A widespread misconception that most people have about backpacking is the definition. It is an activity very similar to hiking, but instead of a single-day trip, backpacking is a multi-day activity.
During this adventure, you will need to plan ahead and pack everything you’ll need in a backpack. The main issue is that the more items you pack, the heavier the backpack will be, which is not something that you’d want—as a result, being rational when packing is crucial.
Among the many essential items that you should bring, I believe that socks are near the top of the list. When you think about an activity like backpacking, it is natural to assume that the more socks you have, the better. While that may be true, it’s not always a good idea to take your entire socks drawer.
So, the question is, how many pairs of socks should you bring backpacking? Unfortunately, the answer is not as straightforward as you think.
How Many Socks Should I Pack?
Backpacking doesn’t come with a user manual, so whatever anyone says is mainly based on past experience. For example, there is a debate on the number of socks you should carry, and my preference is 3, in most cases.
The idea behind carrying three pairs of socks is to have two pairs during the day and one for the night. As you are on the move, the socks you have on your feet will soak moisture and start to smell, so it is crucial to have extra pairs of socks. Keep in mind that this is for multi-day backpacking.
You start your adventure with one pair on your feet and two more in the backpack. The first pair of socks will start to soak up sweat throughout the day, and by the end of it, they may begin to smell. When you reach your daily destination, I recommend taking the pair of socks you have and putting on the second pair. Wash the first pair of socks and leave them to dry. Continue wearing the second pair of socks for as long as you are around the campsite, at which point, socks number 3 come into play.
My preference is to have a separate pair for sleeping; unless it’s summer, at which point, I don’t carry socks.
So technically, you have two pairs of socks that you will be wearing throughout the day and one pair for sleeping. The daily pairs of socks can either be combined to be used for a few hours or one pair for the entire day. It depends on your activities and how much your feet sweat.
The main thing to keep in mind is the socks’ material, as that can make or break your backpacking routine.
What is the best material for backpacking socks?
Despite how the question is formulated, there aren’t socks explicitly made for backpacking. In other words, you will be using hiking socks, something I’ve talked about extensively in the past.
Ideally, for backpacking, you’d want to carry socks that don’t soak up a lot of moisture. The reason for this is that when you wash them, you would like to have them dry as soon as possible, and some materials are not ideal for that.
I already spoke at great length about avoiding cotton for hiking. The main takeaway is that cotton soaks a lot of moisture and dries relatively slow, something you’d want to avoid when backpacking.
Throughout the years, the two socks brands that I constantly get back to are Bombas and Darn Tough. Both have excellent wool and synthetic-based models, which I’ve been using for years with almost no complaints.
For backpacking, I usually go for the synthetic models for their properties. The crucial one is that they don’t soak up a lot of moisture and dry quickly. In other words, they can be dry in less than an hour if the conditions are right.
In colder situations, I find myself reaching for the wool models. While they dry a bit longer, we’re still talking about much shorter dry times than cotton socks.
Should I Wear 2 Pairs of Socks While Hiking?
It’s a question I often get asked, and my answer is a bit different than most people.
The idea behind wearing two pairs of socks is to have two layers of material between the skin on your feet and the indite of the boot. As a result, you reduce the chances of blistering. It can work wonders for you if you are prone to it
Hikers that are into colder adventures also go for the two-pair option. Having two layers of material on your feet means that your feet will stay warm throughout the hiking.
From my past experience, I found that I have no significant need for wearing two pairs of socks. This is because I rarely have problems with blisters, and my footwear never left my feet freezing. With that said, I will explain how to combine two pairs of socks for your hiking, as the choice of materials is crucial.
On the inside, go for a lighter option as this is the first line of defense and doesn’t need to be the toughest sock you have. The second layer should be a thicker one with better padding. For this pair, it is vital to get socks that can help your feet breathe better because there will be another layer below them.
How many days in a row can you wear the same hiking socks?
One of the main reasons why you’d carry multiple pairs of socks on a backpacking trip is to wash them regularly. On a single day hike, one pair should be enough, or two if your feet sweat. In this situation, washing isn’t mandatory because you shouldn’t have a problem getting through the day with both pairs.
On a multi-day backpacking, it is advisable to wash the socks depending on your usage, but that can depend on the materials. If you have socks that dry slower, wool socks in most cases, wash them when you feel like there’s enough time between the wash and the time you need to put them on. Wool socks also are more resistant to absorbing odor, so you may get away with using them two days in a row.
Essentially, I try to wash my socks as soon as I take them off or as soon as there’s a window of several hours for them to dry. That way, I altogether avoid any risk of odor, and I always have a clean pair of socks. For my sleeping socks, when I carry them, I may end up not washing them at all on shorter backpacking trips. No one sleeps with their boots on, so there’s almost no way for the socks to develop a smell.
On longer trips, I tend to wash them every 2 or 3 days, mainly to avoid sleeping with socks that I’ve been using for multiple days. However, in some scenarios, I may wash them every day.
Some people have sweaty feet, and that can be a cause for smelly socks. If you are one of those people, then I would advise you to wash them daily.
How to Wash Socks While Backpacking
Considering that a washing machine is not something we take on a backpacking trip, hand washing the socks is the only way to keep them clean. The procedure can vary and mostly depends on what you have at hand.
My typical procedure includes washing them in a plastic bag with a ziplock. I fill the bag about halfway and put the socks and the detergent in.
As soon as I close the zip lock, I start to shake the bag for a few minutes and then dispose of the dirty water. Keep in mind not to throw the dirty water near a water source.
I have found myself in situations where the socks were dirtier, in which case a hand rub did the trick. Also, if you don’t have a bag, then rubbing them by hand is your only way to washing them.
The rinsing process involves removing the detergent and soaked water from the socks. Then, if I have a bag with me, I fill it up with clean water and repeat the process 2 or 3 times until the socks are clean.
When it comes to drying, most people get it wrong. I’ve seen fellow hikers twist and squeeze the socks to get as much of the absorbed water from them in an effort to dry them quicker. The technique works and is faster, but the problem is that it tends to damage the material and reduces the longevity of the socks in the long run.
My preferred drying technique involves some gentle squeeze to remove part of the absorbed water. Then I hand the socks on a wire and leave them to dry. I usually avoid putting them directly in the sun, as it may have long-term problems with the material. Despite that, I have found myself in cases where I needed them dried as quickly as possible, so I put them in direct sunlight.
What are the best backpacking socks?
There are plenty of socks brands, most of which produce excellent hiking models. As I mentioned previously, I’m a Bombas and Darn Tough man and have a drawer full of them, but they are not the only ones.
As for material choices, as long as you avoid cotton-based socks, you will have no problems.
Will I need more pairs if I plan a longer backpacking trip?
Probably not. I’ve been longer and shorter backpacking trips and, in both cases, I’ve carried only three pairs. However, there have been a few cases where I brought an additional pair, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to have an extra pair in case I don’t have time to wash.