Welcome to the Gear Guru guide to choosing socks.
The contents of this page are as follows:
• Choosing Socks by Activity
• Choosing Socks for the Conditions – Things to Consider
– Weight (Thickness)
Choosing Socks by Activity
Quality technical outdoor socks will almost always be designed to combat the rigours of a specific activity type, so it is important to choose socks that are appropriate for your activity of choice. Here’s our summary of socks for different active pursuits, and how they benefit the wearer:
Running socks will have a close, stretchy fit to eliminate slipping and wrinkling whilst at speed, and will normally be constructed from highly breathable wicking materials to combat the high levels of perspiration that runners experience. Support will normally be provided by areas of high elasticity around the arch and ankle, and by areas of higher padding in the heel and ball of the foot. Flat-locked seams are essential to prevent rubbing.
Walking socks are available in a range of different weights for different conditions. They will usually have cushioning in the sole and heel to combat stone bruising from hours on foot. Available in a number of materials, from merino wool to 100% synthetic, walking socks will usually have a snug fit, with greater elasticity around the arch and ankle – but they will not usually be as stretchy or tight as running socks.
These are essentially thicker, beefier versions of walking socks, with greater cushioning against stiff 4-season boots, and superior warmth.
Similar to mountaineering socks, but made from the thickest yarns, for the highest levels of cushioning and warmth. Usually made in wool or merino wool for maximum insulation, they will have additional padding in the sole, heel and often the front of the calf, for cushioning against high-cut expedition boots.
Even though you’re not ‘on your feet’ so to speak, when your’re mountain biking or cycle touring, socks are still important. Cycling-specific socks will usally be low-cut, close fitting to minimise rubs, and will have good arch support to stabilise this most crucial part of the foot throughout the pedal stroke. Like running socks, they will usually be made from lightweight, wicking materials.
Choosing Socks for the Conditions – Things to Consider
What sort of technical properties, impact protection, and warmth do you need for your intended destination, and for the climatic conditions there? With these questions in mind, you should take the following factors into account:
It may seem like an unimportant factor, but it’s important that the length of your socks is appropriate for the cut of your footwear. If you’re going to be mountaineering in high-cut boots, you’re going to need mid-calf or higher cut socks to cushion your calf. In very cold conditions it can also be useful to have longer socks to provide that extra bit of insulation for your lower legs! For this reason, most mountaineering and expedition socks feature a mid-calf or over-calf cut. Here’s a quick list of the different terms used to discribe sock length, along with an example of each:
Sock Weight (Thickness)
Technical socks are available in many different weights, which have an affect on warmth and cushioning (impact protection). Socks can broadly be split into the following weight categories:
Liner: Very fine, lightweight socks, designed to be worn underneath walking, mountaineering or expedition socks. They are designed to reduce friction between the boots, socks and feet, as well as to wick sweat away from the foot to maintain optimum conditions for comfort and performance. They also have the effect of adding a few degrees of extra warmth. It is not necessary to wear liner socks with most modern walking socks, due to advances in fit and comfort over recent years. However, many people still prefer to wear socks in a ‘two sock system’, and liner socks are invaluable used in conjunction with thicker trekking, mountaineering and expedition socks.
Lightweight: Lightweight socks are good for warm weather wear. Running and walking socks are available in lightweight styles. Although good for keeping the feet cool, lightweight socks don’t provide a great deal of cushioning for the foot, so for activities such as backpacking, where the wearer is carrying a heavy load, it’s best to step up to midweight.
Midweight: Mid-thickness socks, for temperate to cool conditions. The majority of walking socks fall into this category, providing a good blend of cushioning and warmth/cooling.
Heavyweight: The thickest socks, designed for maximum warmth and cushioning. This weight is usually seen in mountaineering and expedition socks.
Socks are available in a range of technical fabrics, with differing pros and cons to each in performance terms. Broadly speaking, they can be split into the following fabric groups:
Wool: Wool is a very popular natural material in the manufacture of socks, as it retains heat when wet, and has excellent, inherent insulating and odour-resistant properties. Generally, wool is used in conjunction with synthetic fibres, as on its own it will not dry out easily, and lacks elasticity. Wool is the ideal material for use in cold weather socks, thanks to it’s superb insulation properties.
Merino Wool: Though only a variety of wool, merino wool is so widespread in the market that it deserves its own mention. The softest type of wool, merino and eliminates the itchy feel and other negatives usually associated with wool socks due to its long, fine fibres. The properties of these fibres also mean that merino has the best moisture removal and odour control properties of any wool type, as well as being supremely warm. Merino is the king of comfort in socks.
Synthetic: Man-made or synthetic materials can be engineered to perform a multitude of tasks, but predominately, synthetic fibres in socks are designed to wicking, insulate, or provide stretch. Coolmax and Polypropylene are two of the more popular wicking materials found in both liners and walking socks, designed to enhance wicking performance. Insulating synthetic materials are designed to help structure, and insulate. They often have added abrasion resistance over wool, and far faster dry time. Synthetics are often used in conjunction with wool or merino, to give you the best traits from both material groups in one pair of socks.
Cotton: On its own, cotton is a non-starter in technical sock manufacture, as it absorbs sweat and offers little insulation when wet, leading to great discomfort and possible blistering of the feet. Notwithstanding these issues, cotton is very comfortable and when combined with wool or man-made fibres can be an excellent choice for lightweight summer walking.
Silk: Silk is one of nature’s wonder materials, and is an excellent insulator for its weight. Comfortable and extremely light, silk can be found mixed in with the best liners and lightweight walking socks.
We hope you’ve found this guide to choosing socks helpful. If you feel you’re ready to make your choice, then feel free to head to our Socks category via the link above to browse our great range of styles. If you’ve still got unanswered questions, feel free to email your queries to [email protected], or if you’re in need of a quick response, call our customer service line on 0117 911 3869, and we’ll endeavour to answer your questions there and then.