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Compression socks have many claimed benefits for hiking
In general, hiking compression socks are designed to squeeze the legs more gently than regular socks.
Compression stockings have long been used in medical settings with the main purpose of promoting better blood circulation in the legs. Compression stockings are generally recommended for patients who show or may have venous (venous) dysfunction. Medical conditions that may require compression stockings include diabetes, deep vein thrombosis, varicose veins, leg ulcers, leg swelling, and circulation problems.
Another example of a more traditional use is when traveling on an airplane and sitting for long periods of time. Again, the purpose is to promote blood flow in vulnerable areas of the body where blood clots may occur.
Recently, compression products have become more common in the athletics world, especially for runners and walkers. Most people are already aware of tight-fitting lycra and spandex shorts and leggings that are said to provide muscle compression benefits—and compression socks are another addition to this line of products thought to help improve performance.
Compression socks have become an increasingly common sight for walkers. They are usually knee-high, and hiking in compression socks is said to better support the calf, especially the calf muscles, and improve stamina and stamina while walking, reducing the likelihood of injury.
But sure, you might be thinking, don't the best hiking socks provide good support to begin with? To answer the question, yes they do to a certain extent, but hiking compression socks are specifically designed to support your feet and calves more snugly, complement your best hiking boots and your best hiking shoes support. To do this effectively, many compression socks use an additional ingredient called spandex, a synthetic fabric prized for its elasticity.
Compression socks may also have graded compression, or they may have more concentrated pressure areas, such as around the calf or midfoot. There is also a sister product, the Compression Sleeve, which is like a sock but has no feet.
Compression stockings for hiking: The science of blood flow
Most people have a common belief that the heart pumps oxygen-rich blood to the muscles and extremities through the arteries.
Once the cells have used up the oxygen and nutrients in the blood, the deoxygenated blood and other waste products enter the veins before being directed back to the heart.
After the deoxygenated blood returns to the heart, it is re-oxygenated from the lungs. This process continues over and over again.
When it comes to exercise, whether it's hiking or trail running, the more oxygen your cells take in, the better they'll function.
Compression stockings are said to help blood circulate more efficiently through the legs, which means blood returns to the heart faster.
The faster your blood flows, the better your circulatory function, and the better the process, the more oxygen you can get into your cells.
Compression socks are increasingly popular in outdoor activities (Credit: Getty Images)
How can compression socks benefit hikers?
Compression socks usually have progressive compression, which means they are tighter under the legs and looser higher up or below the knees.
They are said to be designed to help the legs fight the effects of gravity by pushing blood back to the heart. The pressure created by the socks pushes fluid up the legs, increasing blood flow to the heart.
Benefit claims include enhanced oxygen delivery; lactic acid reduction; and spasticity prevention.
Anyone can choose to hike in compression socks if they wish. In short, there is no good reason not to. There may be greater benefits for people with varicose veins or calf muscles prone to tightness.
Many long-distance walkers and runners swear by compression socks because they say they improve endurance by reducing stress and strain on the muscles.
Other hikers will tell you that if they wear compression socks during and after an activity, they recover faster from a tough day of walking, especially long distances (see: What is a straight-through hike?) or on steep climbs on the route.
Another reason to wear compression stockings can be swelling of the calf when walking. It's important to make sure you're carrying enough water during your hike in warm conditions, as this is also where swelling can occur, but compression stockings can also help.
Compression stockings for hiking are said to help with endurance and recovery
Compression stockings for hiking: are there any benefits?
Research has shown whether compression stockings can improve athletic performance by increasing blood flow. A study of runners (opens in a new tab) concluded that wearing a compression garment may slightly improve variables related to endurance performance due to improvements in running economy, biomechanical variables, perception, and muscle temperature. It also found that reducing muscle pain, injury, and inflammation may offer some benefits.
Likewise, another study (opens in a new tab) found that compression garments in general "may aid athletic performance and recovery."
At the same time, the impact of wearing a "small lower body compression garment" on athletes was studied. (opens in a new tab) and found that while their product provided some benefits due to improved venous flow, this did not correspond to any improvement in endurance running performance.
Interestingly, the evidence was also extensive, with some people reporting that they never went out for a long run or walk without wearing their favorite compression socks, while others said they found no benefit. There is further anecdotal evidence that compression stockings can help reduce the likelihood of muscle cramps.
Perhaps the most interesting potential benefit of compression socks is post-workout. Studies monitoring the effects of compression socks during rest periods in athletes have yielded some positive results.
Sock pressure and increased venous blood flow during recovery have been shown to reduce muscle soreness or DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness).
There's also some evidence that compression stockings can help speed up recovery by clearing blood lactate more quickly, but that also means wearing socks after a workout.
How to choose compression socks
Compression socks for hikers and runners are often rated for compression, so you should choose a design that fits your activity.
Size also matters, especially around the calf, and you can usually choose the girth when shopping for compression socks.
The goal is to create a sock that fits, not one that feels too tight or uncomfortable.
Note that compression socks can feel tight when put on, but they should be neat and snug.
It may be worth trying compression socks for different walking routes to see if they make a difference to your endurance, comfort and recovery process.