Best Hiking Socks of 2021
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|Pros||Light, breathable, quick to dry, insulates when wet||Incredibly breathable, quick to dry, thin, great fit||Highly breathable, comfortable, well-fitted, no itch, excellent wicking power, quick to dry||Incredible durability, quick to dry, accommodates a liner, comfortable||Durable, comfortable, wide temperature regulation, versatile, fitted|
|Cons||No heavy underfoot padding or protection, lacks stand-alone warmth||Not very durable, not plush||Slippery fabrics, shorter length||Loose fit, lacks compression paneling, loses wicking capabilities in cold weather||Not ideal for hot temperatures, tall cut not best for all|
|Bottom Line||This high value contender boasts a fast drying speed and ultralight construction suitable for warm weather||A breathable hiking sock built for the hottest days of summer||Light, breathable, and ready for sweaty hiking adventures, this thin sock is excellent in the summer season||A synthetic full-length sock with exemplary durability and drying speed that excels in wet weather||An all-time favorite meant for long days on the trail in any season|
|Rating Categories||REI Co-op Merino Wo...||Wrightsock Coolmesh...||Darn Tough Light Hi...||Wigwam Hiking Outdo...||Darn Tough Hiker Fu...|
|Wicking And Breathability (25%)|
|Drying Speed (10%)|
|Specs||REI Co-op Merino Wo...||Wrightsock Coolmesh...||Darn Tough Light Hi...||Wigwam Hiking Outdo...||Darn Tough Hiker Fu...|
|Material||72% RWS Merino Wool, 26% Nylon, 2% Lycra Spandex||70% Polyester, 27% Nylon, 3% Lycra Spandex||54% Nylon, 43% Merino Wool, 3% Lycra Spandex||41% Polypropylene, 34% Acrylic, 23% Stretch Nylon, 1% Stretch Polyester, 1% Spandex||66% Merino Wool, 32% Nylon, 2% Lycra Spandex|
|Tested Length||Lower calf||Lower calf||Lower calf||Lower calf||High calf|
Best Overall Hiking Socks
Darn Tough Hiker Full Cushion
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 what we recommend.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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