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Hiking Socks
by Bob at the Mast Store Annex

Latest Update: March 20, 2009

You may have the newest model, ultra-light, perfect fit backpack. That new tent may weigh less then three pounds. Your set of titanium cook wear may have cost you a weeks pay. You may think you have all the latest high-tech gear to make your next backpacking adventure a success, but you may have forgotten one important item that can make or break a trip. Socks may not be as glamorous as all the newest gear, but this often overlooked item is just as important.

Your gear selection is not complete without a good pair of hiking socks. The wrong socks, just like an incorrectly-fitted backpack, will ruin a well- planned trip. But a well-fitted sock, tailored to your activity, can keep your feet dry and comfortable all day. A good fit for socks is just as crucial as it is for shoes. Your socks and shoes are a system that should work well together. If your socks are too big they will sag and bunch causing discomfort and blisters. If they are too tight they can restrict circulation and toe movement, which can lead to injury.

Hiking socks come in three basic types, lightweight, mid-weight and heavyweight, which should be matched to the type of conditions that you will encounter on your trip.

Lightweight Socks, also known as light hikers, are the right choice for a warmer weather day hike. They work just as well in day hiking boots as they do in trail running shoes. While they do not provide as much warmth as other types of hiking socks, they provide just as much comfort and moisture wicking ability.

Mid-weight Socks, also known as medium cushion or day hikers, are the all purpose socks of hiking. They have enough cushioning to work well with most types of outdoor footwear. They also provide warmth for three-season, moderate output activities while still keeping your feet comfortable and dry.

Heavyweight Socks, also known as expedition or mountaineering socks, are the warmest, thickest and most rugged socks around. They are designed for rough terrain, colder temperatures and long distance backpacking trips carrying heavy loads. They still provide moisture wicking, to keep your feet comfortable, but they are not the best socks for warmer weather conditions.

The next consideration that should go into buying hiking socks is the material that the socks are constructed from. The one material to avoid is cotton. They may feel comfortable, but cotton socks do not make good hiking socks. Cotton will absorb moisture, and since it dries slowly, the socks will soon become saturated. Once wet they provide no insulation and can lead to blisters.

Another option is a synthetic fabric sock. These socks can be made from polyester, nylon or a combination of synthetic fabrics. Synthetic socks have moisture wicking ability to keep your feet dry. A good example of a synthetic fiber is CoolMax by Dupont Textiles. CoolMaxs fabric moves moisture from your skin to the outside of the fabric where it can evaporate.

The last and most popular option for hiking socks is wool. A lot of people think of wool as being scratchy and rough. The type of wool that is used in most hiking socks is a longer fiber, softer type of wool called Merino wool. The wool is harvested from Merino sheep, most of which are raised in New Zealand or Australia. Wool has many characteristics that make it perfect for top quality hiking socks. The best is the ability to control temperature; your feet will stay warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Wool also manages moisture, keeping your feet dry. It has a natural ability to resist odor, meaning that you can wear these socks for a few days on the trail without offending your hiking partners. Smartwool, a leading manufacturer of wool products, has a new high performance outdoor sock they call PhD. With the highest degree of comfort and performance these socks have a secure fit system that keeps them comfortable all day.

While most hiking socks are able to be machine washed and dried, there are a few care instructions to prolong sock life. Wash your hiking socks inside out so all the dead skin cells and body salt are washed away. Also, avoid using fabric softener as this will reduce the performance and life of the sock.

Your local outdoor outfitters own brand of active socks is made in the USA by Nester Hosiery of Mount Airy, North Carolina. Using high quality yarns and modern knitting equipment, Nester Hosiery has been making socks for the outdoor enthusiast for over 15 years. When you visit your local outdoor outfitter, they will be able to recommend the best hiking socks to make your next Take It Outside adventure a success.

Smartwool Light Cushion are Lightweight hiking socks.

Mast Store Outfitter's Day Hikers are Mid-weight hiking socks.

Mast Store Outfitter's Expedition socks are Heavyweight hiking socks.