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It can be hard to acclimate to cold weather when you've spent the summer months out in the warmth of the sun. It becomes a lot easier to adapt when we think about all the things cooler temperatures bring — but even with the start of hunting season, the promise of a fresh fall trail, or a venture into a frost-covered field, having cold feet is never fun. Now obviously, boots are a great deterrent from feeling stiff in the toes, but if you're not layering with a quality pair of wool socks, you're missing an opportunity to maximize comfort in spite of the elements.
Having a reliable set of wool socks on hand is about more than coziness — cold or wet toes can become a danger in the outdoors, leading to hypothermia or worse. In years past, the idea of dressing up your extremities with wool socks might have made your toes itch, and sure enough, lamb's wool is typically a heavy-when-wet material that did nothing to help you stay dry in the outdoors. Luckily, most wool sock makers have switched to a fabric known as merino wool, and it makes all the difference.
What is merino wool?
Merino wool is a modern material; a natural fiber that's softer feeling than what wool used to be but with many of its capabilities. Derived from merino sheep, it's capable of managing temperature and eliminating odors. Best of all, it turns sweat into a non-issue: The porous material is in stark contrast to synthetic fabrics, which don't facilitate the vaporization of sweat. As such, merino wool socks are drier, stink less, and keep you as warm as possible. Here, we've picked out the best options to suit your needs.
1. Our Top Picks
The Pursuit Hike from Swiftwick is referred to as "the best hiking sock in its class," and we find it tough to argue. Soft Merino wool fibers get blended with Olefin, which excels at moisture-wicking for dry, happy feet. You can opt for a variety of cushion levels and cuff heights to get exactly what you want from these Swiftwick socks. They're made in the U.S., covered by a satisfaction guarantee, and equally effective on a short out-and-back hike or a multi-day backpacking trip. They just do what socks are supposed to do: keep you comfortable for as long as your journey lasts.
2. A Well-Reviewed and Well-Priced Option
At 80% merino wool, these socks from Alvada have one of the highest percentages of wool on our list — and that isn't even the strongest statistic supporting this pack. Nearly 12,000 reviewers on Amazon have delivered a 4.6-rating for Alavada's hiking set, giving high praise for its durability, comfort, and breathability. With a no-slip cuff that is high enough to wear under boots, you won't find a better intersection of cost and comfort than this.
3. Another High-Quality, Affordable Set
Glenmearl's wool socks are 30% wool, 68% acrylic, and 2% Spandex. The Spandex helps the socks stretch to fit and will also help to maintain its shape for years to come. The double-needle knitting and heavy gauge fibers are ultra-warm and are stitched with a reinforced heel cup and toe box. These are a quality, classic pair of socks you'll love wearing.
4. The Best Wool Socks for Running
If you listen to just about any podcast, chances are you've heard Bombas advertised a time or two. If it seems like the company has an unlimited marketing budget, they probably do — the company was one of Shark Tank's biggest success stories, but the quality of the product is enough to see why. Bombas's proprietary "Hex Tec" fabric promises superior moisture-wicking abilities, which is especially important for heavy activity such as running. Whether or not cardio is your intended activity, these socks will keep feet dry while maintaining breathability.
The women's cut of Bombas ankle socks has the same attributes as the men's style, with a premium blend of 50% wool, 45% nylon, and 4% Spandex. The toe of both socks are seamless and include a blister tab against the side to prevent chafing. A Y-stitched heel also optimizes comfort, along with the honeycombed stitching, which provides exceptional arch support. And, as with all Bombas socks, one unit bought equals one pair donated to giving partners dedicated to providing new clothes to unhoused populations in all 50 states.
5. The Best Lightweight Wool Socks
Patagonia has been in the news a lot over the past few weeks, thanks to the company's decision to make "Earth it's Only Shareholder." Sure enough, these socks are made from select material — less than 1% of wool worldwide is sourced according to Responsible Wool Standards (RWS), and this pair falls into that precious few. At just 2 ounces, this made-in-the-USA pair is light as a feather but stout as a good pair of wool socks should be. A terry-loop footbed creates a soft step, and the choice to go with Patagonia creates an even softer impact on the planet.
6. The Best Socks With Cushion
For me, there are few wool sock brands as reliable as Smartwool. Like Patagonia, the company takes a bold approach to creating socks that are made from the highest quality materials while putting the least amount of pressure on the systems it takes to make them. The result is a mixture of 66% merino wool, 25% recycled nylon, and 9% nylon-elastane. That is to say — these socks are hyper-warm and ultra-stretchy.
But flexibility doesn't equate to a lack of substance. Extra padding from the arch to the toe-box make these my personal favorite socks to wear while hiking, especially on days when there are extra miles on the menu. The flat seam toe box is incredibly comfortable, and after five years, my first pair is still going strong.
Great, it looks like there's a little more space to wax poetic about the Smartwool Classics. Although the merino wool from this company doesn't fall into Patagonia's RWS standards, Smartwool relies on ZQ certification, a process that ensures the materials used to make your new favorite socks match the value you have for the outdoors. Along with that focus on material, Smartwool's classic edition has an elasticized arch brace that adds extra support for those long days on your feet. It's a pretty smart way to stay warm and comfortable at the same time.
7. The Best Wool Socks for Skiing + Other Winter Sports
Ankle-length socks won't do you much good if you really need knee-highs, which are especially important for tall boots, winter sports, or sitting in a cold blind for many hours at a time. Wool aficionados can debate as to which company makes the best socks out there, but we can all agree that Darn Tough is certainly in the mix. The Vermont-based company has crafted these over-the-calf socks from 54% odor-resistant merino wool, 43% nylon, and 3% Lycra Spandex. They offer supreme moisture-wicking properties that pull sweat from your skin and direct it to the outside of the fabric — so you've never worn a sock with this much comfort padding. Your heels and shins will feel like they're pressing against the soft relief of fresh powder, even when your extremities are warm and dry in the comfort of your snow shoes.
The women's set from Darn Tough is constructed from the same fabric blend as the men's style, with just as much cushioning to brag about. Five key areas ranging from cusp to calf to shin to sole have been reinforced with dense padding for all-day ease of wear. The company also has you covered with a lifetime warranty, should they ever fail to keep up to the sturdy reputation.
8. The Best Waterproof Option
Waterproof socks may seem too good to be true, but Sealskinz comes from a country where such a thing is a necessity. The England-founded brand has been making quality weather-resistant gear for 25 years, gaining quite the reputation along the way. So, how do they do it? Sealskinz socks with a triple-layer design, which is handcrafted to use osmosis and a hydrophilic molecular process to move water outside of the material. The inner layer is where your four-way stretch wool sock is found, while the outside layer creates the waterproof covering.
Unfortunately, because of the multilayered creation, the inside blend is only 36% merino wool, 36% acrylic, 18% polyester, 5% nylon, and 5% elastane. And, due to the chemical necessity of waterproofing socks, the outside layer has more synthetics at 62% polypropylene, 29% nylon, and 9% elastane. Still, if avoiding wet and cold feet is more important than the means it takes to make Sealskinz, you'll want to have this set on hand for a rainy day.
9. The Everyday, Do-It-All Pick
Among all the best-selling products from alpaca wool apparel company PAKA, these Everyday Socks might be the biggest crowd pleaser. The thermoregulating capabilities of alpaca wool are incredible, and since bacteria is unable to grow on it, these socks will literally never stink. The combination of wool and bamboo make these likely the softest socks you'll ever pull on your feet, but you'll want to watch yourself on slick wood floors, if you know what we mean. And best yet, they come with a lifetime guarantee. That's tough to beat.
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