Just like boots, socks are an important part of the outdoor kit. If the correct grade and type of socks are worn, one does not even have to think about them but if an incorrect socks has been worn, the day’s trek will turn very unpleasant and heavy on the head. A good pair of hiking socks can make all the difference between an enjoyable hike and an uncomfortable one.
A good sock will feel comfortable, provide cushioning to high impact areas, wick moisture away from the skin and help to maintain a consistent and comfortable foot temperature. On the basis of what I have learnt from talking to those who have an knowledge in this aspect, reading literature to help me to make the correct choice and seeing those choices getting validated in the field , I have listed down some critical factors for consideration.
The main categories that have emerged are
Activity. Socks vary for different activity, what is suitable for running will not be suitable for hiking, what is suitable for sports will not be suitable for high altitude treks. Hence it is important to understand what activity and hence what kind of a socks. Hiking socks are different from mountaineering socks by virtue of thickness, length and cushioning.
Fabric. Fabric composition is of paramount importance. For hiking, nothing beats merino wool fabric. Some recommend synthetic too but I would disagree considering the fact that a substandard synthetic or composite fabric will generate heat within. Merino wool fabric also wick away the moisture, are light weight and provide a degree of insulation too in cold temperatures. Silk is another great option for hiking but these are not durable and highly expensive. Wool based socks too are recommended for mountaineering activities.
Avoid cotton socks because these will absorb the moisture produced and store it thereby inviting fungal infection, blisters, sore spots (on account of coarser materials)
Footwear. Footwear too plays a part in the whole setup, hiking boots and mountaineering boots are generally built for single/twin layers of socks especially the mountaineering boots. Hiking socks are single layer with the above recommended fabrics and with the right kind of cushioning at places. Also getting the socks of a right fit is important to ensure that there are no wrinkles formed which will cause a blister and if they are too tight then this will create pressure points and slippage.
Features to look for:
The main features basing on the above categories are:
Thickness. As a thumb rule, I follow this learning
- Thin socks for short day hikes within tree line altitude. Eg Paanch Kedar trek, chopta etc
- Medium thick socks for tougher hikes, multi days. Eg Nandikund trek, tso moriri – kibber trek etc
- Thick socks for high altitude treks above snowline. Eg Chadar, Auden’s col, Roop kund, Panpatia col etc
Wicking. This phenomenon means removal of moisture from the body part to help regulate temperature and keep feet as dry as possible thereby reducing blister formation. So look for socks’ fabrics( Merino, silk ) that can do this.
Fit. The socks selected needs to fit perfectly, no compromise out here for if too tight it will cut off circulation, too loose and blisters are going to get formed. If too low, then there would be a chance that the heel would have less protection and would result in the boot rubbing against and causing sore blisters.
Anti-fungal. Select socks that have this property and will ensure that they can be worn at a stretch for days with minimal odour and infection.
Padding. This is vital especially around heel, toes and underfoot. But again the kind of activity will determine this padding. I am here speaking in respect of high altitude multi day hiking.
Sock height. Again a very important feature that needs to be looked into. To choose a right height, one needs to take the footwear into consideration. The higher the cuffs are on the boots, the taller has to be the socks so that the skin is protected by the socks against rubbing directly onto the boot. On a hike a flaw in this aspect is a very serious impediment.
I hope this article helps the reader next time a trek or hike is planned and one needs to kit up for the same. Few brands that are leaders in manufacturing and selling well reputed models are written below.
|REI||Light weight Merino|
|Darn Tough||Micro crew cushion|
|Patagonia||Light weight Merino|
|Smart wool||Hike ultra-light crew|
|Quechua||Arpenaz series / Forclaz series|
|Extremities||Silk Liner socks|
5 Replies to “A word about Socks & their relation to Hiking”
Whenever I visit your blog I realize just how poor my understanding of clothing and equipment haha… But that’s okay, I appreciate the lesson. I certainly didn’t know before this how socks affect the hiking experience. All I cared about before is the thickness, so I’m happy to find out about the other features like the padding and fabric, and how cotton absorbs moisture. This article is quite useful.
glad u related to it 🙂
The information you shared here is gold. Unfortunately, I learned the VERY hard way about the importance of the hiking boot/sock harmony. To the point where I –kid you, not– tried to finish day 4 of the Heaphy Track in New Zealand barefoot!! I’ve always been back and forth about which thickness I need, so I’ll definitely be saving this for my next visit to the store.
glad of the post being helpful 🙂