The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

How We Tested Hiking Socks

By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Tuesday August 27, 2019

Running and hiking each pair of hiking socks ragged, we put each pair through the wringer. From the high mountain peaks of Colorado, Alaska, and Peru to the low desert trails, we hiked, backpacked, ran trails, and splitboarded big mountains to test the limits of each sock. We tested in all types of weather through a wide range of temperatures from the hottest days of summer to the coldest of winter nights. In addition to field tests, we performed in-lab tests to determine performance differences. Each sock was rated based on its comfort, warmth, breathability, durability, and drying speed. Below we outline the specific tests for each.

The cold conditions of the Alaskan range proved to be a perfect testing ground for warmth  breathability  and wicking. Gosh it's fun to be a tester!
The cold conditions of the Alaskan range proved to be a perfect testing ground for warmth, breathability, and wicking. Gosh it's fun to be a tester!

Comfort & Fit


When considering comfort, we compared the level of cushion, the amount of compression paneling, relative fit, and overall coziness. The testing was simple. We tried each on, slept with them, hiked in them, and compared their properties. We even wore different socks on each foot to compare the relative cushioning and hiking capabilities of each contender.

Warmth


The warmth was measured using two micro-metrics; wet warmth and dry warmth. For wet warmth, we soaked each sock in water, put them on, and walked around in the cold to evaluate if the model held its warm. For dry warmth, we made sure each sock was dry and stood around on cold winterish nights to determine relative warmth. We also wore different socks on each foot to get a specific comparison.

Testing hiking socks while hiking uphill and splitboarding down in the mountains of the Rocky Mountains. Over the last four years  we've logged 1000+ miles in just our testing process.
Testing hiking socks while hiking uphill and splitboarding down in the mountains of the Rocky Mountains. Over the last four years, we've logged 1000+ miles in just our testing process.

Breathability & Wicking Capabilities


To test breathability and wicking capabilities, we wore each pair while performing high and low-intensity activities. Trail running in each sock in warm weather was the best tell-tale sign of wicking and breathability. Wearing different socks allowed us to see which foot felt hotter or less comfortable. We trail ran through the high Peruvian Andes, the jagged Colorado Rocky Mountains, and lonely, hot desert trails. We also took them skiing to determine how it wicked away moisture in cold environments.

A great opportunity to test the wicking and drying speed of the Darn Tough Light Hikers!
A great opportunity to test the wicking and drying speed of the Darn Tough Light Hikers!

Durability


To test durability, we looked at relative wear and tear over roughly 60 miles of testing. This includes packing out of cushioning, holes, pilling, misshapen fabrics, etc. We noted the quality of fabric before and after this testing period. Products that demonstrated little to no wear scored high, while those without scored low.

Drying Speed


Our drying tests were two-fold. First, we took each sock into the field and got it soaked. We then put them on rocks to dry out. This provided us with real-field based data that yielded decent results, but not objective ones. So we confirmed our outdoor tests with a much more objective in-lab test. This was the dryer test where each sock was soaked, put into a dryer, and weighed every ten minutes to determine the relative amount of moisture in the sock. This allowed us to determine which socks dried fastest, which held the most water, and which dried the slowest.

A look at the socks participating in our drying tests.

The steps of our dryer tests:
  • Step One: Weigh (in grams) each sock when dry. This is our control weight.
  • Step Two: Dunk each sock underwater and squish around for one minute.
  • Step Three: Wring each sock out as best we can until no more drops of water come from the fabric.
  • Step Four: Weigh each sock when wet (this is time = zero minutes)
  • Step Five: Put into the dryer and set temperature for 'normal.'
  • Step Six: At ten-minute intervals, weigh each sock and record the weight in grams. Continue until the sock is back to its dry weight. Record dry time for each sock.
  • Step Seven: Evaluate and analyze data.

Getting dinner ready after sea kayaking and hiking around the beach in Northern British Columbia. These colder  humid environments provide a great environment to test all aspects of our hiking sock selection.
Getting dinner ready after sea kayaking and hiking around the beach in Northern British Columbia. These colder, humid environments provide a great environment to test all aspects of our hiking sock selection.

After all these tests we've been able to produce what we think is the best comparative hiking sock review out there! We hope it helps you in your search.