A quality ski sock gets the basics right: a close but not restricting fit, soft touch materials that don’t itch, and enough cushioning to keep you on the slopes all day. Every sock that made our “best of” list for 2016-2017 accomplishes this and more. The current top dog in sock construction is merino wool. It’s not scratchy like wool socks of old—in fact it’s quite soft and comfortable—and repels odor extremely well. Modern ski socks also are thinner than in the past—boot liners have improved so that you no longer need an ultra-thick sock to be comfortable. You can expect to spend around $25-$30 for merino down to $10 for a basic wool/stretch nylon blend. Below are our favorites for the ski season. For more background, see our ski sock comparison table and buying advice below the picks.
Materials: 60% merino wool, 36% nylon, 4% lycra
What we like: The whole package: comfort, fit and durability.
What we don’t: Not the softest on the market, but it’s not far off.
Women’s: Darn Tough OTC Padded Light
For us, in the sock world there is Darn Tough and everyone else. We made the switch a number of years ago and haven’t found anything that can match the quality or durability. Darn Tough socks are constructed mostly of merino wool, made in Vermont, and come with a lifetime warranty to back it up. Our top overall ski sock for the 2016-2017 season is the Darn Tough Over-The-Calf Padded Light, which is just about perfect for skiers of all ability levels and styles.
The merino/nylon combination of the Over-The-Calf Padded Light is reasonably soft to the touch yet tough, and the seamless design helps to avoid irritation against your foot from a long day on the mountain. More, the sock has padding in the most critical area, the shin, for added protection. In terms of warmth, the Over-the-Calf Padded Light insulates well enough for most conditions and slips easily into your boots, but those who want more warmth, padding, or volume should try Darn Tough's Over-the-Calf Padded Cushion.
See the Darn Tough Padded Light
Materials: 56% merino wool, 42% nylon, 2% elastane
What we like: Great fit and performance.
What we don’t: Unproven durability (but appears to be improving).
Women's: SmartWool PhD Ski Light
It wouldn’t be a proper sock test without SmartWool, and our favorite model for skiing is the PhD Ski Light. Like many SmartWool products, this sock is comfortable, fits and performs extremely well, and looks good to boot. Within the PhD line, the snug fit over the top of your foot and under the instep and arch is unparalleled in support—even better than the Darn Tough above. And that intentional shape keeps the sock in place for anything from bombing laps downhill to ski touring.
Our biggest knock against SmartWool is durability: from our experience they simply don’t hold up as well as Darn Tough. It’s worth noting that for 2016-2017, SmartWool has introduced their Indestructawool technology, a dense wool blend added to high wear areas like under the heel and toes. This is a brand new addition to the ski line so we can’t yet vouch for how many seasons it can handle, but with 40+ days in their hiking model and no holes, we’re confident SmartWool finally is turning the corner on durability.
See the SmartWool PhD Ski Light
Materials: 70% merino, 26% nylon, 4% lycra
What we like: Warm and comfortable.
What we don’t: Pills up over time.
Women's: Icebreaker Ski+ Light
Without a doubt, New Zealand-based Icebreaker is one of the top manufacturers of merino wool outdoor gear. Icebreaker’s Ski+ Light offers the highest percentage of merino of any ski sock on this list (70% vs. 60% from Darn Tough and 56% from SmartWool). Combine that with Icebreaker’s deft ability to make merino feel silky smooth, and you have perhaps the comfiest ski sock available. The fit also is excellent and Icebreaker is the only one here that makes socks specifically for your left and right foot (although in our experience, the SmartWool above fits just as well).
With light padding to protect the bottom of your foot and leg, these socks are warm and wick moisture extremely well. One downside is that they’re prone to pilling up after a few runs through of the washer (try and avoid drying them if you can). And more merino often equals a shorter life span. Given the similarity in price between these socks and the Darn Tough and SmartWool socks above, it’s a very close call and you can’t go wrong with any of these brands.
See the Icebreaker Ski+ Light OTC
Materials: 48% merino wool, 44% nylon, 8% elastane
What we like: Impressive support, low profile fit.
What we don’t: Only for those with finicky cold feet.
Made with liberal amounts of nylon for a very tight fit, the SmartWool PhD Compression Ultralight socks are for those that suffer from cold feet or want to get a leg up on muscle recovery. The high price tag is due to the graduated compression technology that gently squeezes muscles in the lower leg to promote blood flow for warmth and recovery. While it’s been difficult for us to prove the degree to which these socks actually improve blood flow, we have enjoyed the snug and supportive design.
One downside of the Compression Ultralight is that you lose a little of the soft feel of the more merino-intensive builds, although it’s still cozy for a compression sock. And a greater concentration of nylon makes them not as capable in preventing stink build up (although they’re still better than a pure synthetic). But if you’re in the market for a compression ski sock, this is our favorite model.
See the SmartWool PhD Ski Graduated Compression Ultralight
Materials: 70% Silver Drystat, 15% Microsupreme, 10% nylon, 5% lycra
What we like: The best synthetic sock available.
What we don’t: Slightly less comfy and smellier than a merino option.
One of the only synthetic models on our list—the others being the Darn Tough Thermolite RFL and Burton below—the EURO Socks Silver Ski Supreme OTC offer a performance fit and good value. Made up primarily of Silver DryStat, these socks are designed to combat the biggest complaint of synthetic socks: stink retention. While a merino wool sock usually can last a couple days before needing a wash, most synthetics smell rather ripe by lunch. The EURO Socks do an admirable job in this department, falling just a little short of merino. And although they’re listed at $25, we often see them online for less, so they undercut the competition in price while still delivering fit and performance that compares rather well to the options above. Editor's note: the supreme moniker here aligns with competitor’s lightweight options. If you require less cushioning and shin padding, we recommend the EURO Socks Silver Ski Light.
See the EURO Socks Silver Ski Supreme OTC
Materials: 33% merino wool, 33% acrylic, 32% nylon, 2% spandex
What we like: Great price for merino wool.
What we don’t: Loses its shape over time.
Merino wool socks don’t come cheap, so it’s notable that the Fox River Wilmot’s comes in at only $18. And while the Wilmot uses a much smaller percentage of the high-end material (33%), you still get many of the good properties: superior comfort, temperature regulation, and less of a tendency to smell bad. The Wilmot is Fox River’s lightweight model and hits a nice balance of cushioning and warmth.
In saving the roughly $7 from our top picks, the Wilmot does compromise in a few areas. Most importantly is fit: the cheaper construction won’t retain its shape as well over time, and the fit around the forefoot is prone to getting loose. And the lower concentration of merino does make the Wilmot a little less plush than what you get from the Darn Tough, SmartWool, or Icebreaker. But $7 is nothing to scoff at and the Wilmot is our top budget merino pick. For an inexpensive non-merino option, see the $10 Wigwam Sirocco below.
See the Fox River Wilmot
Materials: 62% merino wool, 35% nylon, 3% spandex
What we like: Supremely soft and comfortable.
What we don’t: Less of a precise fit and very expensive.
Patagonia’s Snow Socks, designed for both skiing and snowboarding, have a very soft feel that should treat downhillers of all kinds to a comfortable ride. One nice feature is that the socks come up really high—for us it ends right at the bottom of the knee—which prevents your socks and ski boots from creating a pinch point. The lightweight sock (also offered in ultra lightweight and midweight) has a great mix of cushioning and breathability. Padding in the toe, heel, and around the shin is contrasted with thin, open weave merino and nylon along the top of the foot and ankle.
The biggest downsides to the Patagonia Lightweight Snow are its high price and rather generic fit. While the merino is very cozy, the sock is prone to getting loose throughout the day and doesn’t wrap the toes as well as our top picks from Darn Tough and Smartwool. On the other hand, it’s extremely soft and the fit is very comfortable for daily wear. Taking into consideration its cons, it’s hard to put the Patagonia any higher on our list, but it should still treat Patagonia loyalists well.
See the Patagonia Lightweight Snow
Materials: 51% nylon, 45% Thermolite polyester, 4% spandex
What we like: More durable than merino.
What we don’t: Still nearly as expensive.
9 of the 12 socks on the list are made with merino wool, and most of the time it’s the main actor. New for 2016-2017, the Darn Tough Thermolite RFL is made with nylon and polyester for a low profile and lightweight ski sock. If you boots run small (we’re thinking of you ski racers) or just want minimal loft in your socks, the Thermolite RFL offers Darn Tough quality in an all-synthetic package.
There are a few downsides to bypassing merino. Synthetics build up stink more quickly, so you’ll want to wash these socks after every day on the slopes. Second, they don’t offer quite the same next-to-skin softness as merino, although Thermolite still is reasonably comfortable. Finally, you don’t get much in the way of cost savings here. With baselayers, for example, going with a synthetic can save you as much as 50% over merino, which makes them very attractive. Here you’re only saving a buck, but synthetics do tend to last much longer, which adds value in the long run. All in all, we like the Thermolite RFL and it also comes in a cushioned version, but we still give the nod to merino, and especially at a similar price point.
See the Darn Tough Thermolite RFL Over-the-Calf Ultra-Light
Materials: 80% acrylic, 18% nylon, 2% spandex
What we like: Excellent value and very warm.
What we don’t: Prone to bunching.
Women’s: Burton Weekend Socks
Originally intended for snowboarding, the Burton Weekend is a great crossover option for downhill skiing. To start, it’s a fantastic value—Burton typically sells these in a 2-pack, which means you can get all the socks you’ll need for the season for about $30 (or, only $6 more than one pair of the Darn Tough Thermolite above). More, these over-the-calf synthetic socks are the warmest to make our list with a midweight thickness throughout.
What you give up in using a thicker snowboard sock in a ski boot is a foot-hugging fit. The cushioning on the Weekend is great for comfort in a more accommodating snowboard boot, but is prone to bunching in the toes and heel of a snug ski boot. And if you have a performance-oriented, low-volume design, the sock can be restrictive, uncomfortable, and actually less warm than a thin sock that fits better. As the price would suggest, the Weekend’s are best for beginner skiers that may be wearing a roomier boot and will value the extra padding and warmth. Anyone above intermediate level should stick to the downhill-specific designs above.
See the Burton Weekend Socks
Materials: 60% nylon, 36% merino wool, 4% lycra
What we like: Great fit and feel.
What we don’t: Expensive for those that won’t benefit from the compression.
Bridgedale lacks the cachet of a SmartWool or and Darn Tough, but the company has been pumping out quality socks since World War I. Their compression ski model has a lightweight construction with some padding under the heel and toe, something the ultralight SmartWool’s above do not. On the other hand, the Bridgedale’s aren’t quite as comfortable overall and lack the cozy feel (the greater percentage of nylon may be the reason for this).
But perhaps the biggest difference between the two compression socks on this list is the compression level: Smartwool is at 20-30mmHg vs. 15-20mmHg for the Bridgedale. The former is more in-line with standard compression socks, but the slightly looser fit of the Bridgedale doesn’t feel as constrictive. Depending on your needs, it may be the more attractive model as a way of meeting in the middle between hardcore compression and a regular ski sock.
See the Bridgedale Compression
Materials: 53% merino wool, 43% nylon, 4% lycra
What we like: Purpose-built for cross-country skiing.
What we don’t: Too low for downhill.
Every other sock on the list is geared toward downhill or backcountry skiing, so we wanted to include at least one option for cross-country and snowshoeing. What differentiates the Lars Nordic Boot Light from the pack? With this sock you get a lower cut (Nordic boots end much lower on the leg than downhill boots), more cushioning around the foot due to the constant motion, and no padding in the shin because it’s not necessary. We’ve used regular ski socks and even hiking socks for cross-country skiing in the past, but the Lars Nordic is a really nice purpose-built option that will help maximize your performance.
With this sock you also get the same upsides as our #1 overall pick (also Darn Tough): a nice blend of comfort and durability, good moisture and stink management, and a made-in-the-U.S.A. build that comes backed by a lifetime warranty. Another possibility in this category is the SmartWool PhD Nordic, but we prefer the toughness and build quality of Darn Tough. Outside of cross-country skiing, both are viable options for winter activities like snowshoeing, ice skating, and everyday wear under winter boots.
See the Darn Tough Lars Nordic Boot Light
Materials: 40% wool, 24% stretch nylon, 21% polypropelene, 7% stretch polyester 5% olefin, 1% spandex
What we like: Padded calf (and keeps your wallet padded).
What we don’t: Bulky and gets stinky quicker.
Made with enough materials to recreate a high school science experiment, the Wigwam Snow Sirocco is an extremely popular budget ski sock. Despite—or maybe thanks to—the truly impressive mix of materials, the socks have a good fit that isn’t prone to bunching or causing pressure points. We still like socks with merino wool for comfort and fighting odor, but let’s face it, as long as you aren’t out there in your cotton crew socks, most skiers are going to be just fine.
It’s important to note that the Wigwam Snow Sirocco are not ideal for performance-oriented skies as the socks are a little thick and don’t hug your foot as well as the pricier models above. On the plus side, they offer similar levels of warmth and we’ve found them as cheap as $10 even in the heart of the winter buying season. That’s a downright bargain for weekender who want a reliable pair of ski socks on a budget.
See the Wigwam Snow Sirocco
|Darn Tough OTC Padded Light||$25||60% merino wool, 36% nylon, 4% lycra||Light||Yes|
|SmartWool PhD Ski Light||$25||56% merino wool, 42% nylon, 2% elastane||Light||Yes|
|Icebreaker Ski+ Light OTC||$24||70% merino, 26% nylon, 4% lycra||Light||Yes|
|SmartWool PhD Compression UL||$50||48% merino wool, 44% nylon, 8% elastane||Ultralight||No|
|EURO Socks Silver Ski Supreme||$25||70% Silver Drystat, 15% Microsupreme, 10% nylon, 5% lycra||Light||Yes|
|Fox River Wilmot||$18||33% merino wool, 33% acrylic, 32% nylon, 2% spandex||Light||Yes|
|Patagonia Lightweight Snow||$29||62% merino wool, 35% nylon, 3% spandex||Light||Yes|
|Darn Tough Thermolite RFL UL||$24||51% nylon, 45% Thermolite polyester, 4% spandex||Ultralight||No|
|Burton Weekend Socks||$15||80% acrylic, 18% nylon, 2% spandex||Medium||Yes|
|Bridgedale Compression Ski Socks||$40||60% nylon, 36% merino wool, 4% lycra||Light||No|
|Darn Tough Lars Nordic Boot Light||$23||53% merino wool, 43% nylon, 4% lycra||Light||No|
|Wigwam Snow Sirocco||$10||42% wool, 24% nylon, 21% polypropylene, 7% polyester, 5% olefin, 1% spandex||Medium||Yes|
- Sock Materials
- Sock Thickness, Cushioning, and Warmth
- Shin Padding
- Moisture Wicking Properties
- Compression Socks
- Durability and Care
Despite a higher cost, merino remains the most popular and our most recommended ski sock material for a number of reasons: excellent fabric feel that’s soft and comfortable, superior temperature regulation, and odor resistance. It’s the full meal deal for your sock needs (we cover this information in greater detail in our article: Merino Wool: Is It Worth It?). Granted, merino wool socks are rarely pure merino. A blend of fabrics, usually including some nylon for toughness and elastane or spandex for stretch, is required to provide a supportive fit that stays in place. Additionally, the fabric weave and construction is an important consideration, because some brands like Darn Tough prioritize long-term durability over supreme softness with a dense weave, while others like SmartWool sacrifice on lifespan for coziness.
Most of our top picks are made with merino. However, not everyone is totally smitten with the higher costs. For a more cost effective alternative, you can turn to a synthetic option. The designs will vary depending on brand, but some common features in synthetic socks are a performance fit and superior moisture wicking properties. Keep in mind, you’re not going to experience amazing breathability inside a ski boot—the hard shell of the boot prevents that—but these synthetic socks do manage to pull sweat away from your feet as efficiently as possible. The downside is stink prevention, however, some brands have worked very hard to combat this. Silver DryStat from EURO Socks is an example of a synthetic that does a decent job at keeping the smells to a minimum.
Merino and synthetic are the two most common materials used in sock construction, while nylon is a secondary fabric that boosts durability and gives the socks a consistent shape. Ski socks are designed to fit snugly and not bunch up or slide around (we cover this more in the “fit” section below), and this is where nylon and spandex come into place. The elastane or spandex lets the fabric flex, while nylon gives the sock a structure that retains its shape even after being stretched, and supports your foot, ankle and lower leg. We list the fabric construction for each product on this list and you’ll notice a theme: 15-40% nylon. More nylon is usually associated with a performance fit that should retain its shape and avoid sagging over time.
Amazingly, a super thin ultralight sock can be a suitable option even in cold conditions—as long as you’ve spent big bucks on a nice pair of modern ski boots. Boot liners insulated with products like microfiber Thinsulate are able to trap hot air against your feet far better than ever before. As long as your liner fits you well and you don’t go out in positively frigid conditions, an ultralight sock is perfectly suitable. The closer, streamlined fit also improves contact with the boots for improved performance.
Regarding durability, ultralight socks fall short of the other options simply by the thickness of their design. We wouldn’t suggest wearing them too much out of the boots. These ultralight options are most popular with those that work hard—hiking or ski touring. Those that require a little extra cushioning or warmth may want to look at the more all-around friendly lightweight category below.
For standard downhill skiers, the lightweight category is a great place to be—with enough cushioning around and under your foot to be comfortable but not so thick and bulky that it feels awkward inside your boot. Those that like to run an ultralight sock for average conditions or for ski touring may want to have a slightly thicker, lightweight option for those chilly days.
Ski socks of old used to fall into this category, but the changes in ski boot technology have made a thicker sock far less important. The benefits of a midweight sock is added cushioning inside a boot, and for those that run cold no matter what, it may be worth having a midweight option. But keep in mind, boot liners are meant to fit snug, so a sock that is too thick can actually restrict blood flow and make your feet even colder. Be sure to dial in your fit just right if you plan to run a thicker, midweight sock.
Shin padding, not to be confused with cushioning, which is the extra thickness under your feet, most often correlates with the listed sock thickness. There are, however, a few ultralight padded options out there that combine a non-cushioned sock underfoot with some shin protection (including our top pick, the Darn Tough Padded Light). We usually recommend choosing a ski sock with some degree of padding along the shin for all-day comfort and to take the sting out of shin-bang. It’s something that is enjoyed by casual and performance skiers in both the resort and backcountry.
Ski socks have a few simple tasks: keep you warm, fit well and stay in place, and wick moisture. A sock’s wicking ability is particularly important for backcountry skiers or those prone to working up a sweat. If the sock gets wet and stays wet, your feet can become cold pretty quickly. This is where merino wool shines—not only does it wick moisture well, but it continues to insulate even when wet (unlike cotton). And while synthetic materials dry quickly, they can’t retain as much of the moisture as merino and working up a sweat will make them smell bad. The thickness of the material also plays a role, and thinner merino wool socks, like the Darn Tough Over-the-Calf Ultra-Light and Icebreaker Ski+ Light are both standouts in this category.
Following trends in running and performance gear, ski socks brands have been offering up more and more compression options. The goal of a compression sock is improved blood flow. In a ski sock application, the goal is to leverage this improved blood flow to boost warmth as well as possibly reducing muscle fatigue. While it’s a difficult thing to prove, in our experiences with compression socks, we’ve found them to have a very close fit that just may offer a slight increase in warmth. What we can say definitively is compression socks do offer a very supportive fit that performance skiers should enjoy.
A compression sock fits exactly as you’d expect: very tightly. Enough so that it can require a bit of strategy to slide them on the first time. The downside of the design is a substantial bump in price, which can be nearly double the cost of a comparable standard ski sock. The average skier absolutely does not need a compression sock, and only those that are looking for a very tight and secure fit, and perhaps a slight improvement in recovery time and warmth, should consider spending the $30 to $50 for a pair of socks.
More so than nearly any other application, having a proper fitting sock for skiing is essential. Make sure your socks feel tight around your toes, ankle and shin without being restrictive. Any excess material can spell trouble when pinched in between your foot or leg and boot liner. This can create hot spots or worse, blisters. You also shouldn’t have to peel the socks off (compression options are the exception). Look to the sock fit range for sizes, and if you’re right on the fence, we recommend sizing down.
The advanced construction and materials used for ski socks do not lend themselves to being particularly durable. The nylon and merino wool blends are focused on a low profile fit that sits well in your boot, and are prone to developing holes over time. As such, we recommend taking good care of your expensive ski socks. And, if you’ll be skiing a lot, it may be worth investing in a more expensive pair that comes with a warranty. Darn Tough stands out here with their amazing lifetime guarantee, and Icebreaker also comes with a 100% satisfaction guarantee (with no time restriction).
For sock care, it’s always best to follow the instructions given by the manufacturer. What we’ve found to be most successful is to turn them inside out and wash in cool or warm water—and use tech wash occasionally to help get out any lingering smells. To avoid pilling and premature wear, we always suggest avoiding the drier and line drying them instead.
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