Best hiking socks (and other stuff)
Whenever I attend a show, whether its a specialised event for outdoorsy people or the occasional county show, I am asked the same questions everytime, one of which is what are the best hiking socks, or best socks for mountaineering, or which socks should I wear for the Tour De Mont Blanc this summer. Unfortunately there is no right or wrong answer, the best socks to wear depend on many things; where are you going, what time of year, how long will you be walking, will you be carrying a heavy rucksac? A lot of people just stick to what they are used to, some people just wear the cheapest! What is written here is from my experience, gained from years of day walks in the UK, multi week trekking all round the world and mountaineering trips all over. You may have a different opinion to me, if so, post any comments at the end.
Dont expect to have a one sock does it all. I have always used a lightweight sock for spring / summer day walks when I tend to wear lighter footwear. A sock like our Juncal or Denali or Manaslu are ideal, or if you prefer a brand such as Bridegdales, then try something like the Trail Light. Don’t try to wear your all round hiking socks with lightweight summer footwear. Just don’t, you will regret it!
For winter or just cooler days I tend to wear heavier boots and a medium weight sock, something like our Bonette. If I am doing a multi day trip in the summer, I will still probably wear medium weight socks with heavier boots. My feet may get a little warmer but I find a slightly heavier sock is more comfortable when carrying a heavy rucksac. Similarly, if I am going to be scrambling or just walking on a rough mountain path then even in summer I will wear my 4 season boots and medium weight socks, unfortunately a bad mountaineering accident ten years ago means I need the support around my ankle my heavy boots provide. As arthritis starts to set in to my ankle, I am tending to wear my heavier boots more and more.
I don’t like seriously thick socks, apart from being very hot (which can lead to blisters), you will probably find you need to go up a boot size just to fit in them comfortably. I often see people out in the hills and mountains wearing what look like army surplus socks, thick enough to withstand a nuclear strike. The only reason i can think for this is they must be seriously cheap. Personally I value my feet more than this, then are the only pair I will ever have. The only times I wear a thicker sock are when I am wearing my C1 mountaineering boots. My sock of choice for my mountaineering climbs is always a Smartwool Mountaineer sock. They are very comfortable when new, even when front pointing for hours BUT they are expensive and I find they lose their shape and become very baggy after only a few washes.
Modern hiking socks are not made of pure wool, pity your feet if you do only want pure wool socks (unless you have a life threatening allergy to anything non wool in which case it makes perfect sense). There are so many materials available these days, each having very different properties that it makes sense to design a sock using several different materials either combined into one weave or different materials for different parts of the sock. Merino wool is pretty much the best base material these days, its is so far ahead of ordinary wool that non merino wool sheep may as well sell themselves to the donor factory. That’s not to say that you should only look for merino wool socks; a good quality sock will be a blend. Just avoid very cheap socks, avoid 100% polyester socks of the local market unless you want your feet to spark as you walk and want your feet to smell like they have been buried for 6 months and decomposed.
Many people like a thin liner sock under their hiking socks. I have experimented with this set up before, and used to use them with an old pair of boots and socks. I don’t anymore, my opinion now is if you need a liner sock, then either you are using the wrong socks or your boots don’t fit. HOWEVER as always there are exceptions to this, many people have different sized feet, some feet can be a whole size different, or even more if you chop all the toes of on one foot! For different sized feet, or webbed feet if you come from Luton then maybe a liner sock will work for you. Try it and see
I had a climbing partner years ago who brought two pairs of climbing shoes everytime just so he could have a decent fit on both feet. He tried just about every brand going, until one day one of the main brands offered the option of buying different sized rock shoes if you brought from their website. I cannot remember which one it was, they stopped the offer a long time ago anyway. Personally, with rock shoes I always find its useful to cut your toenails if you find one shoe is too tight! What has this got to do with hiking socks? Not much really, however if you wear a thin sock with your rock shies they probably wont smell as bad.
When I am out backpacking anywhere, I always carry a minimum of 2 pairs of socks; one pair for the daytime walking and one clean dry pair for the evening in the tent. This does mean that if has been raining you will be putting wet socks back on again but I’d still rather keep a dry pair for each evening. As a rough rule of thumb, I would probably have 3 pairs for a weeks trip, 1 dry pair for the evening and 2 pairs for using. On the last day you then also have the option of wearing the dry pair if you are heading home after.