Choosing the Best Winter Hiking Socks for Warmth & Comfort

Written By Alecsa Stewart
Scientifically Reviewed by Daniel Chantigian

Winter hikes are magical. The snow, vacation atmosphere, unique mountain views, and the wildlife are simply fantastic. Like with any outdoor pursuit, it is important to be well prepared and clothed, and sometimes people often overlook an area that gets cold quickly, the feet. Wearing the right hiking socks for winter will keep your feet dry, warm, and blister-free so you can enjoy more time outdoors.

Read on to learn about the best winter hiking socks, how to choose them, and how to keep your feet comfortable and warm, no matter the weather conditions.

What are the Best Winter Hiking Socks?

How do you choose the best socks for hiking in winter? It is not just a matter of finding waterproof or moisture-wicking materials. Your feet need to breathe; air circulation is important within your hiking boots. You also need to ensure you won’t overheat or sweat excessively. These can increase your risk of chafing or developing friction blisters, which are especially common on your feet and ankles. Here are the top materials to consider and their benefits.

Merino Wool Compression Socks

By far, the most popular winter hiking socks are made from merino wool.  Merino wool has versatility, is extremely comfortable, and provides moisture-wicking properties. Merino wool’s fibers are soft and thin, which makes the socks feel lightweight and comfortable without compromising warmth. They are also highly breathable, which is why you can even wear merino wool in the summer to keep your feet sweat-free.

Wearing merino wool compression socks during your winter hikes can give you an extra benefit because compression socks can stimulate your peripheral circulation, according to a scientific study. The improved circulation due to the compression socks in addition to the warmth and moisture-wicking properties of this material make merino wool compression socks an ideal choice of winter hiking socks. They will help prevent chafing, frostbite, or blisters from developing while also keeping your lower legs warm and comfortable throughout your winter hike.

 Try merino wool compression socks for your next winter hike.

Moisture-Wicking Nylon Compression Socks

Although it’s incredibly versatile and effective at keeping your feet warm and sweat free, merino wool is only one of the great material choices for winter hiking socks. Moisture-wicking nylon socks provide moisture-wicking, a breathable feel, and blister-safe comfort for all-day wear, especially for athletic activities.

Compression socks made from moisture-wicking nylon are a bit lighter material than merino wool. Because nylon hiking socks are slightly thinner, they fit well into tight winter boots. This can further decrease the chances of developing blisters on your winter hike. You can even wear them with your non-hiking boots, too, for a night out on the town.

Cotton Compression Socks

Classic cotton is also an excellent choice for cold weather hikes - although cotton socks are slightly less warm and dry than merino wool or moisture-wicking nylon. Compression socks made of cotton can be great for your after-hike recovery, however, or simply worn as everyday socks to help your feet and ankles stay warm and prevent blood pooling in the lower leg. Compression socks are also excellent to wear after a winter hike. They boost blood flow in the lower limbs, helping you relax while reducing swelling and inflammation. A research study found that compression socks can reduce recovery times after exercise. – Wearing compression socks during or after a winter hike provides a win all around!

How to Choose Winter Hiking Socks

There are several factors to consider when choosing the best winter hiking socks. From material, compression levels, and moisture-wicking abilities to the design and durability of the materials and even sock height, it is important to find the right combination for you. Here are some tips to help you choose the best socks for winter hikes.

The Importance of Graduated Compression

Graduated compression socks are tighter at the ankles and slowly decrease pressure as they climb to just below the knee. This helps stimulate circulation in the lower limbs, which is great for keeping your feet and legs warm in cold temperatures. Moreover, a boost in blood flow reduces the risk of swelling and pain during long days out. And you’ll even feel extra stability and support through the joints and for the calf muscles when wearing compression socks for winter hikes.

 Enjoy your next winter hike with graduated compression socks.

Insulation and Warmth

When heading out on your winter hike, it is extremely important to consider how well your socks keep your feet warm. Utah State Parks advise hikers to use thermal socks and even bring a spare pair in their backpacks to have in case your feet get wet. Compression socks can help with insulation, especially if they are made of merino wool. Merino wool compression socks have the advantage of being lightweight and breathable, and they will dry quicker in case they get wet.


It’s important to choose winter hiking socks that are moisture wicking. This is not just for cases where your feet get wet – we recommend switching to your spare pair to keep warm. Your boots may allow some snow in, which will get your socks a little wet, so it’s great to rely on a pair that will quickly dry up. Additionally, don’t underestimate how much you’ll sweat during a winter hike! When on a winter hike, your feet can get as hot as in the summer, despite the low temperatures. If too much sweat builds up in the socks, the moisture from the sweat will cool down fast in low temperatures and cause your feet to get cold quickly.

Merino wool socks are excellent for moisture-wicking and they also have the added advantage of being odor-resistant, antibacterial, and hypoallergenic - more things to consider when you pick your winter footwear.

Durability and Construction

The more durable the materials you choose, the better value for money your hiking socks will be. Besides, you don’t want to get caught up with a hole in your sock from the first hours of your hike! So, invest in higher-quality materials and long-lasting items like merino wool compression socks, which can last through many happy hikes out in the snow.

When it comes to design and construction, we recommend checking for seams. This is because the thicker the seams, the more you run the risk of chafing and rubbing, which will ultimately result in blisters.

Finally, consider the height of your socks. We always recommend knee-high compression socks because they can be paired with any height of hiking boots. If your socks are too short, the top of the boots will also rub against your leg uncomfortably as you walk.

Tips for Maximizing Comfort and Performance

Winter sports can be a lot of fun, but you need to be aware of safety and the environment around you. You also need to stay as comfortable as possible, so you can really enjoy yourself. Here are some tips to maximize all these aspects, whether you prefer skiing, snowboarding, or long hikes.

Finding the Best Fit

Always make sure your winter socks fit well - not just in sizing against your feet, but also within your boots. Remember, winter footwear is bulkier and thicker, which sometimes means you need to size up in shoes or boots to allow enough room for thicker socks as well.  To find the best fit of winter compression socks for hiking, we have a helpful sizing chart and information on how to measure your calf circumference here.

Another thing to consider is how well the socks and boots match. Try them together at home first to ensure a snug fit that stays comfortable for the long haul.

How to Layer Socks Effectively for Winter Hikes

You may consider layering hiking socks if you need extra warmth or to prevent blisters. Some runners wear a thin pair of compression socks (such as moisture-wicking nylon) underneath a thicker pair of running socks to wick sweat away from their feet. Also called sock linkers, they are also practical for hiking and walking.

For winter hiking, we recommend a similar approach if you feel the need to wear layered socks. Start with sleek, flexible compression socks made from moisture-wicking nylon to keep feet dry and warm, but also boost peripheral circulation. Then, add a pair of regular merino wool socks on top. But, for most cases, we think one pair of merino wool graduated compression socks will keep you warm enough without needing to layer up.

Finally, if you need waterproof socks (perhaps for particularly wet conditions), a sock liner or lightweight compression socks made of moisture-wicking nylon are perfect. They will keep feet dry and prevent you from sweating in materials that are less breathable, as waterproof clothing often can be.

Preventing Blisters and Hotspots

Layering socks and wearing the hiking socks that fit best will help avoid getting blisters on your winter hikes. The way your socks fit within the hiking boots is a critical detail, so try them together before going on a long hike.

Another way to prevent blisters and hotspots on long walks is to use a specific lubricant, anti-chafing cream. Additionally, wear both your socks and boots before your first longer day out and ensure that you’ve laced up properly when you start. You should also take care of your feet and cut your toenails short, so they don’t get caught in the sock material or bruised during your long walks.

Finally, don’t be afraid to change your socks (that’s why you brought that spare pair!) if your feet get wet. This can reduce the chance of frostbite or any other problems with the cold.

Choosing the Right Footwear

We’ve mentioned this briefly already, but you cannot underestimate the importance of having the right footwear for winter hikes. You should look for boots that rise high above the ankles to protect your feet and joints. This will also give you more stability on uneven terrain. Boots with a warm lining are ideal for keeping you comfortable in cold conditions. Additionally, get familiar with how to lace up your boots correctly and practice before heading out to get a good grip of your feet and avoid ankle twists and sprains.

Finally, combine the best hiking boots with warm, breathable, soft, moisture-wicking socks that can keep your feet healthy and boost your energy during hikes. Graduated compression socks are a very good option to match with hiking boots. They will protect your shins and ankles and boost peripheral circulation to your lower legs to help you avoid swelling, discomfort, blisters, or chafing during your winter hikes.


Knapik, J. J., Reynolds, K. L., Duplantis, K. L., & Jones, B. H. (1995). Friction blisters. Pathophysiology, prevention and treatment. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 20(3), 136–147. Read it here.

Charles, T., Mackintosh, D., Healy, B., Perrin, K., Weatherall, M., & Beasley, R. (2011). Merino wool graduated compression stocking increases lower limb venous blood flow: a randomized controlled trial. Advances in therapy, 28(3), 227–237. Read it here.

Montoye, A. H. K., Mithen, A. A., Westra, H. L., Besteman, S. S., & Rider, B. C. (2021). The Effect of Compression Socks on Maximal Exercise Performance and Recovery in Insufficiently Active Adults. International journal of exercise science, 14(7), 1036–1051. Read it here.

Utah State Park Staff. (2022). Winter Hiking Tips for Beginners. Read it here

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