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The Anatomy of a Walking Sock

Socks are such an everyday item that they might be the last thing on your mind when you're preparing for your first big walk or mountain climb.

No doubt you've spent time trying on different pairs of boots, bought a decent jacket and maybe even splashed out on a GPS device, but there's a good chance you've not even considered what socks you're going to wear.

However, walking socks perform a variety of important roles, which are essential to having a comfortable hike. Not to mention your feet take the brunt of the abuse from the rocks beneath you and support your entire body weight, so it's very important to take good care of them if you're to last the distance.

So what should you be looking for in a good walking sock?


Along with the sole of your boot, socks provide cushioning for your feet from the rough terrain below. Where a waterproof walking boot provides the protection from the wet, the sock provides the comfort. The thicker the sock, the more padding for your foot. However, don't just go out and buy the thickest pair you can find. If you're going to be trekking in a hot climate, your feet will overheat.


This ties in with another function of a walking sock: to provide warmth. Humans lose heat most easily from their extremities (hands and feet), not to mention that if you're walking across frozen ground, the cold transfers to your feet. It's therefore vital to keep them wrapped up if you're walking in chilly conditions.

Walking socks come in a variety of materials and combinations of fabrics, but wool is particularly good at keeping feet warm. If you can afford it, Merino wool is the crème de la crème, as it is the finest and softest of any sheep.


As well as providing warmth, Merino wool is excellent at wicking (drawing) away moisture from the skin, reducing the risk of blisters and making your feet feel more pleasant. Cotton on the other hand makes a poor choice for a walking sock because it doesn't retain warmth when wet and takes a long time to dry out.

An alternative to Merino wool is to go synthetic. Synthetic materials are particularly good at wicking away sweat, making them an excellent choice for hot climes and for those who find their feet get particularly sweaty. These include brand names such as Coolmax, which features either four or six-channel polyester fibres that have a large surface area for improved wicking.


Blisters, which are caused by friction between a foot and boot, are a walker's worst enemy. However, modern sock technology, such as double-layered construction, can significantly decrease rubbing and consequently reduce the chance of sores developing.

The way the sock is stitched together can also make a big difference to comfort levels. Socks may feature additional padding around the heel and toe areas to improve wear, ankle and arch supports to improve stability and ventilation holes to increase breathability.

Additional extras such as anti-bacterial and mosquito repellent treatments take comfort to the next level.

Sock care

If your socks are to continue looking after your feet, you need to look after your socks.

Washing them inside out ensures a thorough clean, but be careful with the drying process as you don't want your socks to shrink. Using your walking socks only for hiking will extend their lifespan.