By James Murray, Observer contributor
If there is no such thing as a bargain, then it only follows that you get what you pay for.
Needless to say, over the years I have learned the significance of both adages the hard way. Which sort of brings me to my point. For several weeks now I have been looking for a good pair of hiking boots and, in the process of searching for the right boots, I’ve also found myself searching for the right outdoor socks.
I learned a long time ago that a pair of good quality, comfortable, properly fitting pair of socks is probably one of the most important pieces of outdoor gear you can have when venturing into the wilds. Take my word for it, nothing can ruin a walk in the woods or an extended outdoor adventure more than blisters – and all for the want of a good pair of socks.
Over the last two decades, modern ‘sock technology’ has evolved to the point where one can now purchase a multitude of socks, made of both natural and synthetic materials, designed for various types of specific activities.
Having said that, wool still comprises a significant percentage (25 to 85 per cent) of the fabric used in making many of these socks. Most sock manufacturers list the percentage of materials used right on the packaging. Silk is another natural fibre commonly found in socks. Silk wicks moisture and provides a smooth feel, which also makes it ideal for outdoor walking wear.
Not all natural materials, however, are good fibres for socks. Avoid socks containing large quantities of cotton as it is a poor insulator and retains moisture. The latter trait is what leads to hotspots (friction areas on your feet) when you’re walking that can ultimately lead to blistering. Cotton socks are a recipe for disaster.
More often than not, synthetic fibres and materials are added to enhance a sock’s comfort, as well as increase insulation, moisture-wicking ability and cushioning. Some of the more common synthetic fibres used in socks are polyester, which has both moisture wicking and quick-drying properties; acrylics, which provide good insulation, feel soft next to the skin and wick moisture well; and nylon, which gives elasticity as well as strength to socks.
When selecting socks, a good rule of thumb is to match the weight of the sock to the type of walking/hiking you will be doing and the weight of your walking shoe or hiking boot.
For example, a lightweight sock will compliment lighter walking shoes on easy trails for a few hours of walking or hiking. Harder trail types require mid-weight socks, while heavy socks are what’s wanted for rough and difficult terrain when hiking for several hours.
When buying a pair of socks, look for extra cushioning in the areas where your feet tend to get sore such as the heel or toe. If your feet rub against the tongue of your boot, causing discomfort, look for extra padding on the instep of a sock. Matching socks and boots can also reduce the chance of twisting an ankle.
Quite simply, you only get what you pay for when it comes to walking/hiking/outdoor socks.
They can be expensive though. Specialized outdoor activity socks can run anywhere from $20 to $50 and up. I know that a pair of good quality, well-knitted, comfortable, properly fitting socks made of alpaca wool will run me at least $30 or more, but the way I look at it, either I pay the price now for the right socks or I pay the price later by having to cope with blisters.
Having said all this about high end, high quality outdoor socks, there are some socks that you can get by with that cost less. I have a thing for plush, high bulk yarn socks. You know the ones that feel like they have a soft fleece inside.
They cost about $10 a pair and are absolutely amazing to walk in when they are new. The problem is the plush feeling doesn’t last all that long and they wear out in a short amount of time. After that they are garbage. There are no bargains.
All I know for sure is that I’ve had to save up for new boots, which will probably cost a couple of hundred dollars if not more, so I don’t really see any point in scrimping when it comes to the socks.