Sock liners: you either love them or hate them. These lightweight socks are used religiously by some hiking enthusiasts while others shun the entire idea of them. But what are sock liners and why do some people refuse to leave home without them?
To help you better understand what sock liners are and why they might make a great addition to your gear closet, we’ve put together the ultimate guide to the world of sock liners, complete with reviews of some of the best models around. Let’s get to it!
Why are sock liners important?
If you’ve ever been hiking or even just worn shoes before during your life, chances are pretty high that you’ve gotten a blister at least once or twice. The dreaded blister is caused by an excessive amount of friction, which causes your skin to develop a “hot spot” where the heat of the friction starts physically affecting your body.
If left to linger and if continuously exposed to more friction, the hot spot in question can turn into a fluid-filled blister… ew. Even worse, a fluid-filled blister can be so painful that it prevents you from walking, or it can get infected after being exposed to all of the lovely microbes in the wilderness – two things we definitely want to avoid on a hiking trip.
Many proponents of sock liners tout a liner’s ability to reduce friction and help reduce the risk of blistering as one of the main reasons to wear them. However, many people also enjoy sock liners because they can be really effective at wicking away excess sweat and moisture during a hike. Basically, you can think of sock liners as a base layer for your feet!
Do you need sock liners?
Ah, the age-old question: do you actually need sock liners? Well, if you’re a sock liner enthusiast, your answer is probably a resounding “yes!” but many others among us aren’t so sure.
Since many people get on with their hiking life just fine without sock liners, it’d be difficult to argue that you definitely need to get yourself a pair of sock liners. However, if you’re new to hiking or you’ve never even tried sock liners before, it’s definitely worth investing in a pair to try them out.
Because sock liners are fairly effective at wicking away moisture and reducing friction on your feet, they can be a great way to help prevent blisters. Additionally, many people find that their hiking boots actually fit better when they wear sock liners.
Therefore, if you’ve never tried sock liners but are questioning whether or not you actually need them, it’s probably worth investing in a pair just to try them out. You might find that you love them, but worst case scenario, you have a really lightweight pair of socks that you can wear with dress shoes, around the house or when it’s absurdly hot outside. Could be worse.
Do sock liners prevent blisters?
Since very few things in life are certain, we’re going to stay clear of saying that a pair of sock liners will definitely fix your blister issue as we can’t guarantee that they’ll work for your feet. However, due to their ability to wick moisture from your foot and reduce friction, sock liners are pretty effective at reducing blisters when used properly.
If you do get a pair of sock liners and find that they’re not helping to reduce your blister problem, you might also want to take a look at the fit of your boots and how you’re lacing them up. Boots that are too big or too small often will increase your risk for blisters, as will boots that are laced too tightly or too loosely. Sometimes, the boots themselves are the problem as they just seem to rub your feet in the wrong way.
All that being said, blisters can be a great and effective part of a blister mitigation strategy, so they’re worth testing out on your next hike.
Sock liner considerations
Before you jump right in and buy the first pair of sock liners you see, however, there are a few things you ought to know. Here are the most important features to keep an eye out for when buying a pair of liner socks:
Most sock liners are made from materials such as silk, nylon, polyester, or even merino wool. These materials feel great against the skin, breathe well, and dry quickly, which makes them ideal for use as a sock liner.
Like regular socks, you can choose from a variety of different lengths for your sock liners. Probably the most popular sock liner length is the mid-ankle or crew length, as this tends to work best with hiking boots. However, you can opt for low-cut liners if you’re looking for something to wear with your low-top hiking shoes.
Your sock liners should be pretty thin as they’re not really supposed to provide any insulation. Instead, your sock liners should just act as an extra barrier between your foot and your sock, so thinner is usually better when it comes to liner socks. Usually, you’ll want to look for sock liners that are no thicker than a pair of pantyhose or two as anything thicker will just be bulky inside your boots.
One of the main purposes of liner socks is to wick moisture from your feet, so choosing a pair that is made with a moisture-wicking material is pretty important. Merino wool is a naturally great moisture-wicking option that resists that lovely “outdoor smell” while polyester blends tend to wick well, too, at a more affordable price point.
When sizing sock liners, you’ll want to get a pair that’s snug, rather than loose. This is because loose liner socks tend to bunch up at the bottom of your boot, causing the very blisters they’re meant to prevent. Therefore, if you’re in between sizes, you’ll probably be better off by sizing down on your next pair of liner socks.
The best sock liners
Since there are so many different kinds of sock liners out there, we’ve put together a list of the best ones on the market. Here are some great options for your next pair of sock liners:
Injinji Liner Crew Toe socks
These might look a little funny to the uninitiated, but these liner toe socks from Injinji aren’t just for the toe shoe fanatics among us. The liner toe socks from Injinji are made with a polyester/nylon blend, which provides superior wicking abilities in any conditions.
Plus, thanks to their unique toe sock design, these socks are surprisingly good at preventing those annoying blisters, especially between your toes. The Injinji Liner Toe socks even come in a versatile crew length, which means they’re perfectly sized for use with mid- to high-top hiking boots.
- Great moisture wicking material
- Good at reducing blisters
- Toe socks take some getting used to
- Not for everyone
- Proper toe alignment
- Superior moisture management
- Blister and hotspot prevention
Bridgedale Ultralight Coolmax Liner Socks
The Bridgedale Ultralight Coolmax Liner Socks are a pair of high-tech sock liners that can get the job done in the harshest of environments. Made from a Coolmax/nylon blend with a hint of Endurofil fibers, these liner socks provide all-day comfort with a soft feel against the skin.
Endurofil is a merino wool and regular wool blend that provides fantastic wicking capabilities in one durable package, so it’s the perfect material for high-quality liner socks. Plus, their fabric provides great moisture-wicking capabilities for maximum dryness and blister risk reduction. If that wasn’t good enough, the Bridgedale Ultralight Coolmax Liner Socks come in a 2-pair pack, so you’ll be ready to go for all your adventures.
- Good moisture wicking material
- Durable but comfortable against the skin
- 2-pair pack
- Slightly expensive
- COOLMAX fibre is combined with Endurofil for a soft, fine touch next to skin. The 4-channel construction draws moisture away from the skin and transports it to the outer surface for maximum dryness and comfort all day
- ENDUROFIL is a thermal yarn and is combined with Enduro-Wool and Merino Wool for superb wicking and durability. ENDUROFIL is a polypropylene fibre and offers high abrasion and wash resistance
- LYCRA fibre is an elastic fibre that ensures Bridgedale socks fit and stay fitted. LYCRA is knit in specific zones to further improve fit and long term comfort and helps Bridgedale socks keep their shape year after year
- 2 PACK for added value. Liners are boot height and ultra-light weight
Fox River Wick Dry Therm-A-Wick Ultra-Lightweight Liner Socks
Simple and affordable – two words that can be sued to describe the Fox River Wick Dry Liner Socks. Made from Thermolite polyester, these sock liners from Fox River pull moisture away from the foot while providing maximum breathability.
These liners help create a friction barrier between your feet and your socks to help reduce your risk of blisters without adding any extra cushion or bulk in your hiking boot. Plus, with their unique blend of thermolite polyester, nylon, and spandex, the Fox River lightweight liner socks can help keep your feet cool, even in the midsummer heat.
- Thermolite polyester fibers for maximum wicking and breathability
- Some durability concerns with long-term use
Smartwool Unisex Hiking Liner Crew Socks
An industry leader in merino wool gear, Smartwool doesn’t disappoint when it comes to their Unisex Liner Crew Socks. Made from a merino wool/nylon blend, these socks offer minimal cushion underfoot for the best fit and performance as part of your hiking sock layering system.
With a flat knit toe seam, they don’t itch, bunch up, or create uncomfortable pressure around the toes. Plus, these merino socks excel at wicking moisture, reducing friction, and keeping your feet happy, all without that classic “outdoor smell.”
- Made in the USA
- Merino wool for good wicking
- Resists odors
- Flat knit toe seam for comfort
- Somewhat expensive
- WARM INSULATION: Experience durability at its peak with the Smartwool PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks. These socks are built for performance in the highest degree, making them ready for any adventure on your list.
- COMFORTABLE FIT: The PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks feature a 4 Degree Elite Fit System for a dialed, performance-oriented fit with a flex zone at the ankle and a Virtually Seamless toe for enhanced comfort.
- DURABLE YET BREATHABLE: The PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks are designed with Indestructawool technology for exceptional durability and comfort. The body-mapped mesh zones featured on these socks offer added breathability for all-day wear.
- LIGHT CUSHION: The lightly cushioned bottom on the PhD Outdoor Light Crew Socks allows you to wear these performance socks on various trails and road terrains without discomfort. These socks will provide you with padded comfort during any season.
Realtree Men’s Liner Socks Pack
Made almost entirely from a polypropylene fabric, the men’s liner socks from Realtree provide comfort without adding much weight. These machine-washable liner socks are made in the USA and even have antimicrobial properties to help keep your feet happy after days or weeks on the trail.
These liner socks feature a flat toe seam and arch support for a better fit in your boots. If that wasn’t good enough, they even come in a two pair pack, so they provide a lot of bang for your buck.
- Machine washable
- Made in the USA
- Flat toe seam and arch support
- Durability concerns in the long-term
- Provides warmth and comfort without added weight
- Thin and lightweight; Antimicrobial; Flat toe seam
- Arch support for added fit
- Polypropylene reduces friction and helps wick moisture
Liner socks are a great way to help prevent blisters on those longer hikes. Both moisture wicking and friction reducing, sock liners can help keep your feet comfortable, day in and day out. That being said, there are many different liner socks out there on the market today, so before you buy a pair, it’s important to consider what’s right for your needs. Happy trails!