We’ve all been wearing them on our feet since our very first day in the world. Although many of us have spent decades kicking them off, fending off the sock monster while searching for their other half in the dryer, trying to put them over our little ones’ wiggly toes, or mismatching them on purpose to make a fashion statement – at some point in life, most of us have worn a pair of socks.
Whether we believe it or not, travel socks are in a different category than those fuzzy ones with grippers on the bottom, the over the knee ones with awesome pictures of jellyfish, the ones we wear to the gym, the ones only made to grip our yoga mat or those toe-socks that take longer to put on than any other piece of clothing. Travel socks are in a category all their own.
There is more than one type of sock out there for each pair of feet. Beyond the options of ankle, knee or toe, these socks, produced by dozens of companies, come in a plethora of styles and all with their own sort of something-special weaved into the fabric. Some are designed as liners but people wear them on their own. Some are infused with insect-repellant. Made of cotton, wool or synthetic fibers, they each feel different on our feet. One size does not fit all. It can be a bit overwhelming at first – but at the end of the day, choose the one that feels best on your feet in the color that makes your heart smile most.
An REI staff member (who wished to remain anonymous) spent time talking with me in their hefty travel sock section. He showed me the difference between the merino wool of today’s socks that were far less itchy than the ones I remember from yesteryear.
He explained the sweat-free benefits of the CoolMax® synthetic fiber used today for many liners and socks. He shared the made in America nature of the Farm to Feet® brand and how the ones in their ‘No Fly Zone’ have the bug spray built in to the material. He explained that the greater the thickness of the sock the fewer blisters you might develop (depending of course on the fit of your shoes).
And, he shared his favorite (liners made of CoolMax® fabric which he wears as stand alone socks) along with this advice – “If you’re looking to be able to wash and dry your socks quickly, the thinner sock is better for that purpose.”
Different Types of Travel Socks
Socks are no longer only made from cotton. Today, ‘technical socks’ are available in all materials and with many extra attributes. Although we’re all looking for comfort, blister-free and stink-free feet, each of us might need something a little extra.
Hikers & Backpackers
For thru hikers and serious backpackers socks are really important. They need to be durable, quick drying, anti-bacterial/anti-fungal, and able air dry overnight.
Day Hikers & Casual Walkers
Day hikers and casual walker, who might be staying in facilities with access to laundry or who might not be carrying a pack, best bang for the buck and anti-bacterial/anti-fungal might be bigger factors since the ability to wash might be less of an issue.
If you’re flying then compression socks come in handy on a long flight as well as on the trail. These socks help to increase circulation and limit the amount of swelling and possibility of DVT while in route to their destination. Travelers with certain medical needs (like diabetics) really need compression socks, but many travelers report feeling the benefit of wearing them in flight.
Some types to consider
There are lots of different types of socks, from the super-budget-box-store type to the highly technical purpose built socks for specific adventures. Here are a few of the basic sorts that you’re likely to encounter and need to choose between:
Lightweight Hiking Socks
These are your basic travel socks for walking, both around town and on light outdoor adventures. They are thinner than other hiking socks and are offered in a variety of styles and heights. They are often made out wicking material, providing some cushioning at the heel, and are most often worn without liners.
Midweight Hiking Socks
Travel socks for serious walking and hiking, you want these babies for all day adventures, outdoor adventures, multi-day treks, and regular adventuring. These offer moderate padding in the heel & ball of the foot, often provide cushioning at the top (as many hikers will choose to wear boots), and can be worn with or without liners.
There are socks, and then there are socks. Hiking the Rockies in winter? Mountaineering socks. When dealing with mountaineering socks, think rugged, bulky, full padding and all weather gear. They’re perfect under boots, made for layering over other thinner socks, and are the biggest, baddest version of adventure socks out there.
Winter Adventure Socks
Snow and ski activity friendly socks that are designed more for protection and padding than warmth. You might consider adding liners underneath for an added layer. These are the socks with shin padding for where your ski boots squeeze tightly. Often highly technical and suited to one particular type of winter adventure, it’s worth investing in the best socks you can afford if you’re a winter adventurer.
This type of sock is often made from CoolMax® or another synthetic material, and is designed to mainly be worn as a base layer (although many will choose to wear this for easy wash and go wear). They absorb a lot of moisture and assist in keeping outer socks dryer than they would be without a liner. This is important on longer hikes. They also reduce the blister count, as blisters are often caused by dampness and friction. Wear liner socks and change them often if you’re prone to blistering.
What your socks are made of matters. A lot. The Tortuganauts, in general, are big fans of merino, and the Smartwool brand for our everyday adventure socks. However, you should choose your materials based on your needs for each particular sock use-case.
This soft and smooth fabric is a win for hikers and travelers everywhere. With its strong anti-bacterial properties, these socks do not have to be laundered as often as others and are able to hang on a line and air dry overnight. They have an innate ability to swap from sweaty and hot trail-filled days to those chilly mountain evenings far better than other alternatives. For extra warmth or even greater sweat protection they can be worn with liners.
In the age of all sorts of available fabrics, synthetics make up a large selection of available travel socks. These are often great for comfort and provide a more snug fit than other materials. Many have effective moisture and blister protection built into the product – however, for those whose feet get warm quickly, these are often not as breathable as a natural material.
Silk provides that natural insulation which is fantastic for those who tend towards colder weather adventures. The material feels wonderful on the skin but doesn’t hold up as well if you’re tough on your feet. Silk is, however, a great option for base layer liners.
A natural fiber and one that’s great for anyone with skin sensitivities, this material is great in less active situations. Due to its make up, cotton is more prone to retain water which can lead to blisters and sore feet while out on your journey.
Types of Travel Socks
Using a liner under wool socks is efficient in more ways than one. First, liners quickly absorb most of the sweat which allows for limited washing of the outer layer and keeps the cost and luggage size down as fewer outer layer socks might be necessary for your journey. Second, liners provide an extra layer of warmth in the event of cold weather exploration. Liners are also a great option for anyone with a skin sensitivity to even the softest of wool as they provide a boundary between the possible irritating fabric and the skin.
We used to hear about these socks being specifically designed for those with medical needs. Today, more and more flyers are availing themselves of this option. Compression socks help to prevent your feet from swelling (whether on long flights or long days of walking/hiking) and also work to prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). By providing slight pressure at the ankles to help enhance blood flow, these snug fitting DVT fighters aim to keep you happy and swollen free for the duration of your journey. Some things to keep in mind when purchasing compression socks:
- Different ratings mean different things. Check the ratings to find out which is right for you. The ratings describe the strength of the compression; the lower the rating, the less compression you’ll get. Those with more serious medical needs or more prone to DVT might opt for a higher grade – check with a medical professional before heading this route.
- Check the material to be sure it works for all of your needs.
- No longer are these only in only skin tones, today they come in all shapes and sizes – no one would even know you’re wearing them.
Suggested brands of compression socks:
Perks of Travel Socks
There’s a purpose in mind each time we reach into our packs, bags or luggage to pull out something warm and dry to hug our little toes. Whether you’re heading out for a day on the slopes or the trails, the plane or the bus, taking a journey in a tuk-tuk or cycle rickshaw or making your way across the water to spend the day on the sand – your body, mind and feet are in for an adventure. Travel socks can keep your feet happy on that journey and when your feet are happy the rest of you can enjoy that present moment.
Considerations in choosing travel socks:
- Quick drying with limited access to laundry facilities
- Anti itch
- Anti microbial
- Anti bacterial
- Anti fungal
- Moisture removal
- Anti stink
- Insect repellant built in
- Extra padding
Choosing Your Best Travel Sock
Think about your adventure & know your material options.
- What will you be doing?
- Where will you be traveling (mostly)?
- What will the climate be throughout your travels?
- Are you looking to be 100% eco friendly?
- Do you have specific allergies, needs or issues with materials?
- For what type of adventures will you be using your socks?
- How heavy are you on your feet?
- Are you prone to blisters or stinky odors?
- How much do your feet sweat?
- Do your socks often fall down?
- Are you always cold or hot?
- What type of shoes will you be wearing?
Take the leap
- Can you take some out for a spin?
- Can you borrow a pair from a friend?
- Can you buy one and check it out for awhile in similar climatic conditions?
Take the time to do your research on your travel socks. Consider spending the same amount of time you take to find your pack, plan your adventure and choose the snacks you bring on finding the travel sock that’s right for your journey. Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you.
- Wool is best, but there are some strong synthetic options
- Buy the right socks for your type of adventure
- Quality socks are worth the investment
- Consider liners
Do you have a favourite brand of travel sock, or a great travel sock story? Please share it in the comments!