You see words like; COOLMAX, TENCEL, LYCRA, LYOCELL FIBER, MOISTURE WICKING, MERINO WOOL, DRYMAX, and so on and so on. Like me you probably stand there in the hiking store with a variety in your hands and think what the…….. Do I need LINERS? What about LIGHTWEIGHT or do I go for the MIDWEIGHT? but hang on there are MOUNTAIN SOCKS and what are these INJINJI TOE SOCKS? Maybe I need them? Oh no there are WATERPROOF ones as well….LEFT AND RIGHT FITTED, ODOUR and BACTERIA resistance and WHAT! BUGSAWAY ones!!!! Is this starting to get too much for you because I have to say it is for me and all I wanted to do is come in and buy socks!
Lets take a step back and break it all down and hopefully we will be able to make a clearer choice. Lets start with some questions;
- What do I need them for?
- What are the conditions like? for eg; cold/hot, rough/level terrain.
- How long do you expect to wear them? 2-3hrs/8-12hrs?
- What kind of feet do you have? sweaty? need support?
Now lets breakdown the types;
- Liner; this is thin wicking socks that can be worn underneath the heavier hiking sock. These help with the prevention of blisters by acting like a second skin to help avoid the friction and rubbing that can be caused by the outer socks and the boots. Also the wicking help draw the moisture away from your skin to the outer layer socks. Choose liners that have the synthetic fibres not COTTON. Cotton absorbs moisture and holds it as well as not breathable.
- Lightweight; this is best for those easier going trails where perhaps you might not need so much of the comfort and support. If you are only hiking for a few hours, ideal, longer maybe not so good. They usually are thinner, though do great moisture wicking, they wont however keep the feet warm, so warmer climates are ideal.
- Midweight; this is the type of sock is a thicker one which has a bit more padding in the pressure points of your feet like the ball and heel. Some do offer more support than the lightweight, ones especially around the arch area. Again they all offer the moisture wicking and add a liner sock this can be a great combo for the longer more rough terrain as well as warmth for the cooler climate.
- Mountain Socks or Heavyweight; these socks are the thickest of all. They provide far more padding in the heels and balls of your feet, so if you struggle with the pressure pain these could help. The moisture wicking is not as great, and they keep your feet extra warm, but combine with the liners it can help. Better suited if you are hiking in cooler climates and rough distance terrain.
- Injinji or Toe socks; the theory behind these socks are they let your toes spread out naturally and not be cramped together which should help maintain balance and distribute your weight evenly. They also provide the moisture wicking and no skin on skin with the toes so prevents rubbing to avoid blisters. These don’t give the same comfort as the Midweight or Mountain Sock as they are thinner though they say they offer arch support. You could wear these as a liner.
- Left/right socks: yes there are socks that have left or right written on them. They say they make them to fit that particular side. Jury is out on this one for me. I’ve tried both and even put them on the wrong foot and I can’t say I see a difference.
- Waterproof; These are for if you are just in really wet areas. I personally can’t recommend you get them, though I do own some and have walked a large part of the UK in them but, even though one company claims they are breathable, they just aren’t and they are not so comfortable, Yes your feet stay dry from the rain and mud etc but sweat like hell on the inside, but hey some people may feel differently about them.
- Bugsaway socks; as they sound they are to repel bugs like mosquitoes, ticks, ants, flies, well you get the picture. They are also supposed to be UPF 30+, odour resistant. Be aware the insect repellent only lasts for 70 odd washes. I don’t know about the sun protector but I will say I have boots on so the sun isn’t a problem for my feet.
This is just a brief run down below to give you an idea of what you are looking at. There are others that I haven’t put down but you get the general idea.
- Merino Wool; this is the wool from the Merino breed of sheep. The wool is proven to be a highly resilient wool that can be made into a very fine fibre. It is a naturally moisture wicking and contains anti-microbial properties which is great for foot odour. It is a great insulator which will help keep you foot warm but breathable as well.
- Tencel; or lyocell fibre that come from the pulp of eucalyptus trees. Has good moisture wicking and keeps you cool.
- Nylon; this is a Thermoplastic, it has great durability and resistance so stretching and pulling it can handle. It does absorb more water compared to other synthetics though not as much as cotton.
- Polyamide; type of Nylon that get added to help with comfort.
- Polyester; very much like Nylon and can handle the stretching and pulling, it is better than the Nylon at the moisture and does breath better.
- Acrylic; I liken it to a synthetic imitation wool. Has moisture wicking capabilities.
- Polypropylene; waterproof fibre with great moisture wicking capabilities and great for warmth.
- Teflon; helps with the waterproofing but doesn’t affect the breathability of the socks.
- CoolMax; or also known as Olefin. This is known as one of the better synthetic fibres for repelling water as well as passing water through itself to the outside of the sock.
What any hiker needs is a sock that will give them the comfort they need while hiking. You want your feet to stay as dry as possible so you want good moisture wicking. As for what one you choose it all comes down to preference. We all have different requirements. I personally prefer the liner sock and a mid to heavyweight sock and something that has Merino in it. Mark however prefers the liner and a lighter weight Merino sock. If hiking long distances for extended period of time take your boots and socks off when you stop for a break and let the air get to them. Best advice is don’t skimp as a good sock can last a long time, my favourites are 8yrs old and still hold their shape and work well, the other thing is try a few different ones till you are happy with what works for you.
Happy Walking 👣👣👣