The evolution of socks: What to wear hiking and running

Before meeting my husband, who has been a major contributor to my outdoor education, I lived a life completely unaware of the glorious world of sock options. My entire sock wardrobe consisted of your run-of-the-mill white ankle socks.

I also ride horses, and even though I had researched good socks to ride in, for some reason my equine product obsession did not seep into other areas of my life. I was perfectly happy (although significantly less happy than I am now) with my little white socks, which I wore everywhere.

During my first trip to REI, I was informed in no uncertain terms that cotton socks would NOT be cutting it once I tried to go hiking (real talk, do not ever try this unless you enjoy self-inflicted pain, in which case you may need to look into a different kind of blog).

Being the cheapskate (especially when it came to socks) that I am, I headed straight for the REI brand hiking socks. I’d worn the taller version of them to the barn in the winter, so I knew they were cheap and good quality. Don’t let the fact that they are early on in my sock journey lead you to believe that these are not a good option.

You can also find these at REI in grey, brown, and purple.
You can also find these at REI in grey, brown, and purple.

Then came the day when I had to exchange my first pair of hiking boots because of a pinching issue. While waiting for the REI employee to return with my new prospective boots, I inevitably ended up at the clearance bin, which included an impressive supply of SmartWool socks.

The brand sounded vaguely familiar, but I was initially attracted to their cute stripe pattern (I have a serious addiction to clothing items with stripes on them). I was then joined by my boyfriend, who insisted I had to buy them since they were on sale and they would “change my life.”


For the next few weeks, the SmartWool socks rarely left my feet. They are thin, but still very warm, and of course good looking too. They’re also super soft and great to wear around the house, under dressy boots if you’re going out during the winter, and for cooler weather running as well. Unfortunately, they don’t make this exact stripey pattern anymore. REI has this similar pair still in stock.

Moving to Denver inspired me to not only delve further into outdoor adventures, but also to start running. At the beginning of winter, my current sock stockpile was working well, but I work in Florida for three months every winter and was dreading going back to the crappy ankle socks I once held so dear (they have since been relegated to being worn only for household chores and are used only in times of sheer desperation).

To solidify my commitment to running, I asked for more gear for Christmas. My family made the wise decision to wait until after I completed my first 5k (here’s how to pick the perfect first 5k) to pull the trigger on more running clothes. That’s how I ended up with these puppies:

The Evolution of Socks

Ahh, SmartWool, we meet again old friend. I had no idea they made running socks, but they are perfect for hot weather running. Moisture wicking, no rubbing, super comfy, and they look nice too. They come in a few other colors, but are mostly conservatively colored. On that note, I am also guilty of an addiction to bright colors, so I was even more excited to see these:

Ooh, ahh, neon...
Ooh, ahh, neon…

The super thick pads on the heels and balls of your feet make these socks incredibly comfy. I’ve had some problems with foot cramps when I run in them, but that’s also been on very hot days. That could be coincidental, but I still think the socks are great, especially for walking or aerobics classes (I usually wear mine to Zumba now).

My next socks purchase was a bit of impulse buy. Like a moth, I was drawn to their bright colors while at the Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Meeting (Berkshire owns Brooks and had a giant booth). I made the foolish mistake of “coming back later” for the socks, which were completely sold out by the time I returned, so I was on the hunt once I got back home.

The Evolution of Socks

I finally found my beloved ninja socks at Runner’s Roost in Denver, but I’m sure they’re available anywhere you can find Brooks socks. They’re light-weight like SmartWool, come a little higher up around your ankles (so you can wear them hiking too!), and are reasonably priced.

Edit 8/10/2014: After realizing the Amazon link to these socks no longer worked, I started looking for a replacement link and couldn’t find these socks anywhere. They aren’t even on the Brooks website anymore. I still recommend Brooks socks for running, unfortunately you just won’t be able to get this exact pair.

Now for a confession. My feet get sweaty very easily, so once the weather started warming up even a little bit, I was having some moisture issues in my hiking boots (for help finding your perfect pair, start here). Enter Darn Tough. These socks are made in the great state of Vermont, and are the best hiking socks I have ever worn.

I wanted something more substantial than a running sock, but lighter than my original REI socks, and these fit the bill perfectly. Not only are they comfortable, they’re so durable the company guarantees them for life. I will say they shrink a bit in the wash, so make sure to get a size up from what your shoe size is. Not putting them in the dryer will also help with this, which is something I probably should have realized upon buying something made out of wool.

Now that you’ve looked at multiple pictures of my feet as well as fake mannequin feet, let’s bring it back to the real reason I wrote this blog. Up your sock game with the best hiking socks in the world, Darn Tough. For running, especially in warmer weather, check out Brooks, SmartWool, and Thorlo. And for socks on a budget, REI brand socks hold their own in cooler months.


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