I have a dresser drawer full of black synthetic Gold Toe Dress Socks that I never use. I got them back when I was a salary man and had to wear a suit to work everyday. But, I recently read that the famous ultralight backpacking guru, Ray Jardine, recommends using dress socks for hiking instead of more expensive, specialized hiking socks. I decided to give this test at the SectionHiker gear testing lab. If true, it’d be a great way for me to use clothing I already own.
Hiking sock wear and tear is actually an expensive issue for me, since the SmartWool Merino sock liners I use today wear out so quickly. I only use liners and not an outer sock when I wear trail runners, which is pretty much all of the time, these days. The problem with SmartWool liners is that they only last about 5 days (75 miles) before they start to develop holes under the ball of my foot. My guess is that sand and grit leaks through the mesh sides of my trail runners and chews them up.
I also develop heat rashes on my calves when it’s very hot because I wear long hiking pants to prevent tick bites and Lyme disease. Still, of the different specialized hiking socks I’ve tried, including ones from Bridgedale, REI, EMS, Thorlo, Lorpen, and Coolmax, I like the SmartWool merino liners the best because they’re very thin, they dry quickly, and my toes like the extra space that wearing a thin sock provides.
I’ve been wearing my Gold Toe dress socks for the past few years now and they’ve helding great with minimal wear. I hike about 30 miles a week near my house in Boston or up in New Hampshire in the White Mountains, so I’m giving them a good workout. All the terrain I hike is mixed-forest or alpine, with a fair amount of sand and gravel..
I’ve also found that the synthetic dress socks are a lot cooler than the SmartWool merino liners and they also wick moisture away from my skin a lot more effectively. This is a big issue for me since my feet and calves gush with sweat when I do any kind of aerobic exercise, and it’s exacerbated by my long hiking pants.
The dress socks also feel a lot more slippery in my trail runners than wool socks. I don’t know if this is good or bad in terms of reducing wear, but they feel more comfortable than wool socks. Blister-wise, this slipperiness has had no impact on me because the skin on my feet is so tough, but even so, better moisture management is more important for blister prevention.
They smell less vile after a few days of hiking too.
Cost-wise, Gold Toe synthetic dress socks cost about one-third to one-fourth the price of specialized hiking socks. That’s huge. Of course I doubt I’ll need to buy any new dress socks for a while, since I already own 30 pairs. Still if you’re looking to trim gear expenses and use your clothing for multiple purposes, your sock drawer might be a good place to start!
Disclosure: The author owns this product and purchased it using their own funds.
Written 2011. Updated 2015.