Reviews You Can Rely On

10 Best Socks of 2024

We've rounded up all the best socks of 2023, from casual wear to high performance gear, to help you find the best fit for your next adventure
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Best Socks Review (Our testers have spent countless hours of research and testing to narrow down the competition and bring you the best...)
Our testers have spent countless hours of research and testing to narrow down the competition and bring you the best socks of 2023.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Our Top Picks

Tuesday April 30, 2024

Buying new socks can be a daunting endeavor. With so many styles, designs, and manufacturers to choose from, how do you find one that will best fit your feet, needs, and budget? Our testers have spent countless hours testing hundreds of pairs of socks in all types of environments in order to suss out which ones stand tall and which ones slouch and bunch. Don't worry; we've got you (and your feet) covered. Below, you'll find socks of all shapes, sizes, thicknesses, and materials. Narrowing down your needs starts with a simple consideration: what will you be doing? Are you wearing them to work? Or the gym? We've reviewed the best options for daily and activewear for both men and women.

Looking for a particular type of sock for a certain activity? Our powderhounds have been testing the best ski socks on the slopes for years. If you've got some big treks on the calendar, head on over to our best hiking socks review to be sure you're outfitted for your adventure. For those of you who like to stack up the cardio, we'd suggest reading up on our review of the best running socks, whether you get your miles on the pavement or the trail. If you're on the prowl for some comfortable new kicks, take a look at our best walking shoe review.

Editor's Note: We updated our socks review on April 30, 2024, with additional information on our testing process.

The Best Socks for 2024

Best Overall Men's Sock

Darn Tough Men's Hiker Boot Midweight

Material: 66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra | Height: Boot | Cushion: Medium
Foot-hugging design
Plenty of padding
Warm wool
Awesome warranties
Not best for the heat

Once again, Darn Tough has created an uber-comfortable sock that performs well across all metrics. The Men's Hiker Boot Midweight is made up mostly of fine Merino wool, which is softer and thinner than other types of wool, allowing for more comfort and breathability. The midweight padded pile is ubiquitous, only absent where they've incorporated breathability panels, meaning that your foot stays warm and dry. These hug the foot so well that we never notice uncomfortable bunching or hot spots while at work or play. What's more, they have a “seamless” toe for added comfort. We didn't have a single issue with durability, but you can rest assured that if you ever do, then you can take advantage of Darn Tough's lifetime warranty.

It's hard to find things we don't like about these socks. Still, one obvious downside is the price point, as these are not your budget multi-pack variety. So, these will definitely set you back if you plan on buying a pair for each day of the week. That said, Merino wool is naturally anti-microbial, and we wore these socks for days on end without noticing any funk. Being midweight wool socks, they also might be too warm for some situations, like working hot days under the sun at the construction site. On the other hand, the Merino-nylon blend does a fantastic job at wicking moisture, so if you find yourself there, then we're sure your feet will still be comfortable and dry when the day is done. Even with these critiques, if you're looking to invest in a sock that will keep your feet happy for a lifetime and one that is backed by a guarantee, we highly recommend this pair. Want to go lighter? Consider the Dickies Dri-Tech Crew Multipack.

Here's a look under the skin of the Darn Tough Men's Hiker Boot Midweight sock. Breathability panels at the top of the leg and above the ankle help the foot breathe, while the merino blend fabric is piled high to increase comfort and warmth.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Overall Women's Sock

Dickies Dri-tech Crew Multipack - Women's

Material: 71% Cotton, 27% Polyester, 2% Spandex | Height: Crew | Cushion: Medium
Great airflow
Soft feel
Fashionable designs
Great warranty program
Tight calf compression
Lacks longevity

The right combination of style and function allowed the Dickies Dri-tech Crew Multipack - Women's to rise above the competition. These are a blend of cotton, polyester, and spandex that feels soft on the skin and provides just the right amount of compression and stretch. While it isn't designed for athletic pursuits, it does have excellent breathability and, as is implied in the name, dries relatively quickly for a cotton sock. These qualities make it a decent choice for a running sock, and additionally, it incorporates moisture-wicking technology and ventilation panels designed to increase air circulation. Further, we liked the style options – providing both fashion and function.

Only after months of use did we notice that it began to stretch out and lose form. These may not be the best option for longevity, but this is typical of cotton socks we've tested. For the price, we don't expect them to be on par with more expensive and durable models. For those with larger calves, these socks may become uncomfortably tight over hours. Yet, all-in-all, the Dickies Dri-tech Crew was a fan favorite for its generally good grades in all test subjects. While this particular model is nowhere near as expensive as hiking or ski socks, there are models that are even easier on the bank account, such as the Champion No Show.

socks - the stylish dickies dri-tech crew performed its way to the top of...
The stylish Dickies Dri-tech Crew performed its way to the top of the class in our women's sock category.
Credit: Tad McCrea

Best Bang for the Buck Men's Sock

Dickies Dri-Tech Crew Multipack

Material: 75% Cotton, 19% Polyester, 5% Nylon, 1% Lycra Spandex | Height: Crew | Cushion: Medium
Low cost
Burly reinforced area underfoot
Low thread count on upper
Lacks heel padding
Seams on toe can be uncomfortable

We look at the bargain bin with a skeptical eye. Oftentimes, low-budget socks don't last more than a couple of weeks before we see holes or elastic wear. The Dickies Dri-Tech Crew Multipack caused us to reconsider this bias. The heavy-duty footpad feels great underfoot, even after long days in work boots. Dickies makes some impressive claims about the moisture-wicking capabilities of these socks – largely due to the polyester that they've incorporated into the design. Synthetic fibers are much better than cotton at wicking moisture and are quick to dry, giving these cotton socks an edge. Coming in multi-packs of 6 or 12 for a bargain price, you'll surely be wearing these for a while.

Despite being surprised by some aspects, other properties were true to form for an inexpensive sock. For instance, the footpad is reinforced, but the upper and cuffs are super thin with a low thread count. Though this isn't normally the point of wear on a sock, it's still worth mentioning and one reason for the low cost. Furthermore, the padding doesn't wrap up around the heel, making it a weak point for early wear. Many pricier models now feature “seamless” toes to make them more comfortable. However, these socks are old-school, complete with bulky toe seams. If this is a strong consideration for your overall comfort, consider spending a little more cash. And though the manufacturer claims they have built-in wicking technology, our testers confirmed it's still a cotton sock. This means after long, sweaty workouts, your foot will surely be a little moist. Cotton does a great job at holding moisture, and these are mostly made from this classic material. Weighing in on everything, we still recommend the Dickies Dri-Tech as a budget-friendly, comfortable option, whether on the worksite or holed up in a cubicle. Cotton blends are great for most days, but if you're heading into the woods, cotton can leave you wet and cold. Instead, check out the merino blend Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion before heading into the backcountry – these are cotton-free.

While the footpad and instep (top of foot) on the Dickies Dri-Tech Crew socks are thicker and more durable, the leg portion of the sock is thin and lacks durability.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Bang for the Buck Women's Sock

Champion No Show - Women's

Material: 97% Polyester, 2% Spandex, 1% Other | Height: Low Ankle | Cushion: Minimal
Enduring brand
Good for all-day wear
Lose elasticity with use
Absorbs odors

These polyester socks incorporate just the right amount of spandex to give them a stretchy, snug fit. The Champion No Show - Women's comes in an affordable multipack that offers a lot of value for your dollar, and they did well in testing. Due to the thinness of the material, they dry out quickly and are best suited for warm conditions. We were pleasantly surprised that this material is more durable than it looks, which adds value to an already value-conscious product. The low height is barely visible above a normal ankle shoe, which makes these a versatile choice for the gym or office.

The primary drawback of these also has to do with the thinness of the material—it doesn't offer any cushion when exercising on hard surfaces. Another drawback resulting from the choice of material is that polyester does a superb job of absorbing odors. We wore these for multiple days without washing during testing, and they were definitely the stinkiest. Despite these marks against these ankle socks, we found them to be a great, inexpensive choice for active or daily wear. Spandex might be comfortable for a lot of activities, but if you're planning on pounding the pavement or the trail, running-specific models such as the Balega Blister Resist Quarter are designed to handle sweat, friction, and heavy-duty wear and tear.

The Women's Champion No Show proved to be both comfortable and breathable during testing.
Credit: Whitney Clark

Best Hiking Sock

Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion

Material: 66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra | Height: Boot | Cushion: Heavy
Unparalleled durability
Outstanding wicking
Full cushion comfort
More expensive
Too thick for hot weather

When it comes to hiking, our top recommendation is the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion. It has plenty of padding, and the form fit means no bunching or piling. It provides unparalleled protection and comfort on the trail. Further, its superior durability and lifetime warranty—given to all Darn Tough socks—means that it will assuredly last a lifetime of adventures and pursuits. The crew-length design is compatible with all types of hiking boots, while the wooly pile feels soft on the feet. You can be sure that this sock, although a bit spendy, will be a wise investment. Further, they offer gender-specific fits that feel great whether your foot is narrow or wide. This is the obvious choice if you want an all-around amazing hiking sock, especially on long treks. As a bonus, it will double as a comfortable pair of sleeping socks.

A downside to all that cushion is less breathability. It lacks the breathability panels on the instep given to the light and midweight competition. Also, it's not the first sock to grab when the mercury rises, although it does offer incredible wicking capability. Lastly, the investment is greater than most hiking socks. Given that all Darn Tough socks come with a lifetime warranty, however, it's a worthwhile purchase. If what you're looking for is a boot-compatible, darn tough sock for cold-weather pursuits, then give this pair a try. Your feet will thank you. If you value quantity over quality, you can get a whole pile of Champion No Shows for the cost of a pair of Darn Toughs.

Read more: Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion review

socks - shown inside out on the right, the darn tough hiker full cushion...
Shown inside out on the right, the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion incorporates a couple of breathability panels (above the ankle and top of leg) while maintaining the heavy pile overall for superior cushion and warmth.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Bang for the Buck Hiking Sock

Danish Endurance Unisex Merino 3-Pack

Material: 36% Nylon, 33% Acrylic, 30% Merino Wool, 1% Elastane | Height: Boot | Cushion: Medium
Excellent wicking and breathability
Form-fitting design
Can bunch at toes
Less durable

These Merino wool-synthetic blend hiking socks come in packs of three at an incredible value. The Danish Endurance Unisex Merino 3-pack is a comfortable set of socks that scored well in most of our tests. Also, its length makes it compatible with shoes and boots. One of the unique attributes of this sock is the built-in breathability panels around the ankle and shin. The midweight cushion lends plenty of comfort for even long treks on uneven terrain. Lastly, the unisex fit made both our male and female testers' feet happy.

Although priced to sell, this sock didn't score as highly across the board as our top contenders. The Merino wool adds wickability and comfort, but the synthetic material isn't the best at thermoregulation. Also, one of our testers noted that the toe box is a little wide. Therefore, these socks might bunch at the toes for those with narrow feet, mostly when wet. Our testers with wide feet, on the other hand, didn't notice this effect. Even though these issues are worth considering, it's hard to find a Merino-synthetic blend sock at such an affordable price. These socks will also hold up — after two years of trail use, there is a bit of piling, wear, and compaction, but they keep our feet comfy. The major factor here is the price—the 3-pack makes each pair much more affordable than the comparable competition. If you're fashion-oriented, you'll also note that they're available in a variety of colors so you can coordinate outfits in the great outdoors. Merino wool is excellent for hiking, but it may be more warmth than you need for an everyday use sock. The CelerSport Ankle Athletic are a better choice for office work, class, or errands.

Read more: Danish Endurance Unisex Merino 3-pack review

Specially designed stitching across the toe, on the ankle, and up the shin give the Danish Endurance Unisex Merino socks a leg up in terms of ventilation.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Liner Sock

Injinji Liner Crew

Material: 75% Coolmax Polyester, 21% Nylon, 4% Lycra | Height: Crew | Cushion: Minimal
Anatomically form-fitting
Surprisingly warm for a liner
Very thin
Lacks durability

When we decided to try the Injinji Liner Crew, we had tempered expectations. Often, with an ultra-thin sock, we see lower scores in the comfort, warmth, and durability metrics. However, we were pleasantly surprised by this ultralight liner. The anatomically correct “five-finger” sock does a superb job at hugging the feet AND the toes. The synthetic materials wick away moisture almost immediately, even between the toes. Oftentimes, synthetic socks can feel like a plastic bag on your foot, trapping moisture and odors, resulting in what we like to call “swamp foot.” We didn't find that to be the case with these, though. Also, even though they're not designed to be a standalone cold weather sock, they are surprisingly warm—we liked to wear them around inside as a layer between our feet and the cold floor.

Did we mention that these are incredibly thin? If you're heading out into cold weather, then you're going to need an oversock. This is where the thinness is a boon—since they essentially feel like an extra layer of skin, you'll hardly notice them under your thick, cold-weather sock. Another notable feature (or lack thereof) is the absence of any sort of padding. You'll likely want a more cushioned sock if you're traveling long distances carrying a pack. Again, since they're so thin, you're going to get more miles for the money with thicker, more durable options. At such a bargain price, however, we think they're well worth the purchase to have this useful piece of gear in your bag. They're so small and lightweight that you'll hardly notice. And if you happen to need a liner under your thick sock to help wick moisture and keep your feet warm and dry, you and your feet will be stoked to have these along. The Injinijis have a bit of a specific purpose. If you want a sock that can be used for casual wear but also has the integrated tech for workouts and adventures, the Saucony Performance Heel Tab Athletic Socks is a great choice for an all-purpose model.

Read more: Injinji Liner Crew review

The Injinji Liner Crew is an amazing liner sock, but due to the thinness may not hold up for long when worn on its own.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Best Overall Ski Socks

Smartwool Ski Targeted Cushion

Materials: 59% Merino Wool, 38% Nylon, 3% Elastane | Height: Knee | Cushion: Light
Warm for a lightweight sock
Great comfort
Phenomenal airflow
Relatively costly
Lacks a long-term warranty

The Smartwool Ski Targeted Cushion is our first-choice sock for hitting the slopes. This lightweight option has padding in the important places while not creating a pile of socks at the wrong spots in your ski boots. Because it relatively thin, it's best suited for ski boots that have yet to pack out—if you've got a lot of room in your boot, then you may want a thicker sock. Overall, these are snug in the toe box, upper cuff, and heel cup. There are compression panels in each of these areas to make sure there's no bunching. Smartwool has incorporated breathability panels, notably in the instep, to make sure your foot can breathe. While these may seem thin, they kept our feet plenty warm on the coldest of Sierra snow days. The Merino-synthetic blend is engineered for superior wickability and high-performance use.

When compared to the other contenders, the primary downside to the Ski Targeted Cushion is the hefty cost and lack of long-term warranty. They do offer a two-year warranty, and you can return them within that window for any reason. This doesn't compare to other competitors, like Darn Tough, who offer a no-questions-asked lifetime warranty. That said, Smartwool has built a name for high-quality socks that perform well and keep feet warm despite the conditions. More and more people are switching to compression socks for skiing. If you want to give it a try, the Dissent GFX Compression Hybrid DLX-Wool is our top recommendation.

socks - the smartwool ski intraknit otc sock gave us comfort and warmth when...
The Smartwool Ski Intraknit OTC sock gave us comfort and warmth when we needed it the most.
Credit: Isaac Laredo

Best Ski Compression Socks

Dissent GFX Compression Hybrid DLX-Wool

Material: 65% Polyamide, 25% Lycra, 10% Merino Wool | Height: Knee | Cushion: Light
Compression fit
Targeted cushion
Quick drying
Difficult to pull on

If you're looking for a compression sock, then you should give the Dissent GFX Compression Hybrid DLX-Wool a try. It's form-fitting, features excellent cushion in all the right places, and provides compression over the entire sock surface. It's anatomically engineered to give you a tight fit that stays taut even when wet over a week-long ski traverse. Because it's lightweight, it will dry out quickly when your day is done. Targeted cushioning means that you won't feel it in your form-fitted ski boots, while it gives you all-day-long protection and comfort. It's becoming a trend among athletes to switch to compression socks due to their supposed advantages, like better circulation, injury prevention, and quicker recovery. We can attest that this pair was our champion of choice when heading out for long days on the mountain due to the myriad of benefits. Additionally, durable construction means that they will endure many, many laps on the mountain while maintaining integrity and performance.

The primary disadvantage carried by the Dissent GFX is the price. It's certainly more expensive than other pairs out there. If you need compression, however, it is well worth the investment. Anecdotal evidence from our ski patrol buddies attests that it will last three seasons or more without wearing a hole. The downside of this durable compression is that it's harder to pull on than others. If you're a dedicated winter warrior who wants to experience the aid of compression fit, then we highly recommend that you add this to your gear bag. The Dissents are downright expensive. If you have this much to spend and you don't mind dropping down a notch or two in terms of overall performance, you could afford three pairs of Fox River Chatter Ultra Lightweight ski socks for the price of the Dissents.

socks - the dissent compression sock managed to keep our feet dry despite...
The Dissent Compression sock managed to keep our feet dry despite the hot spring temperatures of the Eastern Sierra.
Credit: Isaac Laredo

Best Running Sock

Balega Blister Resist Quarter

Material: 32% Drynamix Polyester, 32% Polyamide, 30% Mohair, 4% Microfiber, 2% Elastane | Height: Quarter/Micro Crew | Cushion: Medium
Superior padding and comfort
Fantastic breathability
Warm for a hot weather sock

There are many reasons why the Balega Blister Resist Quarter is top of class. It has cushioning right where you need it, and the hybrid wool/synthetic construction feels soft on the skin. The superior padding means that you'll experience superior protection while on the run. The top panel and under-arch incorporate ventilation panels, so your foot will stay breathing even on warm trail days. What's more, they offer anatomically different fits for males and females. After dozens of trail miles, they still look like they did when brand new, attesting to their durability. When our testers needed a sock to perform on long runs—up to one hundred miles in all seasons – this was their choice.

We really, really love these socks, but they might not be the first pick when temperatures soar. Due to the extra cushion, they're classified as midweight – there are lighter, more breathable options available. That said, we wore them in all types of weather, including hot summer days, and never found them too uncomfortable. The mohair wool may be part of the reason why, which helps wick moisture and thermoregulate the foot. So, if you're in the market for a top-of-the-line running sock that eschews durable construction, excellent protection, and superior comfort, look no further than the Balega Blister Resist Quarter. Still, running socks aren't necessarily designed for inclement weather. If you're headed into the mountains, the REI Co-op Merino Wool Expedition is a terrific choice, and they are reasonably priced compared to the premium hiking-specific models.

Read more: Balega Blister Resist Quarter review

socks - this sock provides an excellent combination of protection and...
This sock provides an excellent combination of protection and comfort, making it perfect for long adventure runs.
Credit: Amber King

How We Test Socks

Socks are an often-overlooked piece of gear, yet they are an integral interface between your feet and the ground. A good pair of socks can be like an extra layer of skin to prevent blistering, an extra set of footpads to cushion your step, a wooly jacket to keep out the cold and wet, or just a soft blanket to keep your feet cozy throughout a day lounging in the office. Our testers have spent over a decade analyzing over 100 pairs of socks, from thin, synthetic running socks to thick, wooly mountaineering socks and everything in between, in order to determine the all-stars in each category. Each season, we purchase new socks and put them through the wringer in order to stay current on the very best to suit your feet.

socks - after thousands of miles in hundreds of socks, you can be sure that...
After thousands of miles in hundreds of socks, you can be sure that our testers' recommendations are well founded.
Credit: Jon Oleson

While the testing may differ a bit between an everyday sock and a high-performance ski model, there are some basic metrics that are universally relevant. Comfort is the heaviest-weighted metric in every single sock category because if it isn't comfortable, then you probably won't want to wear it. In fact, if it's a great sock, then the only thing that you should notice is that your feet are more comfortable. The second most important metric is warmth, wicking, or breathability, depending on the type. Warmth is important if, say, you're looking for a sock to keep your feet comfortable while snowshoeing on a frigid day in the backcountry. And if your feet can't breathe, then you may be subject to the dreaded “swamp foot,” which leaves your feet clammy and leads to loss of warmth or worse – think fungal infections. Other metrics include fit, durability, odor retention, slip prevention, and even style, again, depending on the intended use. Some pairs we've had in our drawer for years, and they still hold up, and some we wear out even before the first round of testing. Whatever your needs, you can have faith that we've considered all the factors and have come to a tried and tested conclusion about which pair will be best for you.

socks - side-by-side comparison is our bread-and-butter. our testers often...
Side-by-side comparison is our bread-and-butter. Our testers often wore two different socks to better compare the nuanced differences between them.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Why Trust GearLab

Our team of testers is comprised of endurance athletes, trail runners, mountaineers, winter warriors, hiking enthusiasts, and all-around sock fanatics. Whether running under a sweltering summer sun, sliding on sticks down a mountain, tackling the trail miles, or lounging after a long day of work, we understand the importance of finding just the right option. Three lead testers for this review include, Amber King, who has traveled all over the world testing socks – often running 100+ mile trail systems ranging from Iceland to Peru. She is also an avid hiker and backcountry split-boarder and lends her expertise to our hiking, running, and ski sock reviews. Isaac Laredo spends 130+ days on the mountain each year as a ski guide, and he has learned that the right (or wrong) pair of winter socks can make or break your day. He has worn countless pairs of ski socks and frequently offers recommendations to clients who want to get the most out of their experience. Jon Oleson, the most recent addition to our sock testing team, leads testing for our men's sock and hiking sock reviews. He grew up hiking, hunting, fishing, climbing, and backpacking around the state of Utah, and, you guessed it, wore socks the whole time. These days, he spends most of his time in the Sierras, treading down trails and working as a farmer and sawyer from the foothills to the coastal redwoods. Our all-star team knows the value of choosing the right sock, and we've spent countless hours researching and testing in order to determine which model will best fit your next adventure.

Using a diffuser to test the breathability of each sock.
Using a diffuser to test the breathability of each sock.
Our hiking socks testers took the contenders to various climates to...
Our hiking socks testers took the contenders to various climates to compare them, including the warm and wet north shore of Maui.
Our ski sock testers are on the mountain at least 5 days per week...
Our ski sock testers are on the mountain at least 5 days per week, giving them over 100 days per season testing ski socks.
Our testers hard at work

How to Pick the Best Socks for You

The first step (pun intended) is to determine where your feet will take you while wearing your new pair of socks. Perhaps you need a new pair of crew socks to keep your feet comfortable in the office or on the work site? Or maybe you're planning a long-distance trek and want to know which models will keep your feet happy over dozens of trail miles? If you're a runner, you'll want a pair that will allow your feet to breathe and wick sweat away as you huff it down the trail so that you don't get hot spots or blisters. And if you're headed into the winter backcountry, then you'll want to focus on which pair of socks will keep your feet the warmest. Read on to learn more about how design differs for each of these uses.

socks - our testers spend 100+ days per year playing in the snow to...
Our testers spend 100+ days per year playing in the snow to determine which ski sock takes the best in class title.
Credit: Amber King

Type of Socks

Socks come in all shapes and sizes – that may be a bit of a cliché phrase, but it's true. There is an enormous variety of socks on the market, with options purposefully designed for every activity and preference. We break down the best options based on type, weight, and material to help you better hone in on the perfect pair of socks.

Everyday Use

Unless you're accustomed to island living, you likely wear socks most days – whether to work, to play, or to just lounge around. These days, they even have five-finger options to wear with your flip-flops if you want to go that route (and, yes, we've tested all that, too). The bottom line is that for this category of socks, we look for something comfortable and affordable.

Unless you're willing to shell out big bucks for a drawer full of performance socks, then it's nice to find those multi-sock “value packs” that still stand the test of time. These tend to be made of cheaper materials, i.e., cotton and synthetics, that are more suited for the home or office than the great outdoors or activewear. Depending on your preference, these may be “no show” ankle socks or crew socks that come up to the calf.

If style is a consideration because unique expression is important to you, then you can look for a set of socks with nice patterning or designs. Most times, a midweight option suits this purpose well. It will have enough padding to be comfortable while still maintaining breathability. But depending on your preference, footwear, and environment, you may find that a lightweight sock fits the bill by offering more breathability.

socks - casual socks tend to be medium weight and incorporate cheaper...
Casual socks tend to be medium weight and incorporate cheaper materials such as cotton, nylon, or polyester.
Credit: Miya Tsudome


When your heart rate is up and you start to sweat, you want a sock that will help not hinder your workout. The wrong model can cause hot spots, blistering, and clammy feet and may even cause you to end your workout early to browse online for a new pair. We look for a sock that is form-fitting, highly breathable, and has at least some cushioning. These tend to be midweight, with a decent cushion on the footpad, and the best-in-class incorporate thinner, breathable panels on the instep (top of the foot) and the leg, if not an ankle sock.

Oftentimes, we find that an ankle cut suits these socks the best, but again, your own preference will guide you. Because a snug fit is important, we focus on options that combine breathable, wicking material with quality elastic and are engineered with compression bands around the arch and ankle that help hold the sock in place. Whether you're running or jogging on your favorite trail or pumping iron at the gym, the last thing you want to think about is how your sock is bunching in your shoe. Lastly, while you will find cotton incorporated into this type of socks, if it's worth a lick of salt, then it will also weave in synthetic materials that will help wick away sweat and dry more quickly. That said, a full synthetic sock may not breathe as well and tends to give you that “plastic bag” feel on your foot.

socks - activewear socks almost universally incorporate more synthetic...
Activewear socks almost universally incorporate more synthetic material, because it's lightweight and excellent at wicking. The best in class are engineered with breathable mesh panels.
Credit: Matt Bento


Depending on the trail, the footwear, the season, and the environment, there can be a lot of variation in this category. Are you fast-packing in the shoulder season in the desert? Going for a summer day hike among the mountain streams? Maybe you need a variety of socks to carry you through a months-long trek that will take you through multiple seasons. Or perhaps you're scaling your favorite 14'er in the middle of winter? Each application comes with a specialty sock, so check out our review if you want the full scoop.

You won't find a single cotton sock in this lineup. These socks are built for performance and warmth and may become a piece of survival gear if the conditions turn against you. This recalls the old adage, “There's no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear.” Because of this, most hiking socks are made at least partially of wool, although we have also tested the full-synthetic versions for those who choose not to wear wool. Midweight or heavyweight hiking socks that are built primarily to provide warmth will have higher percentages of wool, while lightweight or midweight hikers built for warmer environments where wicking and breathability are needed may be comprised mostly of nylon or polyester.

socks - darn tough has gone the extra mile to craft a lightweight sock that...
Darn Tough has gone the extra mile to craft a lightweight sock that will outperform any other and keep your feet happy over the miles and days.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Consider the temperature where you'll be hiking, how much padding you need, and how likely your feet are to get wet. This will help you narrow down your search. The final consideration is what type of footwear you'll be pairing with your socks. A low-top hiking shoe in hot weather will pair well with a lightweight quarter (low cut) sock, while a pair of boots may require a half or full calf crew cut.

socks - the right pair of hiking socks can make or break a day out on the...
The right pair of hiking socks can make or break a day out on the trail.
Credit: Edward Kemper

Winter Mountain Sports

Here, we're mostly talking about skiing, snowboarding, or split boarding. We leave mountaineering to the “hiking sock” class since it's just hiking uphill in the snow anyway (said with tongue in cheek). For snow sports, the performance qualifications will differ a bit. Because modern ski and snowboard boots have so much insulation and are fit super snug, these socks tend not to be thick. In fact, all of our award winners fit into the ultra-lightweight or lightweight categories. Some incorporate wool, while others are fully synthetic. Warmth is important when heading into the mountains in the middle of winter, but since these activities tend to be highly physical and cardiovascular, and again, since the boots are so heavily insulated, wicking and breathability tend to be the focus.

Comfort is also a huge consideration, which is why many of these socks provide compression all the way up to the knee. This helps keep the blood flowing when post-holing for fresh tracks, which helps maintain endurance and warmth. Quality elastic is another important characteristic because the last thing that you want is your sock bunching in your boot and causing discomfort. Lastly, if you're on a multi-day ski traverse, then you'll want a sock that's quick to dry at the end of the day so your feet stay warm throughout the night. The right blend of wool and synthetic materials will accomplish both, although we've also tested full synthetic ski socks that achieve this aim.

socks - a quality pair of ski socks are well worth the investment, to help...
A quality pair of ski socks are well worth the investment, to help you enjoy the most out of your day while skiing or riding.
Credit: Isaac Laredo

Sock Weight

If you're choosing a specialty sock based on activity, the weight of the material can make a big difference in overall comfort. It may not surprise you that a heavyweight sock is probably not the best option for running in the heat of the summer, but it may be more surprising that a lightweight sock is a better bet for wearing with ski or snowboard boots. Below, we briefly describe how weight factors into your decision.

Ultra and Lightweight

Ultralightweight and lightweight socks are designed to be a thin layer of protection for your feet. While most lightweight pairs are designed for high-intensity activities like trail running, liners that are designed to keep your feet warm and dry under a thicker sock also fall into this category. Generally, these socks have little to no cushioning and may wear more quickly than thicker models. There is usually a trade-off between increased wicking and breathability and less durability and warmth.

socks - lightweight socks have minimal to no padding, and usually...
Lightweight socks have minimal to no padding, and usually incorporate thinner more breathable panels to reduce weight, increase breathability, and decrease dry time.
Credit: Jon Oleson


Midweight socks are made for all types of activity – from wearing on the work site to day hiking to long-distance running. These socks incorporate more cushioning than the lightweight competitors and are more durable as a result. Midweight socks that are made for high-intensity use, whether work or play, often incorporate a thinner, more breathable upper to ensure that the foot can breathe as your heart rate and perspiration increase. While not necessarily designed with warmth in mind, they will provide more warmth than a lightweight sock.

socks - midweight socks have more padding and are slightly thicker, i.e...
Midweight socks have more padding and are slightly thicker, i.e. warmer, and may or may not incorporate thinner panels for increased breathability. They're most suitable for shoulder seasons, or for when you want more padding than a lightweight sock.
Credit: Jon Oleson


Heavyweight socks are designed for high-impact or extreme condition use, whether you need the most cushioning, the most warmth, or often both. A heavyweight hiking sock is designed to provide padding and pile, while the best-in-class are made from materials that perform well at wicking away sweat since they most often don't have thinner, more breathable upper panels. A mountaineering sock will pile wool as thick as possible while still giving you the ability to cram your foot into an insulated boot. The goal here is, of course, to keep your feet from becoming frozen stubs when the mercury plummets. Heavyweight socks are warm, heavily cushioned, and are usually the most durable.

socks - heavyweight socks have the most cushion, and pile for maximum...
Heavyweight socks have the most cushion, and pile for maximum warmth. These socks are most suitable for colder weather pursuits.
Credit: Jon Oleson


Once you've dialed in the type and weight of sock you're aiming for, it's worth considering the different materials socks are made from. We briefly describe the material origin, why they're commonly used to spin socks and break down the pros and cons of each material type.


Nylon and Polyester are the most widely used synthetic materials for sock construction. They're both made from petroleum, using different chemical processes that give them slightly different properties. These synthetic fabrics are known for being lightweight, durable, mold-resistant, and water-resistant. Polyester is slightly more water resistant than nylon, but both are great at wicking away moisture and are relatively quick to dry. This is a major reason why these fabrics are woven into socks for activewear, but other reasons include reduced weight (for ultralightweight and lightweight socks) and increased durability. A major drawback of these synthetics is their tendency to retain odors. While they probably won't wear as quickly, you may have to retire them early if they get too funky. Many high-performance hiking socks now combine wool and synthetic fabrics to receive the benefits of both. We tend to steer away from fully synthetic socks, especially if the fabric is woven too tight, because they can feel like a plastic bag wrapped around the foot, resulting in decreased breathability.

socks - running and activewear socks are often made solely from synthetic...
Running and activewear socks are often made solely from synthetic materials, since they're lightweight and do a superb job at wicking moisture away from your skin.
Credit: Tad McCrea


Wool is a natural fiber that forms the fleece of animals such as sheep, alpacas, goats, and even rabbits. Most of the wool used in performance socks comes from sheep, Merino wool (coming from Merino sheep) being the most popular. We're also seeing Mohair wool being utilized more often, which is shorn from the Angora goat. Wool is an incredible fiber—it's naturally anti-microbial (odor resistant), wicks moisture well, and is quicker than other natural fabrics to dry, although not as quick-drying as synthetics. Wool has incredible insulative qualities, retaining heat better than any other, and retains these qualities even when wet. Different types of wool have different thicknesses, which affect the softness. Merino and Mohair wool are both thinner fibers than coarse, itchy wool, which makes it softer and allows it more breathability. The primary disadvantage of wool is the price. It's more expensive than synthetic fabrics or cotton. And as we mentioned, low-quality wool can be itchy and hard to wear. Though when you need wickability, warmth, and durability, wool is hard to beat.

socks - wool is often utilized in heavyweight cold weather socks meant to...
Wool is often utilized in heavyweight cold weather socks meant to keep your feet warm and dry no matter how low the mercury goes.
Credit: Jon Oleson


Cotton is usually reserved for casual rather than activewear. It's soft and cheap, making it comfortable and affordable. Many socks designed for everyday use utilize this natural fiber. The major disadvantages of cotton are that it retains moisture and is slow to dry, making it unsuitable for activewear. It also loses what little insulative qualities it has when it's wet, making it downright dangerous as a heat-retaining layer in inclement weather. One often repeated mantra in the outdoor world is that “cotton kills” since it does such a poor job at retaining heat (and even saps heat) when it becomes wet. That said, it's a perfectly useful fabric when knitting socks to keep your feet cozy at home or the office.

socks - cotton socks are often utilized for work or casual wear, but aren't...
Cotton socks are often utilized for work or casual wear, but aren't suitable for activewear since cotton takes a long time to dry and loses insulative quality when wet.
Credit: Jon Oleson

Men's vs Women's

At GearLab, we support gender-neutral sock buying. In many of our categories, you won't find a differentiation. After all, the sock doesn't really care about gender or sexual orientation when performing its functions. That said, you will find socks while shopping that are marketed or designed for a particular gender. For everyday-use socks, a sock designed for women may be thinner or “no show” in order to conform to low-cut, tight-fitting shoes. Women's designs often incorporate more style or design, much to this fashion-oriented male tester's chagrin (there's been more than one occasion of choosing the “women's” sock for the more fashionable design). Socks designed for men may be more “function” than “fashion,” displaying a cultural bias that we don't necessarily support. Whether your focus is on fashion, function, or both, we encourage you to consider all the aforementioned factors and choose a sock that best suits your unique and individual needs.

socks - women's socks tend to be more stylish than men's, which we feel is a...
Women's socks tend to be more stylish than men's, which we feel is a silly gender bias.
Credit: Amber King

Environmental Considerations

Many of us who spend a great amount of time in the great outdoors also have a mind geared toward environmental impact. Many sock manufacturers have begun to make socks from recycled synthetic materials in order to reduce the impact of their products on our most valuable resource – Planet Earth. We salute these efforts. If you're environmentally conscious, you'll appreciate looking for companies and products that utilize recycled materials. Another consideration may be choosing a product that won't be around when your children's children take the torch. Synthetic materials will take a long time to break down, whereas natural fibers like wool or cotton will break down in your compost pile.

socks - although we don't favor them in testing, our personal preference is...
Although we don't favor them in testing, our personal preference is toward socks made from recycled material. They make our feet, our hearts, and our Earth all happy.
Credit: Jon Oleson


Whatever your particular needs, there's a sock out there to suit your foot. Reading through this article, you may have even added several new socks to your shopping list. With so many considerations, brands, and types of socks, finding the perfect pair can be an overwhelming venture. We hope that we've given you plenty to consider and helped you narrow down your search for the right stocking. Whether you need a new set for everyday wear, a pair (or two) to accompany you on your next hike, or a specialty pair to increase your performance on the mountain, you're sure to find what you need within these pages.

Jon Oleson, Amber King, and Isaac Laredo