Showing posts with label Icebreaker. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Icebreaker. Show all posts

Monday, 4 June 2018

Tramping Equipment: Choosing socks for tramping

...or do good socks maketh the tramp?

I have talked at length on this blog about boots and walking shoes but never about tramping socks.  This is an oversight as good quality, well fitted socks are just as important as the footwear you use.

Me wearing my Mund tramping socks in Rod Donald Hut, Banks Peninsula

 Here is a buyers guide to purchasing tramping socks.

Considerations when buying socks for tramping


Quality boots need quality socks...

A good quality pair of  boots these days will often retail for anything between $300-$700 NZ dollars. In many respects you get what you pay for...while a cheap $300 pair of boots may do the business, those $600 boots will probably last longer, fit better and make the experience so much more enjoyable.

Lowa Ranger III' $600 NZ dollars they deserve good socks

I firmly believe that good boots/shoes deserve good socks to get the best possible use out of them. Again, you get what you pay for. A cheap pair of socks might do the business but a good quality pair will last longer, fit better and be a pleasure to wear. 

A good match: Darn Tough socks and Vasque boots

Unfortunately quality has its downsize...price. A good pair of tramping socks will cost you $25-$50 a pair, which on top of other gear is expensive. Do what I do and buy them when there is a sale on!

Use the right sock for your purpose

 I am continually surprised to see the socks people wear out tramping. I have seen people wearing cheap rugby socks, cotton tube socks, thick woollen socks in the height of summer and thin liner socks in deep snow...all are ridiculous.

Use the rugby socks for rugby- not tramping!

What you need is a sock fit for the purpose you extend it to fill, don't wear socks that do not match the conditions you are walking in.  Some examples: if it is cold go for thicker woollen socks, if it is the height of summer a lighter wool/synthetic mix will work better. If you are wearing trail shoes or hiking shoes a crew or ankle high sock is better than one to the knee.

Use common sense people....!

Wool or synthetic?

There is much debate about what constitutes a good tramping wool better than synthetic fibres or vice versa. Personally I think a good sock will have both, wool for its warmth and durability and synthetics for fit, strength and comfort. The best quality wool is obviously merino as it is warmer and softer than other types of wool, it is also much more expensive.

Hiker wearing some light weight Darn Tough woollen socks

A good quality sock will have a high merino wool content, but will also have nylon, polypropylene and Lycra to help it keep its shape. Different brands and types have different percentages of these fibres but a reasonable mix for a mid weight sock would be:

    Fibre Content:
  • 44% Merino Wool
  • 38% Nylon/Polyamide
  • 17% Endurafil/Polypropylene
  • 1% LYCRA/Elastane

One thing to note: cotton has no place on the feet of a serious tramper/mountain runner/climber when they are on the trail. They do not wick moisture efficiently, can damage your feet with extended use and do not insulate well. However, they do make excellent sleeping or hut/tent socks.

What to look for in a sock design...

Key features to look for in a quality tramping sock are:
  • made of a breathable, wicking material (some wool content is best)
  • quick drying, easy to clean
  • cushioning on bottom of foot and around heel
  • good arch support system
  • flat seams on toe and heel to prevent blisters
  • design assists fit
Great features to look for in tramping socks

If you are a novice to tramping and want some assistance I would suggest you go to your local outdoor retailer and see what they have in stock. Talk to a sales representative and tell them what kind of activity you are into and what you are looking for. I generally find they are an excellent source of advice.

The brands I use: Bridgedale/Smartwool/Mund/Lorpen/Icebreaker

There are many different brands of socks but I will only address those I have personally used.

I tend to use medium to light weight trekking socks but I do own some heavier socks for winter snow and light ankle socks for walking. I favour a mix of merino wool, nylon/polypropylene and other synthetics in a rough 45/35/20 percentage mix.

Bridgedale (United Kingdom)

Bridgedale are my current go to sock brand, I have several pair and find them to be comfortable, durable and a pleasure to use. These socks are produced in the United Kingdom, the company have been making socks since the 1910's. They are not the cheapest option but you only need 2-3 pair at a time and at $42 a pair they do not break the bank.

Bridgedale Woolfusion Trekker- my preferred tramping sock

The type I use are the Woolfusion Trekker, so perhaps more information might be useful. These socks are designed to be used year round. The hi-tech materials and construction means dry, warm and comfortable feet in a variety of conditions. 

Features of the wool fusion sock:
  • Uses hi-tech sock design elements
  • quality materials mean performance and durability
  • good balance between insulation and moisture wicking
  • variety of weights available
  • limited anti microbial features added    

  Fibre Content:
  • 44% Merino Wool
  • 38% Nylon/Polyamide
  • 17% Endurafil/Polypropylene
  • 1% LYCRA/Elastane

A selection of Bridgedale tramping socks...

I switched to Bridgedale socks in 2018 because my other preferred brands Smartwool & Mund are becoming difficult to source in Christchurch. I'm not sorry I changed, as the Bridgedale socks are super comfortable.I buy these from Hunting and Fishing Tower Junction.

Smartwool (USA)

Smartwool is an American company who utilise New Zealand Merino wool in their socks. I have several pair of their socks and have enjoyed using them over the last 2-3 years. They have a strong following in the US long-trail community because of their price, durability and comfort. A pair of Smartwool socks cost around $30 NZ dollars a pair, they are available from Torpedo 7 stores.

Me in some Smartwool mid weight socks on the Abel Tasman Coast Track in 2017
The medium weight Smartwool trek socks I use

I also have some ankle high Smartwool socks for walking, they are good for this task but I still prefer Icebreaker socks in this role.
Crew style running socks from Smartwool

Mund (Spain)

Mund socks are manufactured in Spain, I used these exclusively from 2010 to 2015 and really enjoyed the experience. I have used several different types over the years the ones I still own are shown below...they are winter weight Mund Explorer socks.

My winter weight socks: Mund Merino Explorer

I wore Polar Circle socks from Mund as my main sock type up until 2015, they are excellent socks. 
Mund socks: the mid weight Polar Circle sock

Wearing my Mund socks in Magdalen Hut, Winter of 2016

I really like Mund socks and still have two pair as my winter weight socks. I had to change brand as the one place in Christchurch which stocked them have discontinued the brand. These cost between $20-$40 a pair depending on the size, type and thickness.

If you can find them I recommend you try them out.

Lorpen (USA)

Lorpen socks are also made in the United States, they are o.k. socks but cannot compete with the better quality Bridgedale and Mund products. I have used their light weight T3 light Hiker and also T3 All Season Trekker socks in the past.

The Lorpen T3 lite hiker sock

Lorpen T3 All Season Trekker

 Because they made from less durable synthetic materials, they just don't seem to take the punishment of tramping as well. They are good socks to start but quickly get holes, develop a 'wool glaze' or start unravelling.

Me in some Lorpen T3 trekker socks, Quail Island 2018

Lorpen socks are a lot cheaper than other brands, they will set you back from $15-$30 for a pair. Personally, I would rather spend a few more dollars and get some nice Bridgedales/Munds.

Icebreaker (New Zealand)

Icebreaker are a well known Kiwi company specialising in merino wool clothing. Icebreaker are my go to brand for walking socks, I use them for general fitness walking and also when I'm wearing trail shoes. I usually carry a pair of these as camp socks because in an emergency I could wear them instead of my main socks.

Wearing a pair of Icebreaker Lite+Hike mini socks on the Christchurch 360 trail

I like the ones that reach to just above the ankle, Lite+Hike minis...when you are wearing trail running shoes this is all you really need. They changed the colour scheme in 2017 so these are now two tone grey or black/blue.

My daughter in some Icebreaker hiking socks

Icebreaker Lite+Hike minis in grey

Section walking the Christchurch 360 Dunes/wetland section 2015, Icebreaker socks

Icebreakers are the most expensive socks I use, they cost from $35 a pair which considering how little material they use is shocking. But they are worth it as they wear well, wick well and keep your feet cool on a hot day.

Other brands

Although I have not used them myself I have heard good things about many other brand of socks including Ininji (the famous toe socks), Thorlos, Karrimor, Darn Tough and Seal Skins. It would be worth searching for reviews of these products if they are sold near you.

Classic Iniinji toe socks...

Unless buying your socks on-line you will need to use what is locally available.

After you buy the socks...

Here are a few things to consider once you have located and purchased the socks you intend to use on that next tramping adventure.  

Care of your socks

So how do you best care for your socks once you have brought them?

 It is a good question...really your best bet is to go with the care instructions on the sock packaging. All of the socks I have used for walking and tramping have care instructions included, if there are no instructions try searching on the internet for care instructions for that brand and type of sock.

Care instructions on the back of some Karrimor Trekking Socks

In general terms wash your socks before using them to remove detergents and oils acquired during manufacture. I just use liquid laundry detergent but you can buy special products just for cleaning socks (I think these are unnecessary).

If you are washing your socks in the field then please use a biodegradable soap and dispose of any wash/rinse water at least 25 metres from any waterway- remember the leave no trace precepts. 

Biodegradable soap for clothes and body

Either line dry or tumble dry on a low heat, high heat will damage merino wool so take care. Check the packaging to see what the manufacturer recommends.

Care instructions from a pair of Bridgedale tramping socks

Once dry carefully store them until needed and only use them for your outdoor activity of choice. They can be repaired but do so carefully, if the damage is in a high friction area like the heal or toe re-purpose or discard them.  

My rinsed Smartwool socks line drying in West Sabine Hut

On the trail rinse your socks every night if possible in clean water to remove sweat, dirt and oils from your feet. Hang to dry...they will still be wet in the morning but at least they will be clean.

When should I get rid of a pair of socks?

Eventually your socks will wear out...the will rip or get holes, develop a wool 'glaze' or loose their shape. I generally find a good sock lasts 1-3 years with a moderate amount of use. Obviously, if you mistreat them or use them more frequently this time will drop considerably. 

Re-purpose or discard your socks when they:
  • start to feel uncomfortable to wear
  • develop a 'wool glaze' 
  • have large worn or damaged areas
  • get holes/rips on the vulnerable toe/heal area
  • loose their shape, fit or will not stay up
Damaged tramping might be time to bin these ones!

 The idea is to get rid of them before they cause any blisters or damage to your feet. Check your socks before every tramp, start your trip with socks that will last the distance. Let me tell you, 30 km's away from the road end is a bad time to learn your socks no longer perform.

For further reading there is an excellent article in Outdoor Gear Lab which covers how to select outdoor socks in detail.