Buying Guide - How to Shop For Hiking and Running Socks

One of the most important decisions you’ll make before hitting the trails is what to put on your feet. Whether you’re a trail runner, hiker, or backpacker, you probably already know that quality shoes and socks are critical to a good time in the mountains. So, what makes a good hiking or running sock? Don’t worry, we’re here to help! In this buying guide we will help you discover how sock construction affects comfort, heat-regulation, and moisture management and share some of our favorite styles.

Tahoe Mountain Sports Top Picks for Socks

Best Everyday Sock

#1 – Feetures Elite Light Cushion

These comfortable socks are perfect for your daily rituals: maybe a pre-work run along Donner Lake, a quick session at the gym, or a short hike with your dog. They have the perfect amount of soft cushioning in high impact areas without any extra bulk and zoned compression for arch support. The fit is precise and comfortable thanks to the anatomical design and the seamless toe. For all day comfort, these are our top pick.

Materials: 95% Nylon, 5% Spandex

Price: $15.99

#2 – Darn Tough Vertex 1/4 Sock Ultra Light
darn tough 1/4 ultra light

This style rises just above the ankle and is perfect for hot summer days. It’s ultra light and made of soft Merino wool to keep your feet dry and comfortable. The performance fit keeps the sock in place to prevent blisters. Even though it lacks cushioning, it is still a durable sock and worthy of everyday wear.

Materials: 56% Nylon 40% Merino Wool 4% Lycra® Spandex
Price: $16

Best Running Sock

darn-tough-no-show-tab-ultra-light#1 – Darn Tough Vertex No Show Tab Ultra Light Cushion

The No-Show Tab Ultra Light Cushion is a favorite of runners who want as little sock as possible yet still desire some cushion underfoot. These socks are the best for long runs or races, like the Sierra Crest 50K in Truckee. They fit precisely and securely, feel light as air, and wick away moisture as your feet heat up. “Tab” signifies the short rise at the back, which protects the ankle/Achilles area from rubbing against a shoe collar. These are a best-selling run sock for men and women, whether trail runners or road runners.

Materials: 50% Merino Wool 45% Nylon 5% Lycra® Spandex
Price: $16.00

#2 – Feetures Elite Light Cushion Quarter Sock

These socks are light, comfortable, supportive and have an incredible fit. Zoned compression provides arch support and the anatomical design ensures your sock fits securely and comfortably. With these on your feet, you can run for miles without worrying about blisters. The 3″ quarter height is perfect for the trail and keeps mud, dirt, and debris from lodging in your shoes.

Materials: 94% Nylon, 6% Spandex

Price: $15.99

Best Hiking Sock

darn tough micro crew cushion_denim

#1 – Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion

For the longest treks, like hiking the PCT, CDT or AT thru-trails, we suggest the Darn Tough Micro Crew Cushion sock. It’s called “Micro” because it’s shorter than most crew socks, rising just a couple inches above most boot tops. It breathes well during the day and will keep feet warm at night, and it dries quickly after rainstorms or creek crossings. It also won’t slip or bunch so don’t worry about hot spots, and it’s padded underfoot to support big days on trail.

Materials: 61% Merino Wool, 36% Nylon, 3% Lycra Spandex

Price: $21

#2 – Smartwool PhD Outdoor Approach Mini Socks

If you like to travel light and fast, these are the perfect hiking socks for you. They’re light, and the mini height protects your ankles and works well with with hiking shoes, like Oboz’s Sawtooth Low hiker. They’ll keep your feet dry and comfortable even when temperature swings. These socks are also available in a narrower, women’s specific fit.

Materials: 57% Merino Wool, 40% Nylon, 3% Elastane

Price: $20.95

Sock Brands We Love

All Darn Tough socks are proudly made in the USA and every step of the knitting process happens in Northfield, Vermont. This family owned company believes that manufacturing at home and field testing in their backyard is the best way to bring a high quality product to their consumers. They stand by these socks, so much so that each pair is backed by a lifetime warranty. In fact, we have a recycling program during summer which takes worn out Darn Tough socks from Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) thru-hikers and replaces them with fresh new socks. So if you’re hiking through Tahoe this summer, swing by and swap yours out.

Our favorite Darn Tough socks are part of their Vertex collection, a line of performance oriented, ultra light running socks. Each sock is designed with a performance fit, to prevent blisters and bunching and make sure that your sock stays in place all day. They incorporate mesh paneling for enhanced breathability and use merino wool for all temperature comfort. Darn Tough also has an excellent line of hiking socks. These socks are comfortable, durable, and feature a performance fit to prevent blisters and bunching. They are made with a high density knit for increased durability and ribbed support for a more custom, form fit. Again, you’ll find that merino wool is used to keep your feet dry and comfortable regardless of the conditions.

Feetures is another family owned and operated company located in North Carolina. Their socks are “engineered for performance” and use various technologies to keep your feet happy whether your on the trail or in the office. Feetures running socks are anatomically designed, meaning each sock has a foot specific fit. The “L” and “R” designations at the top of each sock are to indicate the left and right foot. This design is to make sure that your socks stay in place and don’t bunch up as you move. This design, along with a seamless toe, helps reduce the risk of blisters. Each sock has zoned compression in targeted areas for support and comfort. Regardless of whether you pick up a pair of Feetures socks for athletics, work or leisure, we think you’ll love the fit and all day comfort of these socks. The company thinks so as well and backs their socks with a lifetime warranty, so if you’re not satisfied for any reason, contact them and they’ll sen you a refund or replacement.

“Go far, feel good” defines Smartwool’s line of PhD Indestructawool socks. These elite performance merino wool socks are activity specific and have been refined over two decades of product design and testing. High quality, fine merino wool is the foundation of these socks. Merino wool regulates temperature, resists funky odors, and keeps your feet dry all day. Indestructawool is a new, more durable knitting technique that Smartwool has adopted to prolong the life of their PhD socks. The x pattern on these socks is their 4 Degree Elite Fit which keeps your foot locked into the sock and ensures that you won’t get blisters or slippage throughout the day. Other unique features of the PhD line are activity specific mesh paneling, a women’s specific fit, a virtually seamless toe, and specific cushioning.

What’s so special about Merino Wool?

Merino wool is common material used in performance socks and base layers and you’ll find it in many of the socks we carry at Tahoe Mountain Sports, but you might be wondering what exactly is merino wool and why is it so popular in outdoor gear? To answer a few questions, Merino is actually a breed of sheep that produce a fine, soft wool which is superior for sock construction for several reasons. First off, Merino wool is extremely effective at wicking moisture away from your skin which serves two purposes: keeping your feet dry and managing the growth of odor causing bacteria. So if you are looking for a breathable sock, look for merino on the tag. Second, Merino wool is temperature regulating and provides all weather comfort. It will keep your feet cool in warm weather by wicking moisture away from your skin. In colder temps, it traps warm air within it’s fibers to keep your feet warm. When we’re talking about wool, the following question always comes up: “Is it itchy?” The answer is no, because Merino wool is much finer than other types of wool. It’s narrow fibers feel soft and smooth against your feet. The bottom line is when you see Merino wool, you know are getting a soft, comfortable sock that will treat you well no matter where you choose to adventure.

Tell us about your favorite socks in the comments below!

Disclosure: All of the products described above are available at Tahoe Mountain Sports. We have tried and tested these products and believe they are the best in their category. Since not everyone reading this post can come into our store we have included some affiliate links which take you to one of our online partners. By clicking the affiliate link and making a purchase, Tahoe Mountain Sports will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. These commissions help fund the creation of content for this site.

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