When picking out hiking gear, we tend to forget one crucial area, one that is, strangely enough, the area we use most when hiking – our feet. While a good set of hiking boots is a must, what about the socks?
Socks specially crafted for hiking aren’t just another money grab, they can make the difference between being able to complete a long day hike with just sore muscles or quitting early in utter misery with blisters and worse.
It is a piece of gear you want to invest in, but you definitely don’t want to use your everyday socks for the same purpose.
Why Choose a Hiking Sock?
When looking for a good pair of hiking socks, you need to know exactly what their purpose needs to be.
For some, they want hiking socks that do a lot of things that their normal socks don’t, but for others, they just want one or two good features. When looking for a pair of good hiking socks, consider which of these features you want:
- Extra cushioning – Hiking boots, especially those not broken in yet, can be pretty hard on your feet.
- Wicking away moisture – Excess moisture is one big cause of blisters.
- Keeping your feet warm in colder temperatures – Obviously not a priority for desert hiking.
- Reducing friction – Another anti-blister measure.
- Improved boot fit – If your boot is a size 11 when you should have gotten 11 1/2, a hiking sock can help keep things comfortable.
Types of Hiking Socks
It used to be that you didn’t have much choice in hiking sock. You got the thick rag-wool models that worn down pretty quickly and kept your feet almost unbearably warm.
However, these days hiking socks are practically technical wonders. Now they come in a variety of different materials that can suit almost anyone’s needs.
Now some hiking socks come with tighter elastic so your socks don’t slowly roll down your calves while walking, others come with stronger fibers to resist abrasion, and the best socks come with extra cushioning and moisture-wicking power.
Of course, with the technical advances in hiking socks also came with an increase in price, so it is best to know what to look for in a hiking sock before buying.
Choose the Right Material
Hiking socks should never be made out of cotton, even if hiking in hot climates where the breathability is preferred. Cotton sops up moisture and holds it there. Not only do they take forever to dry, but they cause blisters. Instead, your choice should be between wool and synthetics.
Wool tends to be more expensive, but it both keeps feet warm and dry at the same time. Merino wool is preferable as it tends to be softer and less scratchy.
Synthetics, on the other hand, should be used in hotter climates or for those with really sweaty feet. They are the best material for wicking away moisture.
Get The Proper Fit
This can be so hard when shopping for a hiking sock online, but so many hikers don’t have many other options.
Luckily, most manufacturers give recommended shoe sizes for their socks. It might take a bit of experimenting, but a hiking sock should be snug, but not tight. They are not compression socks, after all.
Any bagginess or extra length at the heel or toe means that your socks are too big. They should be returned for a size smaller, if possible.
Caring for Hiking Socks
Hiking socks are expensive, so it is worth it to go out of your way to take good care of them. By making the extra effort with them, your hiking socks will last as long as possible.
Here are some cleaning tips to keep your hiking sock working hard:
- Wash the socks inside out – The inside of your boot should be pretty clean, so what you really want to wash off is all the skin and sweat on the inside of the sock from your foot.
- Use only a small amount of fabric softener – Using too much fabric softener will breaks down the elasticity of the fibers, using too little will make them less soft and comfortable.
- Air dry – Not only will commercial dryers shrink your socks, but they will also wear out the elasticity. Air drying is gentler, and doesn’t put your socks at risk.
- Use only for hiking – Not only will wearing your hiking socks every day put more wear and tear on them, but you will have to wash them more frequently. Hiking socks are strictly for hiking only.