Do I need liner socks for backpacking?

QUESTION: What are liner socks and do I need them for backpacking? If so, why?

ANSWER: Liner socks for backpacking or hiking are thin moisture-wicking socks that help pull the moisture away from your foot and out into the thicker hiking or trekking socks.

In other words, you should use two layers of socks -- the liner sock closest to your foot -- to help avoid friction and rubbing of the hiking sock. The smooth wicking liner socks will fit snugly on your feet and provide a safety layer, allowing the liner sock to move inside the hiking sock while avoiding friction against your skin.

Some experienced hikers and backpackers choose not to use liner socks, while others don't dare go on a hiking trip without them. You will need to experiment and decide for yourself, but you really should do your experimenting while walking a few miles in your own neighborhood well in advance of going on a backpacking trip.

I've consistently used liner socks, specifically Wigwam Coolmax, beginning with my first backpacking trip several years ago, and I've never developed a serious blister. So, I'm convinced that they work for me and I highly recommend liner socks to everyone!

WHAT'S YOUR OPINION? What socks have you used on the hiking trail that you like and recommend? Click the link at the bottom to add your comments and suggestions.

For more information about avoiding blisters, see our full article on How to Prevent Heel Blisters While Backpacking.

Comments for Do I need liner socks for backpacking?

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Great Liners
by: Mtn Man Mike

I've tried the thinner wicking liners and found these coolmax are twice as thick and provide better comfort and protection from blisters. I am a big fan of Wigwam Coolmax.

Liners in my view are overrated
by: Anonymous

I have worn liners under my smart wool socks and find after hiking several miles the liners are soaking wet. I think the theory is that the liners are supposed to wick the moisture from your foot and then the moisture is supposed to be absorbed by the wool socks. It does seem to work that way for me. I have tried putting the liners on the outside of the smart wool socks and the liners still get wet but my feet are more comfortable as the wool socks which are against my foot are comparatively dry.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no
by: Anonymous

On most 2 day backpack trips I prefer one layer of medium or thick hiking socks because my feet get hot very quickly, and my boots are so awesome that I have never gotten a blister. If I am backpacking in the snow I *always* use liner socks and maybe even 2 pair of thick hiking socks over that and a toe warmer tucked under the layers :) On multi-day backpack trips, I believe I would wear and pack thin liner socks to reduce friction and chance of blisters. Why take chances? Incidentally, those silk liners were my favorite and if I have to buy more, those are the ones I will look for first.

Liner sock
by: Kevin

The answer to this was technically correct and may work for some people. My experience is use them only if you need to fill boot space if your heel is slipping.

They make my feet sweat more and it's enough that it does not get wisked away and you have 2 pairs wet socks.

My suggestion is wear a good breathable sock that is thick enough to keep your foot tight in the boot.

After two - three hours, yank off your socks, tie them to your pack to dry, and put on that second pair of Dry socks you packed. Just keep rotating.

Just as an aside, before crossing ANY water, boots & socks come off no matter how cold the water.

EDITOR'S NOTE FROM DAVE: Thanks so much, Kevin, for your comments based on your own experiences. Although we always recommend wicking liner socks to pull moisture away from the foot and into the outer hiking sock, each person must find what works for him or her.

We emphasize the importance of liner socks particularly for those new to backpacking, so they are aware that they exist and might help them avoid blisters. As always, "your mileage may vary." The bottom line is that dry feet are better than wet feet, no matter how you accomplish that!

Thanks again for contributing to the conversation!

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