Do I Need To Wear Walking Socks?
Your feet have around 250,000 sweat glands in them and produce half a pint of sweat every day. That may sound a lot, but most of that evaporates, helping to cool your feet and body.
When out hiking the extra exertion increases the amount of sweat your feet generate. This can cause problems on long walks, often resulting in discomfort and painful blisters. Walking socks are designed specifically to address these issues to keep you hiking in comfort, so we thought we'd show you how and why they work.
How can you avoid blisters when walking?
Ditch the cotton dress socks
Most people wear socks that are made of cotton, nylon and a bit of elastic for everyday use. They are excellent for day-to-day activities, nice and soft against your skin and breathable, but have their drawbacks over longer distances.
"On average a person who has a sedentary job will take between 1,500 and 3,000 steps. The general recommendation is to try and take 10,000 steps a day (about 5 miles)."
In order to make it to 10,000 steps a lot of people take the dog out or go for a country walk. Walking over uneven ground, fields and up hills is going to make your feet sweat. A cotton sock will absorb this moisture and become wet.
Once wet, a cotton sock...
- Is going to feel uncomfortable.
- Softens the skin and makes it more elastic, limiting protection against friction and blisters. Blisters form when the top layer of skin pulls away from a lower layer and fills with fluid.
- Is going to wrinkle up, stick to the boot and rub against your foot, causing further friction.
Why choose a merino walking sock?
Image Source: Cosmic timetraveller
The best walking socks are made from fine merino wool as the properties of the fabric make them perfect companions for long days on the trail.
Merino regulates temperature and wicks sweat away
The natural crimp (number of waves/curls in a fibre) traps air, providing insulation even in a thin layer of wool.
When exercising your feet warm up and in an effort to keep them cool they release moisture into the air as a vapour. If this vapour continues to accumulate it eventually turns into sweat on the skin's surface and evaporates - cooling your feet. This is great if you have bare feet but it becomes a problem when you have socks and hiking boots on.
Merino fibres absorb moisture vapour before it can turn into sweat and force it to evaporate outside the sock. This lowers the temperature of the air between your foot and the inner of the sock.
Merino is antibacterial:
You produce less sweat wearing merino socks therefore there is less food (sweat) for bacteria to eat and excrete (the source of unpleasant smells). This means you can pack fewer socks for a multi-day hike.
"A Merino fiber can absorb and retain up to 30% of its own weight in moisture and still feel dry to the touch."
Comfort and fit:
Merino is a fine wool, naturally elastic and largely made of Keratin (a protein found in hair). Its small diameter allows it to bend to fit the shape of your foot and its coil like structure helps it to return to its original shape when stretched.
The elastic properties of the wool hug your foot and ankle, securing the sock. And because it's so good at preventing moisture build-up there are no wrinkles in the sock or rubbing.
What sets a hiking sock apart from regular socks?
- Seamless toe box: stops chafing across the top of the toes.
- Cushioning: thicker areas offer more impact protection.
- Elastic: strategically placed, the elastic helps to secure the sock around the foot and maintain the shape to prevent friction.
- Mesh Venting: allows for heat to escape.
How to care for merino wool socks
Image Source: Philip Estrada
- Turn your socks inside out before putting them in the washing machine. It helps to remove oil and salt build up.
- Once in, select a wool or delicates cycle and choose a low temperature or cold water setting. A low temperature ensures the wool doesn’t shrink.
- Use a non-bio detergent liquid. Don’t use a fabric softener or bleach for cleaning, it can leave a residue on the fibres inhibiting the performance.
- After the wash, lay the socks out flat and let them drip dry. Don’t tumble dry them (they may shrink) or hang them up to dry (they can stretch when wet).
- Place the socks flat in a draw rather than wrapping them in a ball. A ball can stretch the socks.
- A zip-lock plastic bag seals the socks away from moths. One thin sheet of cotton between socks should absorb any moisture that builds up. If you don’t wear the socks for 6 months, air them for a day to let them breathe before placing them back in the bag.
- A small bag of lavender in your sock draw can help repel moths and smells nice.
- Put a small block of Cedar Heartwood next to your garments, it contains natural oils that kill moth larvae.
About the Author:
Pete Fletcher - Outdoor Expert
Pete grew up hiking most of the trails in the Lake District before being introduced to skiing. A few decades later and you’re most likely to find him snowboarding, skateboarding or making a mean coffee.