With many outdoor activities, your feet are two of the most important tools in terms of safety. Not only does this entail wearing the best footwear for your activity, but, believe it or not, it also means wearing the best socks for your activity. Any good outdoor retailer will offer a wide variety of socks to meet the needs of a wide variety of activities, and today I’ve broken down the different options to help you get a better idea of which ones you’ll need for your own outdoor adventures.

Running Socks

Socks designed for runners can range from thin socks with very little padding to ones with cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot. There are people who prefer less padding for a better fit in their shoes, while others prefer more padding for added cushioning and reduced foot fatigue. Running socks are commonly available in crew, quarter-crew and below the ankle styles.

Lightweight Hiking Socks

These somewhat thin socks are designed to provide a good fit for hikers with wide or high stepping feet. They offer exceptional moisture management and cushioning in the heel and ball of the foot. They’re also thinner than midweight socks and can be worn with or without liner socks.

Midweight Hiking Socks (Backpacking Socks)

These have additional thickness to give a good fit to hikers with narrow feet, or a low instep. They offer more padding in the heel and ball of the foot than lightweight hiking socks, plus cushioning on the top of the foot and leg, which makes them ideal on long trails.

Heavyweight Socks

Sometimes called mountaineering socks, these socks are your thickest option, and are equipped with extra bulk and padding to withstand the rugged conditions that accompany more serious hikes on treacherous terrain.

Multisport/Walking/Casual Socks

This broad category includes everything from traditional white gym socks with moisture-wicking fabrics to technical socks designed for cross-training and running. Most provide some sole cushioning, and some provide moisture wicking, but they have minimal bulk overall. These socks are available in crew, quarter-crew, and below the ankle lengths.

Like I said, the socks you wear can have a huge impact on your overall comfort during various outdoor activities. Companies spend a lot of time designing socks that will provide optimal performance, on and off the trail, so take some time to look at a few options and ask questions about the features of each. You’d be surprised at how much of a difference the right pair of socks can make.