We've all been there. You're nine miles into a long day on the trail, when you start to feel the burn. Not the burn in your lungs from a tough uphill slog, but the one on your heels from your socks and shoes rubbing you raw.
There are so many things to consider when preparing for a thru-hike. What pack to carry, your sleep system, if you're going to use poles or not, whether to bring a stove or save weight and not cook. All of these are essential questions, but I don't think any are more important than "what kind of socks will I wear, and how many pairs should I bring?"
If you're thinking about a thru-hike, you're probably past the point of knowing not to wear cotton socks - or maybe you're not, and that's OK! We're all here to learn. :)
Wool socks are the order of the day, and not those bulky Paul Bunyan-types that feel like sandpaper. We're talking about those wool/poly blends that magically manage to keep your feet warm in cold temps and cool when it's hot.
My sock of choice (if you didn't figure it out already by this blog being on their website) is Farm to Feet. Why? For the simple reason that they're the most comfortable socks I've ever worn. They also happen to be durable, fashionable, and have great trail names to boot (see what I did there?), names like Max Patch, Damascus, Cascade Locks (on the PCT), and my personal favorite the Blue Ridge.
F2F's entirely made in the US, they're really involved in the trail community - showing up at events like Damascus Trail Days. They also do a lot of good by partnering with organizations like the AT, PCT, and CDT, and underrepresented groups like Black Folks Camp Too (http://www.blackfolkscamptoo.com). Shop the Unity Blaze Sock here.
Regardless of which sock you choose, you need to get your footwear dialed in. And you need to strike a balance between comfort on your feet and weight in your pack. I recommend bringing two pairs at a time. You can always have a dry set that way, and if you get caught in nasty weather you can wear the extra pair as mittens.
You'll want to keep an eye on the heel and pinky toe to make sure they're not wearing thin. Some of that will depend on how your shoes and socks fit together, but I generally replace both every 400-500 miles. Or sometimes I stagger my socks every 250 miles which helps psychologically. We all love "trail magic." A new pair of socks is like giving "trail magic" to yourself and can really lift your spirits.
Budget for 8-12 pairs on an AT, PCT, or CDT thru-hike. At $20-$25 a pop, that may sound like a lot… until you realize you're spending less on socks than on your pack or sleeping bag and they're just as important.
So do yourself a favor! Get your footwear figured out before you hit the trail. And don't skimp on cheaper wool socks that are uncomfortable - or cotton ones that will hold moisture and give you trench foot. There are places to skimp, but socks aren't one of them. Your chances of making it to the finish - and enjoying yourself along the way - are a lot greater if you get off on the right foot, figuratively and literally.