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What are the best cold weather socks?

Heat Holder, Buffalo Wool, warm socks, best insulated socks
600 300 Survival Common Sense Blog | Emergency Preparedness

Quality socks can make the difference between being comfortable in the outdoors, and having a miserable time because your feet are cold.

Here are several brands of cold weather socks and how they have worked out for me.

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by Leon Pantenburg

The socks for this review were supplied by the product distributors. All I ever promise is a fair shake, and none of the distributors had any input into what I wrote. At the time of publication, none of the distributors have any promotional relationship with Survivalcommonsense.com.

I deliberately picked my least-suitable boots for a cold, rainy Mississippi deer hunt. They are ordinary, uninsulated leather work shoes, not waterproof, and I chose them over my waterproof, insulated Sorels, or heavy insulated boots. The idea was to see if the right socks and felt insoles would make a difference in keeping my feet warm.

warm socks, keep feet warm, leather boots, best winter socks

These uninsulated, not waterproof leather boots provided a good test for warm socks.

The plan was test the warmth value of several different types different socks and to do that, I had to risk cold feet. The consistency in this highly unscientific test was my tried and tested Snuggly Toes alpaca insoles. They are my standard hunting insoles, and I find that using them in uninsulated boots gives an extra 10 degrees of warmth. This becomes particularly important when you’re hunting that season where it is freezing at night and warm in the day.

This happens frequently when hunting elk in the Oregon high desert in the late November season. It will be really cold in the mornings when I’m waiting on a stand. Then, about 10 a.m., we start moving, and the extra exertion soon makes shedding layers necessary. Those heavy, insulated boots that felt so good in the morning soon become heavy and too hot.

Quality insoles and insulated socks can make all the difference when it comes to keeping your feet warm under those conditions. (Sometimes, you may have to improvise.)

For this test, I tried out Heat Holders™ synthetics, Dashstein™ wool, and  Buffalo Wool™ Trekkers. All are top-end quality socks, and I can tell you right now, all are quality products.

So how do you know if your socks are going to be warm? Sock warmth is measured in TOGs (Thermal Overall Grade). A TOG, according to Dictionary.com, is “…a unit of thermal resistance used to measure the power of insulation of a fabric, garment or quilt etc.”

A basic cotton sock, according to the Heat Holders website, has a rating of TOG 0.33. This compares to an ordinary thermal sock rating of TOG 0.89.  Smartwool hunting socks have a rating of TOG 1.23.

Heat Holders Socks claim a TOG rating of 2.34. I couldn’t find TOG rating for the other two.

For this comparison, I wore a different brand of sock on each foot. Luckily, my pant legs covered up the tops!

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The Heat Holder, left, and Buffalo Wool socks are both quality products.

First up were the Heat Holders and Buffalo Wool. At the end of a long, cold rainy day of deer hunting, my feet never got cold with either sock. Both were comfortable to wear hiking long distances, and when I sat on a stand, they kept my feet warm.

The Heat Holders seemed to be  slightly warmer than the Buffalo Wool, but they made my feet sweaty and they kept falling down, which is cool on the shins.

To make sure it wasn’t just me, a couple of  hardcore duck hunters tried out the Heat Holders to check out how the socks worked in waders in icy cold water.

After using the Heat Holders, both waterfowlers commented that while their feet didn’t get cold, they did get sweaty. We all question if this could eventually lead to moisture problems in severe cold. Nobody appreciated how the Heat Holders fell down around the ankle (I found it damned annoying.) In waders, when you’re waist deep in cold water, that leads to cold feet.

One of the hunters ended up pulling cotton tube socks over the Heat Holders to hold them up. This droopy socks thing is something that should be fixed, and I hope Heat Holders does so.

The Buffalo Wool are mid-calf high, and they do stay up in boots. They appear to be slightly less warm than the Heat Holders but they seem to breath better and my feet didn’t get sweaty. They are very soft, and appear to keep their shape very well. (Read the complete review here.) They might be the best sock to wear over extended periods of time.

I wear wool socks year round and so do several other experienced backpackers and hikers I hang out with. I tried out the Dashstein  100 percent wool socks last year and used them extensively on winter hikes and a campout in the Oregon Cascades.

Dachstein wool socks

These Dashstein wool socks are my standard for winter wear.

To check the warmth, I wore the uninsulated shoes, and a thick cotton sock on one foot, and a Dashstein on the other and went hiking in the snow. There was no comparison in warmth. The cotton foot got cold immediately, and the wool sock kept my foot warm and toasty.

At the winter campout, I wore the same heavy Dachstein socks all day in my insulated Sorels. The temperatures were well below freezing, but the wool kept me warm. But by the end of the day, they were noticeably damp. I switched to a dry pair, and the improvement in warmth was immediately noticeable. I always change to dry wool socks before climbing into my sleeping bag at night, and I never get cold feet while sleeping.

The Dachsteins are thick, so make sure to wear a boot that is roomy enough.

Before investing in some quality socks:

    • KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR: Are the socks going to be worn in waders in cold water? In insulated boots snowshoeing or winter camping? For hiking or backpacking? All these activities might require different designs.
    • MAKE SURE the boots aren’t too small for the socks. Sometimes, people will buy a boot that fits fine with regular socks. But the thicker, insulated socks may be too bulky. If you have to cram your feet into the boot, and they are too tight, your feet will get cold. There needs to be enough room to wiggle your toes when the boots are laced.
    • DON’T BUY CHEAP SOCKS: There is always the temptation to scrimp on some items, especially socks. After all, you may have a dozen pairs of the cotton athletic socks, and why not wear them? Get a good pair of quality insulated socks, and only wear them when the cold weather warrants it. Wear the crappy cotton socks working in the yard or at activities where cold feet might not be an issue.

Any of the socks mentioned in this review might be the best choice for you. Just make sure to read the labels and find out what materials the socks are made of, and get the correct-sized boots. And remember to change your socks. Your feet will thank you.

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