss if we didn’t tip our hats to Darn Tough for making arguably the best outdoor socks on the market today. Again, I’ve never had to actually use my Lifetime Guarantee, because years later my Darn Tough socks are still kicking just as strong as the day I got them!
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR DARN TOUGH LIGHT HIKER MICRO CREW:
Notable Features: Targeted cushioning, snug fit, made of 100% USA locally-sourced materials
While any of our favorite hiking socks would be suitable for multi-day hikes, few were created specifically for backpacking. The Farm to Feet Damascus Hiker socks were designed specifically for thru-hikers on major US trails, like the Appalachian Trail, the John Muir Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and more. Inspired by the beautiful public lands in the USA, these socks are a testament to exploring the wilderness on foot.
Farm to Feet’s unique proposition is that their products are 100% sourced and made in the United States from local farmers and manufacturers. Their Damascus socks, named after a well-known stop along the Appalachian Trail, is a favorite of serious hikers, backpackers, and backcountry aficionados alike.
Our favorite thing about the Damascus socks is their lightweight construction, with a snug fit and really comfortable cushioning on the toe and heel area. They feel super sturdy and tough, but they’re also quite comfortable and the slight compression is a welcome addition. For backpackers, the lightweight feel, breathable materials, and thoughtful cushioning make the Farm to Feet Damascus socks a perfect companion.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR FARM TO FEET DAMASCUS HIKER:
Notable Features: Plush midweight feel, stretchy materials and construction, lots of colors
As someone with sensitive skin, I know wool blends aren’t for everyone. Luckily, there are some fantastic performance hiking socks that are made entirely synthetic materials, like the Darn Tough COOLMAX Hiker Micro Crew Midweight socks. These midweight socks look and feel similar to Darn Tough’s other midweight options, but are meticulously designed for comfort and moisture-wicking. Made with COOLMAX materials designed for optimal breathability and moisture wicking in hot environments, these are outstanding four-season socks that rival some of the Merino wool options out there.
Because Merino wool reduces odors and naturally wicks moisture, don’t be surprised if these non-wool socks are a little smellier at the end of the day than their woolen counterparts. Additionally, the materials are a little tougher and less cushy that Darn Tough’s Merino blend socks. However, if you’re in the market for wool-free synthetic hiking socks, it’s hard to beat the Darn Tough COOLMAX Hiker socks.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR DARN TOUGH COOLMAX HIKER MICRO CREW SOCKS:
Materials: 75% Merino Wool, 15% Nylon, and 10% Elastic
Notable Features: Soft merino wool construction, very affordable
If you’re a hiker on a budget who is deterred by the $20+ price tag of the other socks on our list, the Meriwool Unisex Hiking Socks are a fantastic option. For the price – 3 pairs for $19 at the time of writing – you can’t beat these 75% Merino wool hiking socks. Cushioned, odor-crushing, and comfortable, the Meriwool socks are the best truly budget Merino wool hiking socks we’ve found thus far. The Amazon reviews speak for themselves – nearly 3,200 customers have left reviews for these hiking socks, and 93% of those reviews were 4 or 5 stars.
While the Meriwool socks are a great value, there is a bit of a sacrifice in quality and fit. Because they’re 75% Merino wool, these socks are much bulkier than some of the lighter options on our list. They also get hot and damp much more quickly, and we would not recommend using these in warm or humid weather. There have been lots of concerns from customers about durability, but given that you get 3 pairs of these socks for around the price of one pair of any other socks on our list, the Meriwool hiking socks are still a fantastic budget option.
Notable Features: Unique toe sock design helps toe chafing and blisters, well-cushioned and breathable, lots of fun colors and styles
When I first heard about toe socks for hiking and running, I scoffed and said, “yeah right.” But before I knocked toe socks completely off my radar, I decided to give them a whirl on a few hikes. Needless to say, after trying out the Injinji Trail Midweight Crew socks, we are total converts over here!
These strange-looking socks are made of COOLMAX and other synthetic fabrics, so they’re suitable for wool lovers and wool-free folks alike. The Injinji Trail Crew socks are the best hiking socks to prevent blisters because they separate your toes and prevent skin chafing. Pair that design with the moisture-wicking, cooling properties of the COOLMAX fabric and you’ve got a perfect setup for blister-free hiking.
Blister prevention isn’t the only pro of these toe socks – Injinji claims its socks offer a whole host of benefits, like better arch support and foot utilization. They also come in a lot of fun colors and patterns, perfect for showing off your snazzy toe socks to the rest of the hiking world.
While we ended up enjoying the toe sock design, it’s not for everyone. Some people may find that the socks feel strange on their feet or are difficult to put on. We also wouldn’t recommend them for especially wet hikes or stream crossings – the socks can be even more difficult to take on and off when wet. However, if you’re looking for a fantastic alternative to the traditional sock design, Injinji toe socks might just be your new favorites.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR INJINJI TRAIL MIDWEIGHT CREW:
Notable Features: Very soft and comfortable, thick cushioning, budget-friendly
Our first honorable mention is one near and dear to my heart – REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks. These are the very first hiking-specific socks I ever bought, and I still have the very first pair I purchased all those years ago. REI has some of the best hiking socks on the market, and while they’re relatively no-frills, they’re great for easy hikes and backcountry treks alike. REI’s socks come in a variety of weights, colors, and lengths, so you can pick and choose a specific model based on your hiking preferences and difficulty level.
What we love the most about the REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks is that they’re really, really comfortable, and they keep your feet cushioned and odor-free all day on the trail. In fact, the REI Expedition Hiking Crew Socks I bought for my first multi-day hiking trip are still some of the comfiest I own. They also cost considerably less than the $20+ socks offered by other brands, making them more budget-friendly and affordable for a high-quality offering.
While I’d be the first person to recommend the REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks, they are a little bulkier than some of the other brands and lightweight products we have on our list. If you aren’t extra careful about sizing, you may find that the socks bunch up around the toes, since these socks are less fitted than others. Additionally, some of my pairs have become a little threadbare over many miles of hiking (while my Darn Tough and Smartwool socks still look basically new).
With a 1-year guarantee, REI doesn’t offer as much generosity for replacement as some other brands, but if you’re in the market for high-quality, budget-friendly hiking socks, these are a fabulous option.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR REI MERINO WOOL HIKING SOCKS:
Notable Features: No-show construction is perfect for trail runners or low-cut hiking boots, can pair as running socks
With the rise of more minimal hiking footwear like trail runners and low-cut boots, socks like the Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light No-Show Tab are a great no-show sock option for the trails. These ultra lightweight socks are best used for shorter or more relaxed hikes, and offer great comfort and stretch on the trails. The biggest draw of the Feetures Merino 10 socks aretheir thin, minimalist design, which many casual hikers love, especially in warmer seasons and climates.
Because the Feetures Merino 10 isn’t a true “hiking sock,” it’s not a great option for long, strenuous hikes or multi-day treks in the backcountry. We also wouldn’t recommend these in colder climates or during the winter. However, for a lightweight, versatile summer hiking sock, we’d recommend these to anyone.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR FEETURES MERINO 10 ULTRA LIGHT NO SHOW TAB:
Notable Features: High percentage of Merino wool, lightweight, wacky colors and patterns
Patagonia is at it again, this time with the Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Crew socks. We love Patagonia gear because it’s functional and durable, and these Merino wool socks are no exception. Stylish, fun, and practical, the Lightweight Merino Performance Crew socks are one of the top contenders for the best hiking socks because they tick all the right boxes. We especially love these socks because they’re versatile enough to wear for hiking or for daily use. With a whopping 90% Merino wool blend, these socks wick moisture and sweat, feel super soft, and won’t stink even on hot, humid days.
While the Patagonia socks have all the necessary requirements for great hiking socks, they don’t excel in any one area. These socks are a little less form-fitting and specialized than some of the more performance oriented socks on our list, but a little less cushy than the heavier weight ones. The Patagonia Lightweight Merino Performance Crew socks are simply a great all-around hiking/everyday sock, and we’re totally okay with that.
Notable Features: Backed by a lifetime guarantee, soft and breathable material
No matter the season or the terrain, the Icebreaker Hike+ Light Crew is a fabulous choice for hiking socks. While they’re less well-known than the big names in hiking socks – think Smartwool, Darn Tough, and Patagonia – these socks pack a real punch on the trails and are beloved by many. As a lightweight option, these socks are super soft and breathable, and the Merino wool blend nips odors and sweat in the bud.
While these are great all-season socks for day hiking, we wouldn’t recommend them for longer, more strenuous hikes or backpacking, as the cushion is a little thinner than other models on our list. Additionally, some reviewers have complained that these socks begin to stretch and lose their shape over time. If this happens, no worries – you can simply send them in under Icebreaker’s Lifetime Sock Guarantee and get yourself a brand new pair.
CHECK REVIEWS & PRICES FOR ICEBREAKER HIKE+ LIGHT CREW:
The Bottom Line: Which Hiking Socks Should You Pick?
The beauty of socks is that you can have several pairs of them! If it were up to us, we’d tell you to get a pair of each of these fantastic hiking socks. While we strongly recommend the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew and Darn Tough Light Hiker Crew socks, we’d encourage you to try on and purchase a few different pairs that you can use for any climate, conditions, or occasion.
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