Socks are more important than you think!
Like most people that aren’t total sock geeks I took them for granted too. Then I became a sock geek and my feet have been happy ever since! While making the transition to good socks my wallet wasn’t as happy as my feet, but in the end making the change was worth it. But what is the “right” kind of socks? What sock is right for you might not be same socks as your partner, parent, or child. We are all human, but every human has different physiology.
Years ago I attended a boot fitting weekend training workshop. To my surprise we spent half of the first day discussing socks, not shoes or boots. Until that day I, like most people, figured socks are socks. They go on your feet before you put your feet in your shoes. That is true but there is much more to the story!
A thicker sock will generally be warmer than a thinner one. A thicker sock will generally provide more cushion as well but beyond that the thickness of your socks will primarily only affect the way your shoes fit as in a thicker one will make your shoes tighter.
Other factors in sock construction will make socks fit better than others. These include the toe seam construction and stitch method, the heel fit, and the amount of stretch and/or compression. A flatlock stitched toe seam that is moved to the top of the sock and back about an inch will be more comfortable than a standard seam at the end of the toes. This is because the standard to seam at the end of the sock tends to bunch at the sides of the sock when your shoes. You’ll fell that extra fabric bunching next to your big toe and pinky toe. That usually leads to blisters when hiking and blisters are no fun. Similarly, a “Y” seam at the heel provides a better fit than a single straight seam forming the heel cup. With that said, both a “Y” seam and a standard straight seam are better than a tube sock that has no defined heel cup at all.
Further, more terry loops and a higher stitch count mean better and more resilient cushioning. They also mean a significantly more durable sock. So much so that brands such as Darn Tough guarantee that you won’t wear their socks out. If you do manage to wear them out, bring them to your local retailer who will swap them out for a new pair. True, they cost about $20 per pair but I have some that are over 10 years old and can swap them for a new pair when they finally die.
By far, the biggest factor to consider when picking out socks is what they are made from. I, like most people, started out wearing the commonly available six-pack of cotton tube socks. My feet were always cold. I thought it was a circulation issue. It wasn’t. It was a moisture issue related to the properties of cotton. When cotton gets damp/wet it pulls heat away from your body. That’s what makes cotton an awesome fabric for when you’re trying to cool down over the summer. It is not what you want on your feet though. Synthetic socks do a pretty good job moving moisture away from your feet but with a caveat… your feet have to be warm or it doesn’t work. The synthetic fibers can only move moisture along the length of the yarn as long as there is a temperature difference. If your feet are cold, especially when it is warm out, the process actually works backwards of the way you want it to. It will be pulling moisture toward your feet rather than pushing it away from your feet.
This is where merino wool should enter the picture. I was hesitant at first due to past experiences with wool and how itchy it was. What I learned that merino and wool should be viewed as different things. Merino is a different breed of sheep. The wool fibers they grow are small enough in diameter that they don’t itch. Large diameter fibers are itchy whether they are wool or not! In addition to being not itchy, merino is kind of a miracle fiber. It is naturally antimicrobial and therefore controls bacteria and odors remarkably well. It also has the natural ability to pull moisture away from your foot without needing a heat difference to do so.