Selecting Hiking Socks

You wouldn’t naturally think so, but selecting socks is even harder than buying boots. There are so many good models and manufacturers of good boots. If you find ones that are sturdy and fit well, you’ll probably be pleased. But, socks? That’s tough.

Socks are socks, right? Not when it comes to hiking, no. Sports socks are not hiking socks. You don’t want to wear the same socks you use to play tennis or soccer when you set out on a long hike.

A good hiking sock will be thick, incredibly sturdy, comfortable, have terrific thermal and moisture-wicking properties and be loyal, faithful and true. Ok, maybe those last three apply more to your dog. But you need good socks, nonetheless.

You’ll put about 1,000 miles on a pair of hiking socks before they’re ready for the trash can. That sounds like a very long distance. But consider that it is really only about a year if you take modest hikes every weekend.

For that 1,000 miles you want comfort. The word has the ring of luxury about it, but in hiking comfort is essential. Blisters, chafing and other foot damage can turn a three mile hike back to the trail head into torture if your socks fail you.

Good moisture-wicking is mandatory. ‘Wicking’ means taking the sweat produced by your sweat glands off the surface and transporting it away from the foot. If the sock fails to do that, you’ll develop fungi, blisters, chafing, and other ugly results. Forget about just bad smell here, we’re talking health problems.

If you spend even a moderate amount of time hiking you’ll need good thermal properties from your socks. In hot summer heat the sock has to allow good conduction of that heat away from the foot where it can migrate out of the boot. In cold temperatures, feet need be kept within a comfortable range.

That socks can actually perform these two contrary goals is something of a technological wonder. Yet they do. That they do that while providing support, comfort and moisture-wicking is little short of astonishing.

Ok, I wax lyrical about socks. But for those cynics who think this is just poetry, try some bad socks underneath really good hiking boots and observe the results for yourself. You’ll quickly become a Shakespeare lover. But onto practical matters.

All cotton is still a very good way to go. Nature’s material offers all those needed attributes. But clever engineers have gone beyond nature in some ways too. Blends – Lycra, wool and others – and micro-geometry have been combined to provide great support and comfort, excellent thermal control and superior moisture-wicking.

They should have thick areas on the toe, ankle bone and heel because these are the parts that get the most wear. Make sure they don’t have any ridges, especially near the toes or at the ankle bone. Those can irritate as quick as a pebble in your boot. They should be long enough to come well above the top of the boot and fold down.

Even the best socks will lose elasticity at the top and sometimes folding them down over the top of the boot is the only way to get them to not slide inside when you’re on the trail. Still, get a style and brand that don’t lose elasticity quickly. Hiking socks are more expensive than other types ($10 per pair or more), and you don’t want to have to replace them every month or two.

You should have several pair to choose from, feet change size at various times of the day or year. You’ll also want a variety for different climates and for style. And, of course, your favorites will always be in the laundry. Buy three of those.

Happy hunting!

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