I know wool hiking socks can seem like an intimidating investment – they aren’t cheap! But I truly believe they are essential for keeping your feet happy while hiking and backpacking.
Wool socks can also last many years if treated with love and cared for properly 😉 Read on to learn more about how to wash and dry your wool socks, plus where to get the best wool socks for hiking and backpacking.
Cleaning Wool Socks In A Washing Machine
My first tip, bare with me, is to wash wool socks and clothing less. I always wear my wool socks at least twice before throwing in the hamper to be washed.
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Think of it this way, I usually wear the same pair of socks through an entire backpacking trip where they’re actually getting disgustingly sweaty, wet, and muddy, why wouldn’t I wear them more than once at home too when they’re not even really getting dirty?
Anyway, don’t knock it till you try it! Ultimately, less washing means less wear and tear on your socks and clothes and can help them last longer. When it does come time to wash your wool socks, turn them inside out first then put them in the washer with your other clothes.
Bonus tip: wash your socks in a lingerie bag to make sure they don’t get lost or separated.
Wash on cool or warm, not hot, water. I almost always run on warm just because I think it gets my clothes, especially underwear, cleaner than cold water.
Use a mild detergent with no fabric softener. I also usually use a little less soap than recommended, mostly because I’m a frugal dirtbag and that makes a bottle of soap last longer, and I don’t like it if there’s ever soap residue leftover after washing.
Then let the washer run!
Washing Wool Socks By Hand
If you want to wash your wool socks on the trail or in a motel sink on a rest day during a long distance hike or just in between full loads of laundry at home, you can easily wash them by hand.
I like to use Dr. Bronner’s whenever I wash laundry by hand and usually carry a tiny bottle of it with me when I’m backpacking or traveling, but just for washing clothes but my body as well!
Washing wool socks in a sink: fill the sink with warm water and a few squirts of Dr. Bronner’s and add in your socks, underwear, shirt or shorts if they also need a wash.
Let them sit for a few minutes, this is usually a perfect time to take a shower yourself. Then scrub them and ‘agitate’ them the best you can in the sink. Either by rubbing the socks and clothes against each other, or also adding in a wash cloth or hand towel to wrap some socks in and then scrub them in the towel, in the soapy water.
Drain the soapy water from the sink and gently squeeze or press, don’t wring, out any excess soapy water from the socks. Then fill the sink with fresh water and swish your socks or clothes around in the fresh water.
Again, drain the water and press any excess water out of the clothes. And then I do one more rinse for good measure, to make sure all the soap is rinsed off the wool! Either filling up the sink one more time, or if it’s just a few items, like socks and underwear, I’ll rinse them directly under the faucet.
Washing wool socks on the trail: Please never do laundry in a water source! Even with ‘biodegradable’ soap, this is not healthy for the local wildlife or your fellow hikers who are also tryna drink from that water source.
Use either a portable, collapsible water bucket, or waterproof stuff sack, or an empty bear canister, or even a clean ziploc bag and fill it up with water and a few squirts of Dr. Bronner’s. Add your wool socks or other garments.
Swish them all around, scrub them against each other and agitate them the best you can with your hands. Then dump out your soapy water, at least 200 feet away from a water source, then refill with fresh water. Swish your socks all around again in the fresh water, then dump it out.
Then as annoying as it is, I would still do one more rinse with another round of fresh water. And then celebrate being a slightly less smelly hiker than you were before!
Drying Wool Socks
While you can typically dry wool socks and clothes in the dryer on low, tumble dry, I really do think they last longer and keep their shape and size better if you lay them flat to dry every time.
Also, always double check your tags or brand recommendations before putting any wool clothes in the dryer!
If you’re on the trail, lay your socks out on a sunny rock to dry and they’ll be good to go in no time.
After your socks are clean, don’t fold them in on each other to keep the pairs together. This just stretched out your socks. Either store them laying flat or make like Marie Kondo and simply fold them half, especially ski socks.
Best Wool Socks For Hiking And Backpacking
For many years I was a die hard Smartwool fan… that was until I tried FITS socks.
I’ve also always been really persnickety about my feet – I can’t stand if I can feel the seam in my socks or if they’re loose or bunch up around the toes or heel. It drives me bonkers.
That’s where FITS comes in. Most socks seem to be based off of a weird floppy L-shaped mold, whereas FITS socks are actually designed to fit every 3-dimensional contour of the human foot. I also used to get blisters any time I hiked to far or my feet were too sweaty, but I think I’ve only gotten two blisters since switching over exclusively to FITS socks in 2013.
Disclaimer: While good quality hiking socks play a huge role in preventing blisters, they are only one side of the trifecta, with proper fitting hiking shoes and allowing your feet and socks to air out regularly being the other two sides.
Hiking and Backpacking Socks
Hopefully this guide gives you a better idea how to wash and dry your wool socks, whether you’re at home or on a long backpacking trip. And goes to show, a little care goes a long way in preserving our outdoor clothes and gear!
For more tips on hiking gear and clothes, check out:
- How To Wash A Down Jacket
- 7 Steps To Find The Perfect Hiking Shoes
- Best Hiking Underwear For Women
- What To Wear Hiking In Spring
About the author, Mallory Moskowitz:
After studying Recreation, Park & Tourism Management, Mallory spent several years teaching environmental education, guiding hikes, and leading backcountry trips. Her life-changing trek from Georgia to New York on the Appalachian Trail is what sparked the creation of Your Adventure Coach, to share backpacking tips and resources with as many new hikers as possible.