It wasn’t that long ago that socks were about as technologically advanced as bleached cotton. They covered your feet, provided a bit of insulation and kept your sweaty feet from rubbing against your hiking boots. That was about it. Today, socks are just as advanced as the rest of your outdoor gear. Thanks to advancements in fabric, fit and design, they can do everything from keep your feet warm while wet to reduce blister-causing friction. Here are five of our favorite socks that go the extra mile—so you can too!
There’s a lot to love about Darn Tough socks. They keep your feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They continue to perform well when wet, and are exceptional at resisting odors. While any of their socks are a great choice for travelers or trekkers alike, Darn Tough’s Hiker Boot Full Cushion socks are especially good for going long distances, or for hikers who are prone to foot soreness. That’s because these Merino wool/nylon/lycra-spandex socks are about as padded as you can get—and you will feel it as soon as you slip them on. We really noticed it while pounding the ground in both hiking boots and trail runners. And they have a guarantee that can’t be beat: If you manage to wear them out or get a hole, just exchange them for a new pair! $24
Falke’s TK2 Cool Trekking socks are perfect for those who need a sock that’s comfy but not too warm. They have a medium amount of cushioning where you need it most (in the heel and under the front of the foot), and a soft mesh where you don’t (on top of the foot and in channels along the arch). Because of that inventive distribution of fabric, this sock is extremely good at letting go of excess heat. We used them for intense training hikes and loved how they performed. Things that also hit the mark: These socks dry really quickly, and thanks to a higher-than-average ankle, they’re much better at keeping trail debris from sneaking in, unlike other, shorter lightweight socks. They’re also available in crew length. This European brand may be hard to find in the U.S., but you can order them online direct from the manufacturer. $19
It’s s strange feeling at first—the gliding sensation that comes from wearing Balega’s Blister Resist socks. It’s similar to the feeling of wearing chamois cream when you’re riding a bike—nothing sticks, nothing grips and there’s no friction. That’s pretty wonderful, because it also means there won’t be blisters. Is it magic? More like science—and the unique scale structure of the mohair and Drynamix blend of material. Even if you aren’t prone to blisters, these are great socks and are another one of the cushiest socks we tested; we felt like we could hike in these forever. The crew and quarter socks performed wonderfully and were some of our favorites, but we found the ankle tab on the shorty no-shows to occasionally funnel dirt and pebbles into the socks, so stick with the higher varieties. $18
If your feet don’t have any special needs and you’re just looking for an all-around great sock without any fancy bells and whistles, Point 6’s Medium Crew socks are a solid choice. Ok, maybe they have one bell—which makes them so darn comfortable to hike in. By combining their unique wool/spandex/nylon blend to give you a nicely-cushioned, fantastically breathable and odor-resistant sock, they have also incorporated their unique 37.5 fiber technology into the fabric. This “supercharges” the material’s ability to wick moisture away from your feet before they turn sweaty. These socks kept our feet dry and comfortable over some big distances in a variety of trail and temperature conditions, which helped keep our spirits up on the big grinds. These are a PCT: Oregon editor’s favorite. $26
Waterproof socks, really? Yeah, really. Constructed of three layers—nylon outside and poly–Merino inside, sandwiching a breathable middle membrane—the Sealskinz Hiking Mid socks performed well enough in light rain and snow in typical light hikers. Their cushion is similar to heavy hiking or trekking socks, making them comfortable enough without bunching. But really, waterproof? We put them on, filled up the bathtub, stepped in and waited. And waited some more. They “feel” like they’re soaking thru, as the water interacts with the outer nylon layer. But after ten minutes of soaking, we peeled them off to find both the inner Merino lining, and our feet, bone dry! If you wear shoes or boots with a Gore-Tex liner, you probably won’t have much use for these. But if your shoes or boots don’t have a waterproof liner, these wouldn’t be a bad thing to have in your pack if you’re expecting inclement weather, big river fords or wide snow crossings. $50
Cassandra Overby is a Seattle-based freelance writer who loves to travel, hike and explore the outdoors. She’s the founder of Explore on Foot, a company that promotes walking-based travel, and the author of Exploring Europe on Foot, which will be available in August 2018 by Mountaineers Books. Connect with her at cassandraoverby.com.
*PCT: Oregon editor Eli Boschetto contributed to portions of this review. This page contains affiliate links.