Last Updated on by
When hiking in hot weather, a number of potential ills and ailments await the unprepared and inappropriately attired. Among the most irritating, inconvenient, and downright agonizing of these potential complaints are those that can befall our feet.
Given that our feet are our sole means of moving from A to B when out in the wild, they’re well worth taking care of, and getting our hands on (feet in?) a pair of high-performing, functional, trail-worthy socks is the best way to start.
But with so many options to choose from, how do we know which hot-weather socks will be best for us?
Below, we aim to simplify the selection process with an in-depth guide to hiking socks for hot weather. We’ll start off with a few insights into the ingredients of a good sock before then moving onto a detailed buyer’s guide and a review of our top picks for 2018.
Before all that, let’s begin with a few words on why sock choice is so important
Getting your gear right for hiking in any weather requires a fair amount of pre-purchase research and consideration. But with boots, mid layers, baselayers, shell layers, and other larger items to consider, do we really need to give a hoot about such a paltry component of backcountry attire as our socks?
The short answer: yes!
The director’s cut answer: well, this seemingly negligible item of backcountry attire can play a pivotal role in a hikes’ success or failure, and also our levels of comfort while we’re at it — things that could not necessarily be said of many larger and seemingly more important parts of our apparel.
Some of the potential pains and problems that can result from poor sock choice include the following:
Given the above, a third answer might now be added to the two already given: hell yes!
Choosing socks for hiking in hot weather is slightly trickier and more nuanced than many expect, and the ideal choice for your needs may well seem counterintuitive prior to learning the ins and outs of different socks’ attributes, specs, and best uses.
Before heading to the outdoor store or getting online to make a purchase, here are a few key factors to consider that just might help you avoid a costly (and potentially painful!) process of trial and error.
This all-time hikers’ favorite has enjoyed something of a revival in recent years thanks to brands such as Smartwool and Icebreaker, who have taken the once itchy staple churned out by grandmothers worldwide and given it a foot-friendly and performance-orientated makeover. Wool, and merino in particular, offers a great warmth-to-weight ratio, dries quickly (particularly in thinner, hot-weather socks), wicks moisture and breathes very well, and is far less likely to stink up as badly as synthetic fabrics and cotton.
While more prone to producing noxious odors following a hard day on the trails, modern synthetic socks have a lot going for them and are getting better by the year. Most importantly, they usually cost a lot less than what you can expect to pay for top merino products and are more likely to keep their elasticity and shape over time.
Many newbie hikers and/or those with a more lackadaisical approach to backcountry attire are prone to plumping for the cheapest and/or the first decent-looking pair of socks they come across in the store or online, which almost invariably means socks containing some degree of cotton. The result? Said hikers are usually the ones eyeing their backcountry companions’ dry, unblistered, and scent-free feet enviously at the end of their day on the trail.
Cotton, in any athletic garment, is a poor performer for two reasons:
In short: if it has cotton in it, avoid it at all costs!
While the height of your sock might seem like a no-brainer to most, giving this aspect a little bit of pre-purchase thought could save you a great many paw-pains while out on the trail (not to mention a a quick remedial purchase when you return home).
For hiking shoes, the full range of height options are feasible: low, mid, and high-cut socks will all do the job. In hotter temperatures, the temptation is to opt for whatever is smallest and lightest, but a few other important factors mean that low might not be the way to go.
First up, a low-cut sock offers no protection to your ankles and lower legs. On well-maintained trails this isn’t a problem, but if heading deeper into the backcountry things like poison ivy, low branches, ticks, and prickly foliage or undergrowth all add an element of potential “ouch” that would make a higher sock a safer and more practical option.
Secondly, a low-cut sock can leave the skin around your ankle, heel, and forefoot in direct contact with the cuff or collar of your shoe if even a fraction on the small side. While this is unlikely to do a great deal of harm on shorter hikes, after a few hours on the trail it can easily result in painful blisters, rashes, and tear-inducing hot spots.
Most hiking socks/https://alloutdoorsguide.com/the-best-hiking-socks-dont-leave-camp-without-these-camping-socks/ will stretch well above the collar of the boot, leaving at least a few inches of coverage of the skin on your shins and calves.
But just how high do you need to go?
As with shoe socks, there’s no harm in having a little extra material to deal with prickly brush and other potential assailants of your ankles. Choosing a sock that stretches all the way to the knee is probably unnecessary and likely to lead to overheating in high temperatures, but, on the flip side, one that barely clears the collar is also not ideal. After a few washes, the elastane or spandex which holds the sock in place can slacken off, thus allowing the sock to slide down your shin and bunch up, potentially leading to rubbing and hot spots at the collar of the boot.
The bottom line? Choose a sock that provides a few inches of cover past the collar of your boot and with enough elastane or spandex (3-5% is a good bet) to keep them there twenty to thirty hikes and washes down the line.
This fairly broad item for consideration encompasses a number of smaller contributing factors, most notably cushioning, breathability, and sizing.
Cushioning: This buffer between your skin and the fabric of your footwear is important in avoiding blisters and chafing in targeted areas. Look for added cushioning around the toes, heel, arch, and collar.
Breathability: Essential to let sweat wick away from your skin and keep your feet dry. Merino, CoolMax, and polyester are examples of fabrics that breathe particularly well.
Sizing: Shooting too low size-wise can leave your ankles or shins exposed to rocks and branches on the trail, and also to the material around the collar on your boots or shoes. On the flip side, socks that are too big can leave an excess of material that results in bunching and/or cause the sock’s cushioning to miss the desired spot in key areas.
Few frustrations compare to that of watching an item of your hiking gear disintegrate or decline performance-wise after a just few outings in the backcountry and trips through the laundry machine. As such, a sock’s life expectancy is another factor well worth considering and a key contributor to overall value for money.
Judging durability is a tricky business, but, generally speaking, thicker socks with more cushioning are usually better bets when it comes to staying the course. With thinner, lighter, summer models, however, look for enough elastane or spandex to allow the socks to keep their shape over time and be sure to read user reviews online to find out how their purchase worked out a few months down the line.
Icebreaker have taken the world of hiking apparel by storm since entering the fray a little over a decade ago. Expertly combining comfort with high-performance, their technical merino products have set new standards in terms of both quality and functionality. The Hike+ Lite Crew is no exception, offering all the benefits of merino and also the kind of ergonomics and precision design you’d expect to find in more substantial items of apparel.
The only downsides to this sock are that the cuff or collar can lose elasticity over time and its relative lack of cushioning — highly forgivable given the benefits it offers in terms of comfort and performance.
Although a touch warmer than lightweight competitors, the REI Co-Op Merino Crew is a frill-free workhorse that does everything you need a sock to do. It’s made with very soft, comfortable merino wool, breathes well despite relatively thick cushioning, and costs a lot less than many other full-height models of hiking sock.
On the downside, this sock is prone to pilling after a few trips to the laundromat and can lose its shape after a month or two of regular use.
In the Damascus Lightweight Crew, North Carolina-based Farm to Feet have created a USA-made product that’s more than capable of holding its own amidst its many foreign-sourced competitors. This lightweight sock is made with a high-performing merino-nylon-Lycra blend of materials that offer great breathability, comfort, durability, and odor-free feet, and its only noticeable failing is a slight lack of cushioning.
In short, this is a tough, trail-ready sock that does everything its foreign-made competitors do using a chain of supply based entirely on home turf.
Can synthetic products compete with the dearly loved woolen wonder that is merino? Those who have tried out the Wrightsock Escape Crew are usually prone to answer with a resounding ’yes’!
Made with 70% polyester, 26% nylon, and 4% Lycra, many first time triers of the Escape Crew could be forgiven for lamenting the lack of cozy, comfortable merino. Once you get over that slight difference in feel, however, its very easy to notice the things this sock does well.
Despite a slightly chunkier build, the Escape Crew is very breathable and feels light and cool in conditions where other models would be making our feet feel like small antechambers to the hottest portions of hell. More importantly, it features a two-layer construction designed to absorb and wick moisture in a hurry — ideal for those prone to blisters, sweaty feet, or painful hot spots caused by friction.
A bit of a wild-card entry on our list, the Injinji 2.0 Midweight Crew is a sock with a difference. Using a Vibram Five Finger-like toe design that wraps each digit in its own NuWool-Nylon sheath, this sock — claim makers Injinji — is the solution blister-prone hikers have been seeking for years. But how do their claims pan out in practice?
Well, socks are rarely the type of thing to inspire such sentiments as love or hate, but the Injinji manages to attract both, and in equal measures.
The unique toe design in the 2.0 NuWool Crew is a love-it-or-hate-it kinda deviation from the norm, and for many it is a deal breaker at first sight. On the other hand, those who struggle to avoid blisters when hiking in hot weather no matter how many precautions they take otherwise may just find a solution in this quirky, innovative little alternative.
Another slightly “out-there” choice, this sock merits inclusion on our list for a number of reasons, most notably its absolutely minimalist construction, excellent wicking capacity, and “barely there” feel on your feet.
Intended as a liner to be worn beneath your regular hiking socks, the Silk One offers a potential solution in high temps for the particularly sweaty-footed and those not overly concerned with cushioning or winning plaudits from their hiking partners for their appearance.
In short, this isn’t much of a looker and provides all but zero buffering between your foot and your boot, but if overheating and sweat happen to be your backcountry bugbears, this high-wicking and heat-hindering alternative just might be worth considering.
In the FITS Light Performance, we get our review of shorter length socks off to a start with a true contender to the title of “Best Trail Shoe Sock Out There.” It’s light, breathable, soft on the skin, cushioned in all the right places, and features those all-important added inches above the ankle that protect your skin from trail-side assailants such as sticks, branches, and rocks.
They aren’t the cheapest option out there, but for a few extra dollars you get a lot of extra performance compared to other low or quarter-cut competitors.
Unlike many low-cut models, the Darn Tough Quarter Cushion feels and performs like a full-length hiking sock that’s merely been trimmed down to suit the stylistic tastes of those who prefer to a shorter cut. As such, it offers much better comfort, moisture management, and cushioning than other trail shoe socks and also more in the way of durability.
Importantly, the DT Quarter Cushion also features an extra inch and a half of material above the ankle, thereby offering a happy-medium for trail shoe wearers looking for something between a low-cut, “invisible” sock and full-length varieties.
It’s warmer than ultra-light models like the Smartwool PhD Micro and doesn’t offer as quite as much protection as the FITS Quarter Sock (above), but makes up for these shortcomings with impressive durability and extra cushioning.
For the hot-weather hiker, there’s very little not to love about Smartwool’s Ultra Light Micro. It’s fantastically light, very cool in even the hottest conditions, and maintains a degree of comfort lacking in many other models in its price range. With 54% merino content and 4% elastane content, this is also a very breathable, odorless, and durable sock that retains its shape after many months of use and abuse.
For those seeking pillow-like cushioning, the Ultra Light Micro may prove to be a touch on the thin side; for everyone else, it’s a safe bet. Light, cool, and comfortable — what more could a hot-weather hiker ask for?
For lovers of the low-cut hiking sock and products offering first-rate functionality at a very palatable price, the Inov-8 All Terrain is a very worthy addition to any shortlist. Performance-wise, this synthetic sock also ticks the majority of boxes that need ticking: it’s breathable, comfortable, ergonomic, durable, and wicks as well as many pricier, merino-based products.
And the downsides? The low cut of this sock does mean it lacks the protection of mid or high-cut alternatives, and its synthetic materials also tend to stink up in a hurry. Otherwise, the All Terrain is hard to find fault with. All in all, a winner for those on a budget.
|Model||Footwear type||Materials||Cushioning||Performance||Value for Money|
|Icebreaker Hike+ Lite Crew||Boot||57% merino wool, 41% nylon, 2% Lycra |
|Light||Excellent: breathable, high-wicking, cool even on the hottest of days||Prone to sag at the cuff after a dozen or so uses, but otherwise very good|
|REI Co-Op Lightweight Merino Crew||Boot||Materials: 79% merino wool, 20% nylon, 1% spandex |
|Medium||Excellent: wick well, boast a very soft feel, smell and feel fresh even after a hard day’s hiking. Not as cool as lightweight competitors.||Excellent: cheap and superbly cheerful despite the spandex losing its spring over time|
|Farm to Feet Damascus Lightweight Crew Socks |
|Boot||61% Merino Wool, 34% Nylon, 5% Spandex||Light||Very good: very breathable, light cushioning in key areas, just a fraction behind the REI Lightweight Merino and Icebreaker Hike+ Lite in terms of comfort and feel||Very good: built to last longer than similarly priced competitors|
|Wrightsock Escape Crew||Boot||70% polyester, 26% nylon, 4% Lycra||Medium||Very good: warmer than other socks in our review, but balance this out with added cushioning and comparable breathability||Good: lose elasticity and shape after a dozen or so uses|
|Injinji 2.0 Midweight NuWool Crew||Boot||64% NuWool, 33% nylon, 3% Lycra |
|Light/Medium||Great for some, ghastly fro others. The toe design isn’t to everyone’s liking but otherwise this sock performs well in terms of cushioning, breathability, and comfort||Excellent: retain shape and performance better than many wool competitors|
|REI Co-Op Silk One Liner||Boot||55% spun silk, 44% nylon, 1% spandex||None||Very good in super-sweaty conditions if you have a pair of very comfortable boots (lack cushioning otherwise)||Very good: surprisingly durable for a silk-based product and can moonlight as an under-sock/liner in winter months|
|FITS Light Performance Trail Quarter Sock |
|Shoe||50% merino wool, 40% nylon, 7% polyester, 3% Lycra||Light/Medium||Excellent: Nicely contoured shape hugs your foot; breathes well; added cushioning in toe, arch, heel, and ankle areas; extra inches offer added protection above the ankle||Excellent: they’re not cheap, but they’re built to last and can’t be bettered on overall performance|
|Darn Tough Quarter Cushion Sock||Shoe||61% merino wool, 37% nylon, 2% spandex||Light/Medium||Very good: Low cut means they offer less protection, but otherwise a winner in the performance stakes — light, cool, and fresh||Excellent: Tough by name and tough by nature, these socks are of a sturdier build than most lighter competitors|
|Smartwool PhD Ultra Light Micro |
|Shoe||54% merino wool, 42% nylon, 4% elastane||Light||Very good: short on cushioning and very low cut, but wonderfully light and breathable||Excellent: ‘Reliawool’ technology protects high-impact areas and elastics provide greater stretch and recovery after usage|
|Inov8 All-Terrain Low Running Socks |
|Shoe||Blend of nylon, Techno- P-E, spandex||Light/Medium||Excellent: stink up fairly quickly but very comfortable, breathable, and cushioned generously||Excellent: a budget option that’s built to last and performs as well pricier competition|
Despite their diminutive proportions, the socks we use for hot-weather hiking can play a big part in the well-being of our feet. As, such selecting the right pair for our future hiking adventures is just as crucial as choosing the right boots, rain jacket, insulating layer, or other items to which we are apt to pay more attention.
When buying your socks a number of factors need to be considered, none more so than comfort, overall performance, and value for money. Using these three criteria to evaluation the merits of the items in the above review, we found two socks to beat off the best of the rest.
For trail shoe wearers, the FITS Light Performance Trail Quarter Sock ousted the other pretenders to the podium on account of its superior ergonomics, soft feel, added protection above the ankle, and the inclusion of all that very welcome extra cushioning in key zones without compromising on breathability.
For those who do their hiking in full-height boots whatever the weather, the high-cut Icebreaker Hike+ Lite Crew won out in a photo finish with the REI Co-Op Lightweight Merino Crew thanks to its snug fit, peerless wicking capacity, and a nigh-on perfect balance of heat management, comfort, and key-area cushioning.
Sam Hardy is an outdoor enthusiast with a penchant for survival skills. He writes about the great outdoors and his favorite equipment here.