Most experienced hikers will tell you that a good pair of socks can make the difference between an enjoyable trek and a blister-filled nightmare!
At more than 20$ a pair, specialty hiking socks can seem like a significant investment, especially when a good pair of tube socks can cost less than 5$! But what is it about hiking socks that demand such a large price tag?
Long days on the mountain over rough terrain can be hard on the feet. A good pair of socks can make a huge difference, not only in avoiding blisters but also in reducing fatigue and preventing athletes’ foot. Hiking socks have been developed over years of trial and error to provide hikers with the best possible interface between boot and foot.
Tube socks, AKA sports socks or athletic socks are commonly used by hikers with great results. So great in fact that many hikers wonder if the extra cost of hiking socks is worth it.
In this article, we will look at the features of the 2 types of socks, how to choose the perfect sock, and find out what makes hiking socks so special.
Hiking Sock Materials VS Tube Sock Materials
In days gone by, thick cotton socks were the top choice for adventurers. They were strong, easy to mend, and provided lots of cushioning. Cotton however tended to ruffle up causing blisters and making the feet sweat like crazy.
Luckily technology has come a long way! Modern hiking socks are woven with blends of materials such as merino wool, nylon, silk, elastane, Coolmax®, and polyester.
For ultimate performance, hiking socks material must be:
- Durable – To deal with the wear and tear of long hikes
- Breathable – To let the foot stay cool and sweat-free
- Soft – For maximum comfort
- Fast drying – Can be washed and dried overnight, or dry quickly if you step in water
- Flexible – Provide 360 degrees of movement
- Supportive – Assist the muscles to support your foot over uneven terrain
- Well Stitched – Stitched with fine thread in positions that will not cause irritation to the foot
The distribution of the fabric has also been adapted in recent years to provide:
- Cushioning on hard-wearing areas such as the base of the feet and the heel.
- Breathability on top of feet, allowing heat and moisture to rise away from the foot.
- Tighter and looser areas provide compression and stability, reducing muscle fatigue and assisting blood flow
- Elastic around and above the ankle to hold the sock in place
Tube socks actually share many of these features! They are produced from materials designed to protect the feet during movement and wick away sweat. Many materials used in modern tube sports socks are the same as hiking socks.
The difference between the 2 is that often sports socks are used for much less time than hiking socks so materials don’t need to be quite as high quality or durable.
Sports socks are designed to be used at high intensity for a couple of hours and then washed. They don’t need to be as breathable or comfortable as hiking socks, and will not dry as quickly as they are often woven with cotton.
Hiking Sock Fit VS Tube Sock Fit
Hiking Socks – For the features of a hiking sock to work well, they must have a snug fit without being too tight and without any wrinkles. They must stay stable on the foot whilst walking and not ride down, exposing the skin to the boot.
Features such as extra cushioning, mesh sections, or elasticated compression must sit in the correct part of the foot. Providing the foot with maximum comfort and stability, for this reason, many hiking socks are foot specific with a left and right sock.
To ensure that hikers get the best out of their socks they must look at the manufacturer’s size guides and pick the right size for them. They must also consider features such as sock height and fabric weight. These choices can be based on factors such things as hiking season, boot cut, length of the hike, and personal preference.
Tube socks – Tube socks are far less specific, and usually do not have left and right feet designations. The sizing can come in a fairly wide range with one size of socks often covering 3-4 different foot sizes.
For this reason, it is more difficult to find a perfect fit but not impossible. As with hiking socks, a snug-fitting pair of tube socks with strong elastic cuffs would be perfectly acceptable, even for longer hikes.
Hiking Sock Features
Elasticated cuffs are commonplace on both tube socks and hiking socks. They keep the sock from sliding back down your ankle and into the boot causing wrinkles in the sock. They also provide your ankle with stability and protection from boot rub.
Cuffs come in a range of sizes but the most common are –
- Knee-high cuffs – Elasticated fabric all the way to the knee. This can help to support the whole lower leg and add compression to muscles, aiding blood flow and reducing fatigue. They also protect your legs from minor scratches or stings from the undergrowth.
- Crew cuffs – The most common of both hiking and tube socks. They offer great support to the ankle, work with all types of hiking boots, and seem to be the magic length for holding the sock in place. Don’t call the fashion police but we think they look great with a pair of shorts on.
- Ankle cuffs – Stopping just above the ankle. These socks are great for lower-cut hiking boots or trail running shoes and are preferred for people who hike in shorts regularly.
- Low-cut cuffs – These are good for very low-cut hiking shoes or trail running shoes but not great for hiking boots, they offer minimal to no ankle protection but are extremely light.
Cushioned Heels And Toes Footbed
Any experienced hiker will tell you that developing a blister halfway through a hike is absolutely zero fun!
Blisters are caused by your feet moving and rubbing inside the boot. Over a short walk, this is not usually a problem but over a few miles, these painful blisters can start to develop. If the hike goes on for a few days or the wound is left untreated the area can get infected. When it comes to blisters treatment is important but prevention is key.
The most common areas for blisters are on your heels, toes, and ball of the foot. Hiking socks usually have the most protection in these areas. This added protection will not only help your foot but make hiking socks more durable and longer lasting than almost any other type of sock.
Tube socks tend to have the same thickness of fabric all the way through the sock. They do not offer the same level of protection as hiking socks. They can be used for shorter hikes or if the skin on your feet is very tough from a lot of walking.
Hiking Sock Weights
When hikers talk of hiking sock weights, they are referring to the thickness of fabric used in the sock.
These weights can differ for factors such as:
- Weather – Heavier socks for winter walks and very light, breathable socks for summer
- Length of the hike – The longer the hike the more protection your feet will require and therefore, a thicker (heavier) sock is required
- Type of boots – If your boots are tight fitting then a heavy sock may not be the best choice
- Personal preference – As you gain experience you will begin to learn which type of sock suits you best.
The most popular choice for hikers is a medium-weight sock as it will be useful for all seasons, offering breathability for summer hikes and some insulation for the winter.
Tube socks would be classed as medium-weight socks due to their thickness but lack some breathability and extra protection in problem areas.
If you are taking your first steps into the mountains or are an experienced hiker going out for a fairly short walk, a trusty pair of tube socks could work well provided that they fit well and do not wrinkle up inside your boots.
If you enjoy hiking and are considering adventuring further into the wilderness for longer hikes or multi-day adventures we highly recommend investing in a good pair of hiking boots.
TOP TIP: When choosing hiking socks, visit your local outdoor store with the boots that you plan to use. Try a few different pairs of hiking socks before purchasing, all feet are unique and this will ensure that you find the perfect socks for you.
Happy Adventures Everyone!!