Why you need good quality merino hiking socks

No doubt about it, buying good quality wool hiking socks is a must have piece of outdoor gear. I’ve been a huge fan of merino wool socks for years, and not just for hiking socks, but for skiing as well. All merino wool socks are great, but they do come in different levels of quality, and some are much better than others. The main difference is in how the fibres are spun, how thick or thin these spun fibres are, and the sock cut and construction itself. Good quality merino wool socks do an excellent job of managing sweat and moisture, leading to less blisters, plus making the smelly sock problem is a thing of the past.  

As with most outdoor gear, you really get what you pay for when you buy good quality socks. Here are some reasons why you might want to consider them. 

Moisture Wicking

Excess moisture is what causes chafing, itching and blisters on your feet.  Wool is great because it wicks moisture so well, including the ability to soak up a third of it’s weight in water. Once sweat is absorbed into the sock, it’s allowed to evaporate, which cools your feet as well as keeps them dry. Cotton simply does not wick moisture or dry, keeping your feet soaked, unhappy and uncomfortable. For optimum performance, take into account the type of shoe you’re wearing so sweat can effectively evaporate. For example, if you’re wearing heavy hiking boots and it’s hot out, consider a thinner merino wool sock to allow the moisture to evaporate, since heavy hiking boots don’t breathe as well as light hikers or running shoes. 

Good quality merino wool socks from Icebreaker and Smartwool shown here.

Manage Bacteria Growth

Bacteria are what causes smell, and can lead to other unpleasant conditions like foot rot and athlete’s foot.  The fatty acids in wool fibres eat those bacterial microbes that produce stink. This means that when you dry your socks, the bacteria will be destroyed along with the drying. This also means you can wear your socks several days in a row with no issue. I’ve used my merino wool ski socks for several days out backcountry skiing, and I find I can comfortably use them for over three days, until they no longer feel stretchy against my skin, but they never stink. 

Performance Cut

Nice socks also have a better cut and fit with highly specialized attention to detail. Heel cups are designed to wrap around your foot and keep it in place, and keep the rubbing down. This is done to keep blisters away. Nice socks will have many specialized features to keep the sock from sliding around. Many companies have done away with reinforced toe, which has shown to cause rubbing and blisters. Ski socks, which are high, are specially designed to hug the calf muscle, close just below the knee without restricting any blood flow. Cheap socks won’t have the cut and attention to detail, that your foot is going to be moving and slide around in the shoe. They will also wear out faster because of this. Nice socks also have high abrasion stitching on areas that will experience more wear, such as the heel and ball of the foot, prolonging the life of the sock. 

Smartwool hiking socks. Note the reinforced heel and special performance shape.


Move the moisture, evaporate it, and you’ll have great temperature regulation. Another really nice thing about merino wool though, is that it stays warm when wet. When your feet sweat, the fibres will allow the moisture to evaporate. But when it’s cold, the fibres will also trap air coming from your feet to keep them warm and insulated. They really are great temperature regulators. 


Good quality socks will really last longer.  Some brands such as Darn Tough are really popular on long through hikes such as the Pacific Crest Trail and Appalachian trail. Nicer quality socks will have finer stitching and pack more merino fibres in a smaller space, so you get all the benefits of durability but without the bulk. 


Nicer quality socks like the ones made by Smartwool, Darn Tough and Icebreaker are hiker specific for comfort and wear. Like we mentioned above, they use a finer wool which is less itchy than more coarse wool. You can get cheaper wool socks, but you’ll find they are not as comfortable, and won’t last as long as hiker specific socks. Though you pay more, you do get what you pay for. 

Nicer quality socks just fit much better.

Financial considerations

You definitely get what you pay for when buying high end socks. Consider how much you’re using them. Cheap socks will wear out faster, so you’ll have to buy more socks to replace them more often. Cheap socks will also cause more blisters, and you’ll have to spend more on anti blister remedies, too.  So get the right socks from the start, your feet will thank you and you’ll be able to enjoy them for many trail miles to come.

Do you want to read more about merino wool? Check out our comparison of base layers, where we compare synthetic versus merino wool for outdoor performance. Also find out how to take care of merino wool.

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Alicja is an economist, enjoys climbing, mountaineering, backcountry skiing, cycling and gets out into the backcountry as much as possible. See all of Alicja's Blog Posts