Choosing the best socks for climbing Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro hiking socks

When it comes to choosing your socks for hiking Kilimanjaro, your footwear and socks should offer dry, warm and comfortable conditions for your feet. You want your feet to feel that they are in a stable and dry environment, protected from external moisture and all the while still breathing naturally. The right socks can also provide significant cushioning and support for your feet and ankles – ensuring the socks hold their protective shape and function is important here too.

If you get hot spots, blisters, frostbite or foot perspiration you will seriously hinder your chances of reaching the summit. Blisters can form anywhere on your feet, can be extremely painful and you won’t be able to bandage or patch them effectively when continuing to climb the mountain each day. Hot spots are a precursor to blisters and will cause much discomfort and reduced foot efficiency if not dealt with quickly. Anything that stops you from ascending the slopes comfortably or reaching the summit is a just cause for failure in reaching your goal of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro – socks play a prime factor in this rationale.

Proper socks are fundamental when climbing Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) as they have a significant impact on your climbing performance. Socks are the first line of defense for your feet in your boots. The right socks can prevent blisters and hot spots and ensure that your feet are operating at maximum efficiency. The wrong socks will almost guarantee blisters and foot discomfort.

We suggest bringing lightweight or medium weight socks for Kilimanjaro.

Heavyweight socks are superior when it comes to absorbing the shock of walking. Additionally, they are significantly warmer. Heat accumulation can lead to sweaty feet, which can be a prelude to blisters. This is not necessarily a good thing because it can produce blisters. For the sole purpose of climbing to the top of the mountain, you might want to bring along a pair of thick padded socks. Nevertheless, you ought to have lighter options available for the remainder of the hike.

Wool is probably your best all-around choice.

The ideal wool is one with short fibers, such as merino. Merino wool is an excellent material for wicking away moisture, and it does not have the same tendency to possess a strong odor as synthetic textiles. It is also insulating when it is wet. Stockings made of merino wool are typically the most expensive.

Wool can be replaced with synthetic materials, which are a viable alternative. A polyester, nylon, or even acrylic material could be used for these. When compared to wool socks, synthetic socks often do not have the same temperature comfort range than wool socks. On the other hand, when it comes to moisture management, they often perform even better than wool does because the fiber itself does not absorb fluids.

Do not use cotton socks.

Cotton is a material that is lightweight, breathable, and long-lasting; yet, it has a tendency to absorb moisture too rapidly, which can result in feet that are cold and clammy. When it comes to alpine conditions, cotton is not a good choice as a general rule.

Things to consider when choosing your pair of socks for your Kilimanjaro trek

It is recommended that you carry four different pairs of socks with you. Those individuals who have a history of foot problems or those who have less experience are encouraged to bring extras just in case. On the day of the climb, fresh socks are very helpful.

Similarly to the boots and shoes, the most vital thing to think about is how well they fit. When selecting socks, look for ones that are snug without being too tight. Instead of sitting beneath or above your heel, the heel of the sock should be touching it. Do not position the toe seam above or below your toes; rather, it should be level along the top of your toes. In addition, the sock must to be pulled tightly around the foot, without any material sagging. While you are hiking, your socks should not slide down.

Sock Fit

After having your feet measured at your neighborhood outdoor store, it is recommended that you next match your socks to the size that you actually wear. The next size up is typically purchased for hiking boots, therefore this is preferable to the alternative of purchasing the same size as your hiking boots. There are differences in sizes between brands, and the best method to determine which one is the right fit is to try them on.

Sock Length

It is necessary to determine the length of the sock that will be purchased next. At the very least, the hiking sock should be low calf (crew socks), and then it should be as high as knee highs (knee highs, which are not seen in the picture). You can use any of these lengths on Kilimanjaro; however, the one you select will depend on your personal inclination. It is important to keep in mind that the top of the sock should be positioned so that it is over the top edge of your shoes or boots. This is done to prevent any rubbing, which can result in discomfort and blisters.

Socks that are shorter than ankle length (mini-crew socks or micro-crew socks) or shorter styles are not recommended by us because they are not suitable for providing warmth or protection while hiking or climbing.

Sock length Sock Weight

In most cases, the construction of a sock and the material it is made of are the primary factors that define its weight, also known as its thickness. Typically, the amount of cushioning that a sock provides is proportional to the weight of the sock. The cushioning provided by the sock is improved by its thickness.

While lightweight socks are designed for hiking in warm weather, they are also capable of being worn on Kilimanjaro if your feet do not have a tendency to become cold. In terms of warmth and comfort, socks of a medium weight offer a balanced combination of the two. It is also possible to wear two pairs of socks in order to attain a higher level of insulation by doing so.

Sock Material

It is the material that a sock is constructed of that is the most crucial aspect in determining whether or not it is breathable, warm, and able to keep you dry. For the purpose of climbing Kilimanjaro, we strongly suggest donning socks that are either composed of merino wool or synthetic materials. There are properties in these materials that make it possible for water to serve as an insulator, which enables them to keep your feet warm even when the temperature outside is low.


  • For your climb, Tranquil Kilimanjaro suggests that you bring at least four pairs of hiking socks and three pairs of liner socks with you.
  • To ensure that your socks have the opportunity to dry out and “fluff” up between wearings, you should switch between different pairs of socks on a daily basis.
  • As soon as you become aware that your feet are damp while you are trekking, you should instantly change into dry socks.
  • Stop what you’re doing and take care of the blister if you feel it building up. Covering the hot place with a bandage or athletic tape is a good idea.
  • Put wet socks inside your sleeping bag if you have any that are currently in your possession. Overnight, they will be dried out by the heat of your body.
  • If you want to keep your feet warm during the cold nights, sleep wearing socks that are clean and dry.
  • Perform a test on your socks on actual trails before you go climbing.
  • You should experiment with a variety of sock and sock liner combinations with your garments. It is imperative that you have the system that is most suitable for your needs.

Socks are a relatively insignificant item of equipment, but they can have a significant impact on both your level of comfort and the overall success of your climb. It is important to keep in mind that every foot is unique, and hence, what works for someone else could not work for you.

Impact of Socks on Climbing Performance

The type of socks worn during climbs of Mount Kilimanjaro can have a significant impact on overall climbing performance. Socks that provide insufficient insulation and moisture protection may lead to cold feet and frostbite, forcing an abrupt end to the climb. Additionally, wearing cushioned cotton socks in cold conditions can make the feet too cold by keeping sweat next to the skin, causing the skin to soften and making it more susceptible to damage. On the other hand, wearing socks that have too much insulation can cause feet to become too hot and swell, increasing the potential for blisters and abrasions. Fiber content of the sock is also a common problem. The primary types of fibers used in socks today are wool and synthetic. In cold conditions, wool is the better choice because it retains warmth when wet. However, some people find wool to be itchy. Mildly insulated socks can be worn underneath a thick wool sock in order to provide insulation and also keep the wool from coming in direct contact with the skin. A liner sock must be snug against the foot and not have any wrinkles in order to prevent blisters around wet skin. Changing the socks a few hours into the climb can also be beneficial in preventing blisters and hotspots around the feet. Finally, socks should be kept clean and dry in order to avoid fungal conditions such as athlete’s foot.

Preventing Blisters and Hotspots

Quality socks can prevent the formation of painful blisters and hotspots by protecting feet from friction and sweat that may accumulate between shoes and feet. Most cases of blisters can be eliminated by wearing two socks, a thin liner sock made of wicking material (usually polypropylene) and a thicker sock on top. The layering helps to reduce the friction between the sock and the shoe, instead the friction takes place between the two socks. With two socks, the inner sock will stick to the foot and the outer sock will stick to the shoe, again, taking away any friction on the skin. The inner sock will also help to move moisture/sweat away from the feet, keeping them dry and reducing the chances of blisters. The double sock system is not very effective if the two socks are similar in thickness as the friction between the two socks tends to cause blisters. Combine double socks with proper lacing techniques and it is very effective in preventing blisters and hotspots around the ankle. Lacing techniques are especially important in the prevention of blisters and hotspots as shoes tend to become loose and tight spots cause unnecessary friction on the foot. Blisters and hotspots usually occur in areas of the foot that are constricted within the shoe, where the foot and shoe rub against each other. High friction areas are usually the back of the heel and the toes.

Maintaining Foot Health in Extreme Conditions

Always ensure that the socks worn are clean and free from debris. Any small object on or around the foot can lead to blisters, hot spots, or, in the worst case, infection due to open wounds on the foot. This is where gaiters can be useful in keeping dirt and debris out of the boots and away from the feet.

Extra thickness of a sock can often seem like a good idea to increase comfort levels of the foot. However, a thick sock can lead to its own problems. Tightness, bunching, and added pressure to the foot due to a thick sock are all problems that can lead to blisters and, in some cases, cut off circulation of the foot. If a thick sock is what the user desires, it is recommended to find a sock that meets the user’s cushioning and protection needs yet remains close to the socks that they normally wear. This will reduce the risk of problems due to a change in sock thickness.

Another significant issue that can occur in cold and wet conditions is Trench Foot. This is a painful condition of the feet and swelling of the legs caused by prolonged exposure to damp and cold conditions. The reason socks are important in preventing this condition is due to the fact that, once again, they act as a barrier between the foot and the conditions. The good insulation provided by the socks can help maintain the foot’s normal temperature.

Socks possess the ability to maintain foot health by acting as a protective barrier between the foot and the inside of the boot, where heat, moisture, and friction often cause problems. A good way to illustrate this is by using a pair of waterproof socks as an example. These socks are designed to keep water from getting to the foot. However, after a day of use, it is often found that the inside of the sock is wet. The reason for this is due to the sock doing its job by keeping the water out. However, now the material of the sock is wet and provides an opportunity for blisters to form due to increased friction levels between the foot and the now moist sock. This example highlights the need to keep the foot both dry and free from increased levels of friction while in extreme conditions.

Key Features to Consider

For breathability and moisture reduction, the preferred fabrics are those in the Coolmax or Merino Wool range. Both are designed to wick moisture away from the skin and transport it to the surface of the sock where it can evaporate. Wool has the added advantage that it keeps its insulating properties even when wet, although it tends to be less durable than synthetic fabrics. Any sock made from cotton should be avoided at all costs due to its high level of moisture retention. Cotton kills.

Obviously, in choosing a sock to help keep your feet dry and avoid blisters and trench foot, you need a sock that is very breathable and wicks moisture away from the skin. Breathability is equally important, especially on summit night. When you start climbing late in the evening, with a warm sleeping bag, most people’s feet tend to sweat inside their socks. When a climber wearing non-breathable socks exits a warm environment into the sub-zero temperatures outside, this built-up sweat will freeze, likely resulting in very cold feet or worse.

What is trench foot? It is a medical condition caused by prolonged exposure of the feet to damp, unsanitary, and cold conditions. It is one of the most common ailments suffered by troops during World War 1 (hence the name), but it can occur during any situation where the feet are wet for long periods of time. Symptoms include a tingling and/or itching sensation, pain, swelling, numbness, and a heavy blotchy or red rash.

Moisture-wicking and breathability: The summit of Kilimanjaro stands at 19,340 feet (5896 meters). At this elevation, the air pressure is just 44% of that of sea level and there is 50% less oxygen in the air. As a result, it is considerably more difficult for your body to get rid of moisture, whether it be the moisture you breathe out or perspiration. This, in turn, makes it easier for moisture to build up within insulation. In sock terms, this moisture builds up at the feet and this can lead to blisters and trench foot.

Moisture-Wicking and Breathability

Moisture-wicking and breathability are two of the most important considerations when choosing socks for your hike. Think about it, the longer and harder the hike, the more your feet are going to sweat. If you were wearing cotton socks, your feet would remain wet for a far greater period of time. This is because cotton is a hydrophilic fabric, meaning that it absorbs water and takes a long time to dry. Running or hiking in wet cotton socks can be a real unpleasant experience, with the bunching and friction often causing blisters. I’m sure I can speak for everyone in saying that we’d like to steer clear of blisters on our hike up Kilimanjaro! Moisture-wicking fabrics, on the other hand, draw moisture away from the skin and usually dry quickly, allowing you to avoid the nasty experience of running in wet socks. These kinds of fabrics are hydrophobic, meaning that they do not absorb water. A breathable fabric will allow air to circulate to your feet, further aiding the evaporation of any moisture. With less moisture sitting on your skin, there will also be less chance of blisters. Remember that breathability isn’t necessarily important on cool hikes, so you may want to consider wearing more breathable socks on your hike up a warmer trail such as the Lemosho Route up Kilimanjaro, and more insulating socks on a cold weather trek.

Cushioning and Padding

Cushioning and padding are two essential features to consider when selecting socks for an expedition. Thicker socks offer more protection and are most commonly associated with comfort. The downside to thick socks is that they take up more room in the boot and can cause rubbing, leading to blisters. A modern alternative to thick cushioned socks are double layer socks. This technology has a thin liner stitched to the outer sock at the topline. This can move independently of the outer sock, reducing friction between the two layers rather than the layers against the skin and the foot and shoe, which helps prevent blisters. Thorlo is one of the most well-known double layer sock manufacturers and has a range specifically designed for hiking and extreme conditions. Whether you choose thick socks or double layer socks, the important thing is to prevent the movement of the foot within the boot or shoe, as this is the primary cause of blisters on Kilimanjaro. Padding around the toes and heels is also useful for adding an extra layer of protection in the more common blister-forming areas. Wool socks are a great option because of wool’s natural cushioning and protective properties. The downside is that their drying time is increased compared to other materials.

Compression and Arch Support

The Smartwool and Thorlo brands have a few models of socks which include padding, Y heel pockets, and a tighter stitching around the arch for a better custom fit. The Smartwool light hiker mini sock with half cushion has an almost ideal level of cushioning for Kili but lacks any sort of arch support and has no mention of compression. The Smartwool trekking heavy crew sock has a high-density terry loop padding in the foot and ankle for additional protection, but like the light hiker, it has no mention of compression and minimal arch support. The Thorlo LTH is a moderate cushion sock with padding and an increased density around the heel but is still lacking in arch support. The LTH has been reported to have poor pilling resistance and lack of durability, which makes it a less practical choice compared to other socks with similar cushioning features. This concludes our analysis of padding and support. Remember that the best way to see if a sock is right for you is to try it on the trail.

Compression and arch support are two of the most important features to consider when searching for the right sock to keep your feet happy. Poor arch support can lead to foot pain and fatigue, and with the multitude of different foot shapes, it’s important to find a sock that gives your specific arch the support and comfort it needs. A sock with the right amount of compression will increase blood flow and decrease the time it takes for your legs and feet to recover at the end of the day. There have been few independent studies regarding sock compression, and the production of most socks lacks specific data regarding compression levels. Nonetheless, one should be able to feel the benefits of increased blood flow and decreased feet/leg fatigue when trying a pair of socks on a test hike.

Material and Durability

Choosing a sock material that has good durability is important because no one wants to be buying new socks after every hike (besides some people claim to love sock shopping). Materials that have good durability include wool, Coolmax, and nylon. Wool is a natural fiber and has the added benefit of being naturally moisture-wicking, so it’s a good choice if you’re planning to wear non-waterproof boots. However, a thick wool sock will be too hot for use in warm climates or with any kind of insulated boot. Thin wool socks are available but may not provide sufficient cushioning for those who are used to thick synthetic hiking socks. Wool socks are not advised for vegans. Coolmax is a brand name for a type of polyester which is specially engineered to increase breathability and moisture-wicking. Polyester is not as odor-resistant as wool, but it is lighter and will dry quicker. Nylon is often used in the reinforcement areas of socks such as the toes and heels to increase durability. Although not a main sock material, it is used in a blend with other fibers to increase the overall durability of the sock. Cotton socks are best avoided for hiking, as they retain moisture and have poor durability compared to synthetic or wool socks.

Tips for Choosing the Right Socks

Consider the Climbing Season and Weather Conditions

Understanding the common weather conditions on your chosen route will help you make a decision about the type and thickness of sock to wear. For example the conditions on the dry Rongai route can be very different to those on the wet and muddy Marangu route.

At other times of the year the chances of encountering rain and snow increase the further you go from the two optimal periods. April and November are still feasible for a climb but may find more adverse weather conditions. High winds and heavy rain can occur and the mountain may be especially cloudy. It is very rare to find a clear view of the summits during these months. This can be a good time to attempt a budget climb as the tourist season is low and prices are discounted.

Climbing Kilimanjaro is best attempted during the warmest and driest part of the year. This is from December to February and from mid June to the end of September. Many consider the best time to climb to be the warmest months of January and February. During these periods there is a high likelihood of clear skies and excellent visibility. This is also a good time to attempt to reach Uhuru Peak as there is usually less snow and the temperatures are not as harsh as during the cold snaps.

Kilimanjaro is a tropical mountain and like all tropics and central areas of continents it is influenced by two main air masses, the maritime airmass and the continental airmass. The former brings rains, the latter dry weather.

When climbing Kilimanjaro, the aim is to keep your feet warm and dry regardless of weather conditions. Be informed of the general climate on Kilimanjaro and more specifically the conditions on the route you will be climbing. Here is a brief guide to Kilimanjaro climate and the each route, find more on the route page.

Consult with Experienced Climbers or Guides

Whether friends with or simply seeking the knowledge of experienced climbers in your area, fielding advice from seasoned outdoors people can save some time and headaches. If a prospective climber has already selected a double plastic boot, they should ask those who have been there done that if it was really necessary. There are many gear shakedowns to be had while planning for a climb up Kibo. Theory and reality sometimes clash, but hearing advice from those who have already been in a similar situation can definitely help determine the most essential gear needed for a given expedition… or what is overkill. Most likely, the “just the essentials” pack list makers and light-and-fast alpine climbers will be looking for the same sock to serve for both the ascent and descent of Kilimanjaro. Particularly with new boot technology tending towards single layer, or just a Gore-Tex liner, than the traditional Norwegian welt, it can be difficult to find the right balance between insulation and sweat management. This can be yet another area where climbers will want to seek advice from others with similar boot and sock combinations. Buying the best sock for the highest probable usage can save money and potentially frostnip down the road.

Test and Break-In Socks Before the Climb

Once you have the correct sock size in hand, test them out during a variety of physical activity and wear them with the hiking boots that you plan to wear while climbing Kilimanjaro. Determine if the sock provides the right amount of cushion, wicking, or warmth that your foot will need while climbing the mountain. Remember to make sure that the socks are made from natural fibers and not synthetics that can cause blisters due to improper wicking. Once you have found the right fit and material, try to purchase duplicate pairs of this sock. This way you will have readily available replacement socks during the climb.

When socks are new, the fibers have not yet adjusted to your feet. To ensure a good fit, it is important to wash and dry your socks according to the instructions provided on the inside label. If you find that you have ordered the wrong sock size, just contact the company and we will be happy to help you find the right size. To avoid your socks getting mixed up with someone else’s, always initial all of your socks with a Sharpie.


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