You can judge a man by his socks. The inch or two of ankle you see peeking out between pant cuff and footwear say a lot about a man for the occasion in which you find him, not to mention his sartorial sensibility.
A sock connoisseur can first and foremost be judged by his choice of fiber. By the time you’re wearing good denim and getting good haircuts (read: not from Supercuts), you should be well past the tube sock stage. Merino wool is the natural pick for quality, durability, warmth, softness, and style.
But that only narrows it down slightly.
That’s where we come in. We field-tested the best Merino wool socks available in the most variable conditions you can imagine: the challenging terrain and unpredictable weather of a northern Michigan spring. After enduring the rigors of muddy trails, slushy streets, alternating extremes of heat and cold, sun and rain, and even some late-season snow, these socks have earned their place on The Manual’s “best of” list.
These are the James Woods of socks. Their optics are controversial, but they will last way longer than they have any right to. Unlike James Woods, however, they are warm and constructed with integrity. If you’re hesitant about wearing gloves on your feet, consider that these socks wrap each toe in cushioned, sweat-wicking material — can your regular socks say that? Some of our testers reported that their toes were a little colder for the same reason gloves are colder than mittens. For those delicate types, the Injinji Hiker Crew model features a five-toe baselayer underneath a traditional Merino sock, guaranteeing your feet will stay warm all the way to the Crossfit gym.
Best for: Backpacking
The design/color/pattern of these socks make me feel like a patriot. Not one who’s all “USA! USA!,” but more like a patriot who believes in the importance of four seasons. When I put these on, my first thought was, “These are the best socks I’ve ever worn.” Sit with that for a minute. They’re thin, but fit as snug as a fist in a jar. I don’t believe they will ever slide down my leg. They wouldn’t do that to me.
Best for: Hiking, outdoor sports, everyday wear
Long, thick, and marshmallowy soft, Lorpens are our go-tos socks when snow begins to fall. The deep cushioning and tall profile make your snow boots feel like a pair of broken-in Clarks, and the hydrophobic combination of Merino and eco-poly fibers ensures that even if you post-hole up to your knees, your toes will stay dry and toasty.
Best for: Winter sports
We’ll be honest: At first blush, these sweetheart-of-the-Internet socks seemed too cute to be contenders on our best sock list, but Bombas’ Merino wool delivers like a dream. Of all the socks we tested, these were by far the softest and most flexible — they fit like a glove without any washing or breaking-in period. Despite being fairly thin, they were surprisingly moisture absorbent, standing up to multiple days of wear without getting clammy. (Don’t judge — we did it for research.) They get extra points for rich neutral colors and a marled texture, as well as the fact that each Bombas purchase sends a pair of socks to someone in need.
Best for: Everyday wear
Farm to Feet socks just make me feel good. They’re tough, they’re warm, and they make me feel like I’m supporting a good cause, e.g., a farm. (Which is extra good on weekends when we oversleep and miss the farmers’ market.) The outer plaiting texture protects the integrity of the soft inner yarns, providing great feels and reliable insulation. My first pair has lasted well over a year — my thrifty ancestors would approve.
Best for: General outdoor wear
These handmade socks are constructed of high-quality, intricately dyed Merino wool, which makes them warm, dry, and durable AF. But here’s the problem: They’re kind of too beautiful for normal sock use. While they would certainly serve your feet well on inclement weather or terrain, it would be a crying shame to find them wearing thin around the heels or busting through at the hand-linked toe. For that reason, we highly recommend reserving these as your around-the-house socks. Made in Tokyo and sold only by a select number of global stockists, these are hard to come by, but trust us when we say they’re worth the search.
Best for: Toasting your feet in front of the wood stove
Looking for something a little more rugged to protect your feet? Check out our opinion on the waterproof sock and find out if its really right for you.