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a group of women stand looking at a waterfall

Sturdy, comfortable hiking socks can take you places. Photo: Pina Gruden/The Inertia


The Inertia

A good pair of socks is a game-changer. We remember our high school years when we’d received yet another pair of socks in our stockings for Christmas. To our teenage brains, socks (and underwear) were the equivalent of receiving a lump of coal. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” better than a present you need but don’t actually want. Cue suppressed groans from the whole sibling clan.

These days, we intentionally put socks on our Christmas lists. We’re not kidding, you can fact-check our moms. When our tester received her first pair of “good socks,” a pair of Smartwool hiking socks circa 2009, she was blown away by the difference between quality socks and the cheap Target socks she’d been sporting for years. They were comfortable, breathable, retained heat even when wet, had extra padding in blister-prone areas, and were durable (she still owns and wears these exact socks).

Over the years, we’ve tried different hiking socks and have found that investing in a good pair of socks can be the difference between a comfortable hiking experience or cold feet covered in blisters. While everyone’s feet and personal preferences are different, we set out to find the best hiking socks in the game.

If you’re curious about how these hiking socks compare to one another, take a look at our Comparison Table below. Or, if you want to know what to look for in a good pair of hiking socks, check out the Buyer’s Guide.

The Best Hiking Socks of 2024

Best Overall Hiking Socks: Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks
Most Sustainable Hiking Socks: Patagonia Wool Anklet Socks
Softest Hiking Socks: Paka Inca Crew Socks
Best Compression Hiking Socks: Sockwell Compression Crew Socks
Best Budget Hiking Socks: Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light Quarter Socks
Most Cushioned Hiking Socks: Smartwool Hike Full Cushion


Best Overall Hiking Socks

Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks ($22)

smartwool hiking socks

Pros: Lightweight and breathable, made from responsibly sourced wool
Cons: Not enough cushioning for longer treks or blister-prone feet
Sock Height: Crew
Sock Cushioning: Light

Smartwool has been one of our top hiking sock picks for years, and for good reason. Its socks are high quality and are made from responsibly sourced merino wool. The result is a soft yet breathable pair of socks with built-in odor control.

The Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks provide just the right amount of cushion for day hikes while still remaining lightweight and breathable. The mesh ventilation is nice for keeping feet cool, and the reinforced heels, toes, and soles ensure these socks will withstand the test of time.

If you’re doing a longer hike or are blister-prone, you may want to opt for socks with more cushioning, but these proved to be just right for day hikes. Our tester has owned a pair of Smartwool socks for over a decade, and they are still in tip-top shape — one of the reasons the Smartwool Light Cushion Crew socks sit at the top of our list.

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Most Sustainable Hiking Socks

Patagonia Wool Anklet Socks ($22)

patagonia hiking socks

Pros: Achilles tab, sustainably made
Cons: Pricey and warm for ankle socks
Sock Height: Ankle
Cushioning: Light

Most hiking socks on our list are crew height, so it’s nice to have an ankle option in the mix. The Patagonia Wool Anklet Socks feel similar to a low-profile running sock but with some added cushion. The Anklet Socks are made from a blend of wool/nylon/spandex, so they’re breathable yet more durable than a 100% wool sock. These socks feature an Achilles tab (where the material comes up a bit higher in the back), which we really appreciated for blister prevention, as well as ease of taking the socks on and off.

Like most things from Patagonia, these socks are sustainably made and are designed to last. For ankle socks, these are definitely on the warm side, but we tested these out in Hawaii and were still a-okay. If you prefer a higher cut, these socks come in a crew version as well.

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Softest Socks

Paka Inca Crew Socks ($22)

Paka hiking socks

Pros: Super soft, breathable
Cons: No color options
Sock Height: Crew
Sock Cushioning: Light

Holy soft. The Paka Inca Crew Socks are the softest and most comfortable pair of hiking socks we have ever stepped into. The Inca Crew Socks are incredibly lightweight and breathable, making them a great option for lengthy day hikes. They are moisture-wicking and have built-in odor control, which helps keep the stink at bay. The cushioning is light but is reinforced in blister-prone areas like the toes and heels. These socks are amazing — we wish they came in more colors and cushion options.

And don’t sleep on Paka’s recently released Performance 3/4 Crew Sock. It does come in a range of colors, and features some nice compression to boot. We’re testing it out for possible inclusion in the next update to this guide.

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Best Compression Hiking Socks

Sockwell Compression Crew Socks ($25)

sockwell hiking socks

Pros: Compression, breathable, fun patterns
Cons: Fit snug, sizing isn’t precise
Sock Height: Crew
Cushioning: Medium

The Sockwell Compression Crew Socks are the only compression-style hiking socks on our list. Compression socks have been found to promote circulation, minimize swelling, and reduce fatigue. These socks are labeled as medium cushioning, but the cushioning feels very light. The mesh sections allow the socks to be breathable while on the move and the wool/bamboo blend helps wick moisture away.

There are only two size options for the Compression Crew socks, so sizing isn’t as precise as some other socks we tested. Our tester found that these socks felt more snug than the others on our list but didn’t notice any huge differences in regard to fatigue and circulation while hiking. But, if you are someone who has poor circulation or whose feet and/or ankles easily swell, these may be a great option for you. They are also a great pick to wear while traveling or during prolonged periods of sitting.

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Best Budget Hiking Socks

Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light Quarter Socks ($20)

feetures hiking socksPros: Buttery and breathable fabric, designed to conform to your foot
Cons: Minimal cushioning isn’t good for longer hikes, no color choices
Sock Height: Over-ankle
Sock Cushioning: Light

When it comes to buttery soft, breathable fabric, Feetures hit the nail on the head. The Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light Quarter Socks are the lightest and most breathable socks on our list and we’ve found that they work great for day hikes and trail runs. These socks hit just above the ankle, providing a little bit of protection while remaining a good option for hotter hikes. Note that the socks are labeled left and right. They’re designed to conform to the structure of each foot, so make sure to put the correct sock on the correct foot.

The cushioning is minimal, so you’ll want to save these for day trips and may want to look elsewhere if you require extra cushy socks. If you prefer a little extra height and support, the Trail Max Cushion socks are a great pick, or if you prefer no-show socks, the Merino 10 Cushion No Show are groovy.

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Most Cushioned Hiking Socks 

Smartwool Hike Full Cushion ($22)

smartwool hiking socks

Pros: Warm, super cushioned
Cons: Bulky
Sock Height: Crew
Sock Cushioning: Heavy

Featuring Smartwool’s tried and true construction, the Smartwool Hike Full Cushion socks have been given a sustainable facelift and are now made with recycled nylon. Although these socks are labeled as medium cushioning, they are the warmest and most cushioned socks on our list, so we took the liberty of labeling them as heavy cushioning. The foot region of the socks is very cushioned and feels comparable to a ski sock. Despite their bulkier build, the Full Cushion socks have elasticized arches that ensure they still fit snugly.

Because these socks are so cushioned, they are less breathable than the others on our list, but they still offer reliable moisture wicking. The Full Cushion socks are well suited to chillier hikes and backpacking trips. Just be sure to try them on with the boots or shoes you plan on wearing to ensure you still have a comfortable fit.

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Best of the Rest

Stance Divided Crew Socks ($25)

stance hiking socks

Pros: Fun pattern, soft
Cons: No extra cushioning on the toes
Sock Height: Crew
Cushioning: Medium

Stance has been in the business of making skate and stylish socks for years, but it was only recently brought to our attention that they make performance hiking socks as well. The Stance Divided Crew Socks not only look good but they feel good too. These socks offer medium cushioning and are cozy warm, making them perfect for backpacking trips and cooler weather day hikes.

The Merino wool blend wicks moisture away as you hike, allowing them to keep you warm even when you’re good and sweaty. The Divided crew socks are super soft and have extra cushioning on the heel for blister prevention (we wish they included extra cushioning on the toes as well). Stance has quickly become a favorite hiking socks option thanks to the design and performance on display here.

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Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Socks ($25)

darn tough hiking socks

Pros: Available in multiple colors, extra cushion on toes/heels, lifetime guarantee
Cons: Lighter cushioning than advertised
Sock Height: Crew
Cushioning: Medium

The Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Socks are soft and comfortable, making them a great pick for thru-hikes and day trips. Made from a blend of wool and nylon, the Micro Crew socks are stretchy, comfortable, and wick moisture away as you trek. These socks are labeled as medium cushioning. But they feel more like light cushioning socks, with just a touch of extra cushion on the heels and toes. These socks felt nice and breathable on the trail, and they dried quickly after stream crossings.

At $25, they’re not the cheapest option on this list, but they are comfortable, well-made, and likely to last longer than comparable socks. And DarnTough’s famous warranty program will replace them when they wear out, no questions asked.

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Merrell Zoned Hiking Socks ($21)

merrell hiking socks

Pros: Lots of color options, mesh ventilation on foot portion
Cons: Calf portion of socks isn’t very breathable
Sock Height: Crew
Sock Cushioning: Medium

Merrell has footwear dialed in and the Merrell Zoned Hiking Socks pair with its hiking shoes/hiking boots nicely. Constructed from merino wool, the Zoned Hiking Socks are comfortable, breathable, and wick sweat away as you hike. The foot portion of the socks has mesh ventilation, which is nice for added breathability, but the calf portion of the sock isn’t very breathable, making it a warmer sock.

The Zoned socks provide generous cushioning throughout, with added cushioning on the toes and heels, which we found helpful in preventing blisters. These socks are unisex, so they’ll work well for everyone.

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Swiftwick Pursuit Hike Six ($24)

swiftwick hiking socks

Pros: Moisture-wicking, mesh paneling throughout
Cons: No fun colors, grass sticks to the material
Sock Height: Crew
Sock Cushioning: Light

Made in the USA, the Swiftwick Pursuit Hike Six sports a blend of merino wool and olefin fiber, for maximum moisture control. These socks wick away sweat as you hike, keeping your feet comfortable and blister-free. Reinforced cushioning on the toes and heels works further to prevent blisters, and the mesh paneling throughout keeps feet cool. Grass and pricklies like this material, and our tester regularly found herself picking off grasses post-hike. The color choices aren’t terribly exciting, but the socks are comfortable to hike in and get the job done.

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Comparison Table

Hiking Socks Price Sock Height Cushioning Fabric
Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks $22 Crew Light Merino wool/recycled nylon/nylon/elastane
Patagonia Wool Anklet Socks $22 Ankle Light Wool/nylon/spandex
Paka Inca Crew Socks $22 Crew Light Baby alpaca/tencel/recycled nylon/spandex
Sockwell Compression Crew Socks $25 Crew Medium Merino wool/stretch nylon/rayon from bamboo/spandex
Feetures Merino 10 Ultra Light Quarter Socks $20 Ankle Light Nylon/rayon/wool/spandex
Smartwool Hike Full Cushion $22 Crew Heavy Wool/recycled nylon/nylon/elastane
Stance Divided Crew Socks $25 Crew Medium Merino wool/polyester/nylon/elastane
Darn Tough Hiker Micro Crew Socks $25 Crew Medium Merino wool/nylon/Lycra spandex
Merrell Zoned Hiking Socks $21 Crew Medium Merino wool/nylon/spandex
Swiftwick Pursuit Hike Six  $24 Crew Light Merino wool/nylon/olefin/spandex

four feet wearing shoes and hiking socks in the frame

Hitting the trails in our hiking socks. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

How We Tested

In order to test these socks, you guessed it, we hit the trails. Our tester lives on Oahu, Hawaii, which is where she did the majority of her testing. As such, she typically opted for the lighter, more breathable sock options. But she’s spent lots of time on frigid multi-day hikes, so she knows what to look for in chillier conditions as well (she’s a proud alumni of the UC Santa Cruz backpacking club).

Oahu has been having a wetter and colder winter than usual — temps have actually had the audacity to drop below 70 degrees … brrr! That being said, the trails are often wet and muddy, with multiple stream crossings along the way. Hiking in wet shoes and socks can often lead to blisters, so our tester truly had the opportunity to see if these socks could combat moisture-related foot issues. Although she has yet to venture to colder climates in most of these socks, she’ll continue to update this review as she does.


a row of hiking socks on a park bench

Some of the best hiking socks in the biz. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Buyer’s Guide

Hiking Sock Material and Design 

Sure, you can hike in any old pair of socks. But hiking in hiking socks will make a world of difference. As the name suggests, hiking socks are socks specifically designed for hiking. Hiking socks are typically made from performance fabrics like wool, nylon, tencel, and more. They usually come with extra padding or cushion in sensitive areas such as the heels, toes, or balls of the feet. Hiking socks also tend to sport a performance-style (read: tighter) fit, helping them avoid slipping or bunching.

Hiking Sock Cost

Why, you might ask, should I spend $20 or more on a single pair of socks when I can get a five-pack at Costco for the same price? This is an extremely valid question and one we used to ask ourselves. The simple answer is quality. If you’re the type of hiker who does one to three-mile easy hikes close to home, then true hiking socks might not be worth it. But if you enjoy longer, more challenging hikes or multi-day treks, then they’re something you’ll definitely want to invest in.

Especially if your hikes include river crossings and varied weather.

two feet with socks and boots on the edge of a pond

Crew-cut hiking socks are the most popular option. Photo: Pina Gruden/The Inertia

Hiking Socks Cut

Like most things, hiking socks come in many shapes and sizes. Okay, maybe not shapes, but they do come in different cuts/heights. The four primary heights of hiking socks are knee, crew, ankle, and no-show.

Knee

The highest of all the hiking socks, knee-cut socks come all the way up to the knee. This cut of socks is best suited for hiking or mountaineering in extremely cold climates or skiing/snowboarding. The high cut will help protect your legs in your mountaineering boots and will add some much-needed warmth.

Crew

Crew-cut hiking socks are one of the most popular styles of hiking socks. They hit about mid-calf and are a good three-season hiking sock (they even work in the summertime if they’re a lightweight, breathable sock). The crew cut offers protection if your boots hit higher on your leg, and they add a bit of warmth as well.

hiking socks

The Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks were our top pick. Photo: Kip Touseull/The Inertia

Ankle

Ankle socks hit just above the ankle bone and are a great option for warmer weather. These aren’t going to do much by way of warmth, but if you need socks to keep your feet covered and prevent your hiking boots from rubbing (unless they’re super-high cut), these will get the job done.

No-show

Are they there, or are they not there? That is the question. These socks are cut more like a traditional running sock and either can’t be seen in boots/shoes or peep just above the shoe. No-show socks don’t offer any warmth and should only be worn with hiking shoes or trail runners. They aren’t a good option to wear with boots because they don’t do anything to prevent the boots from rubbing against your ankles/legs.

three sets of legs, all wearing a variety of hiking socks and hiking shoes/boots

These lightweight hiking socks are perfect for warm-weather adventures. Photo: Rebecca Parsons/The Inertia

Hiking Sock Material 

Although there are endless possibilities for what socks can be made from, there are four main materials typically used to create hiking socks. Most hiking socks are made from wool, polyester, nylon, or spandex. Often they feature a blend of  two or more of these materials.

Wool

Wool is a popular choice for hiking socks. And for good reason. Wool regulates temperature well and will continue to insulate slightly when wet. Wool is also moisture-wicking and naturally antimicrobial, so it helps to keep the stink at bay, making it a good pick for multi-day hiking trips. Most sock brands use Merino wool, which is derived from a particular group of sheep breeds that originated in Spain and are known for their high-quality (read: soft) wool.

Polyester

Polyester is a synthetic fiber that is often used in socks because it insulates, is moisture-wicking, and it dries quickly. It is often blended with wool or nylon to create warm, comfortable, quick-drying, and durable socks.

Nylon

Nylon is also a synthetic material that is commonly found in socks thanks to its durability and quick-drying properties. It is often used in combination with polyester or wool to create high-performance hiking socks.

Spandex

Most socks have a small amount of Spandex (also known as elastane or Lycra) in them. Spandex gives the socks their stretch and helps them maintain their shape, which works to prevent bunching and wrinkling.

Two women sit on a log in a dense forest

Hiking socks help protect your legs from your hiking boots and jungle debris. Photo: Pina Gruden/The Inertia

Sock Cushioning

Before you purchase a pair of socks, you’ll want to consider your intended use for the socks as well as the weather and conditions you’ll be hiking in. Some socks are geared more toward warm weather and day hikes, while others are designed for multi-day hikes in chilly weather. Most socks are labeled ultra-lightweight, lightweight, medium, or heavy in regards to cushioning.

Ultra-lightweight

Although these are designed for hiking, they are best suited for short day hikes or trail runs because of the limited cushion and warmth they provide. But the upshot is, they are ideal for warm or hot weather hikes, and also dry more quickly than more padded socks.

Lightweight

Lightweight socks have minimal cushioning and are a good pick for day hikes or running. They offer a little bit of warmth, making them a good choice for warm to cool weather. They are breathable and moisture-wicking, with a little bit of cushioning in the places you need it the most.

Medium

Medium cushion hiking socks are the Goldilocks of sock cushioning. They work well for short hikes, long hikes, or multi-day treks. They are warm yet breathable and have added cushioning in the heels and toes to help prevent blisters. Medium cushion hiking socks are a good pick for warm to cold weather.

Heavy

Heavy cushion hiking socks are the warmest and most cushioned of all hiking socks. They are designed for a day or multiple days on the trail in cold weather. Heavy cushion socks have padding in the heels and toes to keep your feet protected and warm. Heavy cushion socks typically have extra material throughout and, as a result, aren’t as breathable, moisture-wicking, or quick-drying as other options. They could be a good choice for people with blister-prone feet.

a pair of feet wearing hiking socks and shoes stand on a mossy log

The Patagonia Wool Crew Socks. Photo: Pina Gruden/The Inertia

Hiking Sock Performance Considerations

Breathability

Regardless of whether you plan to hike in hot or cold regions, you’ll want your hiking socks to be breathable, because getting moisture away from your skin is a crucial part of blister prevention and temperature management. Look for breathable panels throughout the socks, but especially around the arch of the foot, as this is where you’ll sweat the most.

Durability

A good pair of hiking socks should last you multiple seasons if you care for them properly. The material used to make the socks is one of the biggest factors that determine durability. Synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester tend to be the most durable. Oftentimes, wool socks will include blends of these materials to increase the lifespan of the socks.

hiking socks

The Merrell Zoned Hiking Socks come in fun colors. Photo: Julia Borland/The Inertia 

Warmth

Depending on where you hike, you’ll likely be expecting your hiking socks to provide some warmth. Consider the conditions you’ll be hiking in and check the type of cushioning the socks offer to decide which is best suited to your needs. If you’re planning a multi-day trip, it can be worthwhile to bring an extra pair of heavy cushion socks for sleeping in.

Fit

A good fit is essential to a comfortable hiking experience. Some hiking socks are specifically designed for men or women, which in our opinion is ideal. But almost every brand offers some sort of a size chart or sizing guide. Be sure and check those charts and order accordingly to ensure a proper fit. Also, some socks can be worn on either foot, whereas others are specifically designed for the left or right foot — note this and wear your socks accordingly.

Best Overall Hiking Socks
Best Overall Hiking Socks

Made from responsibly sourced merino wool, the Smartwool Light Cushion Crew Socks are soft, breathable, moisture-wicking, and have built in odor control, with just the right amount of cushion.

Price: $22

Check Price on REI

Seamless Construction

Most hiking socks these days opt for a seamless construction, which greatly enhances the comfort of the socks and will help prevent blisters. The flat stitch minimizes bunching and chafing, and if you’ve ever experienced either, then you know this is a game changer. You’ll want to make sure the seam sits on the top of the foot and not at the tips of the toes to ensure maximum comfort and performance.

Comfort

In our opinion, if your hiking socks aren’t comfortable, then they aren’t worth it. Consider all of the factors we mentioned above to find the ultimate pair of comfortable hiking socks. Your socks should be breathable, moisture-wicking, warm (when necessary), and help prevent blisters.

Return to Comparison Table | Return to Top Picks

Editor’s Note: For more in-depth reviews of hiking gear, check out our guides to The Best Hiking Boots, The Best Hiking Boots for Women, The Best Hiking Shoes, The Best Hiking Shoes for Women, and The Best Hiking Sandals. And for even more gear reviews and features on The Inertia, click here.

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