Socks Appeal: 8 of Our Favorite Backpacking Socks for 2020
When it comes to planning a long-distance trek, choosing socks may not seem like a big priority on your gear list. Socks are socks, right?
Actually, no. Many thru-hiking veterans offer the same kind of advice Marine Corps officers tell their troops: Taking care of your feet is critically important to a successful mission. So, while shoes get most of the attention, socks can make a huge difference when it comes to protecting what’s arguably your most vital physical asset on the trail.
Fortunately, we’ve come a long way from tube socks and droopy cotton socks, and manufacturers are continually improving performance and expanding alternatives to meet hikers’ every need. Some people might choose one brand and stick with it, while others carry two or three pairs for different conditions.
We all know (and probably love) just how filthy our feet get on trail. But socks provide a crucial barrier between your delicate skin and grit, grime, and grunge that we inevitably pick up as we roll along. Dirt creates friction, and friction creates blisters, so the better socks you have, the more protected you’ll be.
Socks are also a key part of keeping warm if you are hiking in cold or rainy weather, or even slogging across a snowfield on a sunny day. We’re lucky to have fibers, both natural—most notably Merino wool—and synthetic, that will keep your feet warmer when wet.
On the flip side, overheated feet can also create all kinds of problems, so you’ll want to consider packing a lighter, thinner sock that dries quickly. Modern materials have made big improvements in wicking and dry-times.
Especially when hikers opt for lighter-weight shoes that may not have much cushion, socks can provide a layer of comfort without much extra weight.
Finally, sock height can make a big difference, depending on the kind of terrain and weather you’ll face. Higher socks can insulate and protect lower legs from, say, poison oak or that notorious scourge of the Pacific Crest Trail, poodle-dog bush, or even just scratches from long grasses, vines, and shrubs.
With those and other factors in mind, here is a roundup of some of the best socks The Trek has received this spring. (Note: *indicates reviewer has previous experience with brand.)
Material: 32% Drynamix synthetic, 32% mohair wool, 34% polyamide, 2% Elastane
What we like: Balega makes some of the most comfortable socks around, and these are no exception; cushy but without being bulky. Form-fitting design with arch-support panel prevents bunching. Seamless toe reduces blister-causing friction. Grippy sole prevents slippage. By previous experience of reviewer, durability is solid. Great price.
Things to consider: The comfy ride translates into slower drying.
Etc.: Also comes in quarter and no-show height.
Material: 54% nylon, 43% Merino wool, 3% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Lifetime guarantee is a much-beloved feature among hikers. Highly durable, designed with tough New England hiking in mind. Plenty of cushion for the sole, but not bulky above. Merino wool is non-itchy, bacteria-resistant, good all-season material. By previous experience of reviewer, durability is solid.
Things to consider: Sizing is slightly on the large end (i.e., reviewer usually wears medium, could wear small). Made in the United States.
Etc.: Also comes in midweight and quarter height.
Material: 52% nylon, 44% Merino wool, 4% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Great cushion, focused on heel, ball of foot and toe, makes for a comfy, non-bulky feel. Upper fits calf nicely, stays put, even for running. Merino wool is non-itchy, bacteria-resistant, good all-season material. Seamless toe reduces blister-causing friction. By previous experience of reviewer, durability is solid. Comes in cool-looking Max Patch design (above).
Things to consider: Sizing is slightly large (i.e., reviewer usually wears medium, could wear small). Made in United States. On the pricey end.
Etc.: Also comes in quarter height.
Material: 96% Nylon, 4% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Great cushioning in all the right places, even with its ultralight design. Snug fit through arch prevents slippage and bunching. Seamless toe reduces blister-causing friction. Calf height keeps the crud out while not feeling restrictive (reviewer has large calves). Good price. Lifetime guarantee.
Things to consider: Can be a tad slippy when fully dry. By previous experience of reviewer, not quite as durable as some other brands.
Material: 70% Merino wool, 23% nylon, 4% polyester, 3% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Great contoured fit prevents slipping and bunching. Outstanding cushion in heel, ball, and toe. High percentage of Merino bodes well for cool and wet weather. Merino wool is non-itchy, bacteria-resistant, good all-season material. Reviewer’s first experience with brand.
Things to consider: Solid construction can translate into slightly longer dry times. A tad slippy when dry. Fits runs slightly large.
Etc.: Micro Light Runner and Light Performance Trail models offer slightly different features.
Material: 69% Merino wool, 25% nylon, 6% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Super-cushy but not bulky. Form-fitting design feels snug and supportive. Dries quickly. Comes in both more muted Essential colors/tones and five colorful stripe patterns. Remarkable selection of models. Merino wool is non-itchy, bacteria-resistant, good all-season material. Reviewer’s first experience with brand.
Things to consider: On the pricey end.
Etc.: Comes in medium and extra-light cushion, quarter, mini-crew, quarter height. Family-owned business emphasizes environmental responsibility, animal welfare, and sustainable land-management practices with partners.
Material: 69% Merino wool, 15% nylon, 13% Olefin, 3% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: Swiftwick is one of, if not the, fastest-drying outdoor socks available. This model has nice cushion, compared to the company’s running socks, but still dries surprisingly quickly. Surprisingly cool wear. Unlike most socks for men (if not for women), Swiftwick offers a variety of lively color patterns. Merino wool is non-itchy, bacteria-resistant, good all-season material. By previous experience of reviewer, durability is solid.
Things to consider: On the pricey end.
Etc.: Comes in heights of 2, 4, 6, and 8 inches as well as ultralight and light cushion.
MSRP: $19.99 for three pair
Material: 48% polyester, 28% cotton, 18% nylon, 6% Lycra® Spandex
What we like: By far the least expensive of all models in this review. Modest cushion, but still comfortable. Support in upper is considerable. Seamless toe, arch construction and deep heel pocket make for a good, snug fit. Reviewer’s first experience with brand.
Things to consider: This is a more specialized product than other socks reviewed here. Cotton-synthetic blend may not insulate well when wet, but may be just the ticket for camp, sleeping and recovery.
Etc.: Also comes in low-cut and over-the-calf height. True Energy uses infrared technology developed by NASA to improve circulation, support muscles and reduce pain for astronauts in space.
Best in Show
We received more than 20 pairs of socks, and overall, there’s truly not a lumpy, holey, odiferous sock in this bunch; they’ve all got big upsides. That said, here are a few thoughts on best-in-show.
Best comfort: Balega, FITS, Point6
Best wicking/drying: Swiftwick
Best Value: Feetures (not counting True Energy, a specialty sock)
Best durability: Darn Tough, Farm to Feet
Best colors: Point6, Swiftwick (honorable mention: Farm to Feet’s Max Patch design)
Best camp sock: True Energy
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