Alongside your base layer of clothing (you could reasonably argue that they are part of the base layer), socks probably rate as the most important, yet often ignored, part of an outdoor enthusiast or travellers kit. Everybody knows good footwear is vital,

Alongside your base layer of clothing (you could reasonably argue that they are part of the base layer), socks probably rate as the most important, yet often ignored, part of an outdoor enthusiast or travellers kit. Everybody knows good footwear is vital, yet we somehow only seem to consider the boot or shoe a lot of the time. However good your boots are, if your socks are uncomfortable or poor quality you may well find that you have problems with your feet.  

Because the condition of your feet is so closely tied to your overall comfort, it only makes sense to spend the extra time and dollars on a pair of good socks. But what constitutes a good pair of socks?

We feel that a good sock possesses a few essential qualities.

  • Most importantly, they should be comfortable.
  • They should be tough.
  • They should keep moisture away from the skin.

The socks you wear on your travels can have a significant effect on your backpacking experience and like footwear, socks must be chosen carefully to match the kinds of conditions you expect on your trip.

Consider the kinds of trips you have in mind
Technical walking socks are designed to provide temperature control, cushioning and abrasion resistance in a variety of conditions. The right sock will depend on the trip/activities you have planned and the weather conditions you expect to face along the way. Often you may find that it pays to carry a couple of different types of socks to better cover your needs. Here are the basic categories that socks fall into:


  • Liners - Sock liners are thin, lightweight wicking socks designed to be worn right next to your skin. These liners wick sweat away from the surface of your foot to keep you dry and more comfortable, some will also provide added warmth should you need to bolster outer socks. Liners also limit the amount of abrasion between your outer sock and your skin. They are purpose designed to be worn under other socks, as well as being suitable to wear on their own.


  • Lightweight walking/backpacking socks - Designed for warm conditions and easier walking/light footwear, lightweight walking socks stress wicking performance and comfort over warmth. These socks are thicker, warmer and more durable than liners alone. They also provide more cushioning. But they are relatively thin so that you can stay comfortable on warm weather trips. Because most lightweight walking socks are made from wicking materials, they can be worn with or without liner socks.


  • Midweight walking/backpacking socks - These socks are designed to provide reliable cushioning and insulation in moderate to cold conditions and are also better suited to heavy weight boots and trekking. They tend to be thicker and warmer than lightweight walking socks. Many models have extra padding built into high-impact areas like the heel and the ball of the foot for maximum comfort. These socks can also be worn with liners to improve wicking, comfort and warmth.


  • Mountaineering socks - Mountaineering socks are generally the thickest, warmest and most cushioned socks available. They are designed for long trips, tough terrain and cold temperatures. Usually, mountaineering socks are too thick and warm for basic backpacking journeys in moderate/warm conditions. Again liner socks maybe appropriate for foot management (wicking, blister protection etc.)


The material world

One of the most confusing issues when choosing a pair of socks, is understanding what the ingredients actually are and their functional benefits. Many socks combine a number of different materials and even construction techniques, to optimise performance. Do they all work? Well here is an outline of the commonly used materials and their benefits.

Natural fibres

Cotton - A lightweight, moisture absorbing fibre. No other fabric offers the comfort and feel of nature's own fibre. It's breathable, washable and biodegradable too. Generally though 100% cotton is not recommended as a sock material for walking. Cotton absorbs sweat, dries slowly, providing no insulation when wet and this may lead to discomfort and blisters. However, cotton is extremely comfortable and when combined with wool or other wicking and insulating fibres, cotton blends can be a great choice for light walking in summer.

Silk - A very smooth, soft and moisture absorbing fibre. It boasts a high tensile strength and acts as a natural thermal retainer that does not conduct heat. Although comfortable and lightweight it lacks durability and is mostly used in liner socks for it’s wicking ability

Wool - The original, easy care fibre. Each wool fibre is made up of millions of ""coiled springs,"" that stretch in use, but coil back to their original positions. It features inherent qualities such as warmth when wet, cushioning, shape recovery (resiliency) and it breathes with your body. It can be knit in various weights to provide increasing levels of insulation for every temperature. Wool yarn, when knit into a thicker sock, tends to be bulky and lofty. Air becomes entrapped and it becomes an ideal insulator. Wool socks also keep feet drier because wool absorbs as much as 30% of its own weight before it begins to feel damp.

Unfortunately, wool can take a long time to dry and it can be scratchy/uncomfortable next to your skin (many new wool options, including merino, do not have this problem). It can also wear out quickly if not reinforced with other materials. Wool blends (combinations of wool and synthetic materials) are extremely popular because they address many of these problems.

Merino wool is a fine grade of wool that originally came from Merino sheep. It has all of the characteristics classic to wool that are listed above, but what makes Merino wool different is the luxurious softness and comfort provided by the fine diameter Merino fibres. Unlike traditional wool, Merino wool does not itch and is shrink-treated to hold its size and shape even after repeated washing.

Synthetic fibres

Synthetic materials are designed to insulate like wool and wick moisture, without the negatives mentioned above. These materials like Hollofil®, Thermax®, Thermastat® trap warmth like wool, but they are softer on the skin. The synthetic wicking materials like polypropylene and Coolmax used in wicking sock liners are often woven into thicker walking socks as well, to enhance wicking performance. They also dry more quickly and are more abrasion resistant. These fabrics are available in a variety of sock styles and thicknesses.

Acrylic - A synthetic fibre that provides softness and warmth with little weight, and high durability. Acrylic's inherent properties allow it to hold brighter and more brilliant colours than its natural fibre counterparts.

Nylon - a very strong, versatile, hard wearing fibre. Socks made of nylon can be thin and silky or bulky and highly elastic. Nylon is often used with other fibres to give added stretch or to improve durability.

Stretch Nylon - Nylon strands that are air-entangled or crimped to provide elasticity. It is used to achieve stretch and recovery.

Polyester & Stretch Polyester - Two hydrophobic (moisture repelling) fibres that are known for their durability and are extremely colourfast for vivid coloration.

Olefin (Polypropylene) - A superior moisture repellent fibre that won't accept moisture. It is used alone or with absorbent outer layers that work together to wick moisture away from your body. It is very strong and has the lowest specific gravity (lightest) of any synthetic fibre.

Technical fibre blends

Wonder~Wick® - the Wonder~Wick Moisture Control System was developed by Wigwam Mills, to keep your feet warm, dry and comfortable. A moisture repelling yarn next to the skin wicks the perspiration away from the foot. A moisture-absorbing fibre on the outside of the sock works with the inner fibre to ensure that the moisture stays away from the foot. A dry foot is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The lack of moisture next to the foot is also instrumental in minimising blisters.

4-Channel Polyester - a generic term for a high-performance four-channel fibre engineered to move moisture and speed the evaporation of perspiration. It is a superior fabric for wicking action, drying time, moisture absorption and transport.

Coolmax® - A high-performance, four-channel fibre engineered to move moisture and speed the evaporation of perspiration. It is a superior fabric, for wicking action, drying time, moisture absorption and transport.

Duraspun® Acrylic - a premium high-bulk acrylic fibre that offers superior softness, wicking and thermal conductivity. It has a superior warmth to weight ratio so it can keep feet warm without adding weight or excess bulk. In warmer weather, its wicking action works to keep feet dry and cool.

Gore-Tex® - a windproof, waterproof, breathable membrane. Microscopic pores in the membrane are small enough to prevent liquid water from penetrating, but are large enough to allow water vapour to pass for breathability.

Holofil® Polyester - DuPont Holofil Polyester fibre is a high-loft insulation that keeps the cold out. Hollow core fibres trap air to provide warmth and loft. Combined with other fibres, it creates a lightweight, thermally superior sock.

Lumiza® Acrylic - an advanced moisture-absorbing acrylic fibre containing micropores that have a capillary action to absorb moisture and then dissipate it by evaporation. Although it is a lightweight fibre, it has superior insulation qualities. It is soft, breathable and quick drying.

Lycra® - DuPont's brand of spandex fibre that adds four-way stretch and recovery to increase form fitting ability.

Outlast® - Temperature regulating fibres minimise the reliance on trapped air for insulating. Instead, micro-thermal materials absorb, store, distribute and release heat in response to the body's comfort needs. This minimises changes in thermal comfort by neutralising uncomfortable and potentially dangerous temperature extremes, regardless of the outside environment.

Thermolite® - A lightweight fabric providing breathability and warmth while moving moisture from the body by combining a thermally-efficient polymer and micro-sized hollow core fibres that heat up quickly and retain warmth.

Thermax® - Hollow core fibres prevent heat loss by trapping a layer of warm air around the foot while transporting perspiration to the outer layer of moisture absorbing fabric. It offers great softness and wicking ability.