The following is a guest post by Ralph Scheterle of Ventury Sports. Ralph has spent the last year developing a unique hiking sock that could be a game changer for hikers of all kinds. He’s now launching that sock on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. In the process of developing his hiking sock he spent numerous hours surveying, interviewing, and hiking with other hikers to understand exactly what pain points to address when creating the best sock for hikers. The result of all that research is the knowledge he shares in this guest post:
There are a few things as important as your feet when hiking.
Some might say they are the number one asset to hikers on the trail.
As a hiker you probably know this to be intuitively true.
Think about it…
If you’re feet don’t work, they’re full of painful blisters, aching muscles, sprained bones, etc…
Then you can’t really hike.
Nearly ALL the hikers I talked to understood that foot health was our top priority if we are going to enjoy our excursions in nature.
But the question was how do we take care of our feet?
To answer this question I identified two areas that should be focused on.
How are you using your feet? (read: walking technique)
What are you putting on your feet?
Walking technique is a completely separate topic that deserves a post of its own.
But for this post I’m going to focus on what are you putting your feet?
Specifically, socks… (shoes also deserve a post of their own).
Time and time again I came across hikers who were overthinking the socks they were using. Or how socks fit into their hiking total package.
In reality I was able to identify two simple areas of focus when considering the right socks foot protection and hiking bliss.
Let’s get right into the first one…
1. Blister Prevention
We had the chance to survey more than 400 hikers. When asked what is the #1 challenge or difficulty on the trail more than 85% of the hikers responded with moist feet. Why? Why is this such a big problem for hikers? Well as a hiker yourself you probably already know.
Regardless of being extremely uncomfortable to hike in wet feet, it’s also THE leading cause of blisters. Painful sores that can immediately cut an enjoyable hiking trip short. So when we assess the first thing to consider when choosing a pair of hiking socks it should be a sock that helps to fight against blister development. Which means starting with a sock that is able to control the moisture on and around your foot.
Imagine you’re hiking deep within a humid, heavily forested area. Naturally your feet are going to get a little warm (if not down-right hot). At this point your feet will begin sweating and your socks get soaked. Like a sponge around water, the socks that you’re wearing begin to soak up the sweat. There are two factors at play here that lead to constantly moist feet, temperature regulation and the actual removal of the moisture.
Imagine again with me for a moment that in the scenario above you constantly had a heavy duty fan blowing on your feet at all times (don’t mind the logistics of how this will happen - we’re imagining). If there was a constant flow of air on your feet, even in the hot humid environs your feet would stay cool, which would prevent them from sweating, which keeps them dry. Breathability prevents sweating - so that’s the first thing you’re looking for in a sock.
Most synthetic materials (and especially cotton) are not breathable fabrics. Another way to read that - there is no air flow. But with a fabric that provides air flow you can help to keep your feet cool. Merino wool is a naturally breathable material. Actually scientists are quite baffled by this fluffy New Zealand sheep that is able to keep cool during the summers with all that fur but at the same time keep warm during the winters. But it’s that amazing accomplishment of nature that can also keep the temperature around your feet well regulated.
Beyond the types of fabrics in your sock you’ll also want to look for socks that use cooling zones or special areas that provide for breathability in known hotspots. Especially around the midsection of the foot, toes, and above the heel. These special breathing areas have larger than usual holes (almost like a mesh pattern) to allow more air to access your foot.
Moisture removal (rapid dry)
BUT, as any hiker worth their weight in socks knows, temperature regulation is not enough.
Sometimes it’s just too hot, but most likely the reason is that it rains, or you step in a stream, puddle, lake, pond, or some other body water. Now you have wet feet. The goal at this point is to get the water away from your feet as quickly as possible. Moisture wicking materials - lucky for you and all of your hiking companions there are special materials that literally pull water away from your foot.
Remember those amazing fluffy sheep from New Zealand? The Merinos? (Sounds like the family of a distant cousin.) Well nature has figured out a way, again, to keep the Merino sheep dry even when their fur gets wet. The wool of the Merino sheep has what is called Moisture wicking qualities. It acts as a straw sucking the moisture away from the skin. When woven and used within a sock the same effect happens to your feet too. Not only does the Merino wool pull the moisture away from the skin, but it also dries incredibly fast.
Fast drying - which is the next thing you want to look for when considering moisture removal.
Because after the moisture is pulled away from your foot it’s sitting in the fabrics of the sock but now it needs to get out of the fabric.
This is where a fast drying material comes in. Merino wool is traditionally very fast drying. Nylon is also fast drying, but it’s not moisture wicking or temperature regulating. So there are some trade-offs there.
Two asides to consider:
Bacteria elimination - one trade off you should not compromise on is bacteria. These pesky little microbes are the cause of a whole host of problems including inflaming blisters to be worse (more painful) than they already are. Needless to say you don’t want bacteria anywhere near your feet. There are not many options to prevent bacteria growth. Keeping your feet dry goes a long way but it’s not a 100% solution. One solution that is not mainstream yet but is a proven fighter against bacteria is silver. Yes, like the silver in jewelry and tableware. Silver ions actively destroy bacteria. And modern tech has invented a Silver infused thread that actively fights against bacteria. There is nothing else on the market that will proactively attack bacteria. But if you can get a pair of hiking socks with Silver in them they are definitely worth more than their weight in silver. ;)
◾Bacteria can cause wounds to fester
◾Increase moisture retention
◾Causes foot rot
Minimize rub - last but definitely not least might be the most obvious cause of blisters. Rubbing. That’s why when it comes to socks you’ll want to choose a sock that does not move too much (if at all) on your foot or within your hiking shoe. To do this many hikers have resorted to using very thin materials (think stockings) in order to form fit their feet and prevent the slippage that leads to blister causing rub. Short of getting a pair of socks tailored to your feet the next best option is going to be finding a sock with a slight compression that can keep its place on your foot without squeezing your foot too tight and causing more hot spots.
Which leads us to comfort. If you’ve hiked more than 1 mile then you’ll know that if your feet aren’t comfortable on the trail then nothing is comfortable. Ultimately that’s what you’re looking for in a hiking sock, long lasting comfort. To get that it’s best to consider a few core areas of your feet. Toes, front pad, heel pad, arch, and ankles. (basically the entire foot).
A sock that has extra cushioning in the toes and heel areas is great in theory. For the most part it’s great in practice too. However, a word of caution is to avoid socks with too much padding. With too much padding you can fill up your hiking shoe and cause more pain than comfort as crowding can lead to foot disfigurement and eventually blisters. My best recommendation is that you take your hiking shoes with you to try on socks. If the sock brand does not let you try on socks or does not have a favourable return policy then they’re not a brand worth dealing with anyways. But that little bit of extra padding goes a long way in protecting your feet from miles of constant beatings.
Also, depending on your personal tolerances find a sock with slight compression. I say your “personal tolerances” because everyone has different levels of sensitivity to compression.
As an aside, if you have plantar fasciitis I recommend getting a sock with a good amount of compression it will make your hike much more enjoyable.
That being said, in general you want a sock that will keep the sock molded to the form of your foot - preventing slippage. But also an extra bit of compression in the arch to support your arch lift as well.
At the risk of sounding redundant, I'm going to beat the drum one more time and say the last thing you want in the comfort category is a quality material. When it comes to comfortable materials Merino wool is the gold standard. If you can’t tell I’m a huge fanboy of Merino wool, but for good reason. It has an incredible technical capability mixed with silky smooth comfort.
And that’s that…
That’s everything you should consider when buying a pair of hiking socks.
Fairly simple right?
Sometimes the most beneficial solution is a simplified analysis.
Lastly, as mentioned at the top of the post, we are crowdfunding the hiking sock we created after 1 year of analysis and research. if you want the perfect pair of hiking socks (in my opinion) I recommend you check out the hiking socks I recently created. The new Ventury Silverlight sock is made of a dual layer system that uses both Merino wool and nylon/spandex to get the best of all worlds. They are also infused with silver threads throughout to make them entirely anti-microbial. The entire sock was constructed to fight blisters and provide ultimate comfort on the trail. And they’re available now on Indiegogo if you’d like to check them out.
Thanks for reading and if you have any questions about what you’ve read here please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Ramble On: A History of Hiking