If there’s just one thing you truly need to protect while you’re traveling, it’s your feet. Passports can eventually be replaced and credit cards can be canceled, but uncomfortable footwear, blisters, or frozen toes will put an end to your adventure faster than you can count your piggies to ten.
When looking for new socks, Ashleigh McClary, Gearhead with outdoor retailer Backcountry, recommends travelers first consider the height of their shoes to make sure there aren’t any gaps in coverage. You also need to determine your cushioning level. “Cushioned socks are going to usually be warmer, so make sure you find some that fit your foot, but don’t cut off circulation when wearing the boots/shoes you plan to wear,” said McClary. “Make sure to try on the socks with the boots/shoes you are planning to wear before you take the tags off, and make sure the fit is snug with no bunching.”
REI’s Expert Advice blog also has a few suggestions about how to choose your ideal sock. Look for either wool or synthetic fabrics. Merino wool is usually best as it’s soft rather than itchy, and its temperature regulation, moisture wicking, and antimicrobial properties mean it will keep you cozy both by the fireplace and out in the snow.
Synthetic materials can help add elasticity and a better fit to wool socks, or build a full sock that will dry quickly and wick moisture but may not breathe as well if conditions warm up. Cotton, however, absorbs moisture quickly but dries slowly and will pull heat away from your skin, making it a fabric to avoid when there might be snow involved.
“When you’re traveling, all day comfort is key,” said Randy Goldberg, co-founder of sock brand Bombas. “You’re likely on your feet bouncing from place to place, so ensuring you have the proper support is going to make a world of a difference. Look for socks with added arch support and a cushioned footbed, or even small features like a blister tab.”
We’ve focused mainly on medium-cushioned hiking socks for this list, as they provide the most versatility if you’re trying to travel light. Most of the brands we’ve chosen offer a variety of thickness and height levels, so whether you’re looking for a warm no-show sock style, thick boot sock, or somewhere in between, if this specific sock doesn’t suit, seek out some of its cousins instead.