Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back to Cotton

Well, I’m officially back to cotton. Socks, that is. Since taking up hiking in the mid-1980s, I’ve worn cotton socks – no matter the weather, or the conditions of the trail. And in all that time I never had a problem with blisters. Then, roughly three years ago, for whatever reason, I decided to buy wool hiking socks. Two sets each from two major hiking sock companies. That’s when I started having problems. There were several times while hiking long trails in the Smokies that I developed blisters on the back of my heels. Then, after spending five weeks in Glacier National Park last year, hiking almost every day, I got blisters everywhere: back of my heels, on the bottom of my fore-foot area, even on my toes.

Immediately after my Glacier experience I thought the problem was with my old boots, rather than the socks. So, last December, I purchased a new pair of Merrell boots. Not wanting to wear them for the first time on a very long hike, I decided to wear my old LL Bean boots. However, I also decided to wear cotton socks on this hike, just to test my new hunch that it just may be the wool socks that are causing my problems. I figured the 12.6-mile roundtrip hike up to Rocky Top would be an excellent hike to test my theory. As you may have already concluded from the title of this post, I had no problems with blisters on this hike.

Either my feet don’t like wool, or more likely, the socks don’t fit properly. I think what’s happening is that the wool socks are a little too big, and the additional bulk is creating friction on my skin. On the other hand, my cotton socks fit “like a glove”, so to speak. In other words, they conform exactly to my feet.

The problem with the wool socks, I believe, is that the sizes are made in too broad of a range. If I remember correctly, I purchased the socks for boot sizes between 9 and 12. I wear a size 10 boot, but the socks were still a little large, and thus aren’t conforming exactly to my feet.

So, I’m back to old school, and against conventional wisdom. From now on I’m hiking in cotton socks!


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