Anyone who has ever had to treat a blister in the middle of a 20-mile day hike will tell you that socks are one piece of athletic equipment you can't afford to scrimp on. That said, in an era where we're all trying to do more with less, do you really need to spend $12 on a single pair of socks? Depending on what you plan to do in those socks, how long you intend to wear them, and how intense your activity level is - you just might. Here are a few things to look for in fabrics and sock construction to help you keep your feet dry and comfortable in any activity.
When choosing socks, take a quick look at what it's made of. Most high-quality socks use a combination of different fibers - natural (wool) and synthetic (polyester, nylon, and/or acrylic) - to maximize durability, cushioning, wicking, and so forth. If your feet tend to be warm and moist, make sure that a majority of the sock's fibers are synthetic. If your feet tend to be on the colder side, take advantage of the benefits of a wool or wool-blend sock.
Merino wool socks
Comfortable to wear all year-round, this merion wool socks have become extremely popular with hikers and backpackers. Made from the wool of merino sheep, these socks are soft, cushiony, itch-free, and coveted by performance athletes because of its ability to wick and quickly evaporate moisture. It also resists odors and shrinking.
Smart Wool is a very popular brand for Merino wool socks.
Feet perspire - a lot. And if you combine wet skin with friction, you have the makings of a pretty good blister. Unfortunately, cotton socks are so good at trapping moisture that after a few miles of running or aggressive hiking, you basically have a wet washcloth wrapped around your feet. So for high-aerobic use, select socks with either low cotton content or no cotton at all.
Ankle socks (the shortest) and quarter socks (slightly taller) are great for running, biking, and any use with low-top shoes. Crew socks are best for hiking and backpacking while over-the-calf socks are great for skiing.
Lightweight socks are ideal for running, short day hikes, and general warm-weather use. Midweight socks tend to be the most versatile category and can be worn for almost any kind of hiking. Heavyweight socks are the warmest and best cushioned; wear these for long-distance backpacking cold weather. Also, socks can also be used as a fitting tool to fine tune the fit of footwear. If the shoe is too roomy, try a slightly thicker sock. If the shoe is too snug try wearing socks that are thinner.
Socks should fit snugly without cramping your toes or allowing extra material to fold, wrinkle, and cause friction. Your sock's heel should fit snugly around your heel. The arch area should fit snugly around your arch. Seams should be flat (especially on the toes) and should not rub or pinch any part of your foot.
Interior sock construction
Turn your sock inside out. If it doesn't have cushioning loops, it may not be providing the cushioning you need to help absorb moisture and protect your feet from the materials inside your footwear, especially more rigid hiking boots. Also, check the toe seams; if they're not flat, irritation and rubbing can occur, creating blisters.
Finally, the expression "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to socks. If you go too cheap, you're unlikely to get the durability and performance needed for long hikes and runs. Stick with a dealer and/or brand you trust that puts quality first.