After your shoes, what sock you choose is the second most important decision you will make before hitting the trail. A quality sock can save you, when your shoe choice turns out to be the wrong one. Adversely, the wrong sock can ruin the perfect shoe. Choose wisely.
The ultra light community has impacted gear manufacturing even in the sock category. Spotting calf height, inch thick bulky wool mountaineering socks on the trail these days is rare, unless you are cold weather camping.
Even without a sub 10 pound base weight, thinner light weight socks are becoming the obvious choice for all hikers. New synthetic blends and merino wool options provide quick dry times, comfort, performance, and odor control at very low weights, allowing you to hike longer in fewer pairs of socks.
The following are the stats and my humble opinions on some of the socks I’ve used and liked (or not) on the trail:
Weight: 45.87 g / 1.61 oz
Material: 64% Merino wool, 34% nylon, 2% elastane
These are the original Ultra light hiking sock. Super thin merino wool blended for durability. Some hikers wear only this sock. Others save some money by just buying generic black dress socks which appear the same but are 100% synthetic, which may be more durable, but also more stinky.
Personally, if I’m using a liner sock, I use it as intended; worn underneath a more substantial sock for cushion. The idea is the same as with two layer sock design: the dual layers absorb friction and shearing forces to prevent blisters.
Weight: 35.59 g / 1.25 oz
Material: Inner layer: Dri-WRIGHT II 70% polyester / 27% nylon / 3% Lycra spandex
Outer layer: Dri-WRIGHT II polyester, nylon and Lycra spandex mesh weave
Wrightsock makes an awesome sock. They are very lightweight and thin, while providing moderate cushioning. Even with two layers, they dry out very quickly and wick moisture efficiently.
The same way five finger socks have two layers of fabric between the toes, Wrightsock encapsulates the entire foot with two separate layers of blended fabric. Interaction between inner and outer layers absorbs friction and shearing forces to prevent blisters and the mesh panel across the top of the foot allows maximum wicking.
Unfortunately, the single compartment foot box still allows your toes to rub on one another, which is why I wish either Wrightsock would make a separate toe compartment version of their two layer sock, or that Injinji would use two layers around the foot in their design. That would be the ultimate sock.
Weight: 62.68 g / 2.21 oz
Material: 68% Merino Wool / 28% Nylon / 4% Lycra Spandex
Well, I’ve finally done it. I finally hopped aboard the Darn Tough sock train. I have been hearing for years about the Darn Tough brand, from their devoted wearers. No blisters, no stink, and guaranteed for life were their claims.
Darn Tough socks are more expensive than some, but they come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee, allowing you to return failed socks for another pair, for the rest of your life.
As soon as I slipped into the Darn Tough Ultra-Light socks, I felt what I had been missing. They feel cool and warm at the same time. Your foot feels somehow cleaner, after putting them on. They form to your foot shape; after you take them off, you can still tell which one was on your left or your right foot.
I have yet to take these on a thru hike, but just to test the anti odor claims, I wore them for 5 days straight in my daily life. Only on day 5 did they start to reveal any smell at all.
They feel thicker than the other socks on this list, but that’s because they have substantially more cushion than the others.
My only complaint with the Darn Tough socks is that they do wear a little tight, hugging your foot closely, which holds yet-to-be-wicked wetness closer to your skin. Upon removing your shoes, I feel like the drying sensation happens more quickly, as the socks move the moisture away from your feet.
Weight: 63.79 g / 2.25 oz
Material: 30% COOLMAX® 67% Nylon 3% Lycra®
Say what you will about the jarring aesthetic of five finger shoes, but leave the five finger socks out of it, buster! You don’t have to wear five finger shoes to use five finger socks. Socks with separate toe compartments actually benefit your feet, where as the science is still out on the shoes.
The great thing about five finger socks is the cushioning they provide between the toes. Sure, most people get a few blisters on their soles and heels at the beginning of a hike, while their feet toughen up, but blisters between the toes can plague a hiker the entire length of a trail. They are hard to bandage and take longer to heal. If your feet don’t dry thoroughly in your shoes or your foot can’t splay, allowing separation between the toes, blisters between your digits will become a regular part of your suffering.
Even if your toes end up rubbing against each other, five finger socks provide two layers of fabric between each toe. This design creates a barrier that absorbs the friction of constant contact, helping to eliminate hot spots and blisters.
I wish that Injinji would make a double layer sock so that your foot entire foot benefited, and each toe would end up having four layers between them. That might be the perfect sock.
Weight: 99.82 g / 3.52 oz
Material: 66% wool / 33% nylon / 1% elastane
Ok, all of the thicker hiking socks haven’t disappeared from the market, yet. Like I said, they are still the perfect thing for cold weather trips. Personally, for cushy comfort, even on a warm weather trip, I still like to bring along something soft and warm. I compromise by bringing one pair of “thicker” socks, a medium cushion option from Smartwool: their standard Hiking Sock. I typically don’t hike in them though, I just bring them out at night for a morale boost.
The Smartwool “Hiking Sock” lands in the middle of their cushioning/thickness options, with the “Light Hiker Sock” providing the least and the “Expedition Trekking Sock” the most.
I bring these out at night to sleep in. There is nothing like finishing a brutal day and slipping into a pair of thick freshies. It’s almost like taking a shower. Yes, these socks are nearly a quarter pound, but that fresh comfy feeling is worth the penalty for me.
The thickness and wicking capabilities of these socks also make them the perfect for pairing with my Vivobarefoot Ultra’s for water fords or hiking in the rain.
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