Ascendance: The 7 Best Hiking Socks

Hikers often face the biggest variety of challenges of any outdoor sportsman. On any given day they could find themselves fording a stream, scrambling over rocks, trekking through deadly snowpack, or days of heat that would drive desert dwellers to run for cover. This means that their gear must be capable of handling any condition without fail, since failure can often spell death in the wild. Everything must be in top shape, right down to their hiking socks.

A quality sock is one of those items that you can build an entire wardrobe around. It needs to be able to handle extreme weather conditions on both ends of the spectrum, prevent blisters and bunching, cushion your sole, and support your foot while also giving you enough stretch to allow your skin to still breathe. It’s an incomprehensible balancing act to get a sock that can do all this, yet we’ve managed to find the 7 best hiking socks around who can check all the boxes.

Merrell Chameleon Stretch

Merrell Chameleon Stretch

Pro: Lightweight
Con: Slim padding

Warm Weather Wanderer: These barely qualify as hiking socks since they are built by the same folks at Merrell who make the Chameleon trail running shoe, and it is clear that these items are meant to go together. The Stretches are made from Lycra and Merino wool allowing for great airflow but little in the way of padding and less in the way of heat retention. This creates the ideal sock for runners or those who like it hot, while anyone heading into the teeth of the storm will find these mostly insufficient. They are inexpensive and when layered with a heavier partner do offer enough protection to get you through, so considering these as a base is a good idea since they will wick away moisture and prevent your foot from overheating, even in waders. [Purchase: $10]

Drymax Hiking HD

Drymax Hiking HD

Pro: Keeps feet dry
Con: Limited thermal protection

Wicker Man: Some hikes are meant for endurance and altitude gain, others are meant for speed. Anyone that likes to add time trials to their trail adventures would be wise to invest in the Drymax HD. They’ll help keep sweat from soaking your foot and creating a vile stew inside your boot or trail running shoe. Simultaneously they’ll fight odors and prevent fungus so your tootsies stay springtime fresh the whole year round. The body is an interesting blend of polyester, olefin, nylon, and elastane that is light and airy but not ideal for really cold temperatures. They do have a compressed padding that fits well in any boot and gives greater thermal protection than you might expect, but keep a woolly spare on hand in case you find yourself caught in a blizzard. [Purchase: $11+]

Darn Tough Vermont

Darn Tough Vermont

Pro: Last forever
Con: No specialized features

EDW: These are the ideal socks to have for Every Day Wear. They are your backup quarterback, your old faithful, your tried-and-true standby. They’re warm enough to stand up to freezing temperatures, but not so hot that you can’t strap them on with some sandals to take your metal detector to the beach. They are made with merino wool that is both breathable and comfortable, though they don’t stand out in any particular area. The wicking is fine, but hot weather or heavy boots will leave you with a funky foot. The warmth is good, but sub-zero temps will still give you some frostbitten little piggies. What these do is last forever, which is why a pair should have a permanent place in your pack. They come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee so even if the hole in the heel is your fault, the company will happily replace them. They won’t ride or bunch and seem to only get more comfortable with each successive washing. [Purchase: $14+]

Fits Rugged Crew

Fits Rugged Crew

Pro: Cozy fit
Con: Can cause overheating

Winter Warrior: Fits is very new to the sock game, but in the past four years they have exploded onto the scene. Per the company name, they make socks that fit better than a custom glove. The deep heel pocket and graduated heel-to-toe design slips, stretches, and supports your foot perfectly no matter which of their designs you choose. Our favorite was the Rugged Crew which is made for heading into a deep freeze. It’s a midweight sock that uses a 69% merino wool body which can wick away moisture while also keeping out the cold. It works great as an outer layer sock because the additional space in the foot and tight fit at the top allow it to envelop an inner sock for unbeatable warmth. You’ll pay a little more for them, but they last through tough wear and many washes so rest easy knowing they’ll be on point when the times comes. [Purchase: $18]

SmartWool PhD

SmartWool PhD

Pro: Tight fit
Con: Does not work with layers

Casual Comfort: Even with advances in synthetic fibers and merino wool, socks that are worn without a liner can often be uncomfortable, particularly if they are made with colder temperatures in mind. The PhD has found a way to be reasonably warm and good for all but the most extreme climates while not needing a secondary sock to make it easy to wear. This is a double-edged sword in that it simplifies and minimizes your gear, but you really can’t layer the PhD, so it is restricted to three-season hikers rather than those who prefer to go year round. The fabric is the perfect blend for slipping where it needs to and sticking where it needs to so that you will almost never get blisters, even as your break in new hiking boots. It dries quickly, though doesn’t truly wick away moisture. Schedule some extra drying time on a rock before stuffing them back into your boots. [Purchase: $21]

Icebreaker Hike Lite

Icebreaker Hike Lite

Pro: Superior support
Con: Overpadded

Superior Support: With a name like Icebreaker, you’d expect something thicker and warmer. These are warm, but still not ready for a trip to the antarctic, even if the icebergs are melting away. The elastane, nylon, and merino wool combination is very comfortable and thicker varieties come with a lot of padding – some might say too much. What they have done with the design of these socks is add a little extra support, particularly around the arch and the ankle. This improves circulation slightly but also makes your foot feel like it is being held up so fatigue takes longer to set in. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, fallen arches, or flat feet, these can give you a little help, though they aren’t a replacement for a true support liner. The wicking is good for year round adventures and the stylish color scheme is sure to get you a few wolf whistles around the lodge. [Purchase: $12+]

Hanz All Season

Hanz All Season

Pro: Waterproof
Con: Expensive

Waterlogged: These caught our eye when we were reviewing our best waterproof socks, but they do double duty as hiking socks as well. The triple cloth layer protection makes them able to keep water out and wick away moisture without suffocating your feet like most other waterproof socks will. The three layers also helps to prevent rubbing and chafing so they work to stop blisters from forming even when spending hours submerged as your pick your way across slick river stones. The stretchable body permits them to also work as an outer layer during heavy snow or sudden downpours. While they are very costly they are the best defense against jungle rot or squishing your way up a hill. [Purchase: $33]

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