6 Best Hiking Socks of 2019—Field Tested & Reviewed
|Hiking Sock||Score||Material||Fabric Thickness||Cushion|
|Top Pick: Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion||
|47% Merino Wool, 46% Nylon, 7% Lycra Spandex||Medium||Very Light|
|Runner-Up: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew||
|62% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 2% Elastane||Medium||Light|
|Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion||
|67% Merino Wool, 29% Nylon, 4% Lycra Spandex||Medium||Light|
|Best Value: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro||
|40% Olefin, 36% X20 Acrylic, 20% Stretch Nylon, 4% Spandex||Medium||Midweight|
|Smartwool Hike Light Crew||
|67% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 1% Elastane||Medium||Midweight|
|Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool||
|64% NuWool, 33% Nylon, 3% Lycra||Medium||Midweight|
We tested six of the best hiking socks on the market by putting them through the ringer of nonstop wear with no wash. We hiked with, slept with, worked with and even sniffed each pair for a total of one week each.
Of them all, Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion came out on top. It was the most durable sock we tested, and it’s moisture-managing abilities help keep sweaty feet dry. Plus, all of Darn Tough’s socks come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee.
Read on for our full reviews.
I don’t know what else you would want out of a hiking sock. Darn Tough is durable, comfortable, moisture-managing and smells like roses, sort of.
This brand has developed the perfect fabric blend for ideal versatility. Even my sweaty feet managed to stay relatively dry during high activity. The sock doesn’t wear and maintains its fit and shape over long periods of activity.
The moment I knew I loved Darn Tough Light Hiker above Smartwool, I was on a day hike on the Colorado Trail. On a stream crossing, both my socks and shoes got soaked. This was around 11 AM, but I kept them on. By the time it was ready for bed, these socks were bone dry and ready to go.
As a brand, Darn Tough is a clear winner. However, this specific sock won because of its light cushioning. Cushioning is predominantly a personal preference and many folks, especially with less sweaty feet hiking in colder climates, may find this particular sock a little thin. Luckily, Darn Tough makes its Hiker sock in a variety of thicknesses.
Full review: Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion
Runner-Up: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
Smartwool is one of the most well-known sock brands because of its versatility and countless different styles and specializations.
They’ve covered every section of the market and offered a variety of awesome color patterns to go along with it. Most everything they produce is great, but in this case their socks weren’t the best.
Darn Tough beats out Smartwool because of its higher durability, effectiveness in keeping its shape and superior moisture-managing ability. Still, I enjoy wearing Smartwool for high-exertion activities like trail running more than anything. There is minimal cushioning, meaning it won’t impact how my foot sits in my shoe. Plus, merino wool continuously wicks sweat away from the skin, meaning that even during high activity, your feet stay precisely the perfect temperature.
I have Smartwool socks that are over a year old that already show wear on the ankle and heel. Likewise, these things can really, really produce a stink. But who cares about that?
Full review: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
Best Value: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
One of my favorite things about a Wigwam sock is the initial snug fit on the crew cut.
However, after wearing these socks without wash for extended period, the fabric does stretch. I like the fit around your calf on the Wigwam and the material is fairly comfortable, especially given the moderate price.
When considering why a product earns ‘Best Value,’ you must consider the durability, comfort and price point. The price point is the best thing about these socks, followed by comfort. Though they are durable, when compared to other brands, they don’t always match up.
I do love Wigwams for sleeping. This is the kind of sacred pair of socks I would keep at the bottom of my sleeping bag and for use around camp.
Full review: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
Reviews of the 3 Other Hiking Socks We Tested
In a market where hundreds of different socks compete for the spotlight, when you narrow the choices down to six, it gets really nitpicky. Of the six socks we tested, all are reliable and viable choices. Here’s how the other three pairs compared.
There are few differences between the Darn Tough Micro Crew and the Darn Tough Light Micro Crew. I’m a big fan of minimal cushioning, but that’s not to say this isn’t a fantastic sock.
Most of my hiking time is spent in southwestern Colorado, which can be warm, cool and freezing. I would use the Darn Tough Micro Crew for sleeping more than I would hiking.
Ideally, I’d carry two to three pairs of socks on a 30-day backpacking trip: Two pairs of our Top Pick, Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion, and one pair of this sock, Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion.
To be honest, personal preference largely drove me to rank the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew above this pair, the Smartwool Hike Light Crew.
It’s a very similar sock but, as you’ll notice, the greater the cushioning, the lower the score tended to be.
Some folks appreciate the extra support that comes with cushioning for long treks, but I’ve found that for my sweaty feet, the excess warmth negatively affects my overall comfort. If I were mountaineering in drastically colder conditions, that may be a different story.
I like Injinji for its unorthodox take on the hiking sock. Toe socks, in most cases, should always be acceptable.
However, when hiking with the Injinji, the extra fabric feels incredibly weird and takes some getting used to. Mostly, its a comfortable set-up when you do but the separation between the toes makes it difficult to retain warmth when not in motion.
They were fine socks, but when compared with the competition they ended up being our least favorite.
Full review: Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool
Here are the best hiking socks:
- Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew Light Cushion
- Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
- Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion
- Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
- Smartwool Hike Light Crew
- Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool
How to Choose the Best Hiking Socks for Your Needs
Though there are some definite winners to show in our research, socks are, like any other article of clothing, a matter of preference. You may disagree with our rankings simply because of the thickness of a certain sock.
When choosing your go-to pair or brand, consider where you intend to hike, how long you intend to wear them and what length and thickness you prefer.
As REI experts have attested, “a bit of cushion can protect your feet during high-impact activities like running and backpacking, but…thicker socks are warmer and can cause your feet to sweat.” It’s all about balance. If you naturally sweat more than the average person, you may want a thin to medium thickness, despite cold conditions.
Here are the most common thicknesses with the explanations of who or what each is best suited for:
- Lightweight — Trail running, mountain biking; high-exertion activities where you expect to sweat a lot
- Midweight — Hiking, cross country skiing; a more versatile thickness that can handle fairly most any condition
- Thick weight — Mountaineering, winter skiing, snowshoeing, sleeping; for those instances where you really need to keep your feet warm and cushioned
All the socks we tested had a crew cut, which is ideal if you hike in boots with strong ankle support. There is a lot of debate on whether hiking shoes or trail runners are better for thru-hiking, and there isn’t a correct answer.
However, if you are on the team of trail runners, you may want an ankle length sock. Consider what style of sock you wear in your day to day and if that preference will cross over into your hiking activity.
Here are the most common length options along with the scenarios they are designed for:
- Ankle Length — trail running, mountain biking; great for hot to mild climates
- Quarter Length — trail running, mountain biking, hiking with trail runners; a versatile length great for mild to moderate climates and conditions
- Crew Length — Bushwhacking, hiking with boots, mountaineering, winter skiing, snowshoeing, sleeping; for those instances where you need extra insulation or protection on the calf.
As a rule of thumb, with the arguable exception of trail running, keep your socks at least half an inch in length above the top of your shoe or boot. This reduces friction and the chance of blisters.
Duration of Use
These socks were worn multiple days straight without wash. Though we couldn’t spend years testing the long-term durability, we were able to see which ones maintained their comfort from day one.
If you care or are looking for socks that stand the test of time without too much stink, Darn Tough has been recognized countless times for its darn toughness. Consider how long you plan to wear a pair between washes and how long you want them to last. Opt for quality over quantity.
Climate & Weather
When your feet get cold, the first things to go are the toes. This is your body’s natural way of pulling all your heat into the core and away from the extremities. How warm and how thick the fabric feels in the toes is crucial. The colder the weather, the more valuable a thick pair of socks is.
Growing up in the lower south, I rarely ever hiked in socks with more than a thin layer of cushion. In the Chihuahuan Desert, high cushioning will just equate to extra sweaty, wet feet. BUT: You’ll probably really appreciate a dense pair on your summit attempt of Mount Rainier.
In rainy or wet conditions where it can be challenging to keep dry, fabric matters. Merino wool is renowned for its moisture-managing properties, and that’s one reason Darn Tough and Smart Wool are held in such high regard.
How We Tested
You really have to put a pair of socks through the ringer before declaring true love. Something that feels comfortable for a few hours may make you so irritated by day seven that you throw them in the campfire (not that I’ve done that).
For that reason, we took a lifestyle approach to testing. AKA: devoting five days of nonstop wear, no matter the schedule, to each pair of socks, without wash. That meant working, hiking, sleeping and everything else in between.
A day hike is a quick way to identify everything you love or hate about your socks. Sticking your wool-bound feet in hiking shoes for long periods of time risks blisters, slippage, wear, and stink. Each pair of socks was worn for a number of day hikes and trail runs, which allowed us to identify everything wrong with each pair.
The importance of the sleep test is predominantly testing moisture control. “Never go to to bed with the socks you hiked in,” is a backpacking mantra for a reason. Sweaty socks equate to freezing feet under most conditions. If the socks can’t handle moisture or don’t retain warmth, this is where you’ll most notice it.
And what do you do after five days of nonstop wear? You take a big ol’ whiff. I have a strong stomach and frankly think I smell like roses all the time, but even I couldn’t handle myself after this.