Sock liners. What are sock liners, and do we need them for hiking? I had never heard of sock liners until I started my hiking journey. Having never heard of them before, I didn’t take much thought into getting a pair, nor what the possible benefits might be. Still, after a couple of harrowing treks, I decided to do a little research of my own into the purpose and benefits of sock liners.
Sock liners are an absolute must-have for hiking and include the following benefits:
- protective layer or “base coat” for your feet.
- strip away moisture from your feet to the outer sock instead of trapping it.
- gives your feet that much-needed breathability, thus significantly reducing your chances of developing blisters.
- likelihood of smelly feet is greatly reduced.
- prevent friction that can create hot spots, which are prone to turn into blisters.
Now that you know the comfort and benefits of sock liners, I’m sure you’re itching to get out there and buy a pair. However, there are a few key features you need to take into account before doing so.
Different features of sock liners to consider
An average person has a stride length of about 2.1 to 2.5 feet. To travel one mile takes roughly around 2,000 steps. Hiking is a strenuous and demanding activity, with many ups and downs and often rocky and uneven footing. Having the right sock liners are vital in keeping your feet comfortable and protecting them from blisters on your walk.
For hiking, choosing the best sock liners is important. Here are four key features to consider before making your purchase.
- Sock Liner Material
- Sock Liner Thickness
- Sock Liner Length
- Sock Liner Size
- Moisture Stripping or Moisture Wicking of Sock Liner
Sock Liner Material
When buying any article of clothing, one of the first major factors we need to consider is what material it is made of, like any item of clothing you buy, sock liners come in different materials and are made from different fabrics.
Most sold sock liners are made from either wool (specifically merino wool), polyester, silk, or nylon. This is because of the breathability of these fabrics. It is also essential to choose a breathable fabric and a fabric that feels good on your skin. After all, you will be wearing them for a prolonged period of time.
Wool, specifically merino wool, is the most popular sock liner material. Merino wool is fantastic at moisture stripping and is a firm favorite when it comes to sock liner materials in the hiking community.
Often, people may associate wool with being scratchy or itchy. However, the fibers of merino wool fabric are much finer than normal wool garments, and merino wool is essentially itch-free. Wool is naturally antimicrobial and popular because it is not as smelly as synthetic fabrics, and it helps control temperature.
Polyester comes in at a close second for best sock liner material as it also has good moisture stripping reputation and is much more affordable than its rival, merino wool. It is sometimes blended with merino wool as this helps with it being fast drying.
Silk is another material that is sometimes used for sock liners because of its breathability, comfort, and lightweight. It absorbs moisture well and is hypoallergenic. However, silk is not as popular as merino wool or polyester because it is not as durable.
Nylon is also used for sock liners and is sometimes added to other materials to improve drying time and durability.
Thickness of Sock Liner
Next, you need to consider the thickness of the sock liner. When it comes to sock liners, less is more. To avoid unnecessary chunkiness, opting for a thinner sock is your best bet.
It is important to remember that they are not there to provide insulation; they are a “base coat” or protective layer between your sock and foot. Adding a thick sock liner to an already thick hiking sock can completely change your shoe shape and, in the long run, will be uncomfortable, sweaty, and make for an unpleasant hiking trip.
Length of Sock Liner
Another factor to consider is the length of your sock liner. It is important to choose the correct length to get a comfortable fit with your normal hiking boots. You can choose low-cut liners or mid-ankle sock liners, which are most common.
Size of Sock Liner
When choosing your perfect size, it is helpful to consider your foot size rather than only your shoe size. Loose-fitting sock liners are best to be avoided. Rather, go for a snug fit around your foot, even if it means getting a smaller size. In this case, same as thickness, less is more.
Moisture Stripping or “Moisture Wicking”
One final, and perhaps the most important, factor is moisture stripping, otherwise known as moisture-wicking. Moisture stripping is when the sock liner “strips” or “wicks” away moisture from your feet to the outer sock. Merino wool and polyester come out on top as being the best materials for moisture stripping.
Can you wear sock liners by themselves?
The simple answer to the question “can you wear sock liners by themselves?” is yes, but the real question you should be asking yourselves is, “should you?” Sock liners are meant to be worn underneath your hiking socks to help strip away moisture from your feet and add a comfortable layer to prevent blisters.
When you opt for wearing sock liners only, rather than as an added layer of protection with your other socks, the intended benefits of sock liners are greatly reduced. Sock liners are generally very thin and will not provide enough protection and cushioning to your feet on their own.
Pros and Cons of sock liners
As we have already discovered, the two main benefits of sock liners are:
- Additional comfort for your feet
- The prevention of blisters
Having discussed the pros of sock liners, there aren’t many reasons someone wouldn’t want to wear them. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy comfort while hiking and who wouldn’t enjoy not having to worry about developing hotspots or blisters? But, if we must discuss a few cons, here are a few shortcomings regarding sock liners. Mainly:
- Finding the right fitting sock liners
- Sock liners wearing down quickly
You may find sock liners slightly uncomfortable if you already have tight-fitting hiking boots. Although sock liners are usually very then, adding another layer of sock to an already tight shoe can be annoying and, if worn for an extended period of time, may even end up hurting your foot.
Another con is that you may need to replace them quite often. Because they are so thin and lightweight, they wear down faster than your other hiking gear. Although they are not expensive to replace, it is still an extra cost to think about.
If you have always wanted to go hiking, but the thought of sore, blistery, smelly feet put you off, then sock liners are definitely for you. With sock liners, the image of beautiful mountain views, a rush of adrenaline, and a sense of accomplishment can replace your first unpleasant thoughts and images associated with hiking.
Sock liners are not only for amateur hikers; sock liners stand to benefit the most avid hikers around. Your feet are here to serve you for a very long time, you only get one set, and they deserve to be protected and cushioned.
Now that you know and understand the benefits of sock liners, and you know how to choose the right material, thickness, length, and size, using sock liners for hiking should be a no-brainer, especially for those of you who want to hike and enjoy the great outdoors in comfort.
So next time you are invited for a hike, remember your water bottles, grab your hiking boots and pack a set of good sock liners, and you’re good to go! You will be able to enjoy your hike knowing that your carefully chosen sock liners will strip away excess moisture and prevent not only painful blisters but also take care of smelly feet. Enjoy your hike, and most importantly, enjoy the view!