How to Choose the Right Ski and Snowboard Socks
From boots to helmet, by the time you get on the mountain, it could seem like you’re swimming in gear. You might be wondering; do I need ski socks? Or maybe, what are the best ski socks?
At Darn Tough, we hear you, the gear struggle is real. But like Product Design and Development guru Owen Rachampbell likes to say, there’s a larger system at play—the best footwear is only as good as the socks in them. We couldn’t agree more when it comes to skiing and snowboarding, and the boots that you wear to take part in these activities. The difference between cold, damp, and bunched up socks, and ones that you can wear all day in comfort, can make your day on the mountain.
Designed with input from pros like Michelle Parker and Jake Blauvelt, and tested in Vermont’s harshest conditions, Darn Tough Ski & Snowboard socks are purpose-built to enjoy winter, run after run, season after season. And they’re available in versions that suit pretty much every foot and cushioning (or not) preference.
So, how to choose the right ski and snowboard socks? Let’s dive into it.
Starting with the most expensive, top-of-the-line ski and snowboard boots might be a decent jump-off. What if top-notch boots aren't in the budget?
And even if you’ve got the best boots, do you need ski and snowboard socks? If yes, do they need to be Merino Wool socks?
In our experience, if you’re wearing ill-fitting cotton socks, the whole effort goes out the window — so we’d answer with a definitive yes and yes.
“Doesn’t matter how gnarly you are, if you’re feet are wet and cold atop the mountain, they’ll send you running for the truck heater in no time while your buds mop up all the pow,” says pro snowboarder Jake Blauvelt, whose input helped create the Edge and Backwoods socks.
Owen and our design team developed our ski and snowboard socks specifically for skiing and snowboarding, and the boots you wear. Their goal is to offer a seamless transition to playing outdoors all day, all season, without needing to stop and think about what’s on your feet.
Designed for all skiers and riders, the socks in Darn Tough’s snow collection are built with features that go beyond these sports alone, and make for socks you can count on for any winter activity:
- Warmth (Merino Wool lets you stay out longer)
- Durability (100-day season(s) guaranteed, or send ‘em back for another pair)
- Performance Fit (for that forget-it’s-there fit)
- Breathability (keeping your feet dry means more fun, and less shivers)
- Odor regulation (no explanation needed)
Why Merino Wool
On the journey to figuring out which ski or snowboard sock is the best for you, let’s consider Merino Wool as our base camp. The sheep that Merino Wool comes from have been hiking around for over 10,000 years, logging some major vertical in seriously adverse conditions. What’s their secret?
We’ve covered this amazing natural fiber in depth elsewhere, but it’s worth mentioning the natural softness, warmth, durability, thermoregulation, moisture wicking, and odor resistance; all properties that turn our ski and snowboard socks into the perfect partner for long days on the hill.
Maybe wool reminds you of a grandparent’s itchy sweater? We see you and aren’t here to scratch that itch. Merino Wool’s ultra-fine micron (fancy talk for the thinness of wool fiber) means we knit with the softest next-to-skin feel.
Whichever style you choose — from ultralight ski socks to the warmest ski socks we make — Merino Wool ski socks tap these performance advantages, letting you ski, snowboard, or just cruise the winter carnival in superior comfort.
Skiing and riding a 100-day season is nothing to sneeze at, even if there might be plenty of snot-rockets on the way to clocking that sort of statistic. Everything from your board(s) to your outerwear is put through the wringer, and we expect your socks to get their tickets punched too.
All that Merino comfort and performance will be left hanging in the breeze if your socks blow a hole or the fit becomes sloppy overnight. That’s why we still make all our socks right here in Vermont, where we can keep a close eye on quality.
Starting from the ground up, key wear areas from the Achilles through the footbeds are bolstered for repeat use, day after day, season after season (bonus: the extended Achilles cushioning helps lock in your heels).
We use only the highest-grade Merino and high-quality spandex and nylon for reinforcement, then put it all together with high-density knitting and fine-gauge needles for a better fit and increased toughness.
“Working with Darn Tough on the development of the ski socks made me realize how much care goes into every single sock that leaves the building,” says pro skier Michelle Parker, whose input can be seen in the Traverse sock. “The quality of these socks goes further than longevity; it's the fit, comfort, and functionality too.”
If our socks don’t make it through that 100-day winter, we’ll replace them for you, no questions asked. Our Lifetime Guarantee is our way of holding ourselves accountable to knitting the best ski socks possible.
Fit for Comfort
Ski and snowboard boots have a different function, but if you noticed that ampersand in “Ski & Snowboard”, we don’t separate the two in our socks. That’s because any of these socks could work in either boot. Skiers and riders alike want a smooth fit that won’t slip and integrates seamlessly with their boots.
We start with the True Seamless™ Toe – our socks have no seams, for an ultra-smooth feel. Strategically added elastic provides leg and arch support, resulting in socks that don’t bunch, do stay put to squash blisters, and reduce foot fatigue, lap after lap.
On the top of the foot, our snow socks feature multi-zone mesh panels — improving venting and flexibility, while reducing overall bulk and pressure points. Select socks feature shin padding, a feature designed to eliminate pressure points from boot cuffs.
Moisture Management & Odor Resistance
Merino’s thermoregulation performance, the Terry loop cushioning in Lightweight and Midweight socks, and added mesh zones combine to wick sweat away from your feet, keeping them dryer, and more comfortable for longer.
Cotton socks, on the other hand, will sponge up sweat, becoming heavy, saggy, and worst of all trapping moisture — a major spoiler to avoid on the path to staying warm outside in the winter
Less sweat equals less odor, so Merino naturally keeps odor at bay by keeping you drier. But since our feet are home to the largest number of sweat glands on our body, it’s nice to know that Merino Wool’s complex fiber structure naturally traps the bacteria that cause odors. So go ahead, catch that first chair, and stay out till the last chair, without worrying about the fallout in the lodge afterwards.
Pairing Socks with Snowboard & Ski Boots
With all the above snow-focused features dialed, the next step in choosing the right sock for your winter activities is matching your sock to your footwear and personal preferences by selecting a height, yarn weight, and cushion.
The Boot Itself
We’ve done everything we can to set you up for an optimal fit, but when it comes to skiing and snowboarding in particular, the boot itself can dictate a good deal of your comfort. Depending on your level of experience and familiarity with these sports, ski and snowboard boots can be either totally familiar, horribly awkward, or somewhere in between.
Thinking of these as a specific piece of equipment suited for the task could help. They’re not like hiking or running shoes you can wear from the trail to the store and back home again. Taking the time to assess what kind of skiing and riding you’ll be doing, and find a boot that suits that (softer flexing for beginner and easier-going folks, stiffer flexing for more advanced or just harder-charging individuals) is a great starting place.
Trying them out in the shop, asking questions, and realizing that, for alpine ski boots in particular, they will flex stiffer on the hill (it’s a lot colder out there!) is recommended. Ski boot fitters remove a lot of the guesswork and headache on the way to dial in your fit, offering solutions to address pinch points or pad loose areas to get you skiing happily. As we’ve been told by a local ski patroller, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and don’t settle for being uncomfortable.
It’s an easy choice here. For outdoor activities, you generally want your sock to rise as high as or higher than your footwear. For that reason, we only knit these winter socks in two heights: Over-the-Calf and Nordic Boot.
We design most of our Ski & Snowboard socks to go over the calf, landing just below the knee. This added height offers a buffer all the way up and provides added warmth for the lower leg. If you’re snowboarding, alpine skiing, or simply want those Merino Wool benefits as high up as possible, the Over-the-Calf height is for you.
Wide calves have no fear. This author has fairly meaty calves, and Darn Tough Ski & Snowboard socks fit perfect. The performance fit keeps things close to skin, so if you haven’t worn Darn Tough socks before, it helps to know the experience can be akin to putting on a stocking.
Though most of our snow socks are Over-the-Calf, we do knit a unique height specifically dialed in for nordic skiers. Our Nordic Boot socks land lower, closer to mid-calf, to accommodate the lower height of cross-country ski boots.
These cross-country ski socks feature all the same Merino Wool function, durability, and performance features of our taller winter socks in a lower, ultralight profile. If you’re looking for ice skating or snowshoeing socks, this height is a great pick.
We’ve covered yarn weight elsewhere, but for the purposes of Darn Tough Ski & Snowboard socks, the choices boil down to three distinct weights: Ultralight, Lightweight, and Midweight. Here’s the breakdown on each, and who might prefer which.
Ultralight: As-advertised, this weight optimizes next-to-skin, no-slip fit for maximum foot to boot feel. Ultralight socks are preferred by racers, folks doing high-intensity, self-powered touring in the backcountry, and those with feet that run warm. A prime example of this is our RFL socks, which keep things Real Fast and Light.
Lightweight: This slightly denser knit ups versatility and warmth. About half of our Lightweight ski socks have the option of Terry Loop cushioning underfoot, and some have cushioning on shin, a welcome buffer between a stiff boot and your lower leg as you lean into turns. These socks are preferred by all-mountain, all-day skiers and riders.
Midweight: The warmest, softest in the collection (Midweight socks all feature cushioning), Midweight socks are preferred by those whose toes run a little cold, or for the days when the weather is a more than a little cold. And let’s be real, just for the extra comfort of it. No shade for wanting more of that.
Now that we understand the heights and weights that Ski & Snowboard socks come in, let’s get into the three flavors of cushioning on offer — no cushion, underfoot cushion that wraps around the toe, and shin cushioning like the segmented padding in the Edge that Blauvelt helped us develop.
Cushioning is created by knitting Terry Loops, boosting impact protection, a buffer against pinch points, and of course more Merino Wool to keep your feet happy run after run with thermoregulation, sweat wicking properties, and extra comfort.
All our Ultralight ski socks feature no cushioning, for the closest foot to boot experience. If you prefer cushion, look for it in our Lightweight and Midweight socks.
In our Lightweight socks, you can choose between cushion and no cushion. This largely comes down to preference. Cushion adds a bit of extra warmth and protection. The contoured cushion in our snow socks wraps the toes and extends up the Achilles, reducing heel lift. Specific styles including the Men’s Backwoods and Women’s Traverse also have cushion knit into the shin; this padded shin helps protect your legs from boot pressure, adding comfort to your turns.
Built for warmth, every one of our Midweight winter socks has cushion underfoot, while select styles like the Edge and Function 5 also add in a shin pad.
From the sleek and nearly-not-there feel of no cushioning, to underfoot cushioning for absorbing chatter, and shin padding for railing into turns, each of these options have their benefits. Combine them with our different weights, and none are a bad choice.
Even among professionals, from Jake Blauvelt and Michelle Parker to the ski patrollers at your local hill, there’s a spectrum of preferences. For you, it could come down to how your boot fits, your skiing and riding style, the weather, how hot (or cold) your feet get, and more.
Trouble Shooting for the Wild, Wild Winter
When we get into the question of how to wear ski socks themselves, advice becomes a bit more nuanced, and subjective.
Doubling up on socks might seem like a go-to for when it’s colder, but squeezing into two pairs, and stuffing the whole setup into a boot that usually fits one pair might be cutting off circulation, making the problem worse. The Performance Fit of our socks is designed so you only need one pair, and engineered to stay put, preventing slippage, blisters and other fit problems that you might reach for a sock liner to solve.
For more warmth, level up to our Midweight Ski & Snowboard socks, or if there’s enough room in your boots, our Mountaineering socks, the top of the list in toastiness. Another approach would be boot heaters. Bottom line, if you’ve got fit on lock, don’t mess with doubling up.
Layering can be a question, too. Lately, fashion has seen pant cuffs do a time-warp back to the era of James Dean and even earlier, when newsboys tucked their “trousers” into their socks. What to do with your ski and snowboard socks? Ours are designed for a sleek, next-to-skin fit, so we’d recommend running them under your baselayer to get the best performance.
As for the baselayer pant itself, some tuck it into the boots, some cut their baselayer pants off, capri-style, right at the top of the ski boot (like our ski patroller friend likes to do). Either way seems to be a matter of personal preference. The main point is, how does it feel in your ski boot?
Some folks wear multiple pant base layers over their socks, then try and cram it all into the top of their boots. We’ve seen it done, and hear that and it didn’t fit or feel great. But as long as the socks sit next to your skin, the rest is an experiment you’ll have to try and see what works best for you.
Patterns & Colors
What do aesthetics have to do with building a better ski and snowboard sock? Some might say nothing, some might say everything. That’s why you’ll find a range of looks, from colorful mountain-scapes, to sleek, single-color stealth and everything in between.
Full transparency, the Design Department tends toward fun, so more often than not, our socks are playful. We know they’re going to disappear under base layers, outerwear, and boots for most of their service life. But in that moment that you need to get kitted up and out the door in the cold, having a skiing penguin on your shin, or a subtle encouragement like “Send it” knit into your cuff, might be the decisive magic that jump-starts your day.
Kids Play Too
There’s nothing like getting the whole family out there, and we’re backing the strategy of keeping the kids warm and stoked. Our range of Kids' Ski & Snowboard socks brings all the fit, function, warmth, and cushioning of adult socks, and adds an even more playful range of colors and animals to up the interest. Parents can’t have all the fun, right?
Pro Tip: these socks aren’t just for the mountain. They’ll keep your kids’ toes happy for snowman building, sledding parties, and snowball fights, too.
Not Just Skiing & Snowboarding
We don’t have a “sled” product category, or ice skating, snowshoeing, skijoring, ice sailing, fat-tire biking, curling, snowskating, or ice fishing. But we do have a lot of respect for any sort of activity that gets you outside when the mercury dips. And we’re happy to report that these socks play just as well in Sorels as they do in ski or snowboard boots.
Between the tall height, choice of cushioning, non-slip-fit, and Merino Wool performance, you’ll find a trusty companion for pretty much any wintertime footwear—whether that’s around the rink, or just down to town to tuck into a hot meal or a frosty beverage.
Choosing the Best Ski & Snowboard Socks
Like the choice of where to ski or ride on (or off) the mountain, picking which socks to wear is a personal choice that comes down to preferences on sock weight and cushioning.
Hopefully this post has solved the mystery around what are the best ski socks. Like a multiple-choice quiz, it’s all the above: A) a sock designed for skiing and snowboarding, B) made out of Merino Wool, and C) a cushioning and weight that works for you.
Now that you know the ins and outs of all the different styles in this category, you can try a few and choose based on your foot, your boots, and your adventure.