The best walking socks will keep you comfy and protected whether you're embarking on a full-afternoon countryside ramble or hitting the pavement for some sightseeing. In fact, investing in a decent pair of socks is never a bad idea. Even shoes that feel super-comfy on a walk to the local corner shop can start to rub after a few hours of wear, and we all know how quickly cheap socks can wear through.
If you're doing a proper summer walk, your first investment should be a pair of the best walking shoes for men or walking shoes for women. But when you're buying, don't forget about your socks. Good socks are a relatively small investment that can make all the difference to your comfort levels, not to mention being the first stop in preventing blisters.
Our guide includes a wide range of options so you can pick a pair that suit your personal needs and preferences. There are a few questions you'll need to tackle before you buy – what material is best? Long or short? What exactly is a twin skin? I thought compression socks were for aeroplanes? for example. If you need more guidance, we've answered all those queries in our guide to how to choose walking socks, so consult that first.
- Embarking on a hardcore hike? You need a pair of the best hiking boots for men
- ... or the best hiking boots for women
- Stash your kit in one of the best hiking backpacks
The best walking socks 2021
Our pick for the best walking socks right now is the Smartwool Hike Light Cushion Crew Sock. These have everything you want from a walking sock. Rather than being all-over bulky, these have a more streamlined fit that includes mesh zones as well as padded sections, for a custom fit that's not too hot but provides the padding you need to stay comfy. The flat-knit toe seam promises no rubbing, and these stay firmly in place as you travel (nowt worse than a sock slipping down inside your boot, disrupting your walk).
New in summer 2021, the Hike light socks are part of a collection that replaces the brand's popular PhD Outdoor collection. The concept is very similar, but there are some key upgrades. In these, recycled nylon joins responsibly sourced Merino wool to give a fabric that's strong, warm, moisture wicking, but also a bit more eco-friendly. Smartwool has also tweaked the design for improved durability and a better fit.
The crew height is a good mid-ground, providing the required ankle protection without excess fabric. They're available in men's and women's versions, the range encompasses subdued block colours, tonal stripes, or statement mountain vistas (really). You can also pick ankle height socks for an even more minimal look, or 'Full Hike' if you want more padding.
Darn Tough has a reputation for making some of the best walking socks around, and our pick for medium-length walks are the Light Hikers. These feature light padding under the foot to add comfort without unnecessary bulk or warmth, and on the latter front there are also mesh panels on the top of the foot for extra breathability. A fine gauge knit adds durability, and these come with a life-long guarantee, which is pretty usual for a sock. The design has been fine-tuned to ensure these stay in place effectively and don't bunch or slip down.
Heading on a warm-weather walk? If you want a sock that provides protection without ruining the look of your summer outfit, the best walking sock for you might well be the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks. These have some admirable eco credentials – they're made from recycled – upcycled, even – ocean plastic, so by buying them, you are essentially cleaning the ocean from all the rubbish. The Rockay Flare Quarter Socks are also enabled with Stay Fresh Technology which prevents the growth of odour-causing bacteria, meaning you will have to wash them less often. All the water savings!
They're not just good for the planet, either. Officially a performance running sock, the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks boast a seamless toe construction so there's less chafing, and the breathable mesh zones enable air circulation around your feet. Because they're only ankle-height, they won't work for boots (they aren't tall enough to cover the upper part of the ankle), but with walking shoes or trainers they're a great pick.
If you have a day-to-day routine that requires you to be on your feet a lot, and want a decent pair of hardwearing socks that'll are suitable for everyday as well as for walks, the Finisterre Last Long Original Sock could well be it. While they lack the fancy features of dedicated hiking socks, these traditional style socks have a lot to recommend them as a great choice for walking. They're made from wool, which is naturally antibacterial and breathable, as well as being soft and warm. They're designed to be more durable than your average sock, and on test we've round they stay in place well and are comfortable to wear all day long. The mid-calf-length is versatile, and they're available in a range of colours, from the subdued (navy, grey) to the more flamboyant (yellow, orange striped) depending on your tastes.
Draw your attention away from the fantastic design for a minute - which, by the way, looks so great thanks to Smartwool’s 360-degree printing technology - and you will find a lightweight sock that’s ideal for warmer days out on the trail. Mesh venting and light cushioning combine to ensure that foot temperature is regulated for all-day comfort, while Smartwool’s Indestructawool technology ensures long-term durability. If your main concern is fit, a 4 Degree elite fit system hugs your foot comfortably, with extra flex built-in to key zones. You’ll be thankful for the Virtually Seamless toe compartment, too.
Much as we’d like it, not every walk is going to be scheduled just in time to catch blazing sunshine, so if you live somewhere particularly drizzly, or just aren’t afraid of a little inclement weather, a waterproof walking sock should be your go-to. These Sealskinz socks have a triple-layered construction that includes an waterproof hydrophilic membrane, a liner that's predominantly Merino wool (for warmth and sweat-wicking) and a Polycolon exterior with 4-way stretch. They're a good way to avoid damp feet if your shoe choice isn't waterproof.
These crew-height walking socks are our best pick for versatility, as they’re quite happy to be used for other sports too. They’re the perfect length to be boot friendly but not bring on heat rash from over-warm calves on summer walks, and include a breathable mesh panel above the instep, one of the most common culprits for getting sweaty feet started. The fine merino wool and nylon in the body makes for a soft and surprisingly comfortable combination, and the light cushioning and support under-arch and around the achilles tendon makes these adept in higher-impact activities.
The Bridgedale Lightweight T3 Merino Sport 3/4 Crew are designed for trail running, so they might be overkill for a gentle strolls, but there are plenty of features that make these a good choice for long walks. This is another streamlined design with targeted padding and ventilation to keep your feet cool and comfortable. Because they're designed for running, they should be especially good at wicking away moisture, and there are also plenty of features geared towards absorbing impact, which will help prevent foot fatigue on longer walks. A flat toe seam keeps blisters at bay, and the cuff is built to keep out debris, too.
How to choose a pair of walking socks
Our best socks for walking are ones with more breathability than the average pair, warmth where it’s needed, and durability to see off pressure from close-fitting walking boots, and that all comes down to material.
Wool features in most of the socks we’ve picked, and with good reason. Merino wool in particular is known for its warmth and softness, meaning it’s comfortable – never itchy – next to the skin, and suitable for use in chilly weather.
Merino walking socks also have the distinction of being naturally antibacterial and breathable to help stave off stinky toes. Some socks, like those from Smartwool and Bridgedale, are a combination of wool and synthetic that makes the most of both materials, with nylon polyamide typically being the showing from the synthetic side for its superior breathability, lightness and ability to keep its shape.
With the length, we think, being fairly self-explanatory – chillier day? Cover those calves. Warmer day? Set them free – the last thing we have to talk about is the cushioning.
If you're doing more high-impact hikes, you'll want more of the stuff to keep away blisters and sore soles, but if you want your socks to work hard in multiple sports, or even in regular shoes, light cushioning is where it's at, as it doesn’t add much more bulk to the sock.