Seeking the best hiking sock for men and women? We researched over 60 different options and chose 11 all-stars to test head-to-head. Over the last few years, we have tested hiking socks thoroughly everywhere from the North Seas of Iceland to the deserts of Southwestern USA. Each sock has been through thundering rainstorms to weather hot enough to melt the rubber soles of your hiking boots. We tested each while primarily hiking, backpacking, and even trial running distances that have amounted to over 1000 miles. The result? An in-depth and thorough look at a key piece of outdoor gear to keep your feet happy on the trail.
The Best Hiking Socks
While the summer slowly fades away, the transition to autumn awakens new ambitions of logging miles on your favorite trails. Why not purchase the perfect hiking sock that will keep your feet happy when the temperatures dip during the night and rise during the day? In this update, we bring two new contenders to the table. The Feetures Elite Max Cushion is perfect for those looking for a mix between a lightweight hiker and running sock, while the synthetic-wool blend construction of the Farm to Feet Damascus provides performance great enough to be an Editors' Choice contender. Both are unisex, and both are worth considering. Check 'em out!
Best Overall for Men
Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion
The Darn Tough Full Cushion Hiker hit the top of our testers' scoring sheets for its outstanding performance across the board. It features a 66% merino wool blend with full cushioning. The designers at Darn Tough managed to blend warmth, comfort, and breathability into one quick drying, boot compatible hiking sock. With its full cushion, it's easy to assume that it will be built with thick material, but it's surprisingly thin. Superior construction means that this model hits higher-than-average durability, and our testers felt that these socks held up mile after mile. Plus, they're backed by Darn Tough's lifetime guarantee, so even if something goes awry, you can get them replaced.
While we love this sock to pieces, its only 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 breath as well as other synthetic-wool blend options. Also, while it dries relatively quickly, it's not the best for wet weather. Aside from that, other elements are balanced perfectly. For the most common trail conditions, these socks are the most pleasing.
Read the review: Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion
Best Overall for Women
Smartwool Hike Medium Crew - Women's
The Smartwool Hike Medium Crew is our Editors' Choice winner for women. It provides unbeatable four-season warmth and cushioning that will keep you hiking for miles. With a 66% merino wool, 33% nylon, and 1% elastin make-up, this hiker provides a looser women's specific fit, narrowing in the heel and throughout the forefoot. It insulates well when wet, even in cold weather. Our female testers appreciate its traditional design and super cozy cushioning.
While it's perfect for three seasons, it's not a great active hiker in super hot conditions. For these days, we'd recommend a more breathable option with a lighter-weight or more loosely packed fabric construction. From backpacking to climbing, this sock will keep you warm while hunkering down on cold nights, or while backpacking your next through trail.
Read the review: Smartwool Hike Medium Crew
Best Bang for the Buck
Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool
The Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks are a steal of a deal if you're looking for a calf-length sock that is affordable and high value. This synthetic-merino wool blend stands-out for its outstanding performance that will keep you comfortable mile after mile. Sold as a package of three, it rings in at about $10 per sock (depending on the deals online), making it super high value. We like that it is easily compatible with a pair of hiking boots and offers great breathability and wicking capabilities. Also, it is super quick to dry.
While it's a top performer and provides decent warmth, it's not the warmest sock option out there, especially when wet. This is largely attributed to the higher concentration of synthetic materials versus merino wool. That said, it's still a great option for outdoor activities. Take it camping, backpacking, hiking, and more.
Read the review: Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks
Top Pick for Active Wear for Women
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion - Women's
The highly durable Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew for Women stands out for its thin and breathable merino wool construct that is perfect for hiking or running through all four seasons. Compatible with a sturdy pair of hiking or running shoes, the tightly woven fabric both breathes and provides cushioning where necessary. We also love its women-specific fit that compresses around the arch of the foot. Moreover, the color patterns are super cute!
While we love this sock to bits, the only area of improvement we'd like to see is drying speed. When fully saturated, this sock takes a long time to dry. That said, it's incredibly durable and comes backed with a lifetime guarantee. This is our Top Pick for Activewear as it breathes well and provides all-day comfort on the trail, whether you're hiking a mile or thirty.
Read the review: Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew - Women's
Top Pick for Active Wear for Men
Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew
The Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew is great warm weather hiking option for men. With a men's specific design that features a wider heel and forefoot than the women's specific option, our testers love wearing it while trail running and hiking through all seasons. Its one of the most breathable socks tested, providing great airflow throughout. The compression paneling along the arch of the foot provides a snug fit that doesn't slide underfoot.
The only thing it doesn't boast is ample cushioning (to be expected) and a calf-length design. As a result, it's not compatible with most hiking boots. In addition, it takes a little longer to dry in wet weather. If you're in the market for a well-fitted, highly durable sock that provides great breathability, this men's Top Pick is a great option!
Read review: Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew
Notable Mention for Comfort & Versatility
Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
The Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks is among our tester's favorite for both men and women because of its plush design that is cozy and comfortable. Now updated, the PhD has a redesigned construction and a new color scheme with a desire to improve comfort and durability. The original model already managed to blend warmth, comfort, and wicking ability into one of the best mid-weight models out there, so this update is exciting.
While this is a warm sock, it is not the most breathable because of its tightly woven construction. However, it's great performance in combination with its wide temperature regulation range makes it Notable Mention for both comfort and versatility.
Read the review: Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew Socks
Notable Mention for Five-Finger Construction
Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool
If you're in the market for a sock that provides you less cushioning and a more intimate trail experience, the Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool is a unique option. This five-fingered sock encapsulates each toe allowing your toes to spread out, providing better stability and intimacy with the trail. It's said to reduce the occurrence of blisters (which we didn't get while running and hiking with it on) and improves balance and agility.
The only downside is that it doesn't provide much in the way of warmth and cushioning, though it does breath and wick well. We recommend it for hikers or runners seeking an experience that allows their toes to spread through the Spring, Fall, or Summer.
Read review: Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew Nuwool
Analysis and Test Results
One of the most important pieces of gear for any outdoor adventure is a good pair of socks. Wearing a sock that doesn't fit well or keep your feet dry when wet can mean a pretty dreadful and dreary experience in the backcountry. In this review, we focus on mid- and lightweight hiking socks with functionality that can extend from simple day hikes to hiking your next through trail. We evaluated each with five core metrics that we believe are the most important. Using this criterion, we evaluated each sock for 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.
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 garner the importance of watching out for your wallet. The various models of hiking socks range from $10 to $30 per sock (in this review), offering a wide range performance. We found that most socks priced in the higher range typically offer a lifetime guarantee and are constructed of more durable materials.
For example; brands like Darn Tough, Farm to Feet, and Feetures all 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 and Feetures (depending on the style you seek). On the other end of the spectrum are the super inexpensive options that also provide a decent level of performance and durability. The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro ($15) 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 which goes at about $10 per pair. There are great deals out there for great performing socks. To see how the price and value compare, take a look at the chart below.
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 fit, panels of cushioning, relative thickness, and specific areas of compression. We look at how it feels during low and high-intensity exercise, specifically backpacking, hiking, and running. We also note if the fit is unisex or specific to gender. 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 mid-weight cushioning and a merino wool composition are the most comfortable, while those that do not mold to the foot, made of thin materials or deform in water score lower.
While most hiking socks are pretty darn comfortable, some contenders stand out better than others. Smartwool, Darn Tough, and Farm to Feet all provide exceptional comfort on and off the trail - for different reasons. Of the fitted variety, no fitted model performs better than the SmartWool PhD Outdoor Medium. With aggressive paneling and cushioning on the toes and heel, this sock was perfect while fast-packing 28 miles through aggressive terrain on the Santa Cruz trail in the Cordillera Blanca of Peru. Composed of 66% Merino wool, 31% Nylon, and 2% Elastane, it is very fitted and hugs tightly to the foot. The extra padding protects the foot from rocks and other trail hazards.
Also scoring strong in this category is the women's Smartwool Hike Medium Crew, our Editors' Choice award winner. This sock has a less fitted design than the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Medium Crew with more cushioned and protective elements. The 66% Merino wool blend has a women's specific fit that hugs the heel, arch, and forefoot nicely without movement. Of all the socks tested, it is one of the thickest making it a perfect option for long hikes in any terrain. Not only is it great for on the trail, but it makes an ideal sock to pull on at the end of a challenging day of hiking.
Coming in a close second is the men's Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion Editors' Choice winner. The Darn Tough hosts a similar fiber composition (66% merino wool, 32% nylon, 2% elastane) but isn't as tightly woven as the SmartWool PhD. Some of our testers thought the longer sock is a little more comfortable while hiking in boots but all of our testers preferred the shorter sock option for hiking in shoes.
The Darn Tough Light Hiker is quite fitted and stayed entirely motionless on foot - a real advantage when traversing hillsides or hopping on talus. The Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew for women is our top recommendation for active endeavors because of its thinner design. However, because of the lightweight design in both socks, the level of cushioning in both isn't as ample as other socks like the Smartwool Medium Crew Sock. That said, every tester LOVES its super soft fabrics and high levels of compression that help it stay on foot.
Finally, the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight is a super cozy sock that offers a plush Merino wool blend that is both warm and cozy. The fabric provides instant comfort whether you are on the trail or snuggling next to your loved one at a campfire.
Overall, if you're in the market for a comfortable and cozy sock option, be sure to check out our Top scorers. For men, the Darn Tough Full Cushion (Our Editors' Choice for Men) and SmartWool PhD Crew Sock (A Notable Mention for Comfort and Versatility are great options. For women, the Smartwool Medium Crew Sock (Editors Choice for Women) or the Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew (Our Top Pick for Warm Weather) should fit the bill. The Farm to Feet is a queen in comfort as a unisex option that fits everybody.
A good hiking sock will keep you warm in all conditions, whether you are summiting a mountain or curling up in a cozy sleeping bag. This is important if an unforeseen storm rolls in or you dunk your foot in a stream, and the temperature plummets. A well-performing sock and a burly pair of Hiking Boots is the ticket to keeping yourself safe when you tackle the backcountry.
While testing this important metric, we consider the warmth of each sock when wet and dry. To test warmth when wet, we dunk each sock in water, intrepidly bite down on our lower lip, and walk around with them on in cold temperatures. To test warmth when dry, we fly ourselves to remote places in Alaska during early Spring 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.
We found that socks with a higher percentage of Merino wool provide us with more warmth and a vast range of thermoregulation. Synthetic socks perform well, but get cold after short periods of time. Toe socks are colder than traditional styles because of their individualized digit design (just like mittens are a warmer design than gloves). Overall, the hiking sock options in this review do keep warm in cold temperatures, but some fair better than others because of their fabric construction and make-up.
In a competition for pure insulating ability, nothing beats a wool-blend option. Socks that did best in this category are made up of more than 60% merino wool. The two Editors' Choice winners, the Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion(for men) and Smartwool Hike Medium Crew (for women) are both composed of a 66% merino wool blend that does a fantastic job insulating when wet. While hiking through rain storms and slushy snow, our feet were kept warm, and toes did not go numb (while hiking)…even when the wind picked up, and our hands lost feeling first.
The Smartwool PhD and the ankle-cut People's Merino Wool Hiking sock both score high because of their significant insulating properties. The Smartwool has a 67% merino wool blend while the People's features a whopping 71% merino wool blend. Both didn't do as well as the Editors' Choice winners while wet, but both provide ample warmth while hiking through cold, wet rivers in late fall. They score a little lower because the sock length is lower therefore didn't provide as much warmth.
Both lightweight hiking socks (the Darn Tough Light Hiker (men) and Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew - Women) provide great insulation when wet, but aren't as warm as other contenders. For example, our Editors' Choice winners and the Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock are both examples of heavier weight options that insulate a little better. That said, while hiking on cool days in the fall, we accidentally dunked out feet in a stream while on a trail run. Not once did our feet get cold while in motion, given the 40% (Darn Tough Light Hiker) and the 50% (Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew - Women's) Merino wool blends in both. Both will keep your feet warm when wet.
On the other end of the spectrum, the Injinji Midweight was the coldest of all tested. The material itself keeps the feet warm when wet as long as you are in motion, but as soon as one stops, it cools down pretty quickly, leaving us shaking in our boots. In all, the best sock for wet conditions is the Darn Tough Full Hiker (for men) and Smartwool (for women). The Farm to Feet Damascus also did well here when hiking in the humid and wet conditions of Iceland and the Faroe Islands.When Dry
All models performed pretty well when dry, but the warmest are the Smartwool Ph.D. and the Smartwool Medium Crew models. The Darn Tough Full Cushion was a close second but didn't keep us warm for as long. All socks above keep feet warm in temperatures between the mid-10s and 20s (degrees Fahrenheit) with appropriate footwear. The People's Merino Wool and Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock also did well in this category, providing ample warmth during a cold fall night when the mercury dipped in the thirties.
Providing an average level of insulation is the Darn Tough light hiking options and the Wigwam synthetic sock. The Darn Tough products are a little thicker, making them better for colder weather. The Wigwam does a great job insulating when completely dry and a perfect night time sleeper option. That said, if you've been hiking all day, the moisture trapped in the boot and sock cools and does not insulate as well as other contenders. As a result, all three earned a six out of ten in the warmth category. The contender to do the worst in this class is the Injinji Outdoor Crew as a result of its five-fingered design that is not conducive to heat generation. That said, all the hiking socks mentioned above are great if you're not looking for the warmest option out there.
Wicking and Breathability
When considering wicking and breathability, we tested each in a wide range of conditions to determine which kept our feet dry and which didn't. We put each sock through both high and low-intensity activities - ultra-distance running and hiking. Our running days ranged from distances of 5-28 miles in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Through this process, we learned that thinner materials and breathable panels with a "stretch" component (either lycra or spandex) did very well in this category. Also, we found that fitted socks with compression paneling wicks more efficiently than those without it. Those with a tightly knit pattern were not as breathable as those with a loosely knit construction. Overall, each sock has some level of wicking and breathability, but none are perfect.
Of all the socks tested, the thinnest socks are the most breathable, while thicker socks are less breathable. The Feetures Elite Max and Darn Tough light hiking options for both men and women felt the airiest on hot days and prove to be the best options for warm weather (both are strongly recommended for summer use!). This airiness is due to a lighter weight construct and lower concentration of wool than thicker (less breathable) contenders like the Darn Tough Full Cushion for men or Smartwool Hike Medium Crew for women. Because of this breathability, functionality extends to running, hiking, and camping in the Summer, Fall, and Spring.
The Injinji Outdoor Midweight Crew NuWool also provides superior breathability, though some of our testers mentioned sweaty spots exist between the toes. As a result, it did not score as high as other products. The Darn Tough Full Cushion did well and proves to be more breathable than thicker socks like the Smartwool PhD. The Smartwool still breathes well, but because of its tightly packed wool layering, it isn't as airy as other loosely woven fabrics like the Wigwam Hiker Pro or the Danish Unisex Merino Wool.
The Injinji, Feetures and the Darn Tough light hiker options do a great job at keeping feet dry because of their tight fit and thinner material. Of the thicker socks tested, the Farm to Feet, Smartwool PhD and Darn Tough Full Cushion prove to wick away sweat the best. The Smartwool PhD's tight fit can wick better than the Darn Tough Full Cushion through a wide range of conditions. We wish we could use these hikers with a liner, but they are incompatible. The only socks compatible with a liner is the Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro and the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew - Women's because of its less fitted and looser design.
Testing durability in a short period can be pretty tough, but we managed to see a difference after three months of continuous, high-intensity use. In this metric, we looked at overall wear and tear of the sock after putting approximately 60 miles of use into each. We tested all sorts of weather conditions and temperatures. Think wind, rain, sun, snow, and more! After all this, we noted the conditions of each option, including what happens after a wash. We could see which look like they were worn and which still look brand new.
The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is a super burly synthetic that will last for seasons to come! After 60 miles of use, it still looks brand new with very little noted wear and tear. In comparison, the Darn Tough Full Cushion Hiker shows minor pilling. The Darn Tough light hiking options also showed some wear, with just slight pilling, while the Injinji showed close to none! The Smartwool PhD and Smartwool Hike Medium Sock scored the lowest in this category because we noted pilling, cushion compaction, and some thread fly-aways.
Of our top recommendations for those on a shoestring budget, we are happy to announce that both low-priced options are pretty durable. We noticed some packing out of the material in both the Danish Unisex Merino Sock and the People's Merino Sock after about two months of use, though the fabric hadn't worn through even after logging 60 miles in each (while running, hiking, and standing around at work). That said, we didn't have more time to test for a more prolonged testing period - so time will tell!!
A sock that dries quickly is a huge advantage on multi-day backpacking trips. Imagine hiking through the North Pacific in rainy conditions. Your socks are drenched, and you have about three more hours of sunlight. Or, you accidentally dunk your foot into a stream, and you still have 15 more miles to go. A sock that dries quickly is important. As a result, it's an important metric we consider in our testing.
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 a very specific and precise drying analysis using set temperature settings and a dryer. To test drying speed, first, we weighed each sock to find its dry weight. Then we drenched each model in the sink. We then wrung each out as best we could. We then weighed the wet weight (grams) of each contender to first see which held the most water.
Following this, we put each sock in the dryer at medium heat. We let the dryer run and every ten minutes we weighed each sock to determine the relative water quantity retained. We kept doing this until each sock was back to its original dry weight. This provided us with objective data on which socks dried out the fastest, which held the most water, and which took the longest to dry.
This year we had a gauntlet of new contenders that demonstrated impressive drying capabilities. All socks dried in our dryer tests within thirty minutes of each other. However, the differences in those thirty minutes are what determined which had the best drying capabilities. Our field test data was confirmed by these objective tests. The fastest drying socks featured less merino wool and a higher concentration of synthetic materials.
The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro synthetic is the fastest sock to dry, thoroughly drying after just 90 minutes. In the field, we found that this sock dried out quickly as well. Following this is the Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock that showed the fastest initial rate of drying within the first ten minutes, and ultimately dried out after 100 minutes.
The Smartwool Hike Medium Crew - Women's and the People's Merino Socks dried out after 110 minutes. Following this was the Smartwool PhD Medium Crew and Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew - Women's (~120 minutes). All these are great options for hiking in wet conditions as they will dry out relatively quickly. The sock that took the longest to dry is the Darn Tough Full Cushion that took ~140 minutes to completely dry. We attribute this to the fact that it also absorbed the most water in the initial dunk tests. Our field testing confirmed these in-lab tests. If you're in the market for a quick-to-dry sock, the Wigwam is our top recommendation.
After hiking through a plethora of conditions across the world, we've determined key award winners and recommendations for both men and women. If you're looking for an all around bomber hiker, choose the Darn Tough Full Cushion for men or the Smartwool Hike Medium Cushion for women. If you're looking for the best deal out there, check out the ankle-length People's Merino Sock (unisex) or the full-length Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock. If you're still unsure about what to consider in a hiking sock, our Buying Advice article can help you to determine which best suits your needs. Choose your toe covers wisely and enjoy all your adventures to come!
— Amber King