How to Not Suck with Socks

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Have people lost the basic skill of using socks properly? Or could it be that knowledge has increased and people were too hardy to complain about blisters before? Either way, taking care of your feet has an important role in covering distances successfully by foot, hence an entire article about socks. Will you find new tidbits of useful information or points of great disagreement? Let's find out!

On Blisters and Socks in General

Putting on a sock while outdoors

Blisters on your feet form from friction between your skin and shoe. Warmth and moisture soften the skin and can accelerate the process. Let's talk about abrasion first and assume that your boots or shoes fit your feet as they should.

Even a single sock creates a layer between the foot and boot, taking up some space and reducing friction. Most often, two layers i.e. double socks offer better protection. The idea is to keep one sock steady against the skin and have the slipping happen in between the socks. Friction between socks is lower than between skin and sock, or sock and boot.

Three layers (and perhaps a felt insole) improve insulation in freezing conditions, as long as the boot has room for all of these. By rotating the extra socks, you can effectively remove moisture and surround the foot with cushioning. Three socks, however, rarely bring further protection against blisters and abrasions.

If your boot starts to feel tight when adding socks, you know you're wearing too many or they are too thick. Lofty socks provide insulation, but when compressed the heat conducts away from the foot instead. A tight fit can also hinder blood circulation in the foot, resulting in cold toes.

Plan your sock game already when choosing footwear: you won't find a pair of boots that have a close fit in the summer with one sock, yet room for double socks in the winter - one pair of which often is thicker. Pick boots with more clearance for the winter and smaller ones for the summer - they can even be the same model in a different size. Purchasing separate boots for different seasons isn't more expensive in the long run as they will last longer.

No matter which socks you have chosen, they will inevitably absorb or wick moisture. Rotate the socks for dry ones often enough to remove this moisture, prevent abrasion, and improve your morale.

Now, let's look at the different types of socks you can choose from, and how to use them together to make your day. The basic principle is to mind the weather and the shoe, as well as your preferences. Usually, layering starts from the thinnest socks and you add thicker ones as needed. In wet conditions, you may want to use waterproof socks as well.

Liner Socks

Putting on a sock while outdoors

Thin socks can be worn underneath a regular pair of socks without the boot becoming tight. Liner socks are like your base layer clothing: the materials and construction transfer moisture away from your skin.

It's possible to use double liner socks: the outer sock doesn't have to be any thicker. This combo offers as much or almost as much protection against abrasion and takes up less space inside the shoe.

If you prefer the thin touch of a liner sock, you can wear them as singles as well. This can be a better choice for tight-fitting footwear like climbing shoes or summer boots.

A few good picks to use as liner socks: Särmä Light Merino Socks or Finnish M05 Liner Socks.

Regular Socks

As ordinary as a sock can get, you can use Särmä Merino Socks to replace all cotton tennis socks you own. As a general-purpose sock with comfy softness and a little insulation, these are not the most popular choice by accident. Contrary to a common belief, these aren't sweaty or hot even in the summertime: merino wool is suitable for all seasons.

Putting on a sock while outdoors

When layering socks, you wear a liner sock underneath the regular socks, or use two pairs of regular ones. The combination of a liner sock and a regular one is especially effective in moisture transfer and cushioning - both of which help prevent blisters. It's also possible to wear a thick sock over a regular one, provided that your boots have enough clearance.

Thick socks

The archetypal thick socks are the ones your grandma knitted by hand and gave you for Christmas. Functionally speaking, a pair of Hiking Socks, Boot Socks, or Heavyweight Knee Socks are a better choice. These often have a higher percentage of Merino Wool and a lofty construction for insulation. The design assumes a liner sock for durability in hard use but you can use these solo as well.

Putting on a sock while outdoors

Thick socks are worn over liner socks or regular socks. Either combination requires some space inside the boot: if you compress the lofty socks with a tight-fitting boot, the socks become less insulating, and it may affect the circulation of warm blood to the feet. In some cases, the cure for cold feet is doffing a pair of socks and loosening the laces a little!

Waterproof Socks

These are a less known option with slightly limited use scenarios, but when worn correctly they are an excellent option to have available. As the name suggests, socks with a waterproof membrane help keeping your feet dry in non-waterproof boots or boots that have gotten wet. This allows you to wear more breathable boots and react to the weather getting worse.

Putting on a sock while outdoors

Compared to waterproof boots where the membrane is integrated into the footwear, having the waterproof part as a separate layer allows you to dry your boots and socks much more effectively, in case they got wet in the field. If wet boots and ordinary socks are all you have, it becomes difficult to get anything near a comfortable feeling for the rest of your mission. (Yeah, small plastic bags are a thing, better than nothing.)

Waterproof socks are best worn with a liner sock for comfort and to transfer moisture away from the skin. Without a liner, the membrane is so close to your skin that the water on the other side of the membrane conducts heat away from the skin: it feels like your feet have gotten wet even if the membrane was not compromised.

Closing words

People's preferences and bodies are different. The environments are also a large variable. How you apply these principles depends on what you find to work for you in practice. Hopefully you have picked up something useful to have happier feet on the move!

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