Outdoor Socks 101
Although they may seem like a small detail, socks play an important role in your overall comfort and happiness outdoors. Anyone who has gotten a blister, mid-hike, knows what a nightmare getting back to the trailhead can be. Socks are as important to injury prevention and comfort as proper footwear, and can make the difference between a miserable or a great time outside.
So, what do you need to consider, when purchasing a pair of socks? You need to choose socks with good thermal properties and the correct characteristics for the task at hand. Depending on the season and activity, there are different considerations including size, weight, style and material. A good sock should wick away sweat, cushion your foot, and reduce the friction that could lead to blisters.
Warm breezes, clear lakes, a rocky mountaintop just waiting to be summited. It’s the perfect time of year to head outdoors and try out new gear! Summer is a time for running, hiking, biking, and water sports. Usually the season is dry and warm, thus your choice of sock should reflect the weather. A good summer sock will provide the right amount of cushioning, while being light enough to properly cool your feet in hot temperatures. Socks should contain wicking fabric to manage moisture, next to the foot. The fabric should breathe well, allowing moisture to evaporate so that feet remain dry.
The material of choice is usually a synthetic like polyester or polypropylene, or a wool-nylon blend. Products that include polyesters like Coolmax®, Dri-release®, X2O®, Drystat®, and Merino wool may be good options as these technologies help remove sweat and reduce odor. Cotton material should be avoided for sports and outdoor activities, as it is not great at drawing moisture away from the feet, dries slowly, and provides no insulation when wet. This dampness may result in blisters, odor or fungus – none of which you want!
In terms of good design, summer socks for running and biking are cut shorter on the leg and often include mesh panels. Hiking socks should be higher on the calf and extend past the height of the boot. It is also wise to remember that hiking socks should be thicker at the ankle, heel, and toe since these areas receive the most wear and tear. If you are considering canoeing or any activity in a wet area, ensure your socks will dry quickly, buy extra pairs and change socks frequently to avoid fungus.
When leaves start to change color and temperatures slowly drop, it’s time to change up your sock choice. Autumn is all about finding the difficult balance between keeping your feet warm, and not overheating them. It is sometimes better to bring extra socks than risk having cold toes in your thin summer socks.
Purchasing three-season socks is another option. Three-season socks, are thicker than summer socks and will provide added cushioning. If you are planning on hiking occasionally and in different seasons, then these are probably the perfect socks to choose.
Winter socks are thicker, contain excellent insulating materials, and are designed to keep your foot within a comfortable temperature range, even in the bitter cold. They are usually made of wool and are often paired with a thin, wicking sock liner. Whether you are hiking, snowshoeing, snowboarding, or cross-country skiing, the right sock will help ensure a pleasant experience rather than numbness or frostbite.
Most importantly, socks should be thick enough to keep you warm, but not so thick as to cut off the circulation to your feet. It is wise to try on the socks with your boots to ensure there is ample space. In the winter, choosing a knee-high or tall sock may be wise, as they warm the legs or can even substitute for running tights.
Choosing the right materials for winter socks is also important. Wool is often the fiber of choice, as it is warm, cushions and retains warmth well. Merino wool or wool and synthetic blends are also an option, as they often have better durability and dry faster than pure wool. These materials are good options because even when wet, they do not lose their ability to insulate. Additionally, if they become wet, they dry, simply from body heat created while being worn.
Wool socks are often placed over a thin liner sock, in the winter. The liner sock acts as the moisture-wicking component, while the wool outer sock provides the necessary insulation and cushioning. Liner socks could be summer socks or specially designed socks for this purpose. Materials of liners should include any synthetic hydrophobic material often reinforced with nylon.
Spring is notoriously the wettest season, thus wearing socks that dry quickly and retain heat while wet are essential. Spring has melting snow, swollen streams and muddy trails. It can also be warm and dry. A mix of socks is you best strategy. Synthetic and wool socks to keep your feet warm and dry, thinner or thicker depending on the warmth of the day. Bringing extra socks in a backpack or dry sack is also recommended, along with waterproof footwear.
There’s a good chance you’ll put close to 1,000 miles on a pair of socks before you’re ready to replace them. Since you’ll be spending so much time in your socks, it really is worth the time and expense to find the proper pair. Pick different socks for various seasons and activities, and test them out before you embark on a multi-day journey to ensure proper fit and comfort. Choose correctly and invest well, so you come home from your outdoor experience with nice memories and happy feet!