Best Travel Socks for Every Trip

Stacey Ebert

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.

Socks – whether they’re colorful, lined, fuzzy, above the knee, toe, no-show, warm or trendy – we need them. They keep our toes warm, safe, healthy and ready for the next adventure. The right socks make long flights that much more comfortable and safe, can handle the quick switch from museum to dinner, and will stick with you from that riverside wander to the board room meeting. As strange as it may seem, GOOD travel socks are in a category all their own.

We know that, of course, there’s more than one type of sock out there for every pair of feet. Choose ankle, knee, crew and even no-show, depending on your needs. Since I could read Dr. Seuss’ Fox in Socks on my own, I’ve had my fair share of socks on my feet. Today, I’m the proud owner of a bunch of Darn Tough merino wool socks and as far as travel goes, they’re my absolute favorite. They’ve kept me warm and dry in Alaska, have managed countless weekend trails around San Diego. When socks are a must – these are the first ones I grab. Because one size definitely doesn’t fit all, explore your options and find the ones that make your feet the happiest.

Expert Advice on Choosing Travel Socks

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.

Urban or 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.

Air Travelers

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.

Best Overall Travel Socks

I own these and love them! Made of breathable merino wool, these hiking socks provide ultimate comfort with incredible versatility and durability.

Don’t forget about the unlimited lifetime warranty – no matter the issue, they’ll replace it free of charge.

Although these socks come up higher than most traditional socks, they’re great if you’re headed off the trail, want to wear shorter pants or are in need of a bit of extra cushioning.

These socks are also ‘guaranteed for life’.

Best Low-Profile Travel Socks

Perfect for shoes of any height, these barely there socks with their merino wool, nylon and elastane blend provide cushion and active performance with a narrow heel and slimmer fit.

I own these and love them! They are perfect for those peekaboo sock days and even though they’re a lightweight running sock, they don’t miss any bit of the Darn Tough comfort, cushion or performance.

Made of Smartwool tech complete with cushioning, extreme durability and that moisture wicking ability.

Made of elastane, nylon and merino wool, these babies regulate temperature and moisture and keep the foot comfortable with a seamless toe structure.

A combination of lycra, nylon and merino wool, these cushioned and odor fighting super lightweight socks support the entire foot in all of your travel endeavors.

Types of Travel Socks

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.

I own these and love them! They provide comfort, versatility, breathability and warmth and don’t slip down my legs like others do. With a blend of Coolmax® Polyester, acrylic, lycra spandex, nylon and assorted other fibers, these socks kept me warm and dry in an Alaska summer journey.

Perfect for travelers with sweaty feet; these socks have ventilated regions for sweat free fun! With breathability, perfect fit and the Icebreaker lifetime guarantee – these socks add protection and cushioning for any travel venture.

Mountaineering Socks

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.

Liner Socks

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.

Perfect for travelers with sweaty feet; these socks have ventilated regions for sweat free fun! With breathability, perfect fit and the Icebreaker lifetime guarantee – these socks add protection and cushioning for any travel venture.

Compression Socks

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.

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.

These compression socks are made with a patented silver ions that help stop bacteria growth and also complete with graduated compression for a more comfortable fit and best circulation. 

Before you get sticker shock, note that this is a five pack of compression socks infused with copper fibers that assist with wellness, limit odors and bacteria, reduce inflammation and promote good foot health.

With a blend of cotton, polyester, nylon and lycra, these compression socks provide built in arch support and an extra comfort level.

Made from washable thick lycra, these compression socks are breathable, comfortable and complete with a sleek design.

These compression socks are woven with copper fibers that work to benefit circulation and limit bacteria growth.

Common Materials for Travel Socks

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.

Merino Wool

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.

Synthetics

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

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.

Cotton

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.

What to Consider When Choosing Travel Socks

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
  • Compression
  • Warmth
  • Breathability
  • Options

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?

TL;DR

Take the time to do your research on your travel socks. 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
 

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