Best Hiking Socks for Trail Running Shoes 2024
Last Updated: January 9, 2024
Pair these running and hiking socks with your preferred trail runners
Congratulations, you’ve switched out of boots! But now you ask, which are the best hiking socks to pair with trail runners? The answer is that you should skip traditional hiking socks altogether! Instead, pair running socks with your trail running shoes for optimal performance for both hiking and running.
Traditional hiking socks are thicker, warmer, sweatier, and designed with extra cushion all over to be paired with stiff boots. Essentially, they’re overkill and actually cause more blisters than they prevent when paired with trail runners. Zero-to-moderately cushioned running socks, on the other hand, are thinner, cooler, lighter, dry faster, and are designed to integrate perfectly with the type of modern footwear you’ll actually be wearing – trail running shoes.
All of the socks featured in this guide are crew height for consistency of comparison, and because that’s the author’s preference. However, ankle/quarter height socks are valid too. Each height has pros and cons. Jump ahead to learn more about choosing sock height, cushion level, and other considerations. And while you’re here, don’t miss our comparison between Smartwool and Darn Tough Socks, or our guides to the best trail running shoes, ultralight sandals, and trail running shorts.
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The Best Hiking Socks For Trail Running Shoes
- Paka Performance 3/4 Crew Socks (Editor’s Choice)
- Darn Tough Ultralightweight Cushion Socks
- Smartwool Run Targeted Cushion Socks
- Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Socks
- Injinji Ultra Run Toe Socks
Paka Performance Socks
1.7 | $24
For the ultimate blend of comfort and functionality, pull on a pair of Paka Performance 3/4 Crew socks, our editor’s choice award winning model for hiking socks. They have all of the right features, and are made with a dreamy blend of alpaca wool, Tencel, recycled nylon, and spandex that keep your feet comfortable, thermo-regulated, dry, blister-free, and less smelly, all day long. We’re even prepared to say that alpaca wool is superior to merino.
Darn Tough Ultralightweight Cushion Socks
1.5 oz | $22
The Darn Tough Ultralightweight Cushion Socks are perhaps the most all-purpose activewear socks in our quiver. This model is perfectly well-rounded for any activity and any temperatures, whether running, hiking, or just hanging around. Light duty underfoot cushioning spans the length of the socks from toe box to lower Achilles, and is comprised of terry loops. Unlike models from Smartwool, there is cushioning in place underneath the arch. This sock is made with a blend of Nylon and Merino. Nylon increases durability and dries quickly, while still offering the comfort, wicking, and anti-bacterial properties of merino. These high tech zonal socks seem to have a section for everything, including “fatigue zapping arch support”, and breathable flex zones in the upper forefoot and ankle. And they come with Darn Tough’s lifetime warranty.
Smartwool Run Targeted Cushion Socks
1.6 oz | $22
The Smartwool Run Targeted Cushion Socks pair perfectly with trail runners, and offer the best blend of lightweight breathable fabric with zonal cushioning where it’s needed most. They are made with a blend of 54% merino, 43% nylon, and 3% polyester. The lightweight fabric in conjunction with mesh zones breathes well and dries quickly. The targeted cushioning refers to the reinforced toe box and heel, which adds durability and softens each foot strike. You know they’re doing their job well because you never seem to notice them while walking or running. The fit trends wide, and never seems to bunch, sag, or fall down. The mid-crew is our preferred height.
Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Socks
2.1 oz | $27
The Swiftwick Flite XT Trail Socks are unquestionably the most fully-featured, technologically advanced socks we’ve ever reviewed. They’re constructed with five unique, and strategically mapped fabrics including nylon, merino, olefin, polyester, and spandex. We love the Olefin footbed and “GripDry” Fiber heel and forefoot, which combines to move moisture out and away, while maintaining a grip between sock and insole to prevent the foot from sliding around. This is especially helpful on downward slopes. These socks is light cushion, medium compression. A few other notable callouts include the arch support band and seamless toe box. This is an exceptional sock, but it runs pretty tight, and the unisex sizing makes for a less nuanced fit.
Injinji Ultra Run Socks
2.7 oz | $19
Toe socks are the solution to toe blisters as they prevent skin-on-skin contact. And for that we recommend Injinji Ultra Run Socks. This pair is moderately cushioned with terry loops underfoot, along the side foot, and throughout the toes. Though we normally prefer less cushion, the fact they’re designed for ultra marathon and have performed well during trail tests convinces us to accept the excess material. Perhaps that’s because the nylon/poly/Lycra material blend wicks exceptionally well and dries quickly. Mesh paneling on the upper foot enhances breathability. By separating the toes and encouraging them to splay out, you also improve your balance. Compression lines bisect the length of the foot to ensure a secure fit.
Smartwool Run Zero Cushion Socks
1.2 oz | $21
If you want an idyllic and secure fit in an ultralight quick-drying chassis, choose the Smartwool Run Zero Cushion Socks. This model is Smartwool’s most minimalist sock, and it’s perfect for reducing foot sweat on hot days. Thanks to Smartwool’s “4 Degree” elite fit system, these socks never bunch, sag over the ankles, or fail to give anything less than a perfect fit. While this merino blend sock lacks cushion, it is reinforced with tougher nylon fabrics at the toes and heel to increase the durability and lifespan of the socks. Zonal mesh on the upper further increases breathability. We recommend these socks highly if you are already confident in the fit and feel of your trail running shoes and know there aren’t hot spots.
Darn Tough Ultralightweight Socks
1.2 oz | $20
For the thinnest, least absorbent, quickest drying option, pull on the Darn Tough Ultralightweight Socks. This no-cushion model is as thin as they come, and making them some of the very best hiking socks for warm weather when paired with a comfortable, well-fitted trail running shoe. The blend of 52% nylon maintains high durability relative to their thinness, while 42% merino offers moisture wicking anti bacterial benefits. The 6% lycra ensure a secure fit. Zonal mesh panels on the upper foot further increase breathability, while underfoot is wrapped in a more durable knit. Darn Tough describes these as a next-to-skin profile, and we would second that. They are thin and form perfectly around the foot without adding any extra bulk. Thus they are also a great sock to pair with any shoe that fits a tad small. The seams on the toe box are as thin and unnoticeable as the rest of the sock. And Darn Tough guarantees them for life – extra important on thin ultralight socks which are structurally more prone to wearing out.
Injinji Run Lightweight Socks
2.0 oz | $16
Within the Injinji family, the Injinji Run Lightweight Socks are our favorite model. Not only do they prevent toe blisters by ensuring zero skin-on-skin contact, but they also use the thinnest and lightest weight fabric. This minimizes sweat, reduces absorption, increases quick-dry performance, and is all-around more pleasant to wear during the heat of summer months. The sock fabric is a blend of nylon, polyester, and Lycra, and features a reinforced toe box and heel with zonal mesh on the upper to further enhance breathability. Injinji socks have the added benefit of splaying your toes, which subtly improves balance and lends a more natural stride. If you haven’t tried toe socks before, we highly encourage you to check out Injinjis.
Crew Height Socks vs Ankle Height Socks
On balance, we think micro-crew is the most usable height for hiking socks, and doubly so for backpacking. They work great with trail runners, and especially when paired with shorts. That’s because crew height protect against minor scuffs and scrapes from brush in high exposure zones, reduces the likelihood of skin contact with poison oak or similar, guarantees the tongue or heel tab of a shoe/boot won’t rub directly on ankle skin, fully close off the gap below pant cuffs even during large movements, keeps your calves and Achilles a bit warmer on cool days, slightly reduce sunscreen use when paired with shorts, accommodate gaiters more comfortable, and perhaps most importantly, provide a fabric surface that can be treated with permethrin to ward off mosquitos and ticks. Thus, you will note that all of the socks in this guide are crew height.
That being said, there are many scenarios when quarter height is superior. In the event that your trail destination has minimal brush, zero ticks, few mosquitos, you don’t wear gaiters, temps are in 70+ Farenheight, and your shoe’s tongue and heel tabs don’t rise up or bother you, then quarter height socks are actually superior. While it sounds like a laundry list, that combination of environmental traits is actually quite common.
The fact is that ankle height socks are lighter weight and cooler which is preferable to carry, and quite preferable to wear in hot weather. What’s more, personal preferences matters. If you simply prefer hiking in quarter height socks and hate crew height, then you should act on that. Wear quarter height and it will end up okay.
However, we always recommend against “no-show/low-cut” height socks, as they expose low ankle skin to the top of the shoe which can create chafing or uncomfortable rubbing by the 10th, 20th, or 30th mile. We also don’t see the point of full crew height socks, that much extra coverage simply is beyond what’s necessary.
If you’re backpacking, perhaps the best system would be one pair of crew height and one pair of quarter height. That way, you get the best of both worlds!
Sock Height Power Rankings
- Micro Crew
- Traditional Crew
- Low Ankle
The Right Amount of Cushion
With some exceptions, the best hiking socks are constructed light cushion. We strongly encourage you to avoid heavy cushion for use with trail runners. Again, it’s just overkill. Cushion is code for extra fabric (usually terry loops) beneath the forefoot and heel, and sometimes the arch. A little goes a long way. If the soles of your feet hurt after a long day, consider hiking in shoes with thicker, cushier midsoles, instead of relying on additional sock fabric.
The upside of cushion, is that it creates a thick buffer against areas that tend to rub, helping to mitigate hotspots. It provides a comfier footstrike with every step. The major downside is that cushion means extra fabric material which absorbs sweat. Sweaty feat are more prone to blistering. Thus cushion can backfire, causing more harm than good and worsening the problem it is designed to prevent. What’s more, trail running shoes are often so comfortable that cushion is not even required.
Zero cushion socks are great too, especially in hot weather. However, unlike light cushion which serves everyone well, you should make sure to test zero cushion socks in the exact shoes you’ll be hiking in before taking them out on any serious jaunts.
Should You Choose Toe Socks?
Toe socks from brands like Injinji are steadily gaining popularity and are definitely worth considering. The primary benefit is that they prevent skin-on-skin contact between toes, thus reducing rubbing, and decreasing the likelihood of blisters. And like the widened toe box in a pair of Altra shoes, toe socks allow the foot to naturally splay out to subtly increase balance. On the flip side, they’re a bit of extra work to take on and off and take a bit of getting used to. But on the whole, we really like them!
Test Which Are The Best Hiking Socks For You
While many aspects of selecting the best hiking socks are universal, other are much more subjective. The best hiking socks for one person may not be the same for another. It largely depends on your body and what you find comfortable. Thus, we encourage you to try multiple pairs. Consider yourself to be a lifelong sock tester, on the quest to never get another blister. However, once you achieve blister free status, you might as well stick with that pair for a while.
Conclusion to the Best Hiking Socks For Trail Running Shoes
While this guide to the best hiking socks might offer somewhat unconventional advice given that we recommend against traditional hiking socks, we’re confident that our approach is superior and that you are better off pairing running socks with trail running shoes. That’s because they’re lighter weight, cooler, less moisture absorbent, quicker to dry, more comfortable in warm weather, and are designed to pair together.
Lastly, if we’ve learned anything from testing hiking socks, it’s that perhaps more than any other gear, preferences are subjective. People’s preference tends to vary more than with items like jackets or pants. If you have a pair of socks that you love and that keep your feet comfy but aren’t on our list, don’t stop wearing them. We have not tested every single sock and you know your own feet better than we do. Our selection is largely based on our own preferences and experience.
Try out some our favorite best hiking socks, and your feet will thank you for it! Happy trails!