Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Hiking Socks of 2021

We walked hundreds of miles in all conditions to test the best hiking socks from Darn Tough, REI, Smartwool, Wigwam, and others
Our main editor enjoys a hike up the Old Horsethief trail in the REI M...
Photo: Amber King
By Amber King ⋅ Senior Review Editor
Friday November 12, 2021
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Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
Our hiking experts tested over 31 of the best hiking socks in the last 10 years during countless adventures. This 2021 update features 11 of the market's top options that we compare side-by-side. To test, we travel the globe in search of remote and beautiful lands. We backpack, sail, climb, rappel, and run through less-traveled territory with each pair. They get soaked, compressed, wrung out, smashed with dirt, and washed in rivers. After hundreds of hands-on testing hours and meticulous side-by-side comparisons, we hope to help you find the best hiker for your performance needs and ambitions.

Top 11 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 11
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Awards  Editors' Choice Award    
Price Check Price at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$26.95 at Backcountry
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$28 List
$27.94 at Amazon
$17.00 List
$11.79 at REI
$24 List
$21.88 at Amazon
Overall Score
72
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77
Star Rating
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Pros Super comfortable and cushioned, quick to dry, great warmthDurable, comfortable, wide temperature regulation, versatile, fittedGreat thermoregulation, incredibly comfortable, durabilityVery comfortable, breathable, medium cushioning, versatileComfortable, breathable, quick-to-dry, calf-height design, compatible with hiking boots & shoes
Cons Not super breathable, expensive, average durabilityNot ideal for hot temperatures, tall cut not best for allSlow to dry, expensiveNot quick to dry, loses shape when wetExpensive, not suited for hot weather
Bottom Line A thick and cozy hiker built for long days on the trailAn all-time favorite meant for long days on the trail in any seasonA hiking sock that performs well through all seasons for any distanceA thicker hiking sock, despite its name, built to take on all trail conditionsThis versatile hiking sock is a perfect option for everything from short to long days on the trail
Rating Categories Smartwool Hike Medi... Darn Tough Hiker Fu... Smartwool PhD Pro L... REI Co-op Lightweig... Farm to Feet Damasc...
Comfort (25%)
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
Wicking And Breathability (25%)
6.0
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
Warmth (20%) Sort Icon
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Durability (20%)
6.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Drying Speed (10%)
4.0
7.0
5.0
3.0
6.0
Specs Smartwool Hike Medi... Darn Tough Hiker Fu... Smartwool PhD Pro L... REI Co-op Lightweig... Farm to Feet Damasc...
Material 66% Merino Wool, 33% Nylon, 1% Elastane 66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra Spandex 62% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 2% Elastane 79% Merino Wool, 20% Nylon, 1% Lycra Spandex 51% Merino Wool, 46% Nylon,
3% Lycra Spandex
Sock Thickness Midweight Midweight Lightweight Lightweight Lightweight
Tested Length Mid-calf High calf Lower calf Lower calf Lower calf


Best Overall Hiking Socks


Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion


81
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 9
  • Wicking and Breathability 7
  • Warmth 8
  • Durability 9
  • Drying Speed 7
Materials: 66% merino wool, 32% nylon | Cushioning: Full
Well-fitted and sleek
Stand-out durability
Great wicking capabilities
Thicker padding and comfort
Not our choice for hot weather

The Darn Tough Full Cushion Hiker is our favorite for its ample cushioning, protection, and performance. It's also our top choice for its amazing durability that has continued to last through the years with countless applications. It is tall and boot-compatible while being thin enough to be worn with a pair of hiking shoes. The fibers are soft and comfortable backed by a lifetime warranty that we've successfully redeemed and can verify that it lives up to its claim. The men's and women's specific fits are right on the money and feel good on a wide or narrow foot. This is the sock we choose if we are headed out on a long backpacking trip that can also double as a cozy pair of sleepers.

Unfortunately, extra padding means less breathability, so this isn't our top choice for warm weather. Also, the upfront cost is steep. That said, given the excellent warranty that allows you to send it back throughout its lifetime, the cost will even out over time. If you are looking for a durable, tough sock with excellent underfoot cushioning in a full-length design, look no further.

Read the review: Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion

Best Bang for the Buck


REI Co-op Merino Wool Ultralight Crew


75
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 7
  • Wicking and Breathability 9
  • Warmth 6
  • Durability 7
  • Drying Speed 9
Material Type: 72% RWS merino wool/26% nylon/2% Lycra spandex | Cushioning: Light
Very breathable
Quick to dry
Insulates when wet
Great in warm weather
Poor stand-alone warmth
Minimal cushioning

The REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew has an ultralight construction that touts breathability and a quick dry time. We used it while hiking, biking, skiing, and exploring and find that it truly excels in aerobic activity and warm weather especially. We appreciate the fitted design that doesn't deform or bunch after many miles of use or even when wet. During our drying tests, it was one of the fastest to dry with a porous and breathable fabric that excels in summer weather. During a hike to the desert in 90-degree heat, we were happy to choose this sock. It has a mid-calf height that is compatible with both hiking boots and shoes. The value is hard to beat, with great ultralight performance at an affordable price.

While this sock is breathable and wicks well, it doesn't offer much in the way of underfoot protection and cushioning. It is noticeably less insulative than the other models we tested and find the wind cuts right through it. As a result, it's not our first pick for colder weather when warmth is key. It should be mentioned, this sock will keep your foot dry while hiking, even in cool conditions. Overall, this is a great choice if you're looking for a deal and an ultralight sock that performs in warm weather.

Read the review: REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew

Best Bulk Value


Danish Endurance Unisex Merino Wool


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8
  • Wicking and Breathability 8
  • Warmth 6
  • Durability 5
  • Drying Speed 5
Material Type: 33% merino wool, acrylic & polyamide | Cushioning: Medium
Fantastic value
Comfortable & cozy
Great breathability
Fabric bunching in toes
So-so durability

The Danish Unisex Merino Wool Sock is a merino-synthetic blend sock that comes in a pack of three with great value. It is comfortable and performs well across most of our metrics and is compatible with a pair of hiking shoes and boots. The cushioning underfoot is sufficient for longer multi-day hikes, trail runs, or day hikes over tough terrain. It also comes in a unisex fit that our male and female testers found fits well.

While this sock does offer a nice price, its performance isn't matched to our higher value options, like the REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew. Even though it is built as a merino wool blend, it integrates more synthetic materials which don't thermoregulate as well as socks built with more wool. Also, for those with a narrow foot, the toe box isn't well fitted and bunches up, especially when wet. While these concerns are valid, it's hard to find a merino-synthetic blend sock at such a low cost with decent performance. While the sock has shown piling, compaction, and thread wear after two years of use, it's still usable. And by getting three for roughly the price of the highest-performing models, you get a lot of product life and that "new sock feel" to enjoy.

Read the review: Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks

Best Lightweight Cushioning


Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew


79
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 8
  • Wicking and Breathability 9
  • Warmth 5
  • Durability 9
  • Drying Speed 8
Materials: 54% nylon, 43% merino wool | Cushioning: Light
Excellent fit
Superior breathability and wicking power
Quick to dry
Fantastic durability
Not a lot of stand-alone warmth

The Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew offers a thinner, more breathable construction for men and women. The high concentration of nylon provides powerful wicking power with plenty of breathable panels. This is the sock to wear if your feet sweat a lot or you find yourself in hot places. The height is compatible with low or mid-height hiking boots or running shoes, making it compatible with a wide range of uses. Its drying speed is impeccable, keeping feet dry on long adventures.

This sock will offer plenty of heat while in motion (given its high proportion of merino wool), but won't offer the same warmth while standing still. We would not choose it for winter camping or standing around in the cold. However, if breathable and durable construction is what you seek, we think you should check out this product.

Read the review: Darn Tough Light Hiker Micro Crew

Read the review:Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Cushion - Women's

Best Synthetic Design


Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro


73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort 6
  • Wicking and Breathability 8
  • Warmth 7
  • Durability 8
  • Drying Speed 8
Materials: 41% polypro, 34% acrylic, 23% nylon | Cushioning: Medium
Durable
Comfortable & Breathable
Quick to dry
Less specific fit
Wicking ability drops in cold weather

The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is one of our longest tested socks and has proven its longevity and breathability in warm weather. We've been testing this sock for over seven years, and it is still going strong. After hundreds of miles, some of the fabric is thinning, but remarkably, we haven't torn through the fabric. The 100% synthetic construction provides excellent breathability with durable fibers. It'll dry quickly on the trail (as proved in our dryer and field tests), making it a good option for both soggy and dry environments.

Unfortunately, this time-tested hiking sock does have some downfalls. It isn't the warmest sock out there and once the mercury drops close to freezing, it also loses its wicking power. Although not a deal-breaker, the fit is less specific than other options. 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 spot on. If you're seeking a synthetic design with excellent durability for warm-weather adventures, it comes highly recommended.

Read Review: Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro

Backpacking into the Grand Canyon on the New Hance Trail is one of...
Backpacking into the Grand Canyon on the New Hance Trail is one of the many reasons you might want to get a great performing hiking sock.
Photo: Amber King

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
81
$27
Editors' Choice Award
Our favorite hiking sock for all-seasons
80
$28
A versatile sock built for both the day and thru-hiker
79
$22
Top Pick Award
A lightweight hiking sock that simply offers the best performance of its class
77
$24
A perfect blend of comfort and performance
75
$16
Best Buy Award
This ultralight sock offers stand out breathability and wicking power that dries quickly while you explore outdoors
73
$16
Top Pick Award
A value-driven, midweight synthetic hiking sock with great drying speed and durability
72
$20
Built for comfort and long days on the trail
71
$17
A thicker and comfortable hiking sock built for long trails and long days
67
$30
Best Buy Award
A lightweight merino wool blend that comes in a three-pack and boasts a great value
65
$15
A unisex sock built for the hottest of weather
59
$21
A toe-sock that offers good stability and toe splay

Why You Should Trust Us


This review is brought to you by OutdoorGearLab Senior Review Editor Amber King. She is an endurance athlete that loves to trail run, splitboard, hike, and backpack. She spends most of her time exploring places in remote, trail-less tundra and rocky and exposed trails surrounding Ouray, Colorado. Additionally, she makes a point of traveling for fastpacking adventures around the world to remote 100+ mile trail systems in Europe and South America. Daily, she uses hiking socks while training and working her outdoor education job, teaching nature skills to students on the trail.

The hunt for the best hiking sock began by combing through the market to find potential test candidates. We selected the top 11 to purchase, compare, and wear side-by-side. We consider the most important functions of a hiking sock and design tests to compare performance. We wear each sock for at least 60 miles while hiking or running on trails. We test throughout the seasons, wearing each sock almost every day throughout the year. We have traveled around the world, exploring remote locations like the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve in Iceland, and the Santa Cruz trail in Peru. After field testing, we meticulously compare details and perform a series of objective tests to compare performance.

Related: How We Tested Hiking Socks

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Analysis and Test Results


In this review, we focus on medium to lightweight hiking socks with functionality for all adventures. We consider options suitable for different seasons, with varying levels of protection. We evaluate each using five core metrics including; comfort, warmth, drying speed, breathability, and durability. We discuss each sock against each metric to help you find exactly what you're looking for.

Related: Buying Advice for Hiking Socks

A solid hiking sock is integral to any backpacking or hiking...
A solid hiking sock is integral to any backpacking or hiking adventure on your itinerary. Be sure you buy a pair that works for you and one that has a reputation for great performance.
Photo: Amber King

Value


Getting a sock that is durable and won't break down after minimal use is super important. Some socks offer better durability, offering more bang for your buck. Others are low priced or sold in bulk to increase their value. The REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew is a very high-value ultralight contender that has a lower price and seems to be quite durable through our testing. We also like the Danish Unisex Merino Wool Socks that come in a three-pack, with the lower price per sock that we've tested. That said, these aren't the most durable contenders.

The Darn Tough brand socks are a favorite for value. Even though it has a higher initial price, they tout a lifetime guarantee, backed by the ability to send the sock back if you get a hole in it. Our main reviewer had a positive experience doing this herself. She believes this brand offers the best when it comes to durability, as their socks already outlast the competition regularly in our decade of testing hiking socks. So when looking at value, don't just consider the price, but consider how long the sock will last.


Socks on Sale
Strategically shopping for socks can pay off. 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.


Cushioning
Ample Cushioning

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 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.

A look at the different cushioned options. The Smartwool (center)...
A look at the different cushioned options. The Smartwool (center) offers the best in cushioning followed by the Darn Tough Full Cushion (bottom) and the REI Lightweight (top).
Photo: Amber King

The Smartwool PhD Pro Light Crew outperforms the Smartwool Hike Medium Crew because it is designed more thoughtfully with a more compressive and specific fit that provides better breathability. Both are highly comfortable, but for different reasons.

The most comfortable and cozy socks are the ones with ample...
The most comfortable and cozy socks are the ones with ample cushioning. Here, we lounge out in the morning at Blue Lakes in the Sneffles Wilderness while taking in the early morning sun on the peaks above.
Photo: Amber King

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 feels a little scratchy to some. 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.

A comfortable hiking sock is important for long days on the trail...
A comfortable hiking sock is important for long days on the trail. Here we take a picture as we prepare to ascend a few thousand feet to the rim of the canyon, after staying and hiking for three days.
Photo: Amber King

Lightweight Cushioning

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. The REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew is a very thin sock that has a little less protection than the Darn Tough Light Hiker, but just the right amount of cushioning for rocky trails.

The Darn Tough Light Hiker Crew offers comfortable performance...
The Darn Tough Light Hiker Crew offers comfortable performance that'll protect on multi-day and single-day hikes. Here we check out trails around our property near Ouray, Colorado.
Photo: Amber King

Of those that love lightweight cushioning, the Darn Tough Light Hiker is our favorite because the fabric performs well in all conditions and feels good. 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. The Smartwool Pro is a lightweight construction with excellent ventilation. The material is plusher underfoot so it feels more like a medium 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.

The Injinji Outdoor Crew socks offer exceptional breathability and...
The Injinji Outdoor Crew socks offer exceptional breathability and little comfort underfoot. Many runners and hikers prefer a thin sock for its enhanced level of breathability. The individual toe design may help prevent hot spots for those who are blister prone.
Photo: Edward Kemper

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.

This sock has a female-specific fit that is more narrow through the...
This sock has a female-specific fit that is more narrow through the forefoot and heel. We also love the compression strip that wraps the arch of the foot. This prevents slippage and friction while hiking over technical terrain.
Photo: Amber KIng

Female and male-specific fit are to be considered. Typically, a female-specific sock will have a more narrow profile throughout the toe box and heel. While a sock may be "female-specific" or "male-specific" it's important to look at your foot. If you have a very narrow foot profile and struggle to find a well-fitted sock, consider a female sock option. If you have a wider foot and women's socks don't fit well, consider a male-specific sock. Most socks that aren't specifically built for one sex typically work for both.

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.

Flip your socks inside out to reveal its architecture. Here we see...
Flip your socks inside out to reveal its architecture. Here we see the ample cushioning underfoot and highly breathable architecture that's the pinnacle in this sock's excellent performance.
Photo: Amber King

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 with great underfoot protection. All great options for longer or more technical trails. If lightweight comfort is what you seek, look into the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight, REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew, 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. We ran, hiked, biked, and backpacked over distances ranging from one to 28 miles to test this metric. We took each sock through a wide range of temperatures and conditions as well.


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 with some merino-synthetic outliers. 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 REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew features large loops that help...
The REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew features large loops that help to promote wicking with breathable panels. The materials are thin, which helps to make this one of the best breathable socks we have had the pleasure of testing.
Photo: Amber King

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.

Jo tests the Darn Tough Full Cushion sock while trying to tag a peak...
Jo tests the Darn Tough Full Cushion sock while trying to tag a peak close to 12,000 feet. On the way, we encountered big snowfields that totally drenched the sock. Luckily, it offers great wicking power to keep her foot dry.
Photo: Amber King

The REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew is another with a surprisingly breathable merino wool-synthetic construction. It features long loops in the fabric of the interior that grabs water, with a more porous and thin construction, suited for warm weather. The Darn Tough Light Hiker and Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight both offer a similar level of breathability that is superior. All 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 Full Cushion also 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.

Here we test the breathability and wicking capability of each hiking...
Here we test the breathability and wicking capability of each hiking sock by running through the thin air of the Peruvian Andes.
Photo: Jared Vilhauer

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 REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew 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 our favorite.

Hiking and running in wet climates demand a sock that will wick and...
Hiking and running in wet climates demand a sock that will wick and breath well. Here we run it out at the start of a 20-mile day on the remote island of Hornstrandir in Iceland. Through this run, we encountered wet, sandy beaches, tall grass, and heavy rain. Through it all, this sock kept our feet relatively happy and warm.
Photo: Amber King

Warmth


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.

Wet weather is inevitable in Iceland. Here, our main tester logs the...
Wet weather is inevitable in Iceland. Here, our main tester logs the miles while fastpacking over 90 miles in three days in a remote, cold, and wet place. Her calf-length socks provide warmth, even in these crazy conditions.
Photo: Amber King

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.

We also tested the Darn Tough Light Hiker while cross country skiing...
We also tested the Darn Tough Light Hiker while cross country skiing in cold weather. These lightweight contenders typically offer enough insulation while on the move in colder weather.
Photo: Amber King

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 what we recommend.

Durability


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.


In our experience, Darn Tough socks are totally bomber. The materials are tightly knit, the fibers are strong, and we haven't had any bad experiences yet. 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 five years, logged over 600 miles, and they are still wearable. 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. We did this in our own experience and had a fresh pair of socks once we acquired a hole (many years ago). They were great when it came to customer service.

A look at the Darn Tough Hiker with full cushion. It still looks...
A look at the Darn Tough Hiker with full cushion. It still looks like new after being laundered. This one has about 50 miles on it at the time of taking this photo.
Photo: Amber King

We also love the Farm to Feet Damascus Midweight which has gone with us over 500 miles while sailing, fastpacking, and running in Iceland, Colorado, and Canada. After four years, they are still at work in our sock rotation. The fabrics are starting to thin out, but we still haven't seen a hold.

The Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro is a burly synthetic model that continues to perform after years. After 600 miles, it has compacted a little bit but continues to go strong. While the Darn Tough varieties show large amounts of pilling after this amount of time, the Wigwam sock has little to note. After about six years of testing this sock, we can confidently say it is highly durable and has lasted us for many seasons.

How should you wash your socks? In short, turn them inside out, machine wash on a gentle setting in cool or warm water, use mild soap, and tumble dry low.

Drying Speed


A sock that dries quickly has a large advantage on multi-day backpacking trips, especially in rainy climates or on trails that have seen 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.


Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

All the socks tested are constructed to appropriate materials, and for hiking and backpacking, all dried within an appropriate amount of time to deem them fit for hiking. The Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew and REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crewdemonstrate the best drying capabilities. In just 60 minutes of drying at low heat, both are completely dry. The Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew is a full synthetic construction while the REI Merino Wool Ultralight has a merino-synthetic blend. Both dried well on the trail, taking about 15 minutes to dry in similar conditions.

One of the many ways we test our socks. Here we dry out two pairs in...
One of the many ways we test our socks. Here we dry out two pairs in the faraway lands of Iceland while fastpacking through the Hornstrandir Nature Preserve. These climates are wet, testing how quickly each sock dries.
Photo: Amber King

The Wigwam Hiking Pro lands in second place drying in just 70 minutes, similar to the Darn Tough Light Hiker. However, the Darn Tough Light Hiker earns a lower score because it took longer to dry during our air drying tests. The Darn Tough Full Cushion surprised us for its cushioning, drying at the same time, and offers a quick-drying capability on the trail. Overall, if you're seeking a fast-drying sock, the REI Merino Wool Ultralight Crew, Wigwam Hiking Outdoor Pro and Wrightsock CoolMesh II Crew offer the fastest drying time.

Hiking provides you with the opportunity to see and connect with the...
Hiking provides you with the opportunity to see and connect with the most remote and beautiful places in the world. A good pair of hiking socks will provide you with the means to do that in a comfortable way.
Photo: Amber King

Conclusion


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 recommendations 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.

Amber King

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