You simply won't notice the right pair, but the wrong choice can ruin a great day in the hills. We check out the humble walking sock and tell you what to watch out for when buying.
Socks, the great forgotten component of your outdoors wardrobe,
but one that can make the difference between all-day comfort and a
painful case of blistered foot and a ruined walk.
The good news is that things have moved on a long way from the old
days of rough, scratchy Norwegian wool rag socks and two-layer sock
systems. With a top quality modern sock, you should be able to get
away with just the one - no liners needed. You can use a lining sock
and some walkers still prefer to, but with the correct sock, it
shouldn't be necessary.
Ultimately a walking sock does three main things: provides
cushioning, increases insulation and helps to
wick moisture away from the skin and outwards. That last one
is crucial as damp skin loses its elasticity, tears easily, swells up
and is prone to blistering.
Socks For All
say seasons, but in some ways it makes more sense to think in terms
of footwear. With lightweight approach shoes or runners, for
example, it makes sense to use a 'cut-down', shorter, lighter sock
with cushioning confined to crucial areas, like toes, heel and
forefoot. It'll allow a closer, less sloppy fit, help your feet
breathe when you're moving fast but still keep you comfortable.
For three-season walking boots, a medium-weight sock is
usually the way to go. You'll get a little more insulation and
comfort padding, but without a whole loads of overheating
Finally, winter mountaineering boots tend to be worn with
thicker grades of socks, though there's no rule that says they must
be. A thicker sock will be warmer in sub-zero conditions and provide
more cushioning despite less forgiving stiff sole units.
One crucial piece of advice is to wear the socks you normally
favour when buying boots and size them accordingly. Buy in the
afternoon too as your feet swell up during the day.
Fabric Choice ...
the old days wool was the fabric of choice and it's still a
decent option. It provides good insulation and decent comfort in the
right grade. It tends to hold onto moisture however and loses shape
with use, so many modern socks take a more sophisticated
One solution is some sort of wool / synthetic mix.
Bridgedale, for example, do this at fibre level wrapping a
high-wicking synthetic fibre around a traditional wool fibre to offer
a combination of warmth and wicking performance. Smartwool take a
slightly different approach using very fine merino wool to
offer greater comfort than normal woo. Thor-Lo takes a different
approach again, using acrylic fiber for their socks saying
that it wicks better, is more durable and holds its shape when wet.
The acrylic, Thor-Lon, is blended with wool for all-round
In socks designed for hotter conditions, where wicking is a high
priority, even more synthetics are used, particularly Cool-Max either
on its own or blended with other fabrics.
featured sock has pretty much reached a pinnacle with X-Socks who
have more technical features in a pair of their socks than most
climbing packs manage... The basics though are simple:
cushioning where it's needed, on the heel, toes and ball of
the foot for example. Most designs now use a hooped, terry-type
padded area in these regions.
Aids to fit in areas like the heel and forefoot where older
socks tend to lose shape and bag out with the resulting possibility
of blisters. Elasticated bands across the forefoot are common now for
example. Finally, an elasticated cuff or cuff area to keep the
sock up and in place while you're moving.
X-Socks take things a lot further with ventilation channels which
are supposed to help cool the foot and socks designed specifically
for the left and right foot plus lots more, however whether the
additional technical features give improved performance is less
Sorry, three categories seems a bit mean so we thought we'd add a
'colour' section. Light coloured socks show the dirt, dark-coloured
ones are more resistant so you have to rely on the smell to decide
whether they need washing. So, on that note, we'll call it a day on
the sock front...
Help and Advice
This article should have given you some basic pointers. The good
news is that there's a load more advice on OUTDOORSmagic:
- Ask on the gear
forum about general issues or specific items.
- Check the member
reviews section for user experiences of kit.
- See OM editorial reviews on the front of the site for our
Richard Gear if you have a specific question you need
Discuss this story
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