I hike with a lot of beginners who want to talk about gear and what they should buy.
I think one of your first purchases should be good, wool socks.
Don't get me wrong, I hiked in white, cotton crew socks for years. I made a mistake. I liked my socks because they were cushioned and comfortable. But when they got wet, they stayed wet and got uncomfortable. I thought people were crazy for buying wool hiking socks. I thought they would be itchy, scratchy and uncomfortable. I was wrong.
Good wool, hiking socks are awesome, even when they get wet. You can buy ultra light hiking socks, light-hiking socks, regular hiking socks and mountaineer socks. The socks are soft and breathable next to your skin and while I think they are warm and comfortable, they don't make my feet sweat.
The two best reason for buying wool hiking socks -- fewer blisters and how they feel when you get them wet. Wool socks are not water-proof. You don't need water-proof socks unless you're river hiking, then buy neoprene socks. But when you hike, you'll often hike through a river, through a low spot with water, or through a snow bank getting your shoes/boots, and sometimes your socks, wet. Even when your boots are full of water, wool hiking socks are still comfortable. Yes, you can stop and wring them out, but you don't have to.
So, how do you choose your hiking socks? Now, this is where is gets more complicated. You really have to experiment. Buy socks from several different manufacturers -- REI, SmartWool, Wigwam, etc... and try them out.
I have 20+ pairs of wool hiking socks and I can tell you my favorite socks are the basic REI Merino wool hiking crew socks. They're a few dollars cheaper than the other companies and they last better than the other companies. After years of washing, my REI socks still have cushion, are not falling apart and still keep my feet warm and comfortable in my boots. Socks from some of the other companies are loosing their cushioning and warmth.
How do you choose between light-hiking socks, hiking socks and mountaineering socks? I found this article on REI's website that might help.
One note, when buying REI socks, you may notice a different in price between the light-hiking, hiking and expedition varieties of socks. The price difference is based on how much wool is in the socks and/or how much cushioning there is -- light, medium and heavy. Start with a pair of the medium cushion socks and decide if you'd like to try a little more or a little less. Quite honestly, I haven't noticed a difference in socks that are 75% wool versus 80% wool.
What socks do you prefer and why? Let me and others know in the comments below!
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