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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

HIKING SOCKS: PART OF A PROTECTIVE FOOTWEAR SYSTEM

They say, although I don’t believe it, that you can never have too many shoes. What I do believe, with respect to hiking and backpacking, is that you can never pay too much for proper hiking footwear – including hiking socks.

Company Trip blistered feet
Image by wetwebwork via Flickr
Pamper your feet.
Hikers often don’t give enough thought and attention to their feet.
Your feet, compared to any other part of your body, carry the heaviest load of all while backpacking: the complete weight of your body, plus the weight of your backpack and its contents, plus the weight of all of the clothing and anything else that you hang on your body.
Your feet are vulnerable to the ravages of heat, cold, pounding, strain, friction, pain and blistering. To compensate for and help prevent these villains, hikers often pay top dollar for hiking boots or shoes. But, on the other hand (or should I say “on the other foot”), they pay little attention to their hiking socks.
Pamper your feet.
Make them happy and protect them with a great cooperative footwear system combining hiking boots or shoes and hiking socks.

Never again should you think in terms of boots or shoes as first in importance and socks in second place or somewhere way down the list. Think, rather, in terms of hiking boots or shoes and hiking socks working together as a highly effective footwear system designed to protect your feet.
Pamper feet.
HIKING SOCKS: AN ESSENTIAL PART OF A PROTECTIVE FOOTWEAR SYSTEM
As a collaborative part of your footwear system, hiking socks provide a number of services to your feet and, by extension, to you the hiker.
Cushioning
Hiking socks cushion your feet and help absorb the pounding that rough trails and long hikes throw at your feet. They provide a layer of protection in addition to what your hiking boots or shoes provide.
Insulation
Just like insulation in your house, socks insulate against both heat and cold.
So, in cool and cold weather, they form, along with your hiking boots or shoes (remember, this is a footwear system), an added barrier against the cold.
In warm or hot weather, insulating socks help protect against debilitating heat. Heat can come from three sources: from the sun-heated air you are hiking in, from the strenuous exercise that hiking provides and from friction between your feet and your boots. Hiking socks and their porosity help vent out that heat, thus cooling your feet.

Blister Prevention
Friction between your skin and an object that it rubs repeatedly against will eventually cause two layers of your skin, the outer epidermis and the inner dermis, to separate from each other. The result of this separation is called a “blister”. The proper wearing of socks can help mitigate the rubbing and help prevent blisters. I say “help mitigate” because you can still get blisters while wearing socks. You can probably attest to this fact from experience – as I can.
Wearing liner socks underneath your cushioning socks can contribute to blister prevention. If you wear two pairs of socks made of proper materials, the friction will likely occur between the two pairs of socks instead of between your skin and a pair of socks.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN CHOOSING GOOD LINER SOCKS
Double Layering: So, if you choose to wear two pairs of socks for blister prevention or added insulation, you will have a pair of liner socks next to your skin and a pair of cushioning socks on top of those. On top of the latter, you will wear, of course, a good pair of boots to complete your service-rendering footwear system.
Wicking: Liner socks must have wicking properties to transport sweat away from your feet. They should be made of an effective wicking material like merino wool, silk or a synthetic material like polyester.
Smoothness: Liner socks must be as smooth as possible so they slide against your cushion socks and not against your skin. The properties of slickness and wicking ability are what makes liner socks effective in helping to prevent blisters.
Reject Cotton: Avoid cotton socks like the plague. Cotton absorbs and retains moisture. Perhaps more than any other factor, wearing cotton socks next to your skin contributes to the development of hotspots and blisters.
FACTORS TO CONSIDER IN CHOOSING GOOD CUSHIONING SOCKS
Wicking: Cushioning socks, worn between your liner socks and your boots or shoes, should also have wicking properties to get sweaty moisture completely away from your feet. In this way they work in tandem with your liner socks to help prevent blisters.
You may also wear cushioning socks without liners beneath therm. If you do this, you need to be doubly sure that the material they are made of does a good job of wicking. Wool, synthetics like polypropylene or nylon are a good bet. Wool blended with a synthetic fiber can also be a good choice.
Thickness and Softness
When buying socks, look for thick and soft materials. These will help your feet withstand and survive the pounding they will take on rough trails and long hikes. Their porous nature will also serve as good insulation and good venting of heat from your boots or shoes.
Construction
Look for socks without ridges or seams that can rub your skin and cause blisters.
HINT: BUY YOUR SOCKS FIRST
If, in developing your protective footwear system, you buy your socks first, you can wear them while buying your hiking boots or shoes. Wearing them will contribute to a better fit in your boots or shoes and give an optimal hiking footwear system.
by Richard Davidian, Ph.D.
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Last Used 11/1/09