Best walking socks 2021: Happy, blister-free adventuring

The best walking socks around, including warm-weather, cold-weather and high-intensity options from the best outdoor brands

best walking socks
(Image credit: Rockay)

While we all might fancy ourselves as leather-soled mountain people, the reality is that our feet are quite delicate things, and as such need a little special treatment when we’re doing something more strenuous than our average stroll to the corner shop. That’s where walking socks come in handy and – what luck! – we’ve rounded up the best walking socks from across the shops for you right here.

Come on, unknot that indignant frown, because while you might think you’re happy to trot around the foothills of the Dolomites in a pair of M&S trainer socks, you’ll almost certainly live to regret it. Even the best hiking boots need a decent sock to keep them comfy. 

Upgrading your walking kit? Head to our guides to the best hiking leggings, the best compass, and the best hiking backpack 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 add, as it doesn’t add much more bulk to the sock.

The 7 best (pairs of) walking socks

Smartwool Hiking Light Crew Sock, green

1. Smartwool: Hiking Light Crew Sock

Light, dry, non-rubbing: these are our best walking socks all-round

Best for: Light hikes
Material: Smartwool/merino wool
Height: Mid-calf
Reasons to buy
+Stays put+No-rub flat-knit seam
Reasons to avoid
-Some experienced bad batches 

Is there any sensation more hideous than feeling your sock slip down inside your boot? Well, perhaps, but when you’re enjoying an otherwise pleasant hike there’s nothing worse, which is why these hiking socks feature an arch brace to hold your socks fast and keep your stride firm. Add in comfort from strategically placed light cushioning to keep blisters at bay, a flat-knit toe seam that promises no rubbing, and a Smartwool construction that marries wicking synthetics with warm and strong wool, and you have our best walking sock.

best walking socks: Rockay Flare

(Image credit: Rockay)

2. Rockay Flare Quarter Socks

Save the planet from ocean plastic with this option

Best for: Summer walks
Material: 50% Econyl Regenerated Nylon, 46% Recycled Polyamide, 4% Recycled Elastane
Height: Quarter-height
Reasons to buy
+Seamless toes+Arch support+Made from upcycled ocean plastic
Reasons to avoid
-Tight fit

• Buy the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks directly from Rockay

Many people who frequent the Great Outdoors tend to also be more conscious about the state of the environment and make steps to reduce their ecological impact as a whole. And I'm not talking about the actual steps they make – this is a walking socks guide after all – but the way they make an effort to make the world a more sustainable place for all.

If you are one of these people, then the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks is perfect for you. These performance socks are made of 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!

The Rockay Flare Quarter Socks offer more than just them being extra environmentally friendly. The seamless toe-construction means there is less chafing and the breathable mesh zones enable air circulation around your feet, as long as you don't wear one of those chunky walking boots.

Due to the mid-length of these socks, the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks are recommended with walking shoes as opposed to boots: they aren't high enough to cover the upper part of the ankle, so wearing Rockay Flare Quarter Socks with boots you could still end up having some blisters (although the Rockay Flare Quarter Socks does have an anti-blister construction).

Smartwool PHD Medium Outdoorcrew sock, black

3. Smartwool PHD Medium Outdoorcrew

Durable, breathable and immensely wearable

Best for: Ventilation
Material: Smartwool
Height: Mid-calf
Reasons to buy
+Warm but breathable+Last forever
Reasons to avoid
-Not L and R specific

Nothing takes the shine off a spectacular sun-drenched trail like sweaty feet. These socks feature mesh ventilation zones at the points you’re most likely to get a bit sweaty and evaporate moisture away from the foot for a dry and comfortable feel. Meanwhile, the hilarious-sounding ‘Indestructawool’ technology translates as a durable construction so you won’t have to buy a new pair every five minutes, and elastic panels ensure everything stays in place and stretches when it should. Dry, comfortable and strong, these tick all the boxes. 

Bridgedale Woolfusion Summit Knee Sock, white, grey and black

4. Bridgedale Woolfusion Summit Knee Sock

Knee-high walking socks for serious strolls in seriously chilly weather

Best for: Cold days
Material: New wool, nylon polyamide, Endurofil
Height: Knee
Reasons to buy
+Great balance of warmth and wicking+Thick cushioning
Reasons to avoid
-Too heavy for warm weather 

Another clever combo of natural and synthetic fibres, these Woolfusion socks really offer the best of both worlds. Enduro new wool brings warmth and durability to the table, a little lycra adds stretch, and a good portion of nylon polyamide ensures the all-important moisture-wicking is there – basically, it balances insulation and evaporation, which is exactly the kind of engineering you want on your side out on the trail. There’s also dense cushioning to absorb shock on rougher tracks (and for particularly aggressive walkers), making these a solid choice for more demanding walks, especially in cooler weather.

Sealskinz Mid Weight Mid Length Sock, black and dark blue

5. Sealskinz: Mid Weight Mid Length Sock

Mid-weight, mid-length, but 100% waterproof

Best for: Waterproof
Material: Merino wool, synthetic
Height: Mid-calf
Reasons to buy
+Waterproof+Comfortably padded and lined
Reasons to avoid
-Not very flexible 

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 with poodle padding (disclaimer: no animals were harmed in the making of these bizarre-sounding garments) combine a merino wool pile liner for warmth and softness with what reviewers confirm is a totally waterproof construction. That these particular socks are the longer incarnation of a hiker favourite helps to protect against watery onslaught from above, too.

Icebreaker Multisport Cushion sock, grey

6. Icebreaker Multisport Cushion Mini Light

Lightweight walking socks suited to all sorts of sports

Best for: Versatility
Material: Merino wool, nylon
Height: Ankle/crew
Reasons to buy
+Light cushioning+Arch and achilles support
Reasons to avoid
-Some found them a little small 

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 over 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.

Bridgedale Mens Endurance Trail Sock, green

7. Bridgedale Mens Endurance Trail Sock

On those balmy summer days, you want a sock to fit the bill: this is that sock

Best for: Hot weather
Material: New wool, nylon polyamide, Endurofil
Height: Mid-calf
Reasons to buy
+Extremely light+Just the right amount of padding
Reasons to avoid
-A bit nylon-y compared to some in the range

They might not look it at first glance, but these calf-height walking socks are immensely warm-weather-friendly – in fact that’s exactly what they’re designed for. Like our earlier Bridgedale picks, these are Woolfusion socks, designed to be ultra-lightweight and breathable to see off damp and overheated feet before they happen. Reviewers also found there was enough padding to keep then comfortable mile after mile, but not so much as to add to the overall heft of the sock, meaning they can still fit in normal shoes. Result.