When the weather is colder, choosing the right pair of socks for a hike through the woods is a little easier, since bulkier socks tend to keep your feet warmer.
But when it comes to choosing the right hiking socks to wear for a summer hike, there are a few more factors you’ll need to consider, including the type of hiking boots you’ll be wearing, the conditions of the trail, the weather, and the duration of the hike.
It may sound counterintuitive to wear wool socks on a hot summer day, but there has been an increased understanding of the benefits of this natural fiber, especially the wool of merino sheep, a particular breed common in New Zealand.
Miraculously, the same tiny crimped merino wool fibers that can keep you warm in winter also keep you cool in sweaty conditions through the process of “evaporative cooling.” The many fibers act as perfect little wicks to pull moisture off your skin, move it across the face of the fabric, and expose it to the outside air where it can evaporate quickly. These wicks are what make wool a better moisture manager than many other fabrics.
This makes merino wool perfect for long, hot hikes that will get your feet sweating. What’s more, the material also keeps odors to a minimum and is extremely stretchy, staying snug against your foot without bunching up in the toe or heel. When combined with synthetics, merino wool has great wicking properties, keeps your feet dry, and even airs out quickly if that puddle ends up being deeper than you thought.
In summer heat, the average feet sweat a shot-glass worth of water a day. To keep things cooler and to reduce perspiration, go with a lightweight sock. Hiking socks are usually labeled lightweight, midweight, or heavyweight. Though they’re thin, lightweight socks specifically built for hiking are still designed with extra cushioning in the heel and ball of your foot.
SmartWool is a pioneer in creating lightweight, comfortable wool socks that are ideal for warmer conditions. The PhD Ultra Light Mini Socks, for example, were designed to fit snugly to every curve in your foot to improve comfort, and were built to withstand hours and hours of hiking. As far as socks go, these are some of the lightest you can buy, so it’s good to understand that there won’t be any additional cushioning.
Avoid cotton. Even though cotton is a cool, soft material, your feet will quickly drench them in sweat. Once this happens, don’t expect them to dry quickly, either.
If you normally wear a heavier sock and are switching to lightweight, pay attention to the fit. Because the lighter sock is taking up less room, you may find that your foot is sliding about in the shoe more than you’re used to. If you feel the fit is too sloppy, you may have to go back to a heavier sock, regardless of the heat. The worst scenario is getting blisters because of a poorly fitting shoe.
Crew-length socks are traditionally worn when hiking; they keep higher boots from rubbing on your ankle. However, if you’re wearing low-top hiking shoes, consider low socks that stop just above the cuff of the shoe. These will help keep your feet cooler.
Also consider the vegetation and terrain. If you’re hiking in the bushes, crew socks are the better option.
Know the Terrain
Choosing the right summer sock also means knowing where you’ll be hiking. If you expect the trail to be mostly hard rocks with little vegetation, like a southwest canyon trail, you may want to choose a micro sock that doesn’t go above your ankle. This, however, will depend on the type of hiking shoes you’ll wear. A taller boot requires higher socks to keep from rubbing.
If you enjoy toe shoes such as Vibram FiveFingers, you may want to look into toe socks, which are built with the same stretchiness and wicking abilities, but are designed for use with minimalist running shoes and hiking shoes. Some hikers say that when worn with traditional hiking shoes, these socks are also a great way to prevent rubbing between your toes, which can lead to painful blisters.
The same socks you choose for a summer day hike are also ideal for ultralight backpacking. If shedding every possible ounce is your goal, ultralight micro socks, such as those made by SmartWool, can really make a difference.
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