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Five reasons to try wool socks for summer hiking comfort

Five reasons to try wool socks for summer hiking comfort

It may seem counter intuitive, but the best socks for hot summer hiking may be wool.

by Leon Pantenburg

I wear wool socks year-round for hiking. People get it in the winter, but wool in the summer seems a little strange. willie and joe socks cartoon

Well, the Bedouin nomads in the Arabian and Syrian deserts have been adapting to one of the harshest climates on earth for thousands of years. They wear long, wool robes to cope with the extreme heat and cold of desert nights.

According to OPB Lawrence of Arabia, Bedouins make their own clothes from the wool of their camels, sheep and goats. The design of the clothes is both functional and fashionable. They figured out that wool is a great material to regulate body temperature, and we can learn from them.

In my experience of learning things the hard way, what doesn’t work well is hiking in 100 percent cotton socks in waterproof or water resistant boots. Your foot perspiration will soon soak through the sock, and the boot will hold the moisture in. You’ll end up walking in perpetually soggy socks that soften your feet and cause blisters. Sore feet are a given.

These heavy Dachstein wool socks will add another ten degrees to your boot insulation.

These heavy Dachstein wool socks will add another ten degrees to your boot insulation.

Wool socks come in different thicknesses and styles, and they are worth considering if you’re planning a long trek, or just want to have comfortable feet on a desert hike. (These wool socks are great.) And wool dress socks may prove to be more comfortable in the office than other options.

Here’s five reasons why wool may be the best sock material for you:

Wool insulates well: That means the material keeps your feet warm, but also will keep your feet cooler. Your feet sweat normally, and hot temperatures will just make things worse. You’ll need a sock that can insulate from the ground and ambient heat, as well as providing padding.

Wool breathes: Waterproof or water resistant boots may be fine in colder weather, but they can be an abomination in hot weather. What works for me for desert hiking is a pair of Merrill Moab Ventilators, Head wool socks (from Costco) and ankle high, breathable gaiters.  Since the shoes and socks breath, and the gaiters keep out the sand, dirt and trail debris, this combination is comfortable, lightweight and practical.

torch socks 3

These Torch Merino wool hiking and biking socks work well with these Merrill shoes for desert hiking.

Wears well: Wool is tough. The socks I use regularly hold out well, and I can generally get at least a season of heavy use out of them. The premium wool socks can last a long, long time if you take care of them, and don’t wear them around the house as slippers!

Reasonably priced: Heavy wool socks for winter activities are an investment, and they don’t come cheap. You really get what you pay for.

But every fall, I buy a three-pack of Merino wool crew socks from Costco, and they’ll last me through a season of hunting, fishing and camping. They wear very well, and homeless people need warm socks. Recycle your good, used wool socks where they will be appreciated.

Comfort: I find wool socks to be the comfort kings. In the outdoor world, that’s about all I wear. In my indoor life, where I may wear a coat and tie to work, wool dress socks are standard.

You can get cheap socks at the bigger box stores for about a buck a pair, and for kicking around town they’ll probably be just fine. But it’s poor logic to buy good hiking boots and then wear cheap cotton socks in them.

Buy wool socks. You’ll be glad you did.
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Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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