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Keep Your Feet Fresh

Posted by Eli Boschetto at Feb 17, 2012 10:34 AM |

the washington trails gear team gives their reviews on their favorite hiking socks, including styles from teko, icebreaker, smartwool, thorlo, bridgedale and goodhew.

The world around us is changing at a rapid pace. We have, what seems, an infinite amount of technology choices happening across all industries: cell phones, tablet computers, climbing gear, and yes—socks. There are abundant arrays of sock choices for out there for hikers and backpackers. The question to ask yourself: “What do I make out of all these choices?”

As the Washington Trails gear team tested the hiking boots you read about in the last issue, they also sampled a variety of socks, finding the perfect styles and combinations to ensure the ultimate in trail comfort. They roamed the the mountains and valleys in everything from their tried-and-true favorites to a selection of new weights, styles and brands, all utilizing the latest in wool and synthetic fabric technologies to keep their feet dry and comfy mile after mile.

In a nutshell, the three standard types of socks available to hikers are cotton, wool, and synthetic. Cotton kills on the trail. It does not wick moisture, but instead absorbs moisture and compresses easily, losing its ability to keep your feet warm and dry. This moisture allows bacteria to grow, resulting in that "stinky sock" smell we've all experienced. Cotton socks are not recommended for hiking. As such, the team only tested wool, synthetic or blended models.

Wool behaves much like cotton, as it too absorbs a fair bit of moisture and has poor wicking capabilities. The difference: when wool gets wet it is still able to keep your feet warm. Wool is also able to keep bacteria growth at bay, so they don’t smell as bad after using them for multiple days. While traditional wool socks can be itchy, Merino wool feels absolutely lovely on the feet.

Synthetic socks are amazing at wicking moisture, due to the fiber construction as well as its non-compressible nature, often retaining its loft and cushion for multiple days of trail use. However, synthetic socks, when wet, don’t keep your feet as warm as wool. Also, several tests have indicated that blisters form less frequently when using synthetic socks compared to wool socks.

What’s the best kind of sock for you and your hiking style? Well that’s probably as varied as our gear team’s, as most of them selected a variety of both wool and synthetic sock options, sometimes combining the two in a sock/liner combo, and then based on the kind of hiking they were doing. Click on over to the gear page and check out their top sock recommendations for everything from trail running and day hiking to backpacking and long-distance trekking.

— Cheri Higman, Washington Trails Gear Team