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.
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.
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.
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, slacks 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.
And don’t forget to get some thick felt insoles – they can add another ten degrees to your boots, and quality innersoles may allow you to wear a lighter boot in colder weather. This is particularly nice for hunters, who may start the day sitting on a stand, and then end up doing a lot of walking. Or if you work on cold concrete all day, you may be able to wear those comfortable work boots year round.
Buy wool socks. You’ll be glad you did.
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