It probably seems ridiculous to buy a $20 pair of hiking socks when you can buy regular cotton socks for $1. While I don’t consider myself wealthy, I do have a few pairs of hiking socks in my wardrobe. Are hiking socks worth it or can I get away with wearing a regular pair of socks?
Yes hiking socks are worth the extra money. Merino wool hiking socks provide additional insulation, moisture wicking properties, cushioning, blister prevention, and added durability. They keep your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Plus they’re designed to keep your feet comfortable even when wet.
It took a lot of convincing for me to buy my first pair of expensive socks. A nice pair of merino wool socks (my favorite) are worth their weight in gold. Nowadays, I won’t go on long hikes without my Smartwool or Darn Tough socks. If you’re still not sure whether you want to spend the money, here’s everything you need to know about hiking socks.
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Best Hiking Socks For The Money
Let me quickly go over a few of my favorite brands of hiking socks since I’ll be referencing them throughout the rest of this article. Hiking socks are only worth buying if you spend the extra money on Merino Wool. Cheap synthetic socks will get sweaty, won’t last, and will probably lead to blisters.
Here are a few of my favorite merino wool hiking socks. Please note that you can wear merino wool socks in both summer and winter. Merino wool is cool in the summer and keeps you warm in the winter.
- Smartwool Socks (On Amazon): Nowadays I almost always stick to Smartwool hiking socks. They’re by far the most comfortable socks that I own. A pair of Smartwool socks should last a decade of regular use.
- DarnTough Socks (On Amazon): DarnTough Socks use a merino wool blend which makes them more durable than Smartwool. These are guaranteed for life, but they’re not as comfortable as 100% Merino Wool. Personally, I would go with Smartwool Socks unless you’re planning a long multiweek backpacking trip.
- REI Co-op (In Store Only): You can usually find a few pair of REI Co-Op socks floating around the clearance section in the stores. These are a merino wool blend similar to Darn Tough, but they’re a few bucks cheaper(no lifetime warranty). They’re definitely worth picking up if you can find marked down pairs in the store. I picked up a 4 pairs for $3 each the last time I went in.
Are Hiking Socks Worth It? Definitely Yes!
If you’re on the fence, you better hop over it! They might be expensive, but you will definitely love merino wool hiking socks. You can’t even compare them to traditional socks. It’s like comparing a Rolls Royce to Honda Civic. They’ll both get you there, but one is so much more luxurious than the other.
So why are hiking socks so much better? It all boils down to what they’re made out of. Hiking socks are typically made out of merino wool. This isn’t the scratchy old wool that your grandma uses to knit sweaters. Modern merino wool is 1 step away from cashmere and way more durable. It’s ridiculously comfortable for the price!
Here are a few of the main benefits to merino wool socks. I’ll go over all of them in detail below
- Comfortable While Wet: You probably won’t believe me at first, but wool socks remain comfortable while wet. That’s why the stereotypical sailor outfit consists of a wool sweater. Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water before it starts to feel wet. That’s a lot of sweat before you start feeling uncomfortable.
- Warm In Winter: Wool is the absolute king when it comes to winter insulation. Even the most expensive cotton/synthetic socks pale in comparison to a cheap pair of wool.
- Cool In Summer: This is the one that surprises most people. You wouldn’t think of wool as a summer clothing staple, but it really does keep you cool and dry in the summer.
- Moisture Wicking: Merino wool is both temperature regulating and moisture wicking. You can wear the same pair of socks all year long regardless of the weather.
- No More Blisters: Wool socks cut down on friction, moisture, and add padding. It doesn’t matter how far you hike. You should not get blisters with merino wool hiking socks.
- Extreme Durability: I’ve put my wool socks through the ultimate field test. They get worn around camp without shoes, hiked 15+ mile days, and done god knows what else. A $20 pair of hiking socks should last a decade.
- Smellproof: Wool is both breathable and has antimicrobial properties. Both of these factors will significantly cut down sweat and smell.
- Super Soft: There’s absolutely no itch in modern merino wool. I would say that it’s one step below cashmere with added durability.
- Lightweight: Merino wool is lightweight compared to cotton/synthetic socks. As an added bonus, you can wear the same pair of socks multiple days in a row saving pack weight.
- Doesn’t Stretch Or Sag: Merino wool has extremely durable fibers that shouldn’t stretch or sag. The natural elasticity of wool will either rip or return to its original shape. There’s no inbetween.
- Easy To Wash: This isn’t your grandmothers wool. Merino wool doesn’t have any kind of special washing instructions. My socks go right in with all my other clothes. I like to hang dry them to prevent shrinkage, but I’ve ran them through the drier without problems.
- Environmentally Friendly: merino wool is 100% sustainable since you don’t harm the sheep during the harvesting process. They automatically grow a new coat every year and it causes the sheep no pain.
Those are just a few of the benefits of merino wool. Once you switch over I can almost guarantee you’ll never switch back.
Cost Is The Only Downside To Wool Hiking Socks
I’m not going to lie. Merino wool hiking socks can get seriously expensive. Nobody enjoys paying $20 for a pair of socks, but it’s definitely worth it. Even on sale you’ll still pay over $10. I’ve found that there’s very little difference in price between the no name and premium brand wool socks.
I always go with either Smartwool or Darn Tough Hiking Socks. You can sometimes find REI-Coop on sale at their stores, but it’s hit or miss. I’ve found that Smartwool Socks tend to be way more comfortable and Darn Tough seem to hold their shape better.
What About Cotton and Synthetic Socks?
I would never go back to traditional cotton or synthetic hiking socks after switching over to merino wool. They might be fine for a short 1-2 hour hike, but you’ll end up with blisters on longer hikes. Plus your feet will end up all sweaty, pruned, and nasty smelling.
You definitely won’t regret spending the extra money on merino wool socks. They’re just way more comfortable than traditional socks. I’ll get into the finer details if you keep reading below.
Comfortable When Wet
Wool can absorb up to 30% of its weight in water without feeling wet. So your socks can absorb a lot of sweat, rain, snow, etc. and you’ll still be comfortable. Add in wools moisture wicking properties and you have the perfect sock for long hikes.
As an added bonus, wool produces heat when it absorbs moisture. If you go from a warm environment into the cold the wool will absorb the ambient moisture and warm you up. The reverse occurs when you go into a warm environment. That’s why wool keeps you warm in the winter and cool in the summer. It’s the perfect all season sock.
No More Blisters
Think about all the times you’ve had blisters throughout your life. They’re usually caused by a combination of excessive friction, lack of padding, and moisture issues. Merino wool socks solve all three of those problems.
I used to get blisters at the beginning of every backpacking season. My feet would swell up, blister, and I’d be miserable my first trip. After a while my feet would get used to the extra mileage and I’d be good for the rest of the year.
Blisters are a thing of the past now that I’ve switched to merino wool socks. They’re ridiculously comfortable thanks to the added cushioning and moisture control. I bough my first pair of Smartwool socks well over 10 years ago and I haven’t had a blister hiking since.
Warm In The Winter and Cool In The Summer
You can wear the same pair of merino wool hiking socks all year round. It doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside. Merino wool stays cool in the summer and warm in the winter. These are the perfect socks, with the added moisture wicking properties and comfort when wet.
Wool keeps your feet dry regardless of the weather conditions. You could be waist deep in water and the socks would still be comfortable. They might be wet for a while, but you won’t end up with blisters and sore feet.
Are your feet smelly after a long days hike? That probably means you’re wearing the wrong socks (probably cotton). The smell is a combination of your sweat, fungal, and bacteria growth. On the other hand, you can go days wearing the same pair of merino wool hiking socks.
Wool has antimicrobial properties that fight off bad smelling bacteria. Think about how a sheep lives its life. The wool gets covered in rain/snow, mud, poop, urine. All kinds of nasty stuff! Wool
My parents have bought me a pair of Smartwool socks every Christmas for the past 10 years. Its almost turned into a family tradition at this point and I really don’t need more. I wear them multiple days per week and I still have every single pair.
The average person will never wear through a pair of merino wool socks. I wear mine everyday at the gym, on the trail, and around the house. They all look almost as good as the day I got them.
Have you ever touched a sheep? They’re extremely poofy! You push down on the wool and it instantly bounces right back up. It has a level of elasticity that can’t be matched with synthetic blends.
That’s the same thing you get with wool hiking socks. The fibers have a simple elasticity to them making wool socks really well cushioned. This helps relieve pressure from your joints and significantly reduces the risk of blisters.
Can Go Days Between Washes
Thanks to wools antimicrobial properties, you can wear the same pair of hiking socks for multiple days in a row without washing them. This can save a few pounds of pack weight on long backpacking trips. Personally I like to bring a backup pair of socks so I can hand wash them
Merino Wool Isn’t Itchy
This isn’t the same kind of itchy wool you grew up with. Modern merino wool is extremely soft and not itchy at all. Merino is extremely durable and one step below the comfort of cashmere. There’s really no comparing modern wool to the old itchy stuff my grandma had.