Do Sock Liners Prevent Hiking Blisters?

Do Sock Liners Prevent Blisters?

Sock liners prevent blisters in two ways: they wick foot perspiration away from your feet which can lead to increased friction and they help prevent ill-fitting boots from rubbing your skin and causing a hotspot. Sock liners are a common blister prevention technique among people who wear hiking boots and over-the-ankle mid boots. These trap heat and perspiration particularly if they are made with leather or lined with a waterproof/breathable material like Gore-tex which can make boots warmer. Sock liners also help cushion poorly fitting hiking boots or shoes, so they don’t create hotspots, which are the precursors to blisters.

Foot Perspiration

When you hike, your feet generate about half a cup of perspiration per day, which explains why your socks are often damp when you take your hiking boots or shoes off. Leather hiking boots, winter hiking boots, mountaineering boots, or waterproof/breathable boots all accumulate foot perspiration. Sock liners are useful because they transport foot perspiration away from your skin into your outer layer of socks, a process called “wicking”, that keeps your feet drier. Wet feet are soft feet and more prone to hotspots and blisters. Both are caused by friction, especially when your foot has too much room to move around inside your boots, your boots are too hard and not well broken-in, or you have an anatomical issue with your foot such as a bunion or hammertoe that rubs against the inside of your boot.

Make / ModelMaterialBest UsePrice/Pair
Fox River X-Static Sock LinerPropyleneThree-season$12
Fox River Therm-a-Wick Liner SocksNylon/Spandex BlendThree-season$9
Icebreaker Liner Crew SockWoolWinter$18
Icebreaker Snow Liner SockWoolWinter$18
Icebreaker Skier Liner SockWoolWinter$18
Injini Liner CrewCoolmax (Polyester)Three-season$11
Injini NuWool Liner CrewWool/Nylon BlendThree-season$13
Smartwool Liner SockWoolThree-season$15
REI Coolmax EcoMade Liner CrewCoolmax (Polyester)Three-season$9
REI Silk Liner CrewSilk Lycra BlendThree-season$14
REI Merino Wool Liner CrewWoolThree-season$12
Wigwam Coolmax Liner SocksCoolmax (Polyester)Three-season$9
Wigwam Ultimate LinerNylon/Acrylic BlendThree-season$12
Wigwam Gobi LinerPolypropyleneWinter$8

Sock Liner Fabrics

Sock liners are usually made with Coolmax, Wool, or Polypropylene. Coolmax is a polyester blend that absorbs very little liquid and dries quickly. Wool, which is warmer, dries more slowly.  Polypropylene Liners are another wicking synthetic fiber that’s available in thin three-season and winter thicknesses. Silk sock liners are also available but far less common and heavily blended with nylon and spandex to make them more durable and wicking. Avoid using cotton sock liners or other plant-based fabrics like Tencel or bamboo, which absorb a lot of moisture and take a very long time to dry. They hold onto foot perspiration and accelerate the formation of blisters.

Sock Liners Fit

When purchasing sock liners you want ones that are thin and conform well to the size and shape of your feet without any bunching or folds. If you get blisters on your toes, I’d encourage you to try Injini toe-socks which wrap each one of your toes individually, with wicking and cushioning to prevent hotspot formation and blisters. For a really close fit, you can also try wearing compression socks or knee-high pantyhose, which also provide superior wicking action and close fit.

Injini Liner Toesocks are made with Coolmax which wicks moisture away from your skin
Injini Liner Toesocks are made with Coolmax which wicks moisture away from your skin

Other Hiking Blister Prevention Options

Socks liners are just one potential solution to hiking blister prevention. If they work for you that’s great, but it’s normal for people to try several different options, including taping with leukotape or moleskin, lining their shoes with slick blister prevention patches, lubrication with vaseline or HikeGoo, spraying your feet with antiperspirant, or switching to a different pair of shoes before they find a solution that eliminates hiking blisters once and for all.

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About the author

Philip Werner has hiked and backpacked over 7500 miles in the United States and the UK and written over 2500 articles as the founder of SectionHiker.com, noted for its detailed gear reviews and educational content. A devotee of New Hampshire and Maine hiking and backpacking, Philip is the 36th person to hike all 650 of the hiking trails in the White Mountain Guide. He is also the author of Backpacking the White Mountain 4000 Footers, a free online guidebook of the best backpacking trips in the White Mountains in New Hampshire and Maine. In addition, Philip volunteers as a 4 season backpacking leader for the Appalachian Mountain Club, a Long Trail Mentor for Vermont's Green Mountain Club, and a Leave No Trace Master Educator. He lives in New Hampshire.

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17 comments

  1. Hamlet Murray and others at Natick studied this years ago: proper two sock systems do reduce blisters. One of the early reports https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a263581.pdf

  2. I’ve always wear sock liners, doesn’t matter if I’m wearing my Keen Revel III, my Asolo TPS520 or even my Merrell MOAB 2 ventilators. Maybe it’s because I’m ‘Old School'(or just old) and we all wore two pairs of socks 40 years ago. I never understand it when I meet people on the trail and they have their boots/shoes off and they have electrical/duct tape on their feet. My feet sweat really bad, but I can honestly say. I’ve never had a blister when hiking and I do between 300 – 400 miles per year.

    • Same here, I don’t understand why people don’t wear liners. I started wearing them 30 years ago and haven’t had a blister since. Plus they dry quickly and my feet don’t swell and ache at the end of the day.

  3. I think the last time I got a blister was back in Boy Scouts in the 60’s when no one ever talked about nor promoted the use of sock liners. Needless to say, I always worn liners no matter what type of footwear I’m wearing on the trail and I have never gotten a blister while doing that.

    • I used to wear hiking socks with a liner to prevent blisters
      I got blisters all the time
      I’ve ditched the liner and no blisters!
      Personal preference?

  4. I used thin socks (and sometimes Injinji toe socks) under my hiking socks for years and never had a problem. I finally quit using them and still didn’t get any blisters. However, in December, 2018 while section hiking the AT near Hot Springs, NC, we got pasted by a brutal winter storm and I put a on second pair of wool socks. That was a mistake for me because it was too tight in my shoe and within a mile, I developed a bad hotspot and ended up limping into Hot Springs. There, we bailed on our hike because of the weather, but I wouldn’t have been able to continue anyway. My lesson is that I should have used a thinner sock for extra warmth rather than doubling up on thick ones.

    • I’m sure sock liners help prevent blisters, but hey only “help”. (Don’t ask)

      What has made a BIG difference for me for foot sole blisters, especially on my bug toe, is thereat moldable SOLE insoles I buy ar REI. NO MORE FOOT SOLE BLISTERS!

      These insoles, which I began using around 2010, have meant I no longer needed a leather tough foot sole to avoid those blisters. Since then I have purchased 4 SOLE insoles that have replaced the factory MERRILL insoles.

  5. In the drier areas of the west we deal with fine grit that can get thru mesh top shoes. A liner sock is useful as an extra barrier to keep the abrasive grit away from my skin. A calf-length Wrightsock ultra thin keeps my ankles and feet clean when combined with a low cut sock such as Fitsok Spectra.

  6. I found Injinji toe socks to help to a degree, but the best thing for me is still 3M Nexcare cushioned tape on the problematic toes. The former mitigates the problem; the latter solves it.

  7. I never wore liners for years while hiking in the whites. I wore over the ankle boots and would often get blisters. When I thru hiked the AT in 18′ I wore Injinji cool max liners under my darn tough socks. And switched to low rise trailrunners. I never got a blister. My toes were still very banged up and I would wrap them with Leuko tape to protect my toenails which over time turned black and in some cases fell off. Each night I would wash the liners and the next day would wear my second pair. The washed pair would usually dry before wearing them again.

  8. BTW, these days. with the heat moldable “SOLE” insoles fromREI I don’t need sock liners.

    HOWSOMEVER, I do wear thin poly sock liners under my 3 mm closed cell and seam sealed neoprene US DIVERS socks for Vapor Barrier Liners (VBL).

    With these neoprene socks and sock liners, GTX gaiters and Gore-Tex MERRIL MOAB hiking boots I am warm to 10 F. IF I keep moving. At night I remove the VBLS and turn them inside-out to dry and put the sweaty poly liners in a Zip Loc freezer bag and don fresh liner socks and my “sleep socks”. With the VBL socks in my bag overnight I have warm socks to wear in the morning.

  9. I wear the Fox River Static-X socks because the nylon is impregnated with silver, which has antibacterial properties. Can’t say it does much for my foot odor but wearing them on long trips stopped my eczema flare-ups on my ankles so that’s worth something. They’ve lasted maybe 550 miles so far and I *might* need to replace them soon.

  10. Hi, Since we’re talking about foot problems, has anyone had the problem of their feet changing, and the shoe they always wore now hits the side of the ankle bone? I’m talking about trail runners, Saucony Peregrine.
    Any suggestions? I’ve added Dr. School arch supports from Walmart, also consulted with an REI “expert” who suggested the Topo shoes.

  11. I wish injinji made a liner sock that was over the calf. They have compression and regular weight OTC but not the liner weight.

  12. I’ve had good luck using drymax socks as liner socks. They come in various thicknesses and the “hyperthin” ones work well as liners. They are made with olefin which seems to wick better than even polyester/coolmax type socks. I wear them with darn tough outer socks and this combo seems to pull moisture away from my feet. If it’s super hot & sweaty eventually the wool socks will get damp but the liners stay dry.

    Learned about these socks from the book “Fixing Your Feet” by John Vonhof, highly recommend reading this book if you struggle with blisters.

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