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Having the right shoes for hiking is good, but so are socks, which are also designed for hiking.
To find the right sock for you, check these 5 criteria:
The material of the socks
The technical nature of your terrain
The duration and intensity of your walk
The height of the socks
Follow our guide!
First things first.
If you love the outdoors, you may already have a whole drawer of various sports socks accumulated over the years, some of which have lost half their wear... So you might be wondering why you're STILL buying socks for hiking when you still have a pair of Nordic walking, running or mountaineering socks in good condition.
Well, because a good hiking sock must protect the foot against rubbing and ensure good moisture wicking, otherwise blisters are a real problem! And friction and perspiration vary from one sporting activity to another. Moreover, within the same sport, you will not necessarily have the same needs according to the intensity of your physical effort, nor according to the level of technicality of your practice area.
We were talking about the intensity of the effort, but you also have to take into account the duration (sometimes the two are cumulative!). For short hikes, without too much risk of perspiration or friction (and therefore blisters), you can afford to choose socks in natural materials such as cotton. They are comfortable, but not very technical and take a long time to dry. If you want to embark on a multi-day hike, as is the case with many GR® ("GR" = "Grande Randonnée or long hike), you will need more technical socks, which dry quickly (to avoid staying in your sweat while you walk, but also to dry quickly before taking to the trails the next morning).
As you can see, socks are more technical than they look!
"Sports" socks are now fairly identifiable by their patterns that highlight which parts of the sock are reinforced, or another type of knit that allows for more comfort or more breathability on a specific part of the foot.
Well, hiking socks don't look "the same" as mountaineering or Nordic walking socks simply because the foot is not used in the same way!
The reinforced areas will therefore be different, and so will the type of mesh.
In Nordic walking, the foot motion is on relatively regular ground and the movement is very repetitive.
The areas reinforced to avoid friction are mainly under the foot to cushion and support the rolling of the foot.
In mountaineering, the socks are reinforced at the shin, the instep and the toes. What's more, they are higher and systematically warm.
As far as running socks are concerned, although they generally wick away perspiration very well, they are designed to support the foot in movements that are very different from those of hiking!
As you can see, we could go round all the sports and their respective socks... For every foot movement, there is a sock.
Here we are going to focus on hiking socks ;)
This is a question that can be applied to other sports as well. There are average differences between "men's" and "women's" feet. However, even though there are sometimes differences in width (and size or volume, but again these are averages), these are fairly well compensated for by the socks with the elasticity of the material or simply by the type of knit. In short, socks are generally unisex. There may be different colour schemes, or ranges from 35 to 42, while others may be from 39 to 46 (or beyond depending on the manufacturer).
Hiking socks can be made of different materials, each with its own specific characteristics.
Depending on the intensity of your hike, but especially on your needs, you will choose one material over another.
Let's take a look at the most commonly used materials for hiking or trekking socks:
Cotton, a natural material par excellence, has the advantage of being comfortable.
On the other hand, it does not wick away moisture and dries slowly, which can lead to blisters on a long trip.
What's more, if you go on a trek and you haven't brought enough socks to "go around", you risk having to put on socks that haven't had time to dry completely.
Cotton is therefore recommended for short hikes or walks.
Synthetic materials are quite strong and durable.
They have the great advantage that they wick away perspiration well and dry quickly.
This means you can carry less with you and lighten your backpack.
They are a good compromise for longer hikes.
Elastane provides good support and conforms to the shape of the foot, which prevents creases from forming.
Cordura, which is included in the composition of some socks, is known for its resistance to tearing and abrasion.
If you want to shine at a social event, Cordura was first created in 1929 and then developed for the army during the World War II.
Cordura is ideal for a long walk or a trek, as this material produces very resistant socks with a good life cycle.
Merino wool is comfortable, has odour control properties and insulates well against the cold.
What's more, as it is thermoregulating, it also insulates against heat.
Merino wool is anti-bacterial, but it does not wick away perspiration very well.
This is why it is often combined with synthetic materials in our socks.
Merino is appreciated by trekkers in cold weather for keeping warm with less sweaty odours than synthetic materials (if you share a tent, this can be an important criteria...). It’s therefore the sock material of choice for winter trekking.
You will sometimes find socks with a Merino wool inner and a synthetic outer.
This kind of fusion of fabrics combines the benefits of both in one sock to give you the best of both materials.
It also means you don't have to choose between a warm natural material such as Merino, and the durability that synthetic materials can offer (which will better resist the friction of the shoe against your foot, especially at the heel).
In the interest of the environment, 80% of our range of socks is eco-designed.
What does this mean in concrete terms?
It means that we try to reduce the environmental impact of our socks at several stages from the design, to the raw materials to the dyeing process.
To offer you soft and comfortable products in practice, we use organic cotton.
It is grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides or GMO, reducing the risk of ground or water pollution.
But apart from the impact on the planet, organic cotton also has a social impact: by avoiding chemical fertilisers and synthetic pesticides, farmers do not have to go into debt for the purchase of expensive seeds and chemical products.
Farmers' health is also better protected, as they do not have to handle harmful chemicals.
As far as synthetic materials are concerned, we use a dyeing technique that requires less water. Indeed, dyeing is a stage that consumes a lot of water, and which remains little known to the general public despite its impact!
To reduce water consumption during the dyeing of our fabrics, we use the "Dope Dyed" process.
This involves integrating the colour pigments into the yarn during the manufacturing process.
In other words, we do not dye the entire product once it is finished, but the yarn beforehand. This means we can use what is called "biton": a biton fabric has only one thread out of two dyed.
Ultimately, this helps to reduce the impact of water use and the discharge of used water.
A second criteria not to be overlooked when choosing your pair of hiking socks is the technical nature of your terrain. If you hike on trails with little difference in altitude or on steep mountain paths, your feet will not be used in the same way, and your needs in terms of socks will therefore be different.
On flat trails in the lowlands or forests, for example, you will need comfortable socks with as few seams as possible.
You can then choose the material and weave in which your foot is most comfortable.
On the other hand, if you are going to hike in the mountains on technical trails with uneven ground, you can choose socks that are reinforced in the heel and toe areas. After all, you don't walk the same way on scree as on a flat dirt road.
The heel and toes are under a lot of pressure when climbing or descending and continuous pressure on your toes or heel can be painful after a while if you don't have suitable socks.
Look for more technical socks that wick moisture well and reduce the risk of rubbing, especially in the heel and toes, in addition to shoes with a toe bumper.
In any case, no matter where you practice, it’s important to choose the right size of socks. A sock that is too small or too big can quickly cause blisters.
- A sock that is too big has too much material around the foot and is more likely to wrinkle.
- If the sock is too small, the risk is that the sock will be pulled into the shoe.
But what can you do when sports socks are sold in multiple sizes such as 39/42? Fortunately, the elastane in which the socks are made means they are more or less elastic and adapt to your foot. Also, the more "technical" the sock, the more precise the sizing! These more technical socks also often offer a distinction between the left and right foot for an anatomical shape that is closer to your feet (with the famous R/L for "right" and "left", stated on the toe of each sock).
The longer you walk, the more likely you are to sweat and the more moisture management you will need.
This is an important factor because if your foot gets too wet while you are hiking, you are likely to get blisters.
A hike can be considered "long" if it takes more than 3 hours.
If you are preparing to walk for a whole day or if you are hiking on a hot summer day, it is important to choose breathable socks. Some socks have a mesh knit structure that helps to wick away perspiration without compromising on comfort.
Others use quick-drying polyamide or Coolmax fibres which have superior moisture wicking properties.
For this type of hiking, socks made from Cordura or Merino wool are a good choice, as they have an anti-bacterial effect.
On this topic, it’s also essential to take into account your hiking shoe. If your shoe is breathable, it will wick away moisture from your perspiration: you therefore need to choose socks that are both lightweight and breathable.
If your boots have relatively good waterproofing and they protect you from the rain, you won't make the same choice. You should choose socks that will absorb your perspiration and then wick it away from your foot.
Who said hiking wasn't a sport? You will sometimes sweat or feel breathless (because of the view, or because of the slope you have just climbed... the two are still not easy to distinguish).
Depending on the intensity of your walk, and therefore the possible sweating and friction of your feet in your shoes, you will need to look at different sock models, even if your walk is not that long.
We are not all equal when it comes to perspiration (whether in total quantity or in more or less prolific "areas"...).
If you don't sweat much on your feet, breathability will be less important for you. If, on the other hand, you are prone to perspiration, even when the effort is not very intense and the outside temperature is not so high, then you will have to turn to breathable socks even for a short walk in the forest.
Indeed, if you sweat a lot, and your foot stays in a humid environment, you increase your chances (well, rather your risks) of getting blisters due to maceration.
At Decathlon, we offer you socks that encourage perspiration wicking thanks to the "Air-Conditioning Channel®".
The synthetic fibre that makes up the structure of the sock is fine and ventilated which provides better moisture wicking! Indeed, beyond the material, it’s above all the way in which the mesh is made that will bring other advantages (including breathability) to a fabric.
If you are curious, you should know that the breathability of a fabric can be measured!
From its little name "Thermal Evaporative Resistance" (or "R.E.T." to friends), this measurement means we can compare different materials according to their resistance to moisture wicking. Like in golf, the lower the R.E.T. Score, the better it is! This means that the fabric provides very little resistance to moisture wicking and is therefore breathable. To find out more, we've put together a short article on material breathability. Indeed, breathability affects other hiking clothes such as T-shirts, jumpers or even jackets!
As temperatures change with the seasons, you can choose socks that are suitable for cold weather and provide good thermal insulation.
Some models are made exclusively from Merino wool, which provides a lot of warmth and reduces sweaty odours. Merino wool is also quite tolerable in warmer weather. Handy when you know that the weather can be very changeable in the mountains, for example!
If you are hiking in winter or in cold weather, we recommend the warm "SH ultra-warm" snow hiking socks. These socks are suitable for hiking in the snow or snowshoeing. They will keep your feet warm and dry, even in the powder!
You don't need thick hiking socks to keep warm, nor do you need a clever system.
This pair of socks is knitted from Merino wool on the inside to keep your feet warm, while the outside is made from acrylic so that it won't get damaged by footwear.
Here are a few tips for equipping yourself properly in winter:
- choose socks with wool for warmth
- choose high socks to protect you more effectively from the snow for example
- don't forget to take breathable socks to reduce moisture which could be very unpleasant in cold weather
And some tips for equipping yourself in summer:
- choose very light socks to reduce perspiration. Some of our socks have a very light mesh structure at the instep (one of the places where you sweat the most). Alternatively, you can consider socks designed with ventilated knits!
- even in summer, wool socks – especially merino wool – can be a good compromise. Given that the mountain weather is quite changeable!
A final criterion to help you make your choice is the height of the socks. This must always be as high as your boots or higher in order to prevent fiction at the ankle.
Three different heights are available:
- low "socks": they protrude slightly from the boot, but remain below your ankle bone. They’re worn with low boots.
- mid "height socks": they protect your ankles, and stop just above them. They’re worn with low boots.
- high "socks": they are ideal with mid upper shoes as they stop just below the calf and protect the ankle of your shoe well.
In the hiking department, the tallest socks are "high".
If you absolutely want models that go up very high and keep you warm up to the knee, or offer you a compression system, you will have to turn to ski or running socks.
Keep in mind that these models are less suitable for hiking.
Anti-blister socks are actually socks with simple "anti-blister technology": a double layer that will reduce friction in "direct contact" with your foot and therefore reduce the risk of blisters. You noticed the double use of "reduce" in the previous sentence, because no "honest" sock can promise to keep you 100% blister free! The best way to avoid blisters 100% is not to go hiking...
However, if you take a double sock size that is too big and has wrinkles, the double skin system will not be of much use to you: make sure you take a sock that fits you, double skinned or not!
That said, reducing the risk of blisters is a big step towards more comfortable hiking. So it's always useful to have this kind of sock in your hiking gear list when you go hiking for long distances and/or on technical terrain.