Hiking Footwear 101: Are Cotton Socks Good For Hiking?

Why Cotton Socks are a No-Go For Hiking?

Hiking apparel often leaves socks as an afterthought, yet they should be a top priority; your socks will ultimately shape the comfort levels of your feet during those extended hours of hiking.

If you’ve ever gone on a hike with wet, sweaty, uncomfortable socks that are bunched up around your feet, then you know it’s not an enjoyable experience. When embarking on any outdoor journey such as hiking and trekking, your utmost priority should be the type of sock and fabric that goes onto your feet. Not only is this essential for comfortability but also for overall safety too!

Cotton Clothing and Hiking

If you’re planning a lengthy hiking journey, cotton is not the optimal clothing choice. It is essential to note that this includes your socks. Cotton, an organic material, absorbs moisture like a sponge and becomes heavy and unpleasant when wet. Furthermore, cotton ceases to insulate your skin once it gets damp.You might assume that your socks are safe within your fortified, waterproof hiking boots and thus feel no need to worry. While this is true insofar as keeping away external moisture, it does nothing to combat the greatest cause of sock dampness: perspiration.

These heavy-duty, insulated hiking boots generate lots of heat that will keep your skin warm and toasty. However, it also produces moisture which can be uncomfortable if not addressed properly.

To stay dry and comfortable in moist cases, you should opt for fabrics that offer quick-drying capabilities; cotton is NOT one of those materials.

Below, I explain how cotton socks can ruin your hiking experience and provide alternate materials to avoid as well as better options. Are you constantly battling blisters on the trail? Then read our article: Hike Pain-Free: Proven Tips To Avoid Blisters

Cotton Clothing and Hiking

Undoubtedly, Cotton Socks are a Terrible Option for Trekking Outdoors

When you’re out on a hike, even if it’s just for a few hours, comfort should be your first priority. When your feet are uncomfortable, that translates to an overall unpleasant trekking experience.

Here’s why cotton socks are a hiking nightmare: Cotton is a weighty material, and if it gets wet, it will become even heavier. This fabric absorbs sweat and stays damp for extended periods of time; not only does this cause discomfort but the waterlogged cotton also fails to keep your skin insulated against cold temperatures. Furthermore, since cotton takes an exceptionally long time to dry off — you’ll be stuck with soggy feet for prolonged intervals!

Don’t think that wearing multiple layers of cotton is a solution either – because this fabric holds so much moisture, you’d be left with two pairs of sodden socks instead of just one. When wearing wet, heavy cotton socks, you risk the painful consequence of developing blisters – a hiker’s worst foe.

Hiking Socks and a Backpack

It’s Not Just Cotton Socks You Should Avoid

When searching for hiking socks, be sure to stay away from fabrics that tend to absorb water.

Additionally, cellulose-based fabrics, such as rayon, modal and viscose, offer little insulation when wet. As a result, your feet will be left feeling chilly and uncomfortable after getting them soaked.

Silk is a great material for moisture-wicking, however it’s not ideal when used as the sole fabric of socks. Silk will wear out quickly and ultimately won’t maintain its shape. For best results, use silk in conjunction with other sock fabrics – like a liner!

Ultimately, don’t be deceived by the popularity and reputation of materials like Denim & Flannel; underneath, they’re still composed of cotton. Thus, try to stay away from wearing fancy socks made with these materials.

Is It Necessary to Abandon Cotton Hiking Socks Entirely?

Believe it or not, you can still have some cotton in your sock. New fabric blends are now available that combine cotton with synthetic fibers to reduce water absorption and accelerate drying time. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, check out:

The renowned Under Armor Charged Cotton socks will keep your feet dry and cool, no matter what activity you take on. This sock is made of 26% cotton, 71% polyester and 3% spandex – the perfect combination to wick away moisture from sweat while allowing breathability so that heat does not build up in the fabric.

Dri-release cotton blend is an ultra-absorbent fabric that features 15% cotton and 85% polyester. This revolutionary material can dry up to four times faster than traditional 100% cotton fabrics, while still efficiently drawing perspiration away from your skin. You can purchase Gamma’s version of this fabric on Amazon today!

Wearing Hiking Socks on the Trail

Wrapping Up Cotton Hiking Socks

People are often quick to reach for cotton when thinking about sock materials, but this should not be your fabric of choice for hiking socks. Whether you’re trekking in warmer climates or colder temperatures, it’s essential that your hiking socks can wick sweat away from the skin and keep your feet dry.

For optimum comfort and protection when trekking, you’ll want to look past cotton socks – wool-blend or synthetics are the way to go. Not only will they keep your feet dry during those long hikes, but also give your feet an extra layer of warmth (or coolness!) depending on the weather. So don’t forget — swap out that cotton for a more fitting fabric when hitting the trails!

Cotton Socks are not suitable for Hiking

What to look for in hiking socks

To ensure that your socks provide the greatest comfort and protection during any outdoor activity, such as skiing, hiking, trail running or mountain biking; you must look for six essential elements. These are the components necessary to guarantee a perfect pair of socks!


Breathability and moisture management are critical components for base layers and undergarments, factors that rely heavily on the fabric. To ensure your feet stay dry and cool throughout wear, look for sock materials equipped with wicking technology that draws away sweat quickly so you remain comfortable at all times.

When it comes to finding the ideal hiking socks, Merino wool is your best bet. Not only does this natural fiber keep you warm in wet and cold weather conditions, but also actively wicks away sweat from your feet during summertime adventures – making sure that you stay comfortable all-year round! Whether rain or shine, Merino will ensure that your journey remains safe and pleasant every step of the way.

Wool is not only soft and comfortable, but it also features a natural anti-microbial property that prevents the growth of microorganisms. This is an essential benefit for long distance hikers who need to move quickly and don’t have time for washing socks or waiting for them to dry. Composed of thick, densely-packed fibers, Merino wool is a great material for creating sturdy padding and support inside your socks.

Hiking Socks Fabric

Socks designed for outdoor adventures often contain polyester and nylon fabrics. These synthetics absorb moisture to keep your feet dry, while spandex enables them to securely fit around the contours of your foot. If you’re looking for a combination of comfort, durability and odor resistance, go for socks made from wool/synthetic blends – they offer the best of both materials!

Without question, stay away from cotton for a hiking sock. Cotton can absorb moisture, takes an extended period of time to dry out, is significantly heavier than other materials and has subpar insulation properties when it gets wet – all making it incredibly unsuitable for hikers.

Sock’s Height

When selecting your hiking socks, the sock height plays an integral role in keeping you comfortable and dry during long hikes. The sock height varies depending on personal preference, but it is also important to consider factors such as weather conditions and terrain when making a selection. Universal standards exist for sock heights that are most commonly used while hiking – from shortest to longest they are:

Sock's Height Explanation
  • The “no-show” is the shortest option, just skimming the ankle area with no extra fabric. Perfect for running shoes, sneakers and any other type of soft footwear!
  • If you’re looking for a bit of extra protection while trekking in more rigid footwear, ankle socks are your perfect solution. They simply cover the ankle bones and provide a small layer of cushioning without being too obtrusive.
  • The quarter-length socks are a must-have for anyone who wants to stay comfortable in low ankle shoes such as hiking boots, running shoes or sneakers!
  • Crew length is the ideal size for hiking socks, as they are versatile and can be paired with any type of hiker’s shoe – from trail runners to boots. Most models come in sizes ranging anywhere between 8.5-10.5 inches when measured up your calf from the heel!
  • Boot Socks / Mid-Calf are designed to provide extra protection and warmth. The length of Men’s socks in this category is usually higher than that of the Women’s, reaching mid-calf on most people; whereas the women’s version typically hits crew height when worn by a man.
  • The Over the Calf/Knee High socks are your best choice for mountaineering in winter or for a backpacking trip: not only do they provide maximum warmth and protection, but also come up to 16.25”-17” from heel to top – making them the tallest as well!
The height of the Socks explained


Cushion is created within the sock by way of knit terry loops that provide buttress to delicate areas. The heel and forefoot, which have a tendency to suffer greater amounts of pressure during high-impact activities like running on trails or backpacking, are especially in need of this additional cushioning for optimal performance and comfort. When it comes to the cushioning of hiking socks, there are four levels that vary in thickness and comfort. For shoes, ultra-lightweight and lightweight cushions work best; whereas mid-weight and heavy weight provide maximum support when trekking or wearing heavier boots.

Socks that offer cushioning

Anatomic shape

Anatomically designed socks are formed for both the left and right foot, molded to provide a perfect fit. Realize that your feet are not identical; in fact, they’re mirror images of each other! Hiking socks that aren’t specially made for either side won’t give you an ideal fit. To maximize comfortability, anatomically shaped socks should be considered.

Seamless construction

Of course, it’s easy to see why having an exposed seam within the sock is not ideal for a hiker. Your toes will rub up against that seam and create hotspots wherever they touch – potentially leading to blisters! That’s why seamless construction is so important; it ensures that there are no seam lines on the inside of your socks for your toes to rest against.

Seamless Construction

Fit and compression

When searching for the perfect hiking sock, it is essential to find one that fits snugly and does not have too much room within. By having a tight-fitting sock, you will be able to avoid any slipping or bunching that can take place during your journey on sloped terrain. Fortunately, some socks are designed with compression bands in the arch area which helps provide additional support and improves comfortability.

When it comes to conquering a grueling mountain, the perfect fit of your outdoor sock is essential. You want an snug feel that won’t create blistering and discomfort but isn’t overly tight either — since your feet are prone to swell while hiking. Additionally, you should check if the heel cup snugly fits around your ankle for optimal comfort and support throughout any adventure!

Athletes and outdoors enthusiasts are increasingly turning to compression socks as a way to support their performance. Compression socks refer to tight-fitting, knee-high hosiery which is said to improve blood circulation in people prone to blood clots. But why would you choose them for hiking? If your calves tend to get sore or if you’re nursing an injury, compression socks could help reduce pain and discomfort while adding a sense of comfort too – not something that can be measured perhaps but still significant nonetheless!

Fit and compression of hiking socks


Why Are Hiking Socks Thick?

Whether you plan on taking a short hike or embarking on an extended adventure, thick hiking socks are essential to keep your feet comfortable. The extra cushion in high-wear areas like the top of your foot will make all the difference for long days spent outdoors and can even prevent pesky hot spots from becoming blisters. You can still enjoy the great outdoors without sacrificing style for comfort. Many brands offer different thicknesses of socks, so you are able to select one that is tailored perfectly for your needs and preferences!

Are Hiking Socks Really Necessary?

Investing in specialized socks made for hiking is an invaluable decision, even if it seems superfluous. Hiking requires a great deal of gear anyways, so why not make sure you have the right kind of socks? If you’re serious about your outdoor adventures, then hiking socks are an absolute must for any gear list. They offer more comfort and durability than regular cotton socks, making them well worth the cost. Make sure to invest in quality hiking socks if you want optimal performance out on the trails!

Should hiking socks be thick or thin?

Your choice of sock depends on the environment and climate. For cold weather, hikers should prioritize warmth and insulation with a thicker pair of socks to keep their feet dry in wintry conditions. Conversely, warmer months require breathable but cushioned socks for those who prefer summer hiking – midweight cushioning often works best during longer trips or thru-hikes.

An essential element to consider when travelling is your choice of shoes. If you favor sandals or lightweight kicks, a pair of thin socks will be ideal for the journey ahead. On the other hand, thick hiking boots require heavier-duty options for maximum comfort and protection.

Should you wear two pairs of socks when hiking?

If you’re looking to maximize the performance of your hiking socks, layering is key. Not only does it provide extra layers of insulation and protection, but it also offers a variety of other benefits like adding an extra layer of cushioning for your feet, helping to reduce any chafing or irritation that may come from wearing shoes and boots.

Wearing two pairs of socks is the right way to go if you want to stay comfortable and avoid blisters. The key detail here is that the inner layer, which should be closest to your skin, must be thin, moisture-wicking and quick-drying so it can quickly transfer sweat away from your feet. This sock should also feature hydrophobic material for optimal results. To keep your feet warm and dry, the outer layer of socks should be constructed from materials like synthetics, wool or a combination of both. This will provide insulation, cushioning and abrasion resistance while also effectively wicking away moisture so it can escape away from your foot.

Where to Buy Quality Hiking Socks

If you’re looking for a pair of durable and dependable hiking socks, don’t head to your local big-box stores – it’s unlikely that any will be found there. I’ve personally tried Wal-Mart, Target, Kohl’s and similar retailers but have never been able to purchase Smartwool or even other quality brands.

If you are looking for quality hiking socks, the definitive location to acquire them is at a specialty outdoor sporting goods store. Cabela’s and REI both offer an exceptional range of socks from Smartwool, Thorlo’s, and Wigwam.