Travel 101: Not All Socks Are Created Equal

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Stephen F. Dennstedt

Socks. What can you say about socks? Quite a bit, actually. If you’re a traveller, especially an adventure-traveller, you know how important your feet are. And frankly socks, sandals, shoes and boots are foot-clothing. One word (actually two words) of advice: cotton and polyester are not your friends when it comes to socks for hard travelling.

In the classic Dustin Hoffman movie The Graduate the one word was plastic. If you’re one of my young readers you might have to research that reference. My one word, when it comes to socks, is: wool. Wool is the only material worth considering. Wool breathes and retains its warmth even when wet—cotton socks will not do that.

Wool is tough and resilient and defies foot oder. None of the funk-factor you will find in synthetic socks. Wearing the same pair of socks for many days will prove my point in spades. Blisters are another real concern; blistered feet make walking pure agony. Open blisters left untreated can turn septic and lead to blood poisoning (and in extreme cases progress to gangrene). When I was a kid it happened to me and I was bedridden for a week with blood poisoning.

I never thought much about my feet until I enlisted in the Marine Corps at seventeen. After that I thought of practically nothing else but my feet. While I was going through my infantry training at Camp Pendleton I humped every mountain in sight with a full field pack weighing about 65-pounds plus my rifle and ammunition—straight up and straight down—the Marine Corps does not believe in switchbacks (switchbacks are for pussies). We hiked the firebreaks for hours on end and I came to appreciate my feet and care for them properly.

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SmartWool Hiking Socks

Functionality: 10/10

Durability: 10/10

Value: 8/10

Pros include: High-density knit sole and instep to guard against abrasion, shock, lace pressure and blisters. Made of 77% super-soft Merino wool for no-itch comfort and warmth, 22% nylon for durability and 1% spandex for dependable stretch. Merino wool naturally wicks moisture for dry comfort.

Cons include: Can be a little hot in the tropics (but I’m usually wearing sandals in those environments). When I buy running shoes I buy them ½-size larger than normal to accommodate the extra bulk (same for boots).

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Alden “Indiana Jones” Boots with SmartWool Socks

Today I buy all of my socks (and most of my other outdoor gear) from REI. Along with Cabela’s you can find almost everything you will need. My sock of choice is the SmartWool hiking sock pictured above for $20.95 USD per pair. Expensive? Yes. But they are so worth it. They don’t become a soggy bunched up mess of cotton when wet and they don’t stink like polyester. I’ve had my SmartWool socks for six years and believe it or not they’re still going strong. If you prorate their cost over their lifetime they will prove their value.

I’ve mentioned before, in my clothing posts, that when you travel the world you are going to get wet (this includes your feet). It’s not a matter of if it’s a matter of when. If you can’t keep your feet dry at least you can keep them warm. I’ve tested a lot of socks since my Marine Corps days and these socks are some of the best. I even wear them with my sandals in mosquito country (a faux pas for men). I don’t care about fashion (or the fashionistas) anymore so I wear what’s comfortable and practical. Mosquitos, chiggers and other biting insects can be a nuisance—so why suffer?

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6 responses to “Travel 101: Not All Socks Are Created Equal

  1. Interesting post Stephen, I never thought much about socks but in your situation I can see you have to take comfort to a whole new level. Funny the other day it dawned on me that several pairs of Puma socks that Sharon bought for me at Costco about three years age have never had a hole in them and I wear them all most every day.

  2. While not apropos to me, this blog like most of your others (aside from the cigar blogs and the pure wildlife ones & the political ones) but like most of your posts; they do not apply to me but are still very informative and enjoyable. I’ve passed ones about photo equip on to my photo-journalistic friends and some on clothing to my painter partner. Thanx for a fun ride into how others live. Dennestadt. ~~dru~~

  3. I said that you also can’t beat a good paid of GI sock. Wore them for over 20 years, from Vietnam to the desert, and 3 years in Korea and 6 years in Germany.

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