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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. agreed. I recently decided that for 3-season camping, I don’t need a third pair for dedicated “sleep socks”. Two pairs are sufficient. On a dry trail such as the PCT, even one pair is probably sufficient 90% of the time, in my experience.

  2. I’m also using two pair system – it works really well. As for hiking in wet socks all you say is true plus when wearing wool socks you still stay warm and comfortable and that’s what I love about wool the most.

  3. Mr. Werner, I also use the two pair of socks system. If the weather is continuously wet just keep wearing the damp socks. Make sure to clean them at the end of the day. You’ll always have a dry pair in reserve for sleeping. When the weather gets nice and dry you can start rotating again. Make sure your socks are merino wool because they are warm when wet and cool in hot weather conditions. The socks I use are Rohner trekking socks. They are merino wool and pretty heavy duty mid height trekking socks. These socks are extremely long wearing and very comfortable. I don’t think this model is made anymore but I still have thirteen brand new pairs in reserve. Nobody needs extra clothes either. One set of base layers, (wool or silk for me) an insulation layer, a waterproof layer, and light stocking cap and light gloves, (also merino wool). Another great topic that is important in lightening your pack weight. Thanks

  4. I wear low-cut cycling socks in warmer weather with trail running shoes. They weigh less than mid-calf socks and are easy to wash and dry. Darn Tough makes some with merino wool.

  5. On a weekend trip (2 to 3 days) I take a pair for each day wearing the clean socks to bed and then hiking in them the next day.

    On longer trips I usually have a light pair for sleeping and one pair for every couple days. I will leave things behind on a trip to save space and weight but socks are not something I give up lightly.

  6. Out of curiosity, as I can’t sleep with socks on and I loathe winter because I have to give up my hiking sandals in favor of snow boots, would you still recommend taking 2 pairs of socks?

    I’m still in the research stage for a long hike and as I’ve not done more than car camping, I’d love to hear what you, or your readers, might recommend.

    • Not sure what your question is? are you asking whether you need socks if you only hike in sandals. Check your seasonal weather and insect conditions for the period of time when you plan to hike. Then decide. Better yet, take a long shake-down hike and decide based on real experience in your expected environment.

      • My apologies. I replied at 2:30 in the morning, so rereading this I realize I wasn’t too coherent.

        I wear hiking sandals as my everyday shoes, but due to ankle/knee issues, I’ll be wearing boots or trail runners during the hike we’re planning.

  7. Timothy Dannenhoffer

    Admittedly I bring too much on backpacking trips, resulting in a heavier backpack…but socks aren’t the first things I’d cut out – they weigh next to nothing and it feels really good wearing clean socks every day. I usually hike in the socks I slept in the night before.

  8. On weekend trips I have two pairs – I wear one pair and have one pair in the pack to change into. For longer trips (my hikes tend to be either one/two nights or 14 days) I bring three (total). I find I can get up to three days out of a pair of socks – but if I am not going to get into a town where I can wash them I like having the extra pair to change into. I also find in really hot weather I tend to alternate the socks over the day letting one pair dry out while I wear the other.

  9. I’m a cold sleeper and my feet are the first thing to get cold so as a result I always bring 3 pairs of socks – 1 pair for hiking in and 2 dry pairs for sleeping.

    • Same here. Cold feet will wake me up, and not sleeping ruins the fun of the next day. I only use one pair of sleep socks, but they go in my dry bag with my quilt and never see dirt or moisture.

  10. I always try to go by the old backpacking adage – “Don’t take a spare of anything that doesn’t rhyme with socks”. 2 pairs have always worked for me.

  11. I don’t hike when it’s hot, so putting on cold wet socks in the morning is a non-starter. I pack 3 pair….one dedicated to sleeping and two that get worn and washed on alternate days. Letting one pair hang on the outside of the pack all day is generally sufficient to dry them out

  12. For longer trips I like having two in rotation and a third for nights and just in case. I’ve used a third set as a pair of mittens over a thin pair of polypro gloves.

  13. I do exactly the same, down the the DT brand. One difference, I keep my safety pins permanently clipped to straps near the top of my pack (rather than stored) so they are always where I need them. However, I find that if I pin my socks to my pack to dry, it pretty much guarantees that it will rain (so it seems). The pins are also the best tool for digging out a splinter. Good to have them handy.

  14. I haven’t weighed in, in awhile, but this is a fun topic that leaves a lot of my friends shaking their heads.

    I just got back from a 4 day trip on the LT and I went with two socks. One of the guys hiking with me thought it was absolute madness as he watched me slide soggy smelly socks on every morning.

    In the last year I’ve converted to trail runners and hiking in New England generally means your feet are going to be wet and muddy every day anyway. There is no sense in wasting clean socks.

    Darn Tough socks made me a convert to the two sock method. I have only ever owned one pair. I hike in the same pair day after day and put hundreds and hundreds of miles on them every year. They are always one wash away from looking brand new. At night I change into a pair of REI socks.

    Sometimes on the last day, I’ll wear the REI socks out to my car, but only if I have a clean pair of cotton socks waiting for me in the car.

  15. I bring 3 pairs. Two for hiking and one for sleeping. I find if I hike for several hours in wet socks my feet become red and very itchy so I like to have a clean dry pair to change into during the day and I let the wet pair dry out hanging off my backpack. The third pair is only used for sleeping to keep my sleeping bag clean and my feet dry.

  16. I wear 2 pair of socks at a time….a light inner pair…with heavy work socks over….change the inner socks daily….outer ones whenever the spirit wills or necessity demands…also wear my precut mole skin at start of every hike and whenever I feel something is different about my foot size….never wear socks to bed…..I do put a “pretty” peppermint foot cream on in evening…a nice cool feeling….also…guys for you…if you have never had a pedicure…..get one a couple of weeks before a major hike…getting all the major scales scrapped off feels great…toe nails trimmed….I don’t get the paint job ….Although one day I will…get the Christmas theme paint job lol

  17. 2 pair darn tough low cut merino wool for me.

  18. Agreed… my system is basically the same. Hiking clothes / socks… and camp / bed wear. Darn Tough as well. I purchased some brass (non-rusting) safety pins which I keep on my pack… great for pinning and drying out socks.

  19. Two pairs of Darn Tough socks for me. I love Merino wool but found out I’m one of the few people on the planet allergic to wool. For years, I got a rash on my lower legs and feet in wintertime, which I attributed to the drier air. Last year, I bought synthetic Coolmax DT socks and didn’t use the Merino ones and had no problems. I wish DT had an intermediate size between L and XL. I find the L are quite tight on my feet (and don’t stretch much) and the XL are too loose.

    If my feet are wet from the day’s hike, I usually try to dry them a bit with a paper towel before I go to bed. I sleep warm and often sleep without socks in the winter.

    If I go on a multi day hike, I trade out pairs of socks each day and wash the old ones. If I try to wear the same pair an extra day without washing, the socks seem to compress and lose their cushion. Washing restores their loft.

    Since I’m in the South, I hike year round in mesh trail runners, however, there are times of the year I have no interest whatsoever in cold, wet feet. For those conditions, I have a pair of neoprene socks, which keep my feet warm and also keep some cushion.

  20. 3 and some soap… 2 pairs for hiking, which I wash my socks at the end of the day with some Bronners. The 3rd pair is for sleeping.

  21. Since I moved to minimalist trail runners for 3-seaon hiking, I don’t hike in socks. I don’t need them protect my feet and they just become soggy extra weight when I step in puddles/cross rivers. So I just take 1 pair for sleeping, and half the time it’s warm enough in my quilt that I don’t want socks on.

  22. Funny you should bring this up… I just bought 3 pairs on Sunday for the upcoming Fall Hiking Season.. I wear a pair, while drying a pair and have a separate Tent Pair… The Tent pair are thicker than the Hiking Boot pair…since I tend to get cold feet at night even with my Watch Cap on.. Any one Wear Acorns as their Tent Pair? Do you take them off for Nature calls or leave them on??? .

    • Timothy Dannenhoffer

      I am not going to argue with leaving weight behind as I am the knucklehead with the heavy pack, but it seems you could shave more ounces in ways that will give you less unhappiness than putting up with only one or two disgusting pairs of socks. For example, I probably always bring too much stove gas. And maybe I shouldn’t bring both bowls in the mess kit. And I usually bring heavy food. And very little of my gear is half the weight twice the cost stuff. And I bring 2 headlamps and 2 lighters – gotta have guaranteed light and fire. My pack probably usually weighs between 45 and 55 pounds depending on if I am going out for 4 nights or 8 nights. HOWEVER, I usually go with this one guy who insists he brings his own stuff and I bring my own so I am carrying my own gas, stove, water filtration, tent…

      • I totally understand wanting to be prepared. But I can tell you that when I took my first first carrying only 25 pounds base weight (42 pounds when you count food for 10 days), I was a real convert. My friends (who were each carrying 60-70 pounds for the same trip) were absolutely miserable and I was still having a good time at the end of the day. I used to carry 45-50 pounds (base+food) for a weekend trip and now I carry 23 pounds for the same trip. It all started with weighing my gear on a postal scale and being surprised how much everything weighed and getting lighter weight replacements. You don’t need to spend a lot of money, you just need to think differently and perhaps make some of your own gear. Half of my gear is from thrift stores. The classic “Beyond Backpacking” book is still a good one in my book.

  23. I just finished up the JMT. I went with two pairs of hiking socks (very thin liners and Smartwool hiking socks) and one pair of much thicker wool socks for warmth while sleeping. I ended up not encountering enough cold nights to justify the warm sleeping socks, although they were still quite comfortable to sleep in. I washed my hiking socks almost every night (a couple nights weren’t quite close enough to a water source) and they were almost completely or nearly dry by morning, so I probably could have gotten by with just a single pair of liners+socks.

  24. I’ll join the crowd… Two pairs of DarnTough for me, also, but I change in the middle of the day, usually at 8-10 miles, because my current shoes pump dirt into the toe box and my feet are covered with mud. I wash them as soon as I take them off and hang them on a loop on the back of the pack to dry as soon as possible, then wash pair two in camp that night.

    My feet are always cold at night, so I have sleeping booties instead of socks, which just aren’t warm enough below about 50. Heck, I’ve been sleeping in wool socks at home when it’s 80 for at least twenty years. :)

  25. Great post, I might try your method sometime. I do something slightly different:

    I usually only carry two pairs of socks (one for bed, one to wear) but sometimes bring an extra pair if I know it will be cold. I don’t bother washing out the socks each night. I will wear them for another day or so (or until I can no longer stand it!). I also will wipe clean my feet before putting them into the bedtime socks.

  26. I have a third set of 3 oz possum fur for sleeping, not necessary, but a pretty sweet luxury item.
    I was struck by the nearly universal adoption of wool Darn Tough socks.
    I switched from that to Wrightsock Adventure synthetic and am pretty happy with them. But I am in California where the weather is different. I bet if I was in an east coast or a central US climate where is rains more, I would be wearing wool.

  27. 2 socks for me too, but mostly Patagonia socks that last forever as well. I noticed that Darn Tough, like many other manufacturers, are a blend of wool, nylon and lycra. As for smell, I blame my trail runners, not the socks so much.

  28. I bring 2 for short trips but like some others 3 for longer. I really like to start with a dry pair if possible in the morning so the third helps the drying cycle…

  29. I am generally a 2 pair of socks (pack 1, wear 1) person. However, I’ve found that for shoulder season hiking (colder and often wetter) it’s nice to have a third pair. That’s the only change of clothes I carry.

  30. 3 Pair minimum…four max.
    First day socks, sleeping socks that become the next day’s trail/wearing socks, third pair are 2nd night’s sleeping socks that become 3rd day’s trail/wearing socks. Each pair of socks gets washed out at the end of the day it was worn and hung to dry (hopefully) overnight.
    Been using Wigwam Heavy Hikers for years (yes, even in the summer), but can’t get them any more and they’ve finally worn out. Tried the Wigwam Light Hikers…they’re OK. Tried the Darn Tough Hiker Boot Cushion…they’re OK. Suggestions?

    • I tried Thorlos and was pleased.

      If you google “thorlos hiking socks free” you see a deal for a free pair. You pay $4.90 shipping.

      I’ve been using them for the last year and they’re still my favorite. Admittedly, I haven’t tried DT yet.

  31. I’ve always done a 3 pair system since spending 4 years in the USMC infantry. Jungle, desert, mountains…. 3 pairs will get you anywhere!

  32. Backpacking at 12,000 feet in Colorado and Wyoming, we almost never have warm nights, but we almost always have afternoon showers (read: cold rain). Even during 8 days in the Wind River range, I only took two pairs.

    My feet get cold, so I always sleep with socks (and down booties–my cold feet savior!). Unless my socks are wet, I wear them to bed, and I often wear the same pair for several days. Maybe my feet don’t sweat as much as some people? Or maybe it’s because temps rarely reach 70 in the Colorado mountains.

    RE: wet shoes. I tried using non-Gore-Tex shoes once. It rained steadily all the way in. My shoes were soaked, my feet were cold and wet, and it was pointless to put on dry socks in the morning only to put them inside cold, wet shoes. I even tried using Subway bags as sock liners, but the plastic was too thin and my socks got wet anyway. My feet never got warm that weekend: at 12,000 feet, it just doesn’t warm up, especially in wet weather! So now I only wear Gore-Tex shoes.

    Maybe rain back east is warmer? I just can’t fathom having wet, cold feet 24/7. If the forecast is really wet, I may bring a third pair of socks. I just finished 4 days on the Continental Divide where it was 27 degrees at night. We had no rain, amazingly, and I only needed one pair of socks the whole 30 miles. And the down booties worked, thank goodness!

    But as they say, Your Mileage (in other climates) May Vary!

    • I save my bread bags for backpacking. They are tougher than Subway bags (which, in my case, often have some sauce on them) and also make good trash bags.

  33. I’ve always done a 3 pair system. 2 get the general use of back and forth between the day and the night, but I keep a third as an emergency backup and for an extra layer on those cold nights.

  34. I used to stash an extra emergency pair into the shoulder straps of my GG pack in place of the regular padding, however, it made the straps too bulky and I never used that pair.

  35. Socks are one of those items that I feel I need to carry extras of. I don’t carry extra underwear, or extra pants, or extra shirts with me though. Waste of space. See, with socks, if I’m wearing a heavier boot in the winter time, my feet get HOT and sweaty, so I carry 2 pairs of socks for hiking in. In the summer time, I wear minimalist shoes with mesh sides, so my feet get dirty quickly if I’m walking through a dry and dusty place. We haven’t had much rain this summer, so I kick up a lot of dust when walking. So my socks turn brown after half a day. All that abrasion from sand and dirt isn’t good, so I change my socks! They don’t weigh much, and aren’t nearly as bulky as other clothing items. So I couldn’t care less really.

  36. I wear two socks at the same time with the second inner pair being liners or men’s dress socks . Helps with preventing blisters. Having narrow feet, whenever I used boots, I would sometimes even use three pair at the same time. I also suffer from cold hands and feet (even when otherwise warm.) One of my most vivid memories of backpacking as teen was waking up with feet that felt frozen I can’t imagine not taking a pair used only to sleep in and extra liners so that at least something next to my skin feels dry. With stream crossing, I would have to come up with something …extra socks …boat shoes. Damp socks is one thing … drenched is another.

  37. I disagree respectfully with many on the forum who recommend no more than two pair socks. Your feet is your mobility and consequently, your feet need premium quality attention and care during the backpacking trip. Each pair of thick, merino wool sock is little different than putting on another well worn pair of hiking boots that you know is a pair that wears well, provides maximum comfort and get you from point A to point B in the most comfortable means. Placing on a new pair of sock wears differently than the previous pair, thus allowing previous pressure points created from yesterday’s socks to rest and minimize potential hot spots appearing. It is the same concept for not wearing the same shoes day-after-day (although the principle applied on a backpacking trip makes little sense because of added weight from a second pair of backpacker’s boots). The reason most folk get calluses, bunions, blisters, and other foot ailments is due to wearing the same footwear day-after-day, where the same shoe applies pressure to the very same pressure points on one’s foot. So, if you have to wear the same footwear day-after-day, then the way to circumvent pressure points build-up is to wear another pair of quality cushioned socks. Each sock wears differently inside the shoe. Consequently, wearing multiple socks distribute pressure to different areas of the foot precluding the same pressure points from repeated compression contacts. I would recommend no less than three high quality thick cushioned merino wool (they breathe better) each pair worn on subsequent days with the first pair worn a second time on day four.

  38. Do you rinse your socks at night or do you use soap?

    • Just rise. Soap is designed to remove oil, but feet don’t produce oil. They just produce water and salt. The salt dissolves easily with water alone so you don’t have to worry about soap disposal in the backcountry.

  39. Re hiking socks, I wear a pair & carry a pair as described. But I also carry a pair of loose-fitting fleece socks that I wear around camp & when sleeping. They keep my feet warm (I’m a cold sleeper, esp here in the Rockies) & they still allow my feet to dry out. A little bit of extra comfort at only 2.5oz/pr!

  40. I take two pairs- a merino trail running pair for hiking and a waterproof pair for sleeping. I don’t ever hike in the waterproof pair (too sweaty) but they’re great to put on when I get to camp and my shoes are wet. Slip them on while my hiking socks are drying and have dry feet in wet shoes. Also good for when you have to nip out in the night.

  41. 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.

  42. 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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

  47. 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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