Originally designed for medical purposes, compression stockings are very popular when walking and offer a range of benefits from muscle support to faster recovery. While most of today's best hiking socks are just designed to prevent blisters, a proper pair of compression socks can help your legs feel energized on long walks, delay fatigue, and even ward off the dreaded DOMS. Compression socks for running have similar benefits.
For hiking, you can opt for full compression socks, or if you just want support and compression for your calf, you can opt for compression sleeves without the foot. There are pros and cons to both options, and if you opt for sleeves, you may also want to wear some walking socks, but there are plenty of compression socks designed for walking and hiking that will give you full coverage - such as those from CEP Sports (in a new tab) open) (we are currently testing a couple of these).
Of course, you still need to pair them with a good pair of walking or hiking shoes so your feet and ankles are supported (head to our roundup of the best hiking shoes or the best walking shoes for men for help). But for now , let's take a look at the pros and cons of compression socks when hiking.
What are the benefits of hiking in compression socks?
Hiking in compression socks has many benefits, from improved blood flow to better removal of lactic acid from your muscles. While scientific research is still ongoing, research suggests that wearing compression socks during sports and activities has several positive implications, not only helping walkers stomp on the outskirts, but improving recovery time afterwards (Opens in a new tab ) so you can go out again the next day.
The first is the compression itself, which is what compression socks were originally designed for. This pressure helps with what's called venous drainage (opens in a new tab); deoxygenated blood returns to the heart and lungs, where it is supplemented with oxygen and recirculated. This blood has to fight gravity in the legs and is propelled solely by blood pressure. Compression stockings support the surrounding muscles and veins, provide a firmer structure for the blood, and help prevent blood from pooling in the legs.
This makes the system more efficient, and also means that lactic acid — the substance that causes fatigue and muscle soreness after exercise — is also removed more efficiently, so your legs feel better when you walk, recover better, and reduce the effects of DOMS (opens in a new tab) or Delayed Onset Muscle Fatigue.
Gentle pressure also helps prevent fluid buildup in the calves and feet, so they are less likely to swell, which in turn can increase pressure inside the shoe and increase the chance of pressure points or blisters. Of course, this compression helps support the muscles themselves, so they don't work as hard, so they stay fresh and strong for longer.
There are also benefits unrelated to compression, such as if you opt for traditional below-the-knee styles, they provide physical protection from scratches and nettle stings, extra sun protection (though we still recommend sunscreen!) and protection in the cold Conditions increase warmth, which aids muscle function.
Because socks are designed to put pressure on the entire surface of the calf and foot, you can expect them to feel very comfortable. It's important to make sure the socks are put on correctly so they distribute the pressure evenly across your legs without bunching up, which can cause excess pressure in certain areas, leading to chafing or reduced blood flow .
While hiking compression stockings do not provide the same high levels of pressure as medical compression stockings, keep an eye out for any signs that may indicate they are negatively affecting you, such as swollen veins, leg cramps, blue/purple toes skin, color or temperature changes, or Difficulty breathing. These may indicate that the socks are negatively affecting blood flow through the legs, in which case you should remove the socks immediately and seek medical advice if the effect is severe.
Is there anyone who shouldn't go hiking in compression socks?
Compression stockings are not for everyone. If you have peripheral vascular disease -- a condition that affects blood flow -- in your legs, you need to avoid it. Likewise, if you have pressure-sensitive or very delicate skin, you may find that the pressure of your socks can cause irritation. In either case, if you are completely unsure, you should consult your doctor before attempting to walk with compression stockings.
What level of compression is good for hiking?
Unlike medical compression stockings, which have a range of compression strengths and sizes specific to an individual and their medical needs, compression stockings for walking typically provide light to moderate compression.
Wearing your compression stockings all day is fine as long as you're the right size, they're worn correctly and don't block blood flow. In fact, several socks are specifically designed for this purpose, although we recommend that you don't actually wear them 24 hours a day. You may find that if you continue using them after a few hours of exercise (or a clean pair may be more comfortable), the benefits will continue and they will help your legs recover faster.
However, you should avoid wearing the same pair of shoes multiple times without washing, as dirt and bacteria can start to build up.