As an avid hiker and nature-lover, I’ve suffered my share of sock-related disasters and struggled at the end of long hikes with tired legs and aching feet. Hiking is a fantastic activity that keeps you fit and gets you in touch with nature, but going for a hike with the wrong socks can be uncomfortable and lead to blisters and muscle pains. Choosing the best footwear can make the difference between a great hike and a terrible one.
The right pair of compression socks will help prevent blisters and provide extra muscular support while hiking. They cut down on muscle inflammation and keeps blood flowing toward your heart. This helps keep you energized on your hike, helps with quicker recovery time, and can minimize the impact of Delayed Muscle Fatigue (DOMS) in the following days.
But how do you know what kind of compression socks you need for hiking and the best way to use them? I’ll go through the advantages you can expect over regular hiking socks, how to get used to wearing them, and some guidelines to make sure you get the most out of your compression socks during and after hiking.
Why Use Compression Socks for Hiking
Blisters and leg fatigue are just two things that can ruin a hike completely. Using the appropriate footwear and the right socks can help minimize these issues and even prevent them altogether. While standard hiking socks that are well fitted will help prevent blisters, they tend to be thick and bulky.
Compression socks are made from a stretchy material that will cling tightly and ‘compress’ your leg, and in doing so, take performance and comfort benefits to the next level and make your hikes more enjoyable. Especially with grueling long-distance hikes, compression socks can help improve recovery time by encouraging the body to remove lactic acid buildup.
Runners have been using compression socks for decades to help with their performance and speed up their recovery time. It makes sense for hikers to follow suit. Hikers who have changed to using compression socks have found they can increase the distance they travel in a day and needless resting time during those hikes. Their legs feel more energized.
Long-distance hikers have found that compression socks at night also reduce the aching in their feet the day after. For those doing multi-day hikes which allow little time to rest, compression socks are a must-have.
Hikers who have suffered from sprains and tears or even hairline fractures in the past may find that compression socks prove to be a blessing and help prevent recurring injuries. The decreased inflammation from wearing compression socks also helps with recovering from those long hiking days.
Compression socks designed for athletes often have graduated pressure and moisture-wicking to make exercising more comfortable. Runner’s compression socks also come in a range of fun colors and styles to suit, which is much more appealing than dull beige medical stockings.
What Are Compression Socks
You may know of compression socks as medical compression stockings often used to treat tired and aching legs, varicose veins, and people prone to leg swelling (known as edema). Compression socks are close-fitting long socks, usually worn up to the knee to provide continuous pressure along the length of the lower legs.
Compression garments are made with elastic and designed to exert a squeezing force on the limb and improve blood circulation by promoting blood flow towards the heart. It’s easy to see how the medical benefits of compression stockings used to treat inflammation and improve circulation can translate directly to sports.
Compression socks might have once seemed like something only for the unwell or for travelers on long flights, but these days compression socks have come a long way from their original medical background and are a staple in many runners’ and hikers’ gear.
The technology that made life better for those with diabetes or deep vein thrombosis now helps athletes get the most out of their training and recovery and keeps them energized while training. Hikers and runners often use graduated compression socks, which apply varying degrees of pressure along the foot and leg.
What Level of Compression Socks Do You Need for Hiking?
You may be confused by the range of compression socks and wonder which is the right type to suit your needs. The amount of elastic in a compression sock will determine how much pressure it provides. Medical Grade categorizes compression stockings, and most can be bought over the counter. Only the very strong levels such as Medical Grade Class III will need a prescription, and these levels are not necessary for hiking.
Everyday, over-the-counter compression socks are useful for those traveling on long-distance flights or standing for long periods, such as nurses or shop assistants. Still, for most hikers, the grade you want will be the one known as Medium or Medical Grade Class 1. This is the most common type.
Buying a Pair of Compression Socks for Hiking
Many companies sell compression socks designed specifically for runners, and these are great for hikers too. Often pairs are marked for left and right so that the pressure exerted remains constant, so bear this in mind while looking for a pair that suits you.
When you first go looking for a pair of new compression socks, you may find yourself overwhelmed with the choices offered. First of all, think about what kind of hiking you usually do, and how much you’re willing to spend, and what is most important to you.
Are you doing marathon hikes and need strong compression for speedier recovery? Do you want a cushioned sole for extra comfort? Cushioned toes and heels to help combat blisters and irritation? Moisture-wicking fabrics help keep your feet dry and clean for longer?
Some socks are copper infused to help keep your feet from getting sweaty and smelly. High-end compressions socks may even have built-in arch and Achilles support.
Do’s and Don’ts for Compression Socks
If you are not used to using compression socks for hiking, it’s best to test them for comfort and fit with some shorter hikes before you commit to a more strenuous event. Build up to longer hikes with some shorter walks so you get a good feel for how far you can push yourself and the difference your new compression socks make with your recovery the next day.
It’s always a bad idea to head off on a long hike using new, untested gear, which goes for socks. You don’t want to find out that the pair of socks you bought cut your circulation while five miles into a hike!
Compression socks will cost a bit more than regular socks, and to keep them useful for longer and to get the most out of them, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s washing and care guidelines.
Here are some things to bear in mind when buying and wearing compression socks.
- Make sure you get the right size compression socks to ensure comfort
- Get the level of compression that suits your needs
- Start with short hikes at first to make sure the fit and compression level is right for you
- Look for graduated compression socks with moisture-wicking material
- Wash after every use — this helps them retain their shape
- To care for them properly, wash them on a gentle cycle in a mesh laundry bag, or by hand. This will keep the fabric elastic for longer
- Replace them every three to six months of use to get the maximum compression advantage. Old socks will begin to lose their elasticity and the compression will not be as good
- When taking compression socks off or putting them on, avoid rolling them. Depending on the grade, this could create a band that stops circulation and is very uncomfortable
- Compression socks for sports are not meant for sleeping. Keep feet elevated at night instead
- Harsh chemicals like bleach will cause damage to the elastic fabrics in your compression socks. Avoid using harsh detergents when washing.
- To dry compressions socks, roll them up and squeeze them gently. By wringing them dry, you could damage the fibers and shorten their life.
- Moisturizers and creams have oils that can affect the fibers in your socks, breaking down the elastic. Use body creams after removing the socks, rather than before using them.
While it’s a personal choice to use compression socks while hiking, many walkers find that the extra support helps boost their energy, makes long hikes more comfortable, decreases foot and leg pain, and makes a huge difference in their recovery time.