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Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sock it to me: A review

The humble sock is not often found in many gear reviews online.

Why so?

After all, a crappy sock can bring misery to a hike, far more than a leaky anorak or a smelly base layer. A leaky anorak just means that you will get wet for an hour or so before you dry off. A smelly base layer may mean you are not the most popular bloke in the pub, but after a scrub down, perfumed perfection is once more restored.

Poor socks, however, can lead to blisters and blisters means one thing: Walking misery! And not just for the period of your hike, but for weeks afterwards, as they nag away at you from within your shoes.There are loads of reviews in the bloggersphere on anoraks and base layer but very few on the humble sock.

You can spend hundreds of your hard-earned beer vouchers on an anorak and quite possibly half a hundred or so on your base layer, depending upon your level of financial flashiness. The humble sock, that bastion against blisters, costs a fraction of that: The price of an average round in the pub for you and three mates.

So: What makes a decent hiking sock?

There are all sorts of manufacturers out there making all sorts of socks out of all sorts of materials. After years and years of picking through the racks in outdoor shops and the resulting misery of that poor sock choice out on the hill, I have come to my own conclusions.

I like a sock that doesn’t “bag”. Baggy socks lead to bunching in the shoes and bunching can only lead to discomfort and blisters. Your sock needs to fit snugly around your foot with no loose material. This is helped if there is some elastane or similar shruggy material in the weave; It gently moulds the the sock to your foot.

If it’s cold I like to make sure my feet stay nice and warm, especially so if wearing trail shoes, so I like a high wool content, preferably merino wool  for fineness and strength. The finer the wool, the less they will itch against your delicate skin,

But wool on its own can wear out quite quickly and so it’s a good idea to have a bit of man-made stuff in the mix for longevity. I know socks aren’t that expensive, but you don’t want to be flashing the cash every fortnight, do you?

A few weeks back I was contacted by by a company called Ski & Trek and asked to pick any piece of gear that took my fancy. I expect they were taken aback when out of all their wonderful stuff I chose just a couple of pairs of socks.

Listening to my own advice, I settled on Smartwool walking socks, in a light version and a midweight version at about £14 and £15 respectively. And here they are:

SMARTWOOL LIGHTWEIGHT HIKING SOCKS

SMARTWOOL LIGHTWEIGHT HIKING SOCKS

and

SMARTWOOL MEDIUM HIKING SOCKS

SMARTWOOL MEDIUM WEIGHT HIKING SOCKS

By clicking on the pictures, the keen-eyed amongst the congregation will spot the differences immediately: In the heavier sock (bottom picture) there is much denser material beneath the foot and above the ankle. They also have a thicker density on top of the foot, handy for when your shoes are done up tightly for the twisting about in the bogs of Scotland.

You’ll also notice that there is good ‘elastication’ around the arch in both pairs. Again, a feature of both pairs is a thin channel between the upper and lower sections of the sock. You can see this clearly on the “inside out” socks. This is so bunching can’t occur when the sock is the right way round. Clever, that.

In both weights of socks there is plenty of padding in the areas where you will expect friction – the soles and heels. You will also notice that all the seams that join the various bits of the sock, especially at the toes, are all flat, so there is no rubbing possible against your delicate tootsies.

So! Thank you to Ski & Trek. These babies will be coming along on my trip to Scotland in May for the TGO Challenge. The medium weight for the twisty tumbly stuff and the lighter weight for the more gentler sections of the route.

45 comments:

  1. I used to use these in boots, and I still have 2 pairs, but in shoes, I have found that they will hold too much water when wet.
    Socks are a bit like shoes, they are a personal thing, and it depends on your foot shape amongst other things.
    I have big feet, a shame that this feature did not extend elsewhere, but such is life.

    Anyway, for me X Socks Trekking are indeed the Dogs $%&$&*.

    They are thin, but are anatomically designed Left and Right and hold no moisture.
    They dry out very quickly, and even if they are soaked at the end of the day, I can ring them out, pop them into my pocket ( the sock, not the feet ) or pop them in the sleeping bag, and by the next morning, they are dry.

    So there you go!

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    1. Ah, Andy: You have manly plates of meat. I have slim, gurly feet that need bolstering and pampering. A nice bouncy cushion is my preference.
      Any water is soon squished out of them as I lollop along ahead of you...
      :-)
      As for left and rights: I don't need that added confusion in the brain befuddled mornings. I would end up with them on the wrong feet and wind up walking around in circles.

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  2. Socks seem to be the order of the day. Without discussion (unusual for us) Laura and I have both been hunting for and bought new socks. I love my current merino socks from Foothills, but they are no longer available. I had been wondering if their thickness, however, may have inadvertantly contributed to my blister issue last year, perhaps my feet were too cosy. I have gone for an alternative though, Icebreaker Hike Lite Crew. So far, so good.

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    1. All girls should have pleasant foot attire. Men will only snub you if confronted with a casually presented limb.
      :-)

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    2. I have never casually presented a limb in my life! It's all very deliberate...

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  3. Alan,my favorite sock Smartwool. Comfortable,warm and don't make your feet sweat. Difficult to fault them.

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    1. A man of impeccable taste.
      :-)
      Being of (mostly) merino they take ages to niff badly too! A real bonus on a long backpack.

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  4. I hope that you're aware Alan that these socks operate completely differently in other parts of the world where the prevailing winds blow don't blow in off the Atlantic.:)
    Personally, I don't really get on with wool socks, partly because I forget and wash them with my other gear and shrink them, and partly because wool irritates me. Also, synthetic socks dry faster after my crappy Hi Tec Ion Mask boots have leaked. (I shall keep moaning - one day someone might notice.)

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    1. Aye. But the wind doesn't blow in Finland. It does snow a lot though. He could get dual use out of them and wear them as gloves, like all ultralighters...

      I know a chap who is getting rid of a pair of walking boots (Size 10's) unused, who would be glad of a gear tester. He has them to test but hasn't got round to it yet... What size are you?

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    2. Size 10:) usually, it depends on the fit.

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    3. Would these be of interest? Available from Darren: National Trust Boots

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    4. I've checked, and my current Hi-Tech boots are 10.5, and fit like the proverbial carpet-slippers, so it's not likely that these will fit, sadly. Otherwise (despite all my moaning) I would happily give Hi-Tech boots another go. It's not all doom and gloom, however, I've been offered some boots to review, although I've opted for trainers/walking shoes. Not Innov8 or those snazzy waspish things of yours, but free and therefore much better then a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!
      Thanks for the offer!

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    5. No worries.
      :-)
      Big D will have to off-load them somewhere else or get busy and do the review!

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  5. Mark...
    Crappy HiTec Ion mask boots.

    I have a pair of those somewhere.
    Quite comfortable and about as waterproof as a sieve!

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    1. Can't fault the comfort, but better at keeping the water in than out. Also - mine have fallen apart after not all that much use.

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    2. One Challenge MAX is their lifespan!
      Well, on my feet anyway.

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  6. I used to use Thorlos and really liked them but they're hard to find these days.

    Smartwool or teko suit me and in Tiso's a few days ago tekos were on sale at £10.00 - yes £10. They only had a limited supply (2 pairs in my size, 2 pairs in Lynne's as luck would have it) so needless to say, we bought them.

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    1. Ooh! You won't see a better price than that.
      I had an email the other day letting me know that Paclite overtrousers were being sold for less than £50. That seemed a steal too...
      There are bargains around if you look for them

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    2. I wore Thorlos (of varying weights) for a good many years, Gibson. I 've yet to find a brand that's as hard-wearing. You're right about them being harder to find of late though; if you're ever out that way The Killin Outdoor Centre always used to carry a good stock of Thorlos.

      I've recently re-stocked with a mixture of Brasher and some of 'Go-Outdoors' own brand (not particularly cheap as it happens). Comfort's fine with both but I have a feeling that the particular Brashers I've chosen will be too warm for summer.

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  7. I don't give much thought to socks either, ours being mainly Thorlos bought years ago and a couple of pairs of X_Socks. They are looking a bit sorry now, I might try Smartwool. We have always worn thin Bridgedale liner socks under them.
    One thing did occur to me about the Thorlos: just a couple of sizes allegedly covered a whole range of foot sizes, ours were (I think) "6 » 11". How can one pair of socks be a good fit for any foot size between 6 and 11?.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. Until very recently I wore thinnies under the socks too (a hangover from wearing boots) but have recently given up on them as unnecessary. They just add extra heat to the foot.
      A decent well fitting pair of socks and trailshoes now does it for me. I wash out the socks after the day's walk and slip them back on in the tent in the evening to dry them out.

      How one pair of socks can cope with that variation of size is puzzling!

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  8. Mitch Ryder and The Detroit Wheels dealt with all of this pretty comprehensively in 1967.

    Copy and paste this link to see why

    www.tinyurl.com/cx646wu

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  9. I'm rather keen on soft, fluffy socks ... the Merino Wool kind in particular!!! Have had great success with both Smartwools you reviewed here Alan.
    Can also recommend their undies (tops and bottoms!)mmmm ...

    PS. The future is Orange ...

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    Replies
    1. Orange undies?
      Good grief... Sartorial standards ought to be observed. A man of the cloth in orange fancies?
      Wowee!

      Delete
  10. Socks - one of my favourite rants! I'll keep it to a minimum here, in case I end up sounding like an anorak, but ...

    I have almost given up trying to find decent socks. Without going into lots of detail, I don't like wool (not too comfy, no obvious performance benefit, difficult to wash/care for and wear out quickly, Smartwool in particular). Also, I don't find much to be complimentary about with synthetic either - better in some ways that wool, though.

    But it's the engineering for me that spoils most socks, or rather the over-engineering. Too much padding in some places, not enough in others, elastic over the arch that means outer socks don't slide over inners to prevent blisters, etc. I could go on (and on, and on ........) but won't! :-)

    Whatever happened to good old, tough-as-nails man-made loop pile socks? Last forever, nothing fancy to become a problem.

    Oh, and in response to an earlier comment - why on earth would you keep choosing to wear footwear that lets water in?

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    1. Hello Jules!
      Rant away Sir! Let off steam! It's good to get it off your chest...

      On the leaky shoe / dry booty thing: I have always found on a long backpack that it is inevitable that your waterproof boots eventually become overwhelmed. At that point things get pretty miserable as the boots remain sodden for ages and so you whole foot up to its ankles is entombed in soggy socks for days on end.
      When the boot eventually starts to dry out it shrinks and that can cause real problems with your feet.
      On the other hand, man-made trail shoes let in water from the 'get-go' but soon dry out. They are lighter and more comfortable and so less padding is required - only the one pair of socks is needed: No liners. So the elastic arch thing is no longer a problem.

      Smartwool socks *are* constructed entirely from loop pile in the padded areas, where cushioning is desirable. The nylon content (23% in the light versions and 25% in the medium) assures good wearing characteristics.

      I haven't experienced blisters since 1998, through careful sock selection and well fitting footwear.

      Have another look at these socks. I really, really think they are excellent!
      :-)

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    2. I'll have to look them out and give them a go. I suppose I can't live in the Dark Ages forever! Is there a good range of sizes available?

      I, too, have not experienced blisters for years (apart from the odd, very minor one after a long, hot day - nothing that a bit of tape can't solve). I guess we all have different ways of mitigating the risk.

      I also get what you say about the soggy boot syndrome. It can't be very pleasant having soaking footwear day after day. Perhaps I've been lucky, but I've never suffered from this - mind you, I am not a backpacker (preferring a solid roof over my head of a night) and always try to make sure I get my boots dry every night if at all possible! I don't think, after 35 years of doing it the "old" way, I'd want to start walking in deliberately leaky boots!

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    3. Small, Medium, Large & Extra Large sizes are available.

      Try trailshoes. I was dead set against them for years (embarrassingly) but am now a total convert!

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  11. I'm back. And the '60's "additives" seem to have worn off. For now.

    I had a long chat with Andy Howell earlier today, and at some stage we started droning on about socks. And here's the rub. If you embrace the shiny-new take on trail shoes, and take it as a given that your feet may get wet, why then, you can simply throw away all pre-conditions. It simply doesn't matter if your socks are waterproof (unpleasant foot-rot) or dry slowly.

    I'll nail what few remaining colours I have to the mast here. For years I locked my feet up in a series of coffins. Many of them - La Sportiva, Scarpa - were excellent. Blisters? Not for me. But my feet would at times become like Mr Toad after his adventures as a washerwoman.

    Andy and Sloman dragged me kicking and screaming into the Innov8 camp. I first used these on last year's (2011) exceedingly wet Challenge. And I used them with Smartwool - I've loved these sox for years. And my two terriers love them even more. They tear them to pieces.

    I also believe that natural fibres will out-perform synthetics in the vast majority of cases. When we are trundling across the wetlands we're basically putting a layer between our toootsies to counteract abrasion. That's all. Whether our feet are wet or dry is really of no import. I found, to my great surprise, that even after a full Baptist Immersion (quick name-check to The Very Rev DA)my feet were dry within ten minutes.

    The two Gewohl foot creams are excellent. A foot break every two hours and a light dusting of talc - or Keith Richard's choice, whatever tickles yr fancy - does wonders.

    Summary: Smartwool has done the biz for me for the past seven years. You'll all be relieved that I'm not on The Challenge this year and you'll be spared my mumbling. I'm headed for a two-week stravaig in the Basque Country. Will I be wearing Smartwool? Bien sur.

    And will I be wearing Crocs? Sufficient to say that I have declared a Fatwa against these fashion abominations.

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    1. Crocs? Do you find them Effendi?

      I'll get my coat!

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    2. The man!
      'Nuff said!
      :-)
      We will miss you dreadfully Humph. Just do it anyway... (oooh!)

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  12. It's not the socks Jules.
    You have the wrong feet! :)

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    1. Apparently I have two left feet. That's what the charming lady who tried to teach me to waltz reckoned...

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    2. Hmmm, I don't know. They are the ones I was given and, short of major surgery, I appear to be stuck with them!

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  13. Well said Humph (apart from comments re Crocs, though I prefer 'Holey Soles' and Alan: Inov-8s and Smartwool (Teko also the business!)are a revelation and make long-distance walking/backpacking so much more pleasurable!

    Also agree about the footcream and regular foot breaks (off with the shoes/boots and socks and let the tootsies see the sun or stick them in the nearest burn for a bit!)

    ReplyDelete
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    1. That's it then. Final proof. The Lord God Almighty's own representative here on earth has spoken!
      His Holiness, the Incredibly Irreverend Dave hands it down on tablets of stone! There can be no more discussion. The case is proved!
      :-)
      Hello poppet!

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  14. And finally (promise, sweeties!). Job 41 has much to say about Crocs, for all you Biblical scholars out there . . .

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  15. On the subject of the sizing of socks, that was one of the things I liked about the Icebreakers. (I have spotted I am completely outnumbered on this one) Small size ranges, 3-4.5, 5.6.5, 7-8.5, (womens obviously) so you don't have extra sock, they are a really good fit. Well, I like them.

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    1. I have a pair of grey & black Icebreakers which I like too. They have more of a felted feel to the sole. The problem I had with them was with "bobbles" forming on the backs of the heels: little hard rough bits that you have to pick off or you'll start to feel them when going up hills (when your heel is pressed into the heel cup).
      They are very well made though and have lasted very well. They do tend to shrink quite quickly compared to the Smartwool socks.

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  16. Hello Alan!

    Humph: very observant of you to note the presence of Crocs in Job chapter 41!!!

    Louise is right: too much sock is a case of too much of a good thing!

    Right, I'm off now ...

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    Replies
    1. Humph was a Spanish Cardinal in a previous existence, you know... Mentioned something about the Inquisition...

      Delete
  17. Smartwool & Innov8's: jolly good choice, a match made in podiatric heaven.

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    1. Smartwool and any grippy, low profile trainer, really. A bit like dancing shoes.
      Far more nimble, less tiring at the end of the day, and better foot health too.
      :-)
      (I moved on to La Sportiva Raptors: Sticky, grippy soles and very well made, compared to Inov-8's)

      Delete

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