The greatest socks in the world….. Tribute

While we tend to spend a small fortune on various outdoor footwear I would wager not all that many of us have traveled a similar road with regards to what goes underneath. For me this has been something of a five year journey of study and discovery (with a not too healthy amount of skin lost along the way.)

So the beginning? well it started I am sure the same way it does for most folks who spend time outdoors for anything other than a walk to work or the shops, with cotton. For a long time 90% of the socks I wore were made up from cotton and polyester and looking back it was torturous, any trip that went over 6 miles of walking at a pace beyond snail speed, or any trip that involved any minute amount of moisture getting into my footwear ended the same way. Blisters that grew upon the fallen corpses of blisters, no matter what footwear was worn.

So from there I took a typical route that involved a common mentality. “My feet are rubbing and getting blisters, I will endow them with super padding and be safe forever more,” Thus began phase two of the sock tour which for me was British army socks, they were made from a high wool percentage and nicely thick too. Looking back now I really don’t think they were any better at all than the old cotton skin scrapers. The larger amount of material meant I had to have larger boots or suffer squashed toes (a painful transition period). This in turn meant I had less “feel” for the ground under me and tended to stop flat footed through the terrain rather than walk gently on it. There was some benefit though, due to the material in use I often found my feet stayed warm during any wetting out. But this had drawbacks in so far as the blisters simply moved in between my toes rather than on or under them.

Around the same time I changed socks again I also began to study more about materials and how they work with or against the body. This drew me to wool like a moth to an 11th night bonfire, thus I got myself a set of army arctic socks. These were as good as 100% wool as you will find for under £10 a pair (I actually paid a pound each from a surplus store.) For a long time I thought this was as good as it gets until doing some further reading and taking the off ramp of the thick spongy highway onto “less is more” avenue. The two main problems with the big woolen socks were sweaty sections between my toes and still having that stump feeling when walking, also around this time I was starting to learn about minimal footwear. I had always guffawed at folks who were obviously buying the socks I saw in outdoor stores that had price tags in the £15 range or more. It seemed like madness that I could not justify in the past, but either the wisdom of age or a delayed action bout of common sense was causing me to rethink my ethos.

For me a dose of luck wafted by with a trip to Lidl and seeing a bunch of their own cheap sports gear, that weeks selection was all cycling gear and I saw some cycling socks that were generally thin but had sections reinforced similar to high end walking socks. At 3 quid a pair I grabbed three pairs and set about using them with earnest from just small runs in the park up to and including the Mourne Mountain Marathon. Considering the price I paid I still think they will work out as the best value for money socks I will ever own although they do suffer some problems. They are cheap and that means crappy soggy materials in the construction, thus get in line for some trench foot, also I very much doubt the durability of them again due to the cheap materials and construction methods. But they were a good learning tool and showed me what socks should and shouldn’t have and why. With the lessons taken on board I set out to get a good set of socks for my boots and deferred to uncle Ray, before splashing out on a pair of Thorlos hiking socks with the thick cushioning. At the same time I wanted something lighter for running and went with 1000 mile trainer socks. The Thorlos socks were nice but in all honesty I wasn’t blown away as much as expected from reviews of them. I have worn them both in the Mournes and back on some of the longer forest trail hikes near my home that range from around 6-11 miles, so nothing really long. For use in the Mournes I found them adequate as I find that area really doesn’t allow for very fast movement when in hefty leather walking boots, much of the ground underfoot off the trails is just too treacherous to risk bouncing along for me in boots. In that regard I was totally blister free, and I suffered only a mild clammy set of toes. However back on straight forward trails I still got a couple of hotspots and the odd blister, no doubt this would not be the case if I were just taking a nice stroll but in that case I would argue even a pound shop set of cottons will perform identically.

Now at this stage on the road I had begun to really embrace the less is more approach and even thought about shelving my boots for exceptionally bad conditions only and moving towards approach shoes and the like. Thus the 1000 milers were becoming a frequent companion for anything outdoors, also I had started to really delve deep into the ins and out of foot care. Previously I would wash, scrub, and talc my feet daily and always ensure to talc them before any hike or run, for me it was almost religious. I then discovered this could be having the opposite effect as desired, due to any talc not being absorbed by the skin. Talc works by causing the pores to contract thus meaning they sweat less thereby leaving you drier, this is find sitting on the beach or doing the shopping but when performing exercise you need to sweat as a fundamental body function. This also means your feet just sweat act like a dammed river until the talc is overcome by the sweat output and you end up with sludgy bits between your toes and thus extra material for friction. I changed my routine by ditching the talc and switching to moisture cream, the thinking behind this is that you will have skin far more supple and smooth, this means your feet are less inclined to rub around in your boot but instead gently roll and flex with your stride. This regime can also include spreading vaseline or such prior to any walk or run, the extra layer then helping to lubricate your foot surface and reduce friction. All of these actions combines with the dual layer construction of the 1000 mile socks meant my hotspots and blister numbers really started to drop.

Injinji socksAll was not perfect in the garden of toes however. It seemed that no matter what I tried to do I still would get blisters between my toes, for me it was always in the web between my two smallest toes, and the web of my big toes. While I no longer suffered from the agony most of us have felt from a blistered heel, I just wasn’t happy as it simply did not seem natural to not be able to go out and be unable to bring all my own skin home with me. Also the 1000 mile socks were made from some material that worked like a giant bath towel and sucked water instantly then held it like a wining lottery ticket. Having wet feet all day doesn’t bother me that much but when you pay nearly a tenner a pair for socks it irked me they were such sponges. So while looking for yet another sock solution I had my eureka moment when I discovered Injiji socks. To sum them up they are toe socks, yes those things that have pockets for each and every toe. They do come in a variety of types from ultra thin no show all the way to thick trail socks, and have a few different material types (mine are all coolmax fabric). I had seen these before when looking a five finger shoes but never considered them for standard toe box footwear until I read into the methodology behind them. A standard sock can do everything in the world to prevent blisters all round your foot, but even the best socks and best fitting shoes will still have one area of friction that design makes impossible to prevent, the insides of your toes. Injiji gets around this by simply giving you gloves for your feet, now that every inch of skin if covered it has nothing to rub against and has now way to generate blisters. The concept is ridiculously simple yet it works, in the last 3 months of using these socks I have suffered zero blisters and a couple of hotspots at best, these I put down to the design of my shoes allowing some play in my feet more than the socks though. In addition I haven’t had to mess about with pre lubing my feet with vaseline before a run, I just keep scrubbing old skin and applying moisture cream. Finally I have noticed a much better connection to the ground under me since my toes are now independent, this lets me grip where I would of previously stomped (depending on the flexibility of the footwear).

No doubt there may be other companies making this sock design, I just haven’t bothered looking but the design itself is what works. I now wear them even as a day to day sock as standard sock styles leave me thinking about how clammy my toes must be getting. It’s been a long and sometimes painful journey but I feel I have finally reached a destination that offers me all the comforts I could need in socks. For anyone who accepts that good socks do cost and thinks about how much they look after their feet I would urge you to give a pair of these a go. If nothing else you could be lucky and find your other half is mortally freaked out by them giving you hours of maniacal amusement.

Somehow this turned into a small novel than a blogish post but hey what else was I going to do on an evening, go outside or something???

This entry was posted in Gear Reviews.

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