Our globetrotting experts have tested 30 of the best hiking socks for the past 10 years. For our 2020 review, we purchased 10 of market's top models to compare side-by-side. Each sock was worn and tested for at least 50-60 miles, with some seeing mileage in the several hundreds in extended testing. We wore them while exploring places around the USA and the world. The high Rockies of Colorado, the wet tundra of Iceland, the high deserts of Moab, Utah are just a few. We've tested them on big fastpacking adventures, long thru-hikes, trail runs, and constantly wearing them everywhere we go. After all this testing, our legs are as strong as our recommendations. Rock-solid.Related: Best Hiking Boots for Men of 2020
The Best Hiking Socks of 2020
Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion
The Darn Tough Full Cushion Hiker is our all-time favorite for its impressive performance across all categories. It's a perfect option for all types of adventures, from long backpacking missions to simple day hikes. The designers at Darn Tough successfully created a fully cushioned sock that balances warmth and breathability. They are long and boot compatible, but thin enough to be worn with a sturdy pair of hiking shoes. The fibers are soft and comfortable while the construction is amazingly durable! We've been wearing this sock for over two years, and we still haven't worn any big holes or signs of wear and tear. With a lifetime guarantee, it's hard to go wrong! We also appreciate the men's and women's specific fit options.
While we love this product to pieces, its downside lives in its breathability. While it offers great airflow in its paneled compression system, the fabric is so tight-knit that it doesn't breathe as well as other synthetic-wool blend options. This makes it a great option for the icy weather of winter or the warm temperatures of an early morning in the summer. But it's less than ideal for a hike in the desert during the heat of summer.
Read the review: Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion
Best Bang for the Buck
Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool
The Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock is a high-value merino-synthetic hiking sock. Given its lower price, we are surprised at how breathable and comfortable it feels on the trail. The higher cut on the calf is compatible with hiking boots but thin enough to work well in a pair of hiking shoes. While the cushioning is plush, it's not maximal, making it a great option for day hikes, camping, and short backpacking adventures through the Fall, Spring, and Summer. It usually comes in a three-pack which works out to a price that is half the cost of most hikers out there. It is offered in a unisex fit that works for both the ladies and the gents.
While we love this sock, it isn't perfect. Even though it is built as a merino wool blend, it integrates more synthetic materials than the uber-insulating wool materials. As a result, it's not very warm in the winter when you are stagnant or standing still. In addition, for those with a more narrow foot profile, the toe box isn't super specific and bunches, especially when wet. While these issues are navigatable, it is the trade-off for a much lower price.
Read the review: Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks
Best Lightweight Cushioning
Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
If you love hiking in hot temperatures or running through the winter, you need to check out the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew for both men and women. The high concentration of Nylon in the construction provides powerful wicking power while the lightweight architecture integrates plenty of breathable panels. This is the sock to wear if your feet sweat or you love high output sports. The height is compatible with low or most mid-height hiking boots or running shoes, making it compatible for a wide range of uses. Its drying speed is impeccable, making it a wonderful thru-hiking option. If you love trail running, cross-country skiing, or long thru-hikes, this trail-tested classic is our favorite. There are women's and men's specific versions available with some differences in construction, but both are suitable for lightweight adventures.
This sock will offer plenty of heat while in motion (given its high proportion of Merino wool), but doesn't offer the most warmth during sedentary activity. It's not our choice for winter camping or standing around in the cold. Aside from that, we can't find much to nitpick with this excellent top performer.
Read the review: Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
Read the review:Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion - Women's
Best Synthetic Construction
Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is one of our longest tested socks and still a favorite. While it has shifted itself around in the award winners from being a Best Buy Award winner to our favorite synthetic sock, its performance has always been worthy. We've been testing this sock for over five years, and it is still going strong! The 100% synthetic construction gives it excellent breathability while the fibers are durable. On the run or fast pack, it offers immense breathability and dries very quickly on the trail. In addition, Wigwam designs this sock specifically for both men and women.
Like most socks that integrate a fully synthetic construction, it doesn't perform as well in cold temperatures. Once the mercury drops to around freezing, this sock loses its wicking power. As a result, its best for warmer weather conditions. The fit is also less specific than other socks. While it doesn't slide down the leg while traveling, it lacks compressive paneling which sometimes causes it to bunch in the toes if the fit isn't right on. Aside from these caveats, this is our favorite fully synthetic sock!
Read Review: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro
Notable Mention for Breathability
Wrightsock Coolmesh II Crew
This is the most breathable and quick-drying sock we've tested. Whenever we had to consider which one to wear in the hottest weather or on technical trails, this is the one we reached for. It features a unique 100% synthetic construction that utilizes a 'double sock' technology. There are two layers where the outer layer is nice and thin while the interior is thicker and burlier. This allows the fabric to slide around on each other, helping to prevent friction on your skin, and thus blisters. The fabric itself is porous and offers a super-fast drying time. The sock itself fits well and is quite comfortable for all-day wear. There are women and men specific fit designs.
The downsides? It's not very warm and its durability is questionable. While this is quite a popular sock, we noticed wear and tear after just 10 miles on the trail, which seems to validate a number of durability reviews online. Aside from that, it's our favorite for hot days!
Read review: Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew
Why You Should Trust Us
This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editor Amber King. In addition to over 5 years of gear reviewing experience, she is an endurance athlete that loves to trail run, splitboard, hike, and backpack. She spends most of her time exploring places in remote, trailless terrain such as the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve, and on the rocky and exposed trails that make up one of the world's hardest ultraraces, the Hardrock 100. She also enjoys figuring out the most efficient and most lightweight systems while fastpacking through these mountains. Amber has tested and written about many related products for OutdoorGearLab, including ski socks, running socks, and trail running shoes.
The hunt for the best hiking sock began by combing through the market to find all potential test candidates. We selected the top 10 to purchase, compare, and wear side-by-side. We thought about what the most important things are that a hiking sock does, and designed tests around these performance areas. For example, the warmth metric was broken down into dry and wet warmth, with the socks being worn in cold weather while either dry or wet, in succession. Durability was evaluated after each pair had roughly 60 miles on them. Drying speed was measured both in the field and in controlled conditions in the lab. We take our testing seriously and provide only our feedback without any inherent product bias. We truly look for the best products out there to provide our readers with the best recommendations.
Related: How We Tested Hiking Socks
Analysis and Test Results
In this review, we focus on mid- and lightweight hiking socks with functionality that can extend from simple day hikes to hiking your next thru-hiking trail. We evaluated each with five core metrics; namely, comfort, warmth, drying speed, breathability, and durability. Now you can guide yourself to best hiking sock for your purposes! Use our award winners and notable mentions as a guide, then take a look at the scores to see how they stood up to other bomber products on the market.
Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Socks
Getting a sock that is durable and won't break down after minimal use is super important. Here at OutdoorGearLab, we strive to provide great recommendations that aren't just all about performance but also won't crash your budget. The various models of hiking socks range significantly in price, but a bit less so in price. We find a lot of value in sock manufacturers that offer a lifetime guarantee and are constructed of more durable materials.
For example, brands like Darn Tough and Farm to Feet advertise and offer a lifetime guarantee that allows you to send back your socks if you're not happy. The Farm to Feet proves to be the most expensive, followed by Darn Tough (depending on the style you seek). On the other end of the spectrum are the less expensive options that also provide a decent level of performance and durability. The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro offers superior durability and protection but doesn't earn our Best Buy Award because it's not as high value as the Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks. There are great deals out there for great performing socks.
Strategically shopping for socks can pay off. Sock colors are often updated once or twice per year, and when this happens, the older colorways are usually available at a steep discount.
Comfort & Fit
When testing this metric, we consider many variables that contribute to comfort. This includes panels of cushioning, relative thickness, and specificity of fit. We look at how each feels during low and high-intensity exercise, specifically backpacking, hiking, and running while adventuring over technical and smooth surfaces. After taking on challenges that push our physical boundaries, we note which sock is the most comfortable to pull on and just relax with. Socks that fit well with midweight cushioning and a merino wool composition are typically the most comfortable. Those that are a tube of fabric without strategic architecture are typically less comfortable for adventuring for many miles. This review is for both men and women, so we note which socks are unisex and which have designs that are specific to both men & women.
While most hiking socks are pretty darn comfortable, some contenders stand out better than others. Those with the highest amount of underfoot cushioning are typically best suited for super technical trails or just pulling on after a long day out on the trail. The Smartwool brand socks are renowned for the comfortable wool and long-lasting trail comfort. For example, the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew is a tube of super lofty cushioning around the top and bottom of the foot, and through the calf. These are a favorite, along with the REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew, for pulling on after a long, hard day on the trail.
The Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew outperform the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew because it is designed more thoughtfully with more a more compressive and specific fit that provides better breathability. Both are highly comfortable, but for different reasons.
In comparison to the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion, the Smartwool socks offer a higher level of cushioning. This sock is deemed quite comfortable simply because of the fit, but the fibers are more tightly compacted, which, to some online reviewers, seems a little scratchy. In our testing, we deem this a very comfortable and well-fitted sock that offers better performance than the Smartwool Lightweight Hiking Crew. In comparison to the Smartwool PhD Pro Light, the Darn Tough offers less plush cushioning overall. For a 'fully cushioned' sock, it feels like it has a lighter amount of cushioning. So, if you're seeking the best cushioning out there, look to the Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew or the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew.
Most of the socks fit into this category, but the level of "lightweight" cushioning is seemingly quite variable. For example, the Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew is super thin with hardly any cushioning at all, while our favorite for lightweight cushioning, the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew is stacked with more protection, but not as much as the Darn Tough Full Cushion. The REI Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew offers great breathable panels, but the cushioning is closer to medium than light.
Of those that sport lightweight cushioning, the Darn Tough Light Hiker is our favorite simply because the fabric performs well in all conditions and feels good on the foot. It provides protective cushioning responsive enough to carry a heavy pack and protects through the Achilles. It's not as plush as the Smartwool brands but is thicker than the Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool and Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro sock. The Smartwool Pro is said to be a lightweight sock and offers great areas of ventilation. However, the material is super plush underfoot, feeling more like a medium level of cushioning. The Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight is another super comfortable contender that claims a 'medium' level of cushioning but is lighter and more similar to the Darn Tough Light Hiker. It offers a little more plushness in its cushioning than the Darn Tough.
When considering ample cushioning, the Smartwool options are our top recommendations while the Darn Tough Light Hiker is our favorite for lightweight cushioning. Now, let's take a look at the fit.Fit
Fit is another function of comfort. A well-fitted sock that doesn't slip or bunch will help to keep your feet happy for long miles on the trail. In this section, we compare the relative fit of different socks. Those that performed the best have integrated areas of compression and thoughtfully structured toe boxes that don't deform under stress. We also look at the relative sock heights and compatibility with different hiking shoes and boots.
Most of the socks we tested integrate elastic materials that keep the sock in place while on the trail. For example; all the highest performers, such as the Darn Tough Full Cushion, integrate a compressive material around the arch and the calf. Darn Tough also uses a more tightly knit design in the fabric that 'hugs' the foot. The Smartwool brands don't hug the foot as much and allow a little more freedom. Of the Smartwool socks, the Smartwool PhD Pro stays in place the best, while the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew is more like a tube of material that lacks compressive paneling.
The REI Light Hiker is very similar to the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew in the level of cushioning, but the fit is more specific as it integrates a compressive panel around the arch, to keep it in place. As a result, we prefer this sock when it comes to fit and performance because of its enhanced fit.
Overall, if you're in the market for a comfortable and cozy sock option, look into the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew or REI Light Hiker. Both offer ample underfoot cushioning and are a favorite for pulling on after a long day on the trail. In terms of performance comfort, our favorites include the Darn Tough Full Cushion, the Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew. Both are well-fitted and offer great underfoot protection. These are all great options for longer or more technical trails. If lightweight comfort is what you seek, look into the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight or Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew (for both men and women).
Wicking and Breathability
Wicking and breathability are important to avoid the dreaded 'swamp foot.' A sock that can thermoregulate well and move moisture away from your foot will inherently keep you happy and comfortable for long days on the trail. To test this metric, we ran, hiked, biked, and backpacked over distances ranging from one to 28 miles. We took socks through a wide range of temperatures and conditions, too.
Socks with a thinner construction or loosely packed fibers typically breathe better than those that are thicker or have a higher density construction. By far, the most breathable contenders feature 100% synthetic construction. The Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew totally crushes this category, being a clear choice for hot weather. It integrates thinner synthetic materials and ventilation that allows water vapor to escape effectively. The interior layer is soft against the foot and wicking away moisture efficiently. If you're looking for a warm or hot weather sock, this is our favorite.
The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is another great option offering fantastic breathability. The fit is looser, so it doesn't wick as well as the Wrightsock, but the looser knit and larger coils along the interior of the sock grab moisture to move it effectively away from the foot. Unfortunately, this sock loses its wicking power in colder weather, as we observed on a winter camping trip. Luckily, you can fit a liner underneath the sock that helps to increase its ability to wick. The Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool also provides superior breathability, though some of our testers mentioned that sweat lingers in spots between the toes, so it didn't score as high as the Wrightsock or Wigwam.
Of the wool-synthetic blends, the Darn Tough Light Hiker and Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight offer a similar level of breathability that is superior. Both utilize ventilation patterns along the upper portion of the foot and throughout the length of the calf, while the Darn Tough Light Hiker is shorter in design. Less coverage makes it a more breathable sock and more suitable for warmer conditions. The Darn Tough Hiker has revamped their sock to offer superior wicking power to the Damascus Midweight and stays dry throughout the day. It's our Top Pick for Lightweight construction for its excellent ventilating panels and a high concentration of Nylon that wicks moisture away effectively.
The Darn Tough Full Cushion did well and proves to offer a similar level of breathability as the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew or the REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew. While the Darn Tough has thinner materials and offers areas for ventilation, the weave isn't as loose as these other options so moisture can get stuck in the material. Between the REI and Smartwool, the REI offers a breathable panel around the arch, making it more breathable than the Smartwool sock.
The Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew is our favorite thicker sock option. The ventilation panels are large and extend from the arch to the top of the foot and go through the length of the calf, similar to the Darn Tough Full Cushion. The only difference is the material is more loosely knit, making water transfer easier, and thus more breathable.
Overall, if you're seeking a thinner sock that wicks and breaths the best, the Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew is your best bet. While all the socks we tested breathe relatively well, of the merino-synthetic blends, the Darn Tough Light Hiker is our favorite, for its thinner materials, followed by the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight. Of the thicker socks, the Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew is by far the best.
A good hiking sock will keep you warm when you need it the most, whether you are summiting a mountain or curling up in a cozy sleeping bag. When looking at warmth, we take into consideration the wet and dry warmth of each sock. To test warmth when wet, we dunk each sock in water, intrepidly bite down on our lower lip, and hike around in cold temperatures. To test warmth when dry, we fly ourselves to remote places in Alaska during early Spring or camp out at altitude through the summer months where temperatures vary from 10F to 35F daily. Then we take each sock on split-boarding missions by day and snow-camp adventures at night. In the end, we rate each hiking sock based on performance in these conditions.
If sublime warmth is your goal, it's essential to look for a sock that integrates more wool than synthetic materials. These typically offer impressive warmth when both wet and dry. For example; the Darn Tough Full Cushion, Smartwool Hike Medium, and REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew offer the best warmth in both wet and dry conditions, with the proportional amount of merino wool being higher than other materials. This is simply because wool insulates both when wet and dry more effectively than other synthetic materials like nylon or polyester. These socks provide more warmth and a much wider range of thermoregulation. The Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks is an example of a merino wool synthetic blend that isn't as warm as the socks mentioned above. This is because it integrates only 33% merino wool among other synthetic materials, whereas the other options offer between 66%-70% merino wool in its construction, along with thicker materials.
Synthetic socks, like the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro, perform well in warm conditions, but lack warmth when temperatures drop as they tend to lose their wicking properties when dry or wet. That said, they still do insulate well when wet, offering protection in colder weather, as long as you stay mobile.
Toe socks like the Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool are colder than traditional styles because of their individualized digit design. This keeps toes away from each other, which doesn't enable a 'warming effect,' similar to how mittens are typically warmer than gloves. Of the socks tested, this is the coldest sock in both wet and dry conditions.
Overall, if you're seeking a sock that'll keep you warm, opt for those that offer the highest proportion of wool to synthetic materials. In both wet and dry conditions, this construction supersedes the rest. More specifically, the REI Co-op Lightweight Merino Wool Hiking Crew (79% merino wool) and Smartwool Hike Medium Crew (66% merino wool) are our two favorites.
Socks really do take a beat down while exploring outdoors, and a good one will last you for several hundred miles before failing. Testing durability in a short period can be pretty tough, but we managed to see a difference after putting 60 miles on each sock tested. This has been our fifth year testing these socks, with some seeing very few changes. After these years of fastpacking, hiking, and biking, we've been able to note big differences in durability. For socks that we've only had for a couple of months, we scoured the internet to find reviews of durability and noted any serious red flags after 20 - 60 miles of use.
First and foremost, when looking at durability, consider the warranty that comes with the sock. Darn Tough offers a lifetime guarantee of the sock, even after you've tried to wear holes into the material. In our experience, they are totally bomber. The materials are tightly knit, the fibers are strong, and we haven't had any bad experiences yet. This is one of the many reasons why the Darn Tough Full Cushion wins top honors while the Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew earns a top pick. Even though the upfront cost on both is relatively high, we know we are buying a product that will last for hundreds of miles. In our testing, we've had the same socks for over four years, logged over 500 miles on them, and they are still going. While some have definitely experienced holes after lots of use, we rest easy as you can send them back to Darn Tough, and they will send you a new pair — without an additional cost.
While we haven't tested the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight as extensively, they offer the same warranty. We wore these primarily on a month-long sailing, fastpacking, and running trip in Iceland. Throughout, they continued to perform, even after logging upwards of 200 miles. We still have them in hand, a year later, and they are still crushing it.
The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is a burly synthetic model that should last for seasons to come! After 60 miles of use, it still looks brand new with very little noted wear and tear. While the Darn Tough varieties showed pilling after this amount of time, the Wigwam had none to speak of. After about five years of testing this sock, we can confidently say it is highly durable and should last you for many seasons.
A sock that dries quickly has a large advantage on multi-day backpacking trips, especially in rainy climates or on trails that have seen a fresh rain. To test drying speed, we went hiking and backpacking in the field, purposely dunking our feet into streams and rivers along the way. We continued to hike to see if each would dry out on their own. In addition to these subjective field tests, we performed very precise drying analysis to see how quickly each dry in a home dryer. These two data points help us determine which socks dry the fastest and which retain water.
All the socks tested are constructed to appropriate materials, and for the purpose of hiking and backpacking, all dried within an appropriate amount of time to deem it fit for hiking. Though of all the socks tested, the Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew demonstrate the best drying capabilities. Like the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro, it is a full synthetic sock. In just 60 minutes of drying at low heat, it was completely dry.
The Wigwam Hiking Pro come it at second place drying in just 70 minutes, similar to the Darn Tough Light Hiker. However, the Light Hiker earns a lower score because, during our air drying tests in a fairly humid environment, they typically took longer to dry. The Darn Tough Full Cushion surprised us, drying in 70 minutes, like the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro and offers a quick-drying capability on the trail.
Overall, if you're seeking a fast-drying sock, the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro and Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew offer the fastest drying time. These two socks are constructed of 100% synthetic materials. If you prefer a wool-synthetic blend instead, check out the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion and Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight, as they both offer impeccable performance in our on-trail tests and objective, in-house dryer tests.
We have taken these socks to three continents to test and learn about their advantages and pitfalls. In these varying climates, we've been able to identify award winners and niche performers best for any trail condition. When you're looking for a bomber trail sock, be sure you take into consideration how you need it to perform. There are many options out there, and the perfect one for you is ready to be found. Happy trails!
— Amber King