A good pair of socks are never more important than whilst out in winter, especially if you’re prone to chilly extremities. Fortunately, walking socks have come a long way in recent years, and wearing the right pair of socks plays a huge part in keeping your feet warm, dry and blister-free. Here are some tips on how to buy the perfect walking socks for your winter walking holiday, and a quality pair of gaiters to team them up with.
Many walking sock manufacturers in the UK use a “season rating” to indicate the optimal conditions for their socks to be used in. This is broken down into categories from 1 season to 4 season.
1 season- Suitable for wearing in the warmest season of the year, summer. A very thin and lightweight sock designed to keep feet cool and dry.
2 season- A slightly thicker sock suitable for use in spring and summer. Generally good for walking in mild conditions.
3 season- For use in spring, summer and autumn. Perfect for cooler conditions, offering enough insulation to keep the food warm and dry by wicking away sweat.
4 season- the most highly insulated sock, often made with thick merino wool. Suitable for walking in snow, ice and freezing conditions.
When deciding on which “season” of socks to choose, ask yourself what you expect the conditions to be like when out walking. A winter walking holiday will generally require 3 or 4 season walking socks, depending on how badly you feel the cold in your feet. Remember that wearing one pair of good quality, 4 season socks will be far more effective at keeping your feet warm than 2 pairs of thin socks worn over each other. Increasing the layers of socks on your feet can also add excess friction whilst walking, contributing to blisters.
What do walking socks actually do?
Buying a pair of walking socks is much like buying a baselayer- and they work in a similar way too. Socks aren’t just intended as a layer to keep your feet away from your boots, they play an important role in maintaining optimal skin temperature, reducing moisture and minimising the risk of blisters.
Walking socks keep your feet dry by helping to draw sweat away from your feet. As you walk, your feet sweat, even if it’s a cold day. The build up of sweat can leave your feet feeling clammy and uncomfortable, as well as softening up your skin and making it more prone to blisters. Like baselayers, walking socks are made from materials which help to draw moisture away from the skin, allowing it to evaporate more easily from the surface. Many socks also have antimicrobial properties, which kill germs and prevent odour from building up. Socks which work in this way ensure dry, clean and comfortable feet as you walk.
Walking socks keep you warm by creating an insulating layer between your foot and your boot. Using heat trapping materials such as merino wool, warm air can be kept next to the skin, helping to keep it warm. Remember that, although layers are a good way to keep warm, too many layers, or socks which are too thick can restrict blood flow into the foot, leading to cold toes, especially if you have poor circulation. If you don’t have room to wriggle your toes, they’re too tight!
Walking socks prevent blisters by providing a layer of cushioning between your skin and the inside of your boot. A good pair of socks will help to fill any “dead space” in your boot, which can often be responsible for excessive friction. Most good socks offer cushioning under the heel and ball of the foot, and are made without seams, reducing the opportunity for excess rubbing. Prevent any problems with blisters by choosing a pair of seamless socks which fit your feet comfortably without leaving any excess material.
Which material should I choose?
Walking socks these days come in a number of different materials including polyester, merino wool or bamboo fibres.
Polyester is found in high percentages in cheaper walking socks, but works well as a versatile and strong material. As with baselayer clothing, polyester works to wick sweat away from the feet, keeping them dry and comfortable. Polyester has undergone a few transformations in recent years, and can also be found in socks in the form of Cool Max, which helps improve air flow to the foot, maintaining a comfortable temperature.
Merino wool is one of nature’s best insulators and is commonly found in base layer clothing. This soft, comfortable material and is used in anything from 1 to 4 season socks, varying in insulation properties based on how thick the sock itself is made. As a natural fibre, it allows good breathability, wicking sweat and allowing it to easily evaporate from the surface of the sock. Merino wool socks will often still contain a high percentage of polyester or Cool Max, as well as nylon and lycra to help maintain the sock’s shape, so check the packaging to find out the specific levels of each material.
Bamboo fibres have been used to produce eco friendly socks from a sustainable material. BAM produces a wide range of casual and performance clothing using bamboo fibres. Like polyester and merino wool, bamboo works to wick away sweat from the skin leaving it comfortable and dry, perfect for walking. Both lightweight and thicker bamboo socks are available on the market, so you can buy different pairs for use all year round.
Another crucial part of footwear to consider when preparing for a winter walking holiday is a pair of gaiters. Gaiters fit around the top of your boot, covering the gap between your boot and your ankle. This area can often be prone to allowing water or snow in, and before you know it, you have cold, damp feet. Covering up with gaiters helps to prevent any water, snow or mud from entering these exposed areas.
As with other waterproof clothing, choose Gore-tex to insure the best quality protection against the elements. Gore-tex products are guaranteed for the lifetime of the product, so you should find yourself with a long-lasting, quality product to accompany you on many a walk. You should also ensure your gaiters are made from rip-stop material. The area around the ankles is often exposed to brambles and other things which may snag on your gaiters. Rip-stop material is woven so than any small rips won’t spread or grow bigger- increasing the life expectancy of the item.
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