Gear and Health
Right to Ramble
Let's start with socks. I personally don't like the shorty socks, but that's perhaps because I'm an old fart. They might be a great choice for at least one layer.
For years, I just wore my street socks, or maybe a combination of street socks with thin nylon socks. I'm now a convert to decent hiking socks. My feet have thanked me for it ever since.
The main reason I went up market was the high number of times I had to do damage control concerning heel blisters. It's surprising how much a good pair of socks, reinforced in the right places for support and toughness, can improve your walking comfort and help to absorb the constant thud on feet on rocks and earth.
One reason I was slow in getting wise in this area may be age. Young bodies are much more forgiving. As we age, protective fat on our feet combine with other factors to make us more susceptible to injury and slower to recover from damage.
Taurean Health Products
"With exertion one foot can sweat 1 to 2 pints of vapor/fluid per day." (Quote from Hiking-gear-and-etc. Or check out an article by Benz Appatt; someone is "borrowing" from someone here. Web writers are often terrible for giving credit.)
With that much moisture, a sock should be a super-wicker. It's also a good reason to have several pairs of socks handy. On multi-day walks, have one set to wear, one drying and one dry pair always handy. As we all know what sweaty feet feel and smell like — and how much the resulting bacteria can plague you and slow your walking — treating your feet royally is of ultimate importance.
Socks should be made of either wool, a wicking synthetic or a combination. Avoid cotton.
I find normal 100% wool socks irritate me; I need a combination to soften them up, or "special wool" (see below). However, wool socks in winter are a must. Even if you get a soaker, good old wool will keep your feet warm. Synthetics won't to the same degree. Cotton won't either.
Check out acrylic products and those with a CoolMax® label. "When wet, acrylic fibers swell less than 5% while cotton swells 45% and wool swells 35%. Swollen fibers that are compressed reduce air spaces and thus reduce moisture transport. Thus, cotton socks exhibit a 2.4 times higher resistance to moisture transport." Highly hydrophobic material such as polypropylene "repel water so effectively that wicking cannot occur" (from the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine).
Many people use two pairs of socks to reduce chafing (the socks rub against themselves rather than your heel) and promote wicking. Again there is a selection of thin materials that can help you here. I usually wear a pair of thin synthetic or nylon socks as a first layer, not necessarily of the high-end hiking sort.
"Shearing forces occur when the metatarsal bones glide over layers of the plantar fat pads and skin that are not moving in the same direction as the bones. This creates a situation in which the fat pads become inflamed, and over time, degenerate. This shearing force is exacerbated by excess moisture created by the feet when they perspire during vigorous and even mild activities" (from Colorado Relay). Shearing force can also be a factor in blisters, when two layers of your skin (and especially wet/sweaty skin) move in different directions during extreme or repetitive action. In short if you make a big leap and your outer skin layers move a different way from the inner parts, you have a recipe for blisters, fat pad deterioration and worse. Good socks and double socks can help reduce these conditions.
I wear a product called SmartWool. It's all wool, but they have a process that softens the wool and makes it an excellent insulator.They say it's the special New Zealand sheep's wool they use. I wear them in summer and winter. They can get a bit toasty in summer with boots on, but then I haven't yet found a sock that doesn't do this. Still, I'm amazed at how cool they are after a day's slogging in the hot sun. They also are very forgiving when, after all the wise advice above, I dry them and put them on for the five days or more in a row (ugh!).
I wear the same hiking boots in the summer and winter. I'm cheap that way. This may not be for everyone. (I do add gaters in the winter.) However, when it comes to socks, in summer you can cut back to lightweight wool or synthetic for the outer layer along with your thin inner socks, or just one layer of wool/synthetic for short walks. (The video i list in the links below notes that tropical weight suits are made of wool, so wool can be used for warm-weather clothes as well.)
While we're on the subject of sockwear, I should mention that you should have a good heel ointment to keep your heels form forming that thick layer of dry hard skin at the back of your heels. A druggist I asked suggested the ointment contain urea. I use something called Flexitol Heel Balm which seems to do the job (if you Google "Flexitol.com" some disturbing warnings of infections may come up; I'd avoid the site.). When I think of it, I try not to strike the ground too hard with my heel first, but roll my foot to cushion the impact.
The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine has a good article promoting athletic socks. It explains how synthetics work and outlines some common problems those who put their feet to heavy use might experience. I have used their site for some of the information above.
Fox River make a popular line of U.S-made hiking socks. Here's a site that gives an overview of some of their sock products, with a little less hype than the sock-maker's site. (I've never bought from these sites and make no recommendations in this department.)
If you like taking your Barbie doll along with you on a walk, here's a psychatrist to ... oh, sorry, here's a site where you can actually knit her some hiking socks Barbie's ragg hiking socks. (Who needs more help here, the Barbie fetishist or the guy who included this link on a purportedly serious subject?)
Since I included an overtly patriotic U.S. site, I wouldn't feel right without including a gool ol' Canadian sock manufacturer: Taiga — German engineered ('cause we Canadians don't do that kinda stuff, eh?) and Canadian made. Manuactured in Vancuver, Vancover, Vancoever, someplace like that. In B.C. That's either in Canada or Before Christ.
Here's an interesting video by a guy without a hat, largely promoting either synthetic CoolMax or wool socks and why. He notes that because wool resists bacteria, you can "wear them over and over again, within reason of course." I admit I take his advice beyond reason. Check out some of the other videos listed on this site too.
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Page created: June 26, 2009