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Hiking Gear: Choosing the right socks

So you're all ready to hike - you've got your boots, you've got your trekking poles, your pack, your water bottle(s), your sunscreen and your rain coat. What are you waiting for? Go for it! Hit the trail! Wait! Did you put on the right socks? Socks? Really? Yes - really. Since your feet are what get you from point A to point B, it goes without saying that your feet are the most valuable asset you have when it comes to hiking. So why not just throw on your cotton tube socks and go? There are several very compelling reasons why you need to think hard about your socks before hitting the trail, we'll call them the three W's:

  1. Water - water can have all kinds of nasty effects on your feet, such as frostbite and blisters. The moister your feet get, the easier the skin will tear.
  2. Warmth - is it July in Utah or January in Alaska? You'll want to make sure the socks you choose are right for the environment you are entering.
  3. Wellness - your feet need to have the right sock and or socks in order to keep you going all day. We'll talk about what that means in a minute.

Let's address #1 - water: This is heavily impacted by the material the sock is made out of. Cotton absorbs water and does not dry easily, whereas polyester and wool can have a "wicking" effect on your feet, pulling moisture away from your foot and into the air to facilitate a dry environment. If you are planning on hiking in snow or water, it is absolutely critical you choose wool or polyester socks to keep them dry!

Warmth is mostly impacted by the thickness of the sock. At REI and other retailiers, you will see socks are divided up into different thickness categories such as lightweight, medium and heavy. Lightweight socks are great for daytrips into local terrain such as Section 16 or Palmer Park; however, if you are planning on a hike up a 14er, go with medium or heavy weight, depending on the projected conditions of the peak you are climbing. For a weather forecast for any mountain in Colorado, visit this page and click on forecast in the table.

Sock selection based on foot wellness is a rather simple concept. Blisters are your #1 enemy. Blisters are caused by friction. To prevent friction you can go a couple different directions. My preferred method is to use thin polyester sock liners, which are worn under your hiking socks. They wick moisture away from your feet to help keep them cool, dry and blister-free.

Following the three W's should help keep your feet comfortable year-round. Now, get out there and tackle the trails!


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