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How Many Pairs of Socks Should You Bring on a Backpacking Trip?

I only carry two pairs of hiking socks on trips - the pair I'm wearing and a clean pair to sleep in
I only carry two pairs of hiking socks on trips – the pair I’m wearing and a clean pair to sleep in

Many people bring too many extra clothes on backpacking trips, including more shirts, pants, pairs of underwear, socks, and even shoes that they don’t need. Extra clothes add a lot of unnecessary weight to a backpack and take up a significant amount of extra volume. So much, that you might end up carrying a larger and heavier backpack than you need.

When it comes to socks, I usually bring two pairs with me on backpacking trips: the pair I’m wearing when I leave the trailhead and a clean pair than I wear at night in my sleeping bag.

When I stop to camp each night, I wash out the pair of socks I’ve been wearing during the day and hang them up to dry. If they’re damp in the morning, I’ll still put them on the next morning, knowing that my body heat will dry them out or that they’re likely to get wet again anyway….stomping through puddles and streams.

Sometimes, sock do wear out if you walk in sandy terrain or gravel accumulates in your shoes, especially if you have to do a lot of stream crossings. In conditions like these, you might want to alternate your socks daily to make them last longer. I wear Darn Tough hiker socks which can take an incredible amount of abuse without wearing out, far more than any other pair of hiking socks, wool or synthetic, that I’ve ever owned. I swear by them. Made out of wool, they’re warm when wet and won’t smell even if you have to wear them for a few days straight. (I take them on business trips for this reason).

Sometimes, the thought of putting a damp pair of socks is too much to bear. I admit it. In which case, I’ll use my clean, dry pair of sleep socks for the day and pin my still damp socks from the previous day to the outside of my backpack with the safety-pin that I keep in my first aid kit. They’re usually dry by suppertime.

What if it’s raining constantly or your second pair of socks won’t dry because the humidity is high?

You can suck it up and hike in wet socks or take a zero and go to town to dry out. Hiking in wet socks is not the end of the world, especially if you wear breathable shoes like mesh trail runners, where your shoes and socks will dry quickly when conditions improve.

The “two pairs of socks system” I describe here is easy to use as long as you remember to wash out the pair of socks you used during the day when you set up camp. Skills and good hygiene habits like washing out your socks each day take a little practice to develop, but they can end up saving you a lot of extra gear weight if you’re diligent about it.

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60 comments

  1. Sam in Pgh

    I have been hiking all summer to prepare for an extreme hike (70 mi in 3 days) this fall. I have tried hiking with almost every combination of synthetic/cotton liner sock with a wool sock outer to just a pair of wool socks to a pair of wool socks with a built in non-wool liner (guaranteed not to allow blister!) and I haven’t been able to find anything that can maintain comfort over 10 miles. What I have found after hiking for 10+ miles is my feet have swollen and one sock per foot is most comfortable. I agree that foot comfort (or in my case, minimizing pain) is the goal so I wouldn’t give a second thought to taking along additional socks, once I’ve found the combination that works. Any suggestions to make comfort a priority over a few extra ounces would be appreciated.

    • I too have tried all the combos but found wearing 2 pair both merino one thin liner with thicker outer to be the best. Also the training is good so you know where on your foot you are prone to blister. I put moleskin in the areas I know are going to be trouble before I even start. The moleskin plus dual layer sock will last me close to 20 miles. What’s nice about a 3 day hike is you can afford to carry fresh socks. Also when you feel the areas heating up take a break, cool it down and really apply the moleskin. Might also want to test out some different shoes. 70 miles in 3 days is quite a haul, good luck and take care of the feet!

      • George,

        Thanks for your reply. The more views I can get on this issue, the better I’ll be able to walk the walk in more comfort.

    • I’ve done a hike like that (74 miles in 3 days) and there just wasn’t much to do about it. I think I carried 3 pairs of socks. I hike in Darn Toughs, and it was colder when I went, so I like to sleep in those cheap Target fuzzy socks that sorority girls wear in winter (way warmer than wool for me). I always carry Leukotape for blisters and a needle to puncture blisters (since I finally figured out the right insole system for me, my blisters have gone way down, but on 28+ mile days or very wet days I’ll still get a blister or two) since I’m pretty bad about stopping to put on the leukotape. Go figure.

  2. Yes, 2 pairs is all you need however for myself though a fan of Tarn Tough socks for serious tramping/hiking I use synthetic crew cool-max hiking socks on most trails; no smell, quick dry with plenty of padding underneath and they last a full year and some 1000 km of walking the trail.

  3. Body Glide or Foot Glide is a white waxy substance that you rub on the skin of your foot before putting on your socks. It helps the socks slide against your skin. It greatly reduces pain and blistering from long days on the trail. I use Foot Glide, then Smart Wool sock liners, then Darn Tough over-the-ankle socks. I really like that combination because the liners stick out above my gaiters and act like a chimney to release heat and moisture from my feet. I don’t get those ugly red rashes on my legs any more.

  4. I can’t see any mention of waterproof “sealskinz”socks. Eventually they get defeated, but are pretty effective. They are quick-drying in air, but not on your feet.

  5. I carry spun natural wool to use as well as moleskin for any pressure areas. The wool is washable and can be pulled to wrap around and under a toe at the heel or along the side of your foot. I used to have silk foot liners but haven’t seen them available lately.

  6. Ive recently started using a sock by the name “fits” amazing sock, combo of wool and nylon, made to form perfectly to your feet, completely anotomically correct. No need for liners because there is no movement, no rubbing. Thats my experience anyway. Try them out

  7. I personally always use 2 pair at the same time. A thin under and a more thick wool blend outer. This has shown to be the best combination for me.

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