Before You Buy Walking Socks

Consider Thickness, Layers, and Moisture Wicking

Joggers drinking water
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Sweat, pressure points, and shearing forces can lead to blisters. Your socks are your first line of defense against these enemies. They must fit correctly so they don't bunch up and lead to pressure and shearing forces. They must wick sweat away from your skin. Forget cotton socks. Forget tube socks. Invest in moisture-wicking, anatomically-designed walking socks and your feet will thank you.

Luckily, you can find great socks designed for walking, jogging, and light hiking from several manufacturers. However, not all socks labeled for those activities are the best choices. Learn what to look for when you shop for socks for short walks, long-distance walking, hiking, and for different climate conditions.

Thickness and Padding

Socks designed for walking will have light padding in key areas. These include the heel, ball of foot, toes and, in some cases, the instep. You will find a variety of thicknesses for athletic socks. Some walkers prefer a thin, single-layer sock, especially if they have shoes that already fit snugly, or to layer under a wool sock. Other people prefer a thick sock or a medium-thickness sock. Often you have to choose the sock to match your shoe so you have a good fit with the combined system. If your socks are too thick and cramp your foot in the shoe, or too thin so your foot has too much room to move around in the shoe, you could get blisters.

It's best to try shoes and socks on together so you know you've got the right thickness. Also, try on shoes and socks at the end of the day or after a long walk as your feet will be a little more swollen at those times.

Double-Layer Socks

Double-layer socks prevent blisters by wicking moisture away from the foot and decreasing friction. The two layers of the sock move against each other rather than your foot moving against the sock. Some walkers find them to be the key to preventing blisters, although others do best with a single-layer sock. WrightSock is a leader in this type of socks. Traditionally, hikers would wear two different pairs of socks, with a wicking liner sock of polypropylene and an outer wool sock. A double-layer sock is similarly designed, although rarely using wool.

Anatomic Design

To keep the sock in place and prevent bunching, it needs to be shaped like your foot. Many designs have elastic or ribbing to keep them snug. Men's and women's feet differ in shape, so a sex-specific sock is wise. For those with bunions, you may find your sock is the culprit for irritation rather than the shoe and you will need to shop for a sock that doesn't bunch your toes together.

Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Say no to cotton. When cotton gets wet from sweat, it absorbs it but doesn't release it readily. As a result, your feet stay moist and that is a set-up for blisters. Look for socks made of moisture-wicking fabrics such as CoolMax, Dri-Fit, Sorbtek and many others that are available on the market. Smartwool and other modern technical wool fabrics use wool for their moisture management systems. Some people do well with wool socks, and these types take the itch out by using specially-processed wool. The wicking fabrics in socks are the key to preventing blisters.​​

Wide Socks

If you have wide feet or bunions, you may want wide socks so your toes won't be cramped. Some manufacturers produce extra-wide socks, but it can be hard to find them with the other qualities you need. Simply wearing a larger size of sock may help, but excess length can result in the sock bunching and lead to friction and blisters.

Compression Socks and Sleeves

Compression socks and leg sleeves can help with blood flow for people with diabetes and varicose veins. They have also become popular for runners to use either in hopes of improving performance or for recovery. The evidence for the benefits of compression socks and leg sleeves in athletics is mixed. There are companies that specialize in compression leg sleeves in great colors and fun styles. They can add to your costume for a race or charity walk.

Long-Distance Walking Socks

If you are going to be walking long distance, such as for a half-marathon or on a trek such as the Camino de Santiago, you will need good performance socks. A moisture-wicking sock of medium weight is often the best choice. It can be either performance fabric or sport wool, depending on your personal preference. If you are trekking and don't have access to laundry, it is important that you choose socks that you can wash out and have dry overnight. Be sure to test those qualities at home in advance.

Winter Walking Socks

You may want a heavier winter walking sock to help keep your feet warm and dry. Peformance machine-washable wool blends are especially welcome in cold climates.

By Wendy Bumgardner
Wendy Bumgardner is a freelance writer covering walking and other health and fitness topics and has competed in more than 1,000 walking events.