BACKPACKING BASICS

Why Are Hiking Socks Wool? (Quick Facts)

Hiking boots and socks
Written by Russell McCarty

If you’ve been looking at hiking socks, then you’ve probably noticed that a large number of the available choices are made from either wool or a wool blend and wondered why this is. In this article, we will cover this and give you the reasons why that is the case.

Not all hiking socks are made from wool, but wool is considered one of the best materials to make your socks from. This is because wool has many beneficial attributes, including its anti-bacterial properties, being fast-drying, and wicking moisture away from your feet quickly.

What Are The Benefits Of Wool Hiking Socks?

Temperature Regulation

Wool is a great material for regulating the temperature of your feet. The wool material is great for keeping your feet warm during colder weather without causing your feet to get too warm.

Thicker wool hiking socks may be warmer than you would like during warmer weather. However, some people still prefer to use them during summer as they can wick sweat away from the feet and avoid odors.

Wicking Properties

Blisters are one of a hiker’s worst enemies, and one of the things that can contribute to you getting blisters is your feet starting to get wet. This can be from rain or even just your own sweat.

Wool can absorb up to a third of its weight in moisture before they start to feel wet, which, as you can imagine, is a great advantage for hikers.

Fast Drying

If you read the bit above about how wool can absorb a third of its weight before starting to feel wet, then you may be worried that wool will hold on to that moisture, making them slow to dry. In fact, the opposite is true.

Wool dries incredibly quickly. It is known for drying faster than cotton or the vast majority of synthetic materials.

Drying socks
Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/nature-woods-forest-creek-stream-2569482/

Natural Anti-Bacterial Properties

One of the things that draw people to wool at the beginning is its anti-bacterial properties. This helps them prevent odors, with some people even going as far as saying that wool is “odor-resistant.”

What Are The Down Sides Of Wool Hiking Socks?

Nothing is perfect and neither is wool, so what are the disadvantages of using wool hiking socks?

Washing

While wool is anti-bacterial that doesn’t mean you can get away from having to wash it. Unfortunately, you need to be more careful when you’re washing wool as it can shrink if not washed correctly.

The vast majority of wool clothing will have washing instructions about washing them at a low temperature.

Definitely don’t put wool in the drier as this will cause it to shrink and likely become too small for you to comfortably wear. Most wool clothes recommend that they are let dry flat to avoid them becoming misshapen.

Wool Comes From Sheep

As with any product that comes from animals there is an ethical question around the use of the product. This is down to personal preferences, some will choose not to use a product that comes from animals but others are fine with that.

Pricing

Even the cheaper wool hiking socks will be more expensive than if you purchased hiking socks made from synthetic materials. This is due to the costs of raising the sheep that provide the wool and the costs of cultivating and transporting that to somewhere that can make the socks.

While it may be tempting to go for a cheaper pair of wool hiking socks to get the advantages of wool, we would advise against it. Cheaper wool hiking socks will mean that the socks will be made with lower quality wool and therefore be more likely to be itchy when you wear them.

Hiking socks in summer
Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/Tx7_T5TZNrY

Can You Wear Wool Hiking Socks In The Summer?

If you’re someone who only goes hiking occasionally then you’re likely to want to make purchases that you can use in as many conditions as possible rather than options specific to summer or winter.

While wool is obviously going to be a great choice during the winter, how about summer?

Yes, you can wear wool hiking socks in summer. While this may lead to your feet being slightly warmer, wool’s moisture-wicking and odor-resistant properties make it a viable option for wearing during summer.

Are Merino Wool Socks Good For Hiking?

If the first thought of wool is an old wool jumper that you had as a kid that was itchy when you wore it, then you might be quite against the idea of wearing wool as socks. However, you’ll be glad to hear that great advancements have been made in the comfort of wool materials.

This is especially true for a type of wool called merino, which makes a finer and softer thread than normal wool but the question is, are merino wool socks good for hiking?

Merino wool hiking socks are probably the best choice for hiking socks. They have all the benefits of normal wool with the added benefit of being incredibly soft and also doesn’t cause you the itchy feeling that some rougher wools can.

The biggest downside about merino wool socks is their durability this is because merino wool is made from finer threads than other wools. While this results in a softer material it does mean that these threads are more likely to break. This is why you’ll normally find merino wool hiking socks using a blend with another material, commonly Nylon, to improve their durability.

While merino wool is definitely less durable than other wools, it is still durable enough for you to get a decent amount of use out of your socks.

Merino Wool Is Pricey

While wool is more expensive than synthetic materials, merino wool is even more expensive than normal wool.

This is because merino wool comes from a breed of sheep primarily found in Australia and New Zealand. This means that if you’re getting socks made from merino wool, then the wool will have had to have been shipped from one of those countries, increasing the price.

This means you might end up paying closer to $30 for a pair of merino wool hiking socks, compared with $10-15 for other materials.

Are Merino Wool Hiking Socks Worth It?

So what do we think, are merino wool hiking socks worth it?

Yes! In our opinion you should view merino wool hiking socks as an investment. They may be more expensive that normal wool hiking socks but your feet will thank you for it.

As long as you are choosing hiking socks that have reasonable reinforcement around the toe and heel the socks should last for a reasonable amount of time and serve you well.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Russell McCarty

Russell considers backpacking one of his great passions in life. He actually managed to transform his passion into a living becoming a professional adventurer. Russell loves long-distance backpacking and he enriched his portfolio with famous trails like the Alaska-Yukon Expedition or the Appalachian Trail. With thousands of miles under his feet, Russell is the expert to consult when it comes to how to prepare for a successful outdoor adventure.