Which socks for Hiking

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The functions of the sock

During the practice of a sport, the main function of the sock is to allow an adaptation of the foot to the shoe. It serves as a sort of shock absorber and protection to limit friction between the foot and the shoe that can cause blisters. Also, the sock allows the evacuation of perspiration, thus avoiding "maceration" and the easy development of fungus for example. And in cold weather, the sock keeps the foot warm!

How to choose your sports socks

When we practice a sport, most of the time, we put everything on the shoes, and forget the socks. Indeed, it seems normal to pay more than 100€ for a good running shoe for example, but not more than 5€ for a pack of 3 pairs of sports socks. And yet, they are just as important.

Factors to consider

We often ignore it, but to make the right choice, it is not enough to look at what color we like. There are many factors to consider.

* The comfort of sports socks

In addition to keeping your foot in place and allowing you to be comfortable, the socks prevent friction, and therefore the formation of blisters and other irritations. So choose seamless models and never too big. Opt for an optimal support and therefore a shape that completely fits your foot.

* Thermal regulation

First and foremost, your socks must ensure proper evacuation of perspiration. Indeed, during exercise, your foot heats up and therefore regulates your temperature by evacuating perspiration. A material that stores perspiration and keeps your foot wet can be harmful to your health. Therefore, your socks must keep your foot warm in winter and cool in summer, while keeping it dry.

* The price of your socks

Even if it seems excessive for most of us, it is better to prioritize quality and invest the necessary price in a quality pair. Your physical effort will only be improved. So accept to spend a budget of about 15€ for the one of your choice.

* The size

Unlike sneakers that you have to choose one size up to practice a sport, socks follow the opposite rule. Indeed, choose one size smaller than yours. For example, if you wear size 39, choose a pack size 35-37 and not 38-40. Contrary to what you might think, these will stretch, and therefore can roll and form annoying folds.

* The material

As you know, it is preferable to buy seamless models, but also to avoid cotton and nylon as much as possible. Think of the more technical materials available, such as polyamide-elastane. Even so, natural materials are not to be neglected completely, or for all activities. Also, merino wool remains the best ally of the sportsman, but unfortunately represents a more important cost.

Now that you know the different characteristics of your sports socks. Adapt your choice according to the activity you want to practice. Some can be used in several activities, others are more specific. The key is to use and maintain them well, but also to change them regularly.

 

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Which socks for hiking?

As you probably know, unless you have insensitive feet, the choice of hiking socks is essential to avoid blisters, chafing or unpleasant rubbing. A good choice of hiking socks will not make up for a bad choice of shoes - the ideal is to choose both. To choose your hiking socks, you need to know what you want from them: comfort, protection against chafing, protection against the cold, etc. As a bonus, it's nice if they dry quickly, are sturdy and durable, and aren't odorless (although, let's not kid ourselves, part of the problem isn't the socks).

Specific socks for hiking?

Everyday socks are generally not very well suited for hiking, except possibly for easy rides.

In fact, the longer and more difficult your hikes, the more important a well-fitting pair of socks will be. Hiking puts your feet to the test!

That said, if you practice other sports (running, trail, mountain biking, skiing ...) you may already have a pair that can serve you for hiking.

So we will see 5 important criteria to choose your hiking socks. You will be able to know if the pairs you already have are suitable, or you will be able to choose a more adapted pair of socks.

1/ Size of hiking socks

If your size is between two ranges (38.5 for example) and you can't try them on, I would recommend the size below, especially if they are stretchy, to avoid creases. Or, look for another model with a different range.

2/ Size: high or low socks?

There are low-cut walking socks, high-cut socks and lots of in-between. Choosing the right size is very simple: the sock should be higher than the collar of your shoes to avoid your skin being in direct contact with the shoe.

With low shoes, you can use high hiking socks, it allows you to better protect your ankle and leg from knocks and chafing and to be a little warmer.

3/ Thickness of walking socks

When choosing your hiking socks, you will quickly realize that there are socks of all thicknesses.  Thin? Thick? In between?

A thick hiking sock: provides comfort by protecting the foot well; insulates from the cold (with the same construction and materials as a thinner sock); but is less snug and can move more easily while walking, and makes you sweat more in hot weather.

A thin walking sock: stays in good contact with the foot and moves less ;

but is less comfortable and insulates less from the cold (for similar materials and construction).

In cold weather: It's not a big question, because you'll need to protect yourself from the cold and thick socks will be more appropriate, especially since you're less likely to sweat.

In hot weather: You need to find a compromise between comfort and warmth (especially for long hikes, with elevation changes and on difficult terrain) because socks that are too thin could put a strain on your feet, especially if the shoes are poorly padded and/or you have fragile skin on your feet; with socks that are too thick you will sweat a lot and risk getting blisters more easily.

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Note that:

Breathable and non-waterproof shoes evacuate perspiration better and insulate less from the cold than waterproof shoes (Gore-Tex membrane for example).

You can generally afford to wear thinner hiking socks with light, flexible shoes (e.g. trail shoes) than with heavy, rigid shoes (e.g. full-grain leather trekking boots).

Materials and construction also play an important role in insulation and moisture management.

4/ Materials: a criterion not to be neglected

The choice of materials is important because they each have different properties and therefore different advantages and disadvantages.

Here is an overview of the main materials used to make hiking socks.

Synthetic fibers

The most common are polyester, polyamide, polypropylene and acrylic. These materials insulate well from the cold (but less than wool), and even when wet. They wick away perspiration well, dry quickly and are quite strong and durable. They are used for two main functions: thermal insulation and wicking.

Different fibers have been developed by manufacturers to meet various needs. Some are designed to evacuate perspiration and dry quickly in warm conditions (e.g. Coolmax), others to insulate from the cold while evacuating perspiration (e.g. Thermolite).

Note that without antibacterial treatment, odors develop easily with these materials.

Elastane

This is also a synthetic fiber that is found in small proportions in many hiking socks to help them keep their shape, fit well and not wrinkle.

Note: Lycra is a brand that manufactures elastane fibers.

Cotton

This is a material that is not really recommended for hiking socks. Cotton absorbs moisture, does not wick it away and dries slowly, which encourages blisters. Also, cotton is abrasive and does not insulate from the cold when wet. So I don't recommend 100% cotton socks except for short summer walks.

Cotton is however quite comfortable and is sometimes combined with synthetic fibers or wool. Socks with a small to medium proportion of cotton can be used, but I would recommend them for short or easy rides.

Another advantage of cotton is that odors do not develop easily - especially compared to synthetic fibers.

Merino wool

It is a material more and more used in socks. Merino wool has the advantage of being comfortable and insulating from the cold even when it is wet. As it is thermoregulatory, it also insulates from heat. Moreover, merino wool is naturally antibacterial and limits the appearance of bad odors.

On the other hand, it wicks perspiration a little less well than synthetic fibers and wears out quickly - especially if it is not combined with other materials. That's why you can often find walking socks made with a mixture of merino wool and synthetic materials.

5/ Construction and design of hiking socks

A hiking sock is not a simple tube sewn on one side, it's a little bit more complex and hiking socks have several zones with different densities, constructions and materials to make them perform as well as possible.  

 

 

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Here are some common technical features:

Reinforcement zones

Many hiking socks have reinforcements in the heels and toes, and even in other areas. When choosing a pair, make sure this is the case if you want them to be durable.

And if you've already worn out a pair of socks, you'll easily see which areas need reinforcement, based on your foot shape and footwear.

Note that for high-top hiking boots, it's best to have a fairly high reinforcement area in the heel.

Curl and padded areas

The loops are a thick weave and the fleeces are a thick, soft fabric.

These areas provide comfort and effective protection against chafing. If you have areas of your foot that are sensitive, or prone to blisters, make sure these areas are present.

Breathable zones

As the name suggests, these zones are used to wick away perspiration. They are generally thinner or have larger stitches than the other parts of the sock and are located in areas with less friction: instep, sides of the foot, sides of the calves, etc.

Support bands

On many socks, there are support bands (elastic) that hold the sock in place - for example, at the ankle.

It's impossible to know how effective they are without trying, but at least you know what they're for.

Seams

The type of seams and their location are important because they can create extra thickness and cause blisters and other discomforts. 

Ideally, you should try the socks on (with your hiking boots on) to see if they are uncomfortable or not. When this is not possible, "seamless" or flat-seamed socks are a good option.

Double socks, anti-blister, double skin

Anti-blister hiking socks, also known as double socks or double skin socks, are as the name implies socks with two layers of fabric on top of each other.

The purpose is that some of the movement is between the two fabrics (not between the sock and your skin) when you walk. So it's not your skin that gets rubbed, but the sock.

This design is inspired by what used to be done quite a bit before, but less and less today: put a pair of thin socks under a pair of slightly thicker hiking socks.

Specific socks for each foot

Some sports socks have two different socks, one for the left foot and one for the right. This allows you to have a sock that fits your foot a little better. Often, this is noted with an L on the left sock and R on the right sock.

It is however a small disadvantage for the durability, because we wear them more or less always the same way compared to socks that we would put once on the left foot and once on the right foot.

Double socks are not a 100% guarantee that you won't get blisters, and not all models are created equal, but many people notice a difference compared to "single" socks.

The walking socks with waterproof-breathable membrane

I wanted to tell you about these special socks because you may come across them.

These socks are both waterproof and breathable thanks to the use of a membrane. However, they are less breathable than classic socks and often a little stiffer.

They are used by some people wearing non-waterproof shoes, for hiking in the rain or snow for example. They are particularly useful for multi-day hikes in the summer when there is a risk of rain. This allows you to hike mainly with breathable shoes when the weather is nice and to put on your waterproof pair when it rains, as you would with a rain jacket.

There are not many models on the market, so the choice is quite limited and quite easy.

If possible, try on your hiking socks

This is not always possible for hygienic reasons, but if possible try the hiking socks. Try them on even with shoes (ideally your hiking boots), to see how comfortable they are and how well they fit.

They should fit your foot perfectly. There should be no creases or areas that are not in contact with your skin. They should stay in place without compressing your foot. And there shouldn't be any annoying extra thickness or pressure points.

I hope that you will find it easier to find your way among the dozens and dozens of existing sock models.

Do not hesitate to share the article if you liked it, thank you.

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