Joey's Gear Recommendations & Reviews
Foot Care Part 2 - Sock Construction, Materials, and Proper Fit
The modern sock is a highly technical garment accessory often overlooked and even avoided by many people. Officially classified as "underwear" the sock is a marvel of knitting and textile ingenuity.
The life story of a pair of socks would not be a comedy. Socks are the hardest working part of any wardrobe, and potentially the most helpful (or harmful) piece of fabric in the underwear drawer. Here are the top ten tasks in the job description of an ordinary sock:
- be cotton free
- protect foot skin from footwear abrasion
- cushion impact surfaces of the feet
- manage moisture
- resist microbial growth
- prevent blisters
- control foot temperature
- prevent foot and footwear odors
- be machine washable
- last 5 years
1. Socks should be cotton free. Yes, I know it is hard to swallow, but the properties of cotton makes the fiber a terrible choice for any type of underwear i.e., fabric pressed right up against the skin and normally covered by other fabrics. Cotton socks are prevalent because cotton is cheap and the manufacturing process for weaving cotton fibers into tubes is cheap too. Since cotton had no properties deserving of modern sock weaving technology, manufacturers do not waste time, money, research, or development while producing cotton anything. If it is cheap enough...just make it and they will come.
I do not expect anyone to just buy the "no cotton" rule based on my claim alone. The next nine topics will give you plenty of reasons to obey the ABC rule when buying socks, briefs, boxer shorts, or panties: Anything But Cotton. These claims are based on a fifteen year footwear test period involving 14,500 test subjects. For more details on the study see my Footwear Fit Clinic page.
2. Socks should protect foot skin from footwear abrasion.
Human feet were not designed to be enclosed inside of leather, nylon, or rubber. Primitive human feet were tough and callused. The skin was free to be hardened by the sun and ventilated without barrier. A large percentage of the world's population still grow up without shoes. As soon as we begin wearing protective footwear however, our foot anatomy begins to change. The skin gets softer, the soles of our feet get thinner, even our ligaments and bone structure changes and weakens. Well before our teen years shoes are no longer optional. But shoes in general are hard on our feet in a different way. With a shoe on our foot we now have an opportunity for some serious abrasion caused by sliding against tough materials, perspiration entrapment which softens our skin even more, and all sorts of poorly designed discount footwear. But there is an answer! A proper sock, if you choose wisely, can make almost any shoe feel like walking on a cloud.
3. A sock should cushion impact surfaces of the feet.
Walking puts a massive amount of strain and pressure on our heels, balls, and arches under normal circumstances. Running, jumping, walking on uneven surfaces, and weight gain (body weight gain or carrying heavy objects or loaded backpacks) stresses the feet to their limit. Poorly constructed shoes, incorrect sizing, and improper sock use may lead to a number of maladies including stress fractures, deformed bones and ligaments, plantar warts, bruises, and blisters. The correct sock inside of properly fitting shoes can go a long way to helping the bottoms of our feet survive the rigors of biped locomotion. Cotton on the other hand is not cushioning, mainly because cotton socks cannot take advantage of terry looped
Terry Loop construction magnified next to a dime construction. The result would be a tubular wet towel on your feet growing bacteria and fungi like a greenhouse.
4. A sock should manage moisture.
The human body contains a lot of water - well over half of our body by weight or measure. So if you put any part of your body into an article of clothing, you are filling it with water. Moisture leaves our bodies as sweat. Moisture will also accumulate in footwear as condensation caused by our body heat reacting to outside conditions. Some feet perspire more than others, but they all sweat. If you don't think your feet sweat, place a foot into a plastic bag, squeeze out the air so the bag touches your skin, and wait five minutes.
OK...your feet sweat. Now what? Treat yourself to some nice socks. Proper materials for constructing socks include silk, wool, acrylic, wicking polyester, and nylon with a smidge of elastic to hold the socks in position on the foot, ankle, and lower leg. All of these fibers may be woven into excellent socks. Acrylic is the least technical of the bunch, and the least expensive. For casual wear, wool, acrylic, and silk are just fine. But for performance wear, or feet that perspire heavily, wool, nylon, and wicking polyester are the preferred fibers. These high performance materials may even be blended together for added efficiency at moving moisture away from the skin. Dry feet are happy feet regardless of the outside temperature. Wool retains all of it's padding and insulating properties even when wet. Modern wool socks are made of de-scaled worsted wool - softer than cotton, machine washable and safe in the dryer. Wool may be blended with nylon or wicking polyester to further enhance moisture moving properties. Blends may be used to literally direct moisture from the toes, past the mid foot, and out through the cuff of the shoe or boot to evaporate at the ankle and leg. It is imperative that shoes or boots be properly fitted for this miracle of sock engineering to work at full capacity. Tight footwear is damp footwear.
Finally, water-soaked wool or nylon will dry on your feet. If you filled your boots up with water crossing a icy stream while wearing wool socks you have no problems. Take the socks off and squeeze (don't wring or twist) the water out of them, then hold one end of each sock and spin them in the air for a minute. Put the barely damp socks back on and they will dry on your feet thanks to body heat and the properties of wool. Nylon socks will not hold water in the first place, however nylon is usually reserved for thin athletic socks or gets blended into thick wool socks for added drying performance. If you stepped into that stream wearing cotton socks, you better have a spare set or plan to drive into town and feed some quarters to a clothes dryer.
OK, I know this Wicking vs. Absorbing issue can be confusing. What's the difference anyway? Below is a nice graphic I created to clear up any confusion.
This is an oversimplified look into how modern high performance socks work.
Notice how the sweat droplet is drawn up the grooves along the sides of the wicking fiber powered passively by capillary action
http://bloody2.com/capillary.aspx and actively by body heat. The fiber itself does not get wet, so it retains all of it's beneficial properties. The liquid is drawn away from the skin to the outside of the sock where it has a chance to evaporate either through the shoe or up the leg and over the top of the shoe. Microbes have nothing to eat in the sock (other than body oils and skin cells), and no place to hide when socks get laundered. Washing wool, nylon, or polyester at reasonable water temperatures removes the microbes and adds little wear and tear to the sock materials.
The absorbing fiber sucks up the drop of moisture as well, but in a different way. The fiber itself takes the droplet up between microscopic cells INSIDE of the fiber. Living plants suck up moisture to nourish living cells. They are really good at it. Fortunately, the process still works passively after the plant is processed into cotton towels, paper towels, toilet tissue, and printing paper. The downside of this absorption causes untreated lumber to rot, and cotton socks to hold moisture right there against your skin while the cotton tries to rot. Microbes can live inside of the fiber and cannot be washed off. Cotton must be harshly washed - nearly boiled - to disinfect the fibers which also drastically reduces the life span of your garment.
Because moisture is locked up inside of the absorbent fiber, heat must be applied to drive out and evaporate trapped moisture. Or you will wait a long time under ideal conditions to air dry cotton after first removing it from the source of the moisture - your body. Wool and synthetics will dry right there on your foot inside of a shoe if the shoe is constructed and sized properly.
5. A sock should resist microbial growth.
Another good reason for wearing a sock in the first place is to help prevent infections of the skin and nails of the foot. Socks are washable, shoes not so much. Footwear in general should never be worn more than once without a thorough washing. Washing and disinfecting a pair of shoes after every wearing is not only impossible and impractical but not recommended. Shoe materials are not designed to withstand daily machine washing with hot water and soap. Shoe manufacturers and engineers expect the user to wear socks, with the possible exceptions of bedroom slippers (often machine washable), water shoes (always machine washable), and certain styles of sandals. Socks are like shoe liners, or underwear for your feet, or sheets on your bed. Do you sleep directly on your mattress! Most likely you sleep on bed sheets, with a liner protecting the mattress under the sheet. Sheets are easily laundered and disinfected. Sleeping directly on a mattress would give you cooties sooner or later. Bed sheets should be washed on a regular basis and socks should be washed every day. If you do not wear socks inside of shoes, you might as well sleep on the same uncovered grungy mattress every night as well. Fungus needs love too.
The main line of defense against infections of the feet is to keep feet dry and reduce exposure to microorganisms. A fresh pair of non-cotton socks is just what the doctor didn't order. Companies selling foot fungus powder, creams, and ointments do not want you to know about cotton socks and underwear. They want to sell their products and services that depend to a large extent on the prevalence of cotton undergarments. Cotton makes a great bath towel for the same reasons it makes poor socks: cotton sucks moisture from your skin fast and contains it inside the cotton fibers. Forever. Or until you hang the cotton material out to dry or tumble it inside a heated drum. Forever wet socks touching your skin is exactly what you don't want. Water softens skin, promotes blisters, and opens the door for bacteria and fungus infections.
Wool, nylon, acrylic, polyester, and silk do not like water and do not absorb it. Water hating properties are generally referred to as hydrophobic properties. The moisture leaving your feet through sweat glands touches one of these fibers and gets sucked into the weave by capillary action
http://bloody2.com/capillary.aspx created by tiny grooves in the actual fibers, or tiny airspaces between them. If you have ever had your blood tested with a finger prick and watched as a small glass tube called a capillary tube was touched to the drop of blood on your finger, you will have immediate understanding of this concept. The blood is passively "wicked" up inside of the glass tube due to a pressure differential between the inside of the tube and the outside of the tube. Obviously, the glass material is not absorbing the water. The hydrophobic (liquid hating) glass is providing a channel for liquid to be carried away from the source without accepting the water inside of the glass molecules. Even when full of liquid, the glass itself is still dry as a bone. Glass makes fine attic and wall insulation however, does not lend itself to being woven into socks. So we use other more sensible materials like wool, nylon, acrylic, polyester, and silk - all of which will move moisture away from a perspiring foot without actually absorbing the water. Without water inside the fiber itself, microbes find it very difficult to grow there. Microbes can only grow between the fibers where they are more easily laundered away. Like washing a drinking glass vs. a paper cup. Get it!?
Some manufacturers take microbes even more seriously and weave metal fibers, often Colloidal Silver impregnated thread, into every kind of underwear including socks. The germ fighting properties of silver have been in use for literally thousands of years, falling out of favor after widespread development of modern chemically engineered antibiotics. Military studies have shown that microorganisms are held at bay for up to two months in silver impregnated undergarments. As you might imagine, this technology is not being tested on smelly civilians. Soldiers in the field who may go long stretches without proper washing facilities stand to benefit greatly from silver threads. So would those of us who climb mountains, sail around the world in canoes, float for weeks in hot air balloons, or just find ourselves traveling with minimal amounts of clothing or through lesser developed countries. Unfettered microbes can really ruin a vacation. Remaining uninfected in the trenches of war is a matter of life and death.
Wool socks without silver threads may be worn continually for a few days in a pinch. During my hiking or cycling expeditions I routinely push my wool or nylon socks into service for two days before a wash. I carry three pairs of socks with me and wear them in a rotation. Pair #1 first, then 2, then 3, then repeat. Between wearings I turn both socks inside-out and try to expose the inner surfaces to strong sunlight for extra microbe killin' between washings. I launder all of my clothing once a week. I have not contracted a foot fungus since 1985 - the year I disposed of all my cotton tube socks.
6. Socks should prevent blisters.
Blisters may be the result of any of several factors: Cotton socks, poorly fitting shoes, poorly fitting socks, improper shoe lacing, tender feet, shoes not properly broken-in, and unfortunately some uncontrollable factors like individual foot and leg anatomy.
Continually wet skin becomes easily blistered. Yeah, this brings us back to materials. Cotton holds moisture from perspiration against the skin of the foot, the skin becomes tender, and wet cotton loses the small amount of padding quality it almost does not have. Cotton, although it feels soft to the touch, will rub a hole through sweat-softened skin in less than an hour of activity. Any other failings that promote blisters will only be intensified by wearing cotton socks.
Besides wearing a sock manufactured with proper materials -ABC (Anything But Cotton), for problem feet that blister no matter what, wear yet another sock. A thin liner sock that is snug fitting on the foot, then a thicker sock on top of the liner. The liner should be made of silk, wicking polyester, or nylon. The tight fitting liner sock will cling to the foot and the two socks will then rub together. You may wear out socks faster than I do, but socks don't blister, so your feet will be happy. In extreme cases, a product called Body Glide® may be applied to problem areas of blister-prone feet. I like how they use the word Glide in the name. This product actually sticks the sock to your skin. No rubbing - No blisters. Body Glide® works on any skin subject to chafing, but I would not use the same applicator on the feet AND the inner thighs or glute areas as microbes may be spread this way.
Sock fit is crucial to blister prevention. Quality socks are available in sizes and have an area for the heel to settle into. Obviously, do not wear tube socks of any kind. Note that your shoe size is NOT necessarily your sock size. My Foot Sizing Clinic will help you determine your sock size. If a sock does not fit you properly it will likely bunch up, slip down, twist in the shoe, or just blister you for the fun of it. The sock must also compliment the shoe. If you own several models of shoes from different manufacturers, try different socks with each shoe. Use socks to custom fit your shoes. You can not expect winter boots to be happy in the same socks as your running shoes.
For most people, blisters do not have to be a necessary evil during your fun activities. Take a little care when selecting and fitting your socks to your shoes/boots and you will be repaid with nothing but happy memories of your adventures.
7. Socks should control foot temperature.
Proper materials, as mentioned above, will help to regulate the temperature inside of your boots or shoes to some extent. Cold temperatures are addressed with thickness for the most part. Wicking liner socks and insulated boots in addition to proper winter socks can combat low temperatures almost anywhere on our planet.
Guess what material will not insulate when damp or wet. Yup. Cotton again. Worse than no insulation at all, damp cotton actually sucks heat away from the body. Referred to as "Death Cloth" by mountaineers and other frozen tundra types of adventurers, cotton feels nice and cozy next to a fireplace at camp, and for a short time while exposed outdoors - until you stop moving and generating extra body heat. Cotton then wicks heat away and quickly drives the body into hypothermia. But first, your feet feel like blocks of ice. Even if you avoid the Death part of the nickname by scurrying back to camp, your experience will be remembered for discomfort instead of fun. Maybe even a few frostbite scars on your toes to remind you of the misadventure.
Even if you wear the warmest boots ever made with chemical heat packs inside, you want to avoid cotton socks. Remember the microorganism topic I just covered above? A warm greenhouse + food = growth of microbes.
Keeping your feet warm is just partly a sock's job. All of your ducks of warmth must be neatly in a row to keep your feet warm under cold conditions. If your body core temperature drops just one degree below normal due to external conditions, a small group of cells in your brain will take notice. In order to save themselves those cells will initiate the order to send the rest of the body into Cold Survival Mode. CSM starts out by shutting down capillaries under the skin accomplished by shrinking the blood vessels there. You might barely notice this happening. Goosebumps are your body's attempt to increase loft by raising hairs on end - a worthless response leftover from long ago when humans had fur. But you should take notice of the attempt. The next step is to shut down circulation to distant extremities. The brain is sacrificing your fingers and toes in order to conserve warm circulating blood to vital organs. You can live without toes. Soon after you get cold fingers and toes you should begin noticing other things happening. Shivering - the next step - is designed to generate extra body heat at the expense of stored energy from your previous couple of meals. But you can 't shiver forever. Shivering is the point where you need to get back to camp, start a raging fire, or crawl into an adequate sleeping bag. Beyond shivering comes mental disorientation after which you really can not help yourself. If no one else is around to save you...human Popsicle.
I will cover the topic of core temperature maintenance in great detail in my Layering Clinic. For now just learn that keeping your core properly insulated and a warm hat on your head will keep your feet warm. Just the opposite of the hypothermia mechanism, if you can keep your core temperature elevated just one degree above normal, those "thermostat" cells in your brain get fooled into thinking you are going into heat exhaustion which results in dilation of all blood vessels in an attempt to cool vital organs at your core. Piping hot blood gets rushed to extremities which keeps fingers and toes toasty warm inside of proper socks and winter shoes. Remember: No Blood, No Heat. You could have socks ten feet thick on your feet but without warm blood flowing down to them those toes are going to feel like ice cubes.
One last but important note on staying warm from head to toe: The term Cotton Thermals is an oxymoron. Cotton has less than zero thermal properties. Cotton cannot be converted to a thermal fabric by any means. Cotton flannel is not a thermal material nor is cotton thermal underwear. These fabrics will briefly keep you warm feeling as you walk from the warm house to the warm car or climb between some cotton flannel sheets under the down comforter. Just remember, when cotton gets the slightest dampness into it...Death Cloth.
8. A sock should prevent foot and footwear odors.
Most foot odor is caused by thriving bacteria feeding on footwear materials or the feet themselves. Skin oils mixed with dead skin cells and perspiration make nourishing food for bacteria. Not wearing socks inside of almost any shoe delivers a human smorgasbord of nutrition to bacteria living in leather, cloth, or plastic shoe parts. Cotton socks only add fuel to the smoldering infestation. Supply food, drink, and warmth to bacteria and they will reproduce at an astounding rate, doubling their numbers every twenty minutes to an hour. The solution is to wash your socks after every use with warm water and detergent. Wash your feet every day as well including spaces between the toes. Occasionally disinfect the inside of your footwear with any number of products available from sprays to powders. If you follow these steps religiously and your feet still reek, see your general practitioner for a blood test as you may have a more serious disease not directly related to your feet.
Ironically, you should not ask your doctor about your smelly feet before trying my suggestions. My doctor instructed me to wear cotton underwear and socks to combat pesky fungal infections and smelly feet when I was a teenager. That advice did not work. Numerous "medical" Websites offer the same advice along with "keep your feet dry". How do you keep the skin of your feet dry while you have a wet cotton bath towel pressed up against them all day long? Common sense tells me that is a contradiction, as does my experience. Nearly thirty years ago I learned about cotton socks and underwear from a backpacking store. Eventually I was employed at the backpacking store and sold shoes and socks for fifteen years. I gave this "no cotton" advice to customers nearly 15,000 times in fifteen year (see the study results at my Shoe Fit Clinic page). Backpackers, hunters, fishermen, mountain climbers, skiers, even penguin watchers. Not one person in fifteen thousand returned and told me I was full of bull. However, hundreds returned and told me I changed their lives. To this day I will bump into a customer from ten years ago and the first thing they do is pull up their pant leg and show me a SmartWool® dress sock, then tell me I changed their life. And I have enjoyed zero fungal infections since I made the switch myself.
Some of those same "medical" Websites suggest we never wear the same shoes two days in a row. I guess that is sound advice in general, but I was selling footwear to people hiking the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine who would be wearing the same heavy leather boot every single day for three months. Guess what? None of those hundreds of feet experienced fungal infections. I have completed bicycle expeditions covering five to six thousand miles in the same pair of shoes for six to seven months without a single foot issue. No microbe population = no stink (for an otherwise healthy individual).
9. A sock should be machine washable.
One cool property of cotton is the fact that it can be sterilized - literally boiled - without shrinking past a certain point. Navy sailors wear sterilized cotton uniforms in battle so that bullets and shrapnel do not drag infected clothing into a fresh wound. That is possible in the near sterile environment of a naval vessel on the high seas. For the rest of us living in the real world far from laundry facilities, cotton should be avoided as a sock material.
Modern Marino wool socks may be machine washed with detergent and dried in a clothes dryer - just not too hot. Acrylic can take a beating in a washer or drier only to pop out the door looking like new. Polyester and nylon may be washed warm and come out of the spin cycle dry enough to wear already. A clothes dryer set on low will dry these materials completely in five minutes. Silk is fairly delicate. I would hand wash silk socks and undies if I wore them. There are so many synthetics available with better properties than silk at about the same price that silk is a thing of the past for me. Modern wicking synthetics that feel just like silk will last ten years. Silk might last two years with moderate use. The savings are great over time.
10. A sock should last 5 years.
Quality socks last a long time. I have several pairs of SmartWool® and DeFeet® socks nearing ten years of age. Those manufacturers and others like them use high quality yarn and elastic able to survive years of use and many, many trips through the washer and dryer. I have grown to expect my socks to last five years. Obviously, I do not wear the same pair every day. When I find a sock model I love I will probably purchase five or six pairs and wear them each for one day a week. Different sock models get used in different shoes depending on fit and weather conditions. I buy less winter socks because I live in a mild climate where temperatures are only cold enough for thick socks two or three days at a stretch.
Cotton socks won't last five years just sitting in your sock drawer, as the cheap elastic bands will decompose and leave you with a shapeless tube-shaped cotton rag. Old cotton socks are great for wiping excess lube from bicycle chains. Come to think of it, so are new cotton socks.
Moral, Ethical, and Political Sock Dilemma
People make all sorts of choices in the course of living their lives. It is very easy to tell cold or hungry people how they should act if one has never been cold or hungry for an extended period. Living in a free and powerful country (I assume most folks with the capability of finding my Website live in such a place) gives us the luxury of making personal choices and the educational resources to learn about our options. If you, the reader, have sensibilities about the exploitation of animals for human food or clothing, or environmental concerns regarding petroleum based products, I applaud you and encourage you to exercise whatever power you have to make the world a better place in your opinion. As for me, I consider myself a vegetarian with a meat problem. I could easily live a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but facts on the ground sometimes requires me to settle for what I can acquire. I have found myself in situations where I would have eaten a rat if I could have caught one. Such experiences serve to center my judgment regarding what other people do, eat, or wear.
The point I am trying to make is simple. Regardless of politics, religion, state, country, ethnicity, or emotional sensibilities - wool, silk, nylon, and polyester are materials with properties far exceeding some other choices. Cotton farms are generally not what I would call eco-friendly or sustainable for the most part anyway. And buying organic cotton socks is just throwing more money away on an inferior product. Cotton material is just fine for many uses. High performance footwear is not one of those uses. The physical properties of cotton across the universe will not be altered in the least by a person's choice to wear it. We could all get together and wish it were different. Wish in one hand, spit in the other, and see which one fills up first. If you must wear cotton socks for whatever reason, you will likely have to live with cold smelly feet and occasional fungal infections. I only ask that you do not infect me with venomous correspondence based on your political alignment.
Do I practice what I preach? Below you can see the contents of my sock drawer. The photo at left shows my SmartWool® sock collection starting with the heaviest winter sock at the top left and working down to my lightest walking / leisure socks. The right photo shows my DeFeet® sock collection in the same order - heavy top left to lightest along the bottom row. Most of the socks pictured are nearly ten years old. A few are two years old. Any new sock should look good, so why show new ones? The older ones are much more impressive.
The first sock I want to show in close-up detail is a mountaineering sock because it has the longest story to tell. The SmartWool® Mountaineer in the photo below is more than ten years old. This sock has been worn about fifty times and machine washed twenty five.
If you shop online for socks, everybody wants to show you a picture of the outside of the sock. I don't understand that marketing. The outside of a good sock must be tough to resist rubbing against the inside of a shoe or boot and spread moisture (that has been wicked from the foot) over a wide are to improve evaporation. And the outside should look pretty so you might actually buy it. The story of the outside of a sock is short.
The inside of the sock is where most of the magic happens. A lot is going on inside of a quality high performance sock. I won't repeat the entire sock lesson here. See above if you skipped it. Each number on the socks has a story to tell. Hover over the number bar below the sock for close-up images and a short description of the features.
I purposely did not put a foot in any of the socks when photographing them so it would be obvious the socks held their shape for a decade. A foot inside would force any sock into a smooth foot shape.
Flat seams prevent lumps and pressure points at toe area.
Elastic band around arch secures sock to prevent bunching at toe area.
Ventillation panels just above the sole pad help move moisture to outside of sock.
Heel seam is flat to prevent pressure points.
Elastic band above heel prevents sock from working it's way under foot.
Elastic band at top of sock holds securely to calf so sock stays up even in knee-high rubber boots.
The complex junction of seams in the toe area must be perfectly flat. Beautiful job.
Sock padding should take into account the location on the foot. Perfect.
Extra external wear protection at heel with flat seams.
Elastic band above the heel to keep socks from slidng down in tall boots.
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BUY NOW - All sizes available, color shown only.
The SmartWool® Mountaineer (above) is their heaviest sock. Great for any cold conditions on skis, snowboards, in duck blinds, deer stands, on snowmobiles, in waders, and any winter hiking or backpacking. I have never worn a sock liner with this heavy sock as it is comfy, warm, and dry all by itself. For conditions below zero, or when wearing the sock for prolonged periods of time, perhaps a liner would be wise. These socks are like a sweater for your feet. I even use them as bedroom slippers around the house when the floors are cold.
Let us look at the opposite extreme now - a pair of my DeFeet® Air-E-ATOR nylon socks designed to keep feet flowery fresh and cool in the most brutal heat. Wool and synthetics keep us warm, so how do they keep us cool too? The answer is all in the weave and sock thickness.
The sock featured below does not look remarkably different to the naked eye on the inside or outside. By looking at a magnified image of both sides we reveal some important differences. First we must remember that hot weather socks are designed to be worn in shoes with a lot of ventilation. Running and cycling shoes are normally constructed with a lot of mesh material these days.
DeFeet uses just enough material to protect the foot from damage caused by shoes. The top half of this sock is mostly air spaces surrounded by tough nylon thread. Woven into the tough threads are fibrous yarns that supply a little cushioning and a lot of sweat wicking. Hover your cursor over the numbers below the illustration to view highly magnified images of this sock weave.
Wicking nylon inside of sock touches the skin at thousands of tiny points.
Wicking nylon outside of sock enlarges surface area for evaporation.
See the diagram below for details.
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BUY NOW - All sizes available, black on black.
The diagram below represents an edge-on view of the sock upper woven pattern. Viewed from the side we see thousands of tiny mushroom shaped globs of fibrous nylon yarn. The stem of the "mushroom" not only wicks up moisture, it also holds the sock away from the skin so circulating air can flow between the sock and the skin of the foot. What moisture does not evaporate right off the skin gets wicked up the stem and into the head of the mushroom where sweat has a large area to spread out and evaporate at a high rate. Sweat also evaporates from the mushroom stem and the underside of the head, but there was not enough space to draw all those lines and arrows.
Assuming the humidity is reasonable, evaporative cooling makes feet feel cool and dry. White shoes reflect heat better than dark shoes on hot, sunny days as well.
If you live in a mild climate, this next sock should really excite you. It is a SmartWool® Light Weight Crew wool sock that offers an incredible range of comfort in most any type of shoe or boot. This is the sock I use the most so I only get five years of use rotating five pairs. I just replaced mine so this is a photo of a sock about two years old.
I find this sock comfortable used in my walking, running, and cycling shoes as well as my light hikers if the temperature is between 45°F and 85°F. Any hotter and I switch to a lightweight low sock except for my light hikers as they are not sized for a lighter sock. I do not have much body fat, so low 40s and colder I need a thicker sock to be happy.
SmartWool® Light Weight Crew
Light weave up top for super wicking and ventilation during warm weather activities.
Terry looped padding for plush comfort along the sock bottom and toes.
High quality elastic gently hugs ankles while light weave promotes evaporation and even some wicking from foot.
Elastic band across arch and instep keeps sock from slipping to toes or twisting in shoes.
As with all SmartWool® socks the heel is beefed up for long wear.
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BUY NOW - All sizes, six colors available.
If you have been wearing nothing but cotton socks, this lightweight wool crew would not be much of a gamble to begin your new cotton-free footwear life. The inside feels soft as cashmere, padding is generous for a lightweight sock, the comfort range is wide, and you can toss them in the washer and dryer. I wash my wool and nylon socks on the Express setting with warm water and Sport-Wash® non-detergent gear cleaner. Although non-cotton socks and underwear come out of the spin cycle nearly dry, I toss my technical wear in the dryer on low for ten minutes. DO NOT USE fabric softener as that interferes with moisture wicking.
The photo below highlights the construction of two socks: the SmartWool® Expedition Trekking Crew and the SmartWool® Midweight Crew. There is no difference in the appearance of these two socks in a photograph. The Expedition sock is roughly twice as thick as the Midweight sock but not as beefy or high on the leg as the Mountaineer (see above).
The sock I photographed is well over ten years old. It has been worn on backpacking trips and winter cycling trips as well as cold nights and outdoor events in the city inside my dress shoes. The terry loops have been crushed a bit, however the warmth and comfort of the sock has not been drastically changed. The exterior surface has pilled from machine washing but is in pristine condition otherwise.
Images of the inside surface of my old socks tell a much better story than any pretty photograph of new socks stretched over a mannequin's foot.
SmartWool® Expedition Trekking and Midweight Crew
Thick terry loops on top and bottom of foot offer insulation and padding while moisture control is greatly enhanced by long vents on sides.
Terry looped padding and insulation extends all the way up past the ankle to the calf.
Machine washing caused some pilling of the exterior surface but has no effect on function or comfort.
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Medium Crew - BUY NOW - All sizes, four colors available.
Expedition Trekking - BUY NOW - All sizes, four colors available.
For more detailed information about how to use socks to properly fit shoes and boots to almost any foot go to my
SHOE FIT CLINIC page.
I hope you enjoyed my sock clinic and learned a few new things. You know what to look for in a good sock, and where to look (inside the sock), so you should feel like a professional sock shopper now. The sock links on this page lead to the best deals I can find. If you can't find your size or color preference at those link targets, please shop the fine establishments below. I only represent long established, honorable, and reputable retail stores. You cannot go wrong doing business with these fine shops. If you enter their stores through my links, and make any purchase during the next few months, a few pennies will fall from heaven to keep me motivated.
Thanks for hanging out with me. Shoot me an Email anytime if I can help. Telephone consultations can be arranged 24-7 with a little notice.
SmartWool Socks feel like the softest cotton, have impressive cushioning properties, may be machine washed and dried, and will last for years.