When your feet start to hurt on a walk, we're always quick to blame the boots, but did you know that wearing the right kind of socks can actually help prevent a lot of soreness and blisters? If you're spending a lot of money to find the right kind of walking boot, don't forget to get the right kind of socks to go with them, your standard day to day sock may not be up to the challenge.
With so many walking/hiking socks available and at a range of prices and styles, it's difficult to know where to begin. What we really want from our walking socks is to regulate foot temperature, cushioning from walking all day, promote good circulation and of course, to help prevent those annoying blisters.
In this guide we'll take you through some walking sock basics, and some features to look out for when purchasing, so it's worth working out what the socks will be used for before you pop into store.
An important rule to remember about sock length, is that the sock should always come up to just over the top of your chosen footwear. If the sock is too short, the boot will rub your ankle, if the sock is too long then your feet will get too warm, and the sock is more likely to slip down.
What materials are walking socks made from?
Walking socks come in a variety of materials which all have their own benefits.
Cotton As mentioned in our layering system guide, cotton is generally not a recommended material on it's own. It struggles to manage sweat and moisture and retain heat. It's poor moisture management may also cause chaffing and blistering. Cotton is however a cost effective and comfortable material, so most walking brands would use it in a mixture of materials to balance out the negatives. This can make for a great pair of warmer weather walking socks.
Wool Wool offers fantastic insulation properties and a natural odour resistance. You'll often find that wool is used alongside other materials as alone it doesn't have much elasticity. The more wool used, the warmer the sock will generally be, which is why it's often a material found in a lot of colder weather walking socks.
Merino Wool Merino is a fantastic material for socks, while yes it's a type of wool, it's a very fine wool that you will often find in baselayers due to it's fantastic ability to manage moisture from sweating etc. The fact that merino is such a fine wool also means that it won't be as itchy as standard wool alone.
Synthetic The outdoor industry is always improving and man-made materials came into play to combine with natural materials to balance out any imperfections. Man made fabrics can offer better structure, be more durable, make the sock waterproof or designed to perform another specific task. Coolmax is an example of a synthetic material popular in socks, among others.
A mixture of materials Mixing materials is widespread in walking socks, and most are created to balance out any negatives that one particular material may have, e.g. improving the insulation of cotton, or the comfort of synthetics etc. Most walking socks will have the material blend visible for you to look at.
What do different walking sock weights mean?
Often with walking socks you will find terminology like 'lightweight' or 'midweight' etc, but what these are really referring to is a socks thickness/warmth and will give you a good idea of when best to use the socks.
Lightweight Lightweight socks are great for keeping your feet cool in warmer weather, they keep the weight down by not being as cushioned as other socks so for anything more strenuous, it's worth stepping up a weight.
Midweight The midweight sock is what most walking socks will fall under. They're ideal for warm or slightly colder conditions and will usually have a good levels of cushioning. Look for socks with a blend of materials to help keep manage the temperature in your feet, which should help prevent blisters.
Heavyweight These socks are unsurprisingly the heaviest and generally the thickest socks available. Aimed at mountaineering and cold weather expeditions.