Polyamide, Elastane, merino wool, midweight, heavyweight, 3 season – the humble sock can be ridiculously complex.
My personal sock approach varies according to the weather conditions, length of trip and footwear – as I generally wear mesh trailshoes I prefer a single merino-heavy wool sock that remains warm when wet. On a multi-day trip merino remains odour free for longer than a synthetic-heavy blend, but synthetic materials dry faster when wet. It’s clear that sock choice is a surprisingly tough, personal decision that can only really be made through experience and the vast range available in most outdoor shops doesn’t make things any easier. Getting it wrong can ruin a trip, but getting it right will lead to hill bliss and miles of blister-free pleasure.
As I’m fortunate enough to do most of my hillwalking in Scotland I reject the omnipresent ‘season’ rating – I can’t see a place for a “one-season” sleeping bag in Scotland for example – and simply split my equipment into ‘winter’ or ‘not-winter’. It’s the same with socks – in subzero temperatures with substantial snow I’ll probably swap my trailshoes and midweight low socks for boots and a more substantial, higher sock.
As a relatively low-cost item I have a veritable sack of socks (I could be a really disappointing Santa), so in this review I’ll be delving into the sack and taking a look at offerings from a range of manufacturers and suitable for both winter and not-winter conditions.
Falke TK1 Trekking Sock RRP: £15
Far more than just a tube of fabric with one end sewn up, the Falke T1 features all kinds of padded zones, air channels and complex blend of materials tailored to anatomical areas. The socks are asymmetrical, marked with an L and R, to fit the foot more closely and thus help prevent blisters caused by bunched fabric rubbing against softened skin. These are a thick, high-volume sock ideal for winter, and the high-wear areas of toes, heel and ankle have even more padding. These cushioned areas are comprised from a polypropylene-heavy blend for maximum abrasion resistance, with merino used elsewhere for maximum odour-resistance. The red lines visible in the photo are ‘channels’ in the fabric, with a greater concentration on the sole designed to convey moisture to the top of the foot where it can exit the boot. It all sounds very impressive, but most importantly they fit nicely, breathe well thanks the varying fabrics and construction, and haven’t contributed to any blisters. Works for me.
Female equivalent? Yup: Falke TK1 Women
Materials: 25% Polyacrylics 20% Wool 12% Polyamide 42% Polypropylene 1% Elastane Weight: 114g (size 46-48)
Brasher Wool Ultra 3-4 Season Sock RRP: £17
This is a more traditional mountain sock than the high-tech Falke T1, made from Wool Ultra, a special twistless yarn reckoned to create 30% less friction (a contributor to blisters). The addition of a bit of nylon adds durability to the merino, but doesn’t seem to reduce the odour-beating characteristics of the wool. The darker areas signify a slightly tougher yarn blend where increased wear is to be expected , and slightly denser terry loops in this area on the inside resist compression for longer. The toe seam is nice and flat and the whole sock gives an appearance of quality and comfort. The cuff is snug and the shin well cushioned to resist tightly-laced high boots, and despite the quality the sock is a little less rugged than I like for use in boots. It’s a good basic sock that relies more on the properties of the materials than advanced construction techniques.
Female equivalent? Yup: Brasher Wool Ultra 3-4 Season Womens Sock
Materials: 73% Merino Wool Ultra, 23% Nylon, 4% Elastane Weight: 94g (size 10-13)
70 Mile Bush Taihape Mountain SockRRP £17
Now these are rugged socks! As the weight suggests, the yarn is dense and the outer face feels more akin to chainmail than wool. I consider this is a good thing. The inside is lined with terry loops that resist compression well – I assume as a result of this dense yarn – and offer good cushioning at the high wear areas of heel, toe and sole. These resistant terry loops trap air to provide insulation around the foot, and these are noticeably warm socks ideal for the depths of winter. Sold in the UK by Chocolate Fish Merino the Taihape Mountain sock is tall enough to be useful in high-legged boots, perhaps even wellies or work boots. Despite the cost of importing these into the UK from New Zealand the price is very good given the apparent longevity, and I have no hesitation is recommending them for those that need a serious winter mountain sock.
Female equivalent? Nope.
Materials: 70% Merino wool, 26% Nylon, 4% Lycra Weight: 179g (size L)
Meindl Revolution Sock RRP: £15
If TRON wore socks I’m pretty sure they’d be Meindl Revolution socks. There are all kinds of materials and construction techniques mixed up in these complicated socks, which are specifically designed and marketed to interface with the air channels in Meindl’s Air Revolution range of boots. I don’t own any Meindl Air Revolution boots, so I was forced to wear them with trailshoes (it’s non-winter remember). I’d love to say that they were a total failure, and that using them in non-Meindl footwear resulted in massive blisters and disaster, but that didn’t happen. They’re just socks. Complicated socks, but socks nonetheless. They have a definite 3D structure, with air channels, vents and targeted cushioning, and in use they work very well, keeping my feet cool in non-winter conditions and responding well to moisture and odour.
Female equivalent? Nope.
Materials: 54% Polyester/DriRelease, 26% Merino wool, 10% Cotton, 8% Polyamide, 2% Lycra Weight: 104g (size 44-47)
HJ Hall Ben Fogle Explorer Sock RRP: £14
Utterly devoid of branding, the Explorer sock from HJ Hall’s Ben Fogle range is a superb midweight sock, ideal for non-winter use. It’s relatively basic, with a more durable yarn used in high-wear areas (the black bits) and a more breathable weave used elsewhere (the grey bits). I was dubious as to the usefulness of the elasticated arch, but it actually works quite well, hugging the foot securely and preventing any foot movement independent of the sock. The double-layer cuff is comfortable and high, with no indication of any sag or cutting-in. A really good, simple sock.
Female equivalent? Nope.
Material: 40% Wool, 40% Meraklon TM/Polyprop, 10% Nylon, 6% Cotton, 4% Elastane Weight: 105g (size 10-13)
Horizon Merino Trekker Sock RRP £15
Orange seems to be the colour this season (see my recent insulated jacket review) though as these have been well-hidden within a trailshoe I’ve been spared too much embarrassment. These are another high-tech sock, with the now-standard air channels, vents and reinforced heel and toe sections, but also some unique and well-thought-out features. The cuff is double layer and snug, but also long enough to be folded down for extra cushioning. The use of a small amount of tough Cordura – often used to reinforce climbing rucksacks – in the high-wear areas is a clever touch, and seems effective with no perceivable loss of performance. The sole incorporates targeted cushioning, and again an elasticated arch keeps things tight. Horizon really are sock specialists and these are an excellent all-round non-winter sock.
Female equivalent? Yup: Horizon Ladies Merino Trekker Sock
Materials: 40% Merino, 5% Polypropylene, 3% Cordura, 10% Polyamide, 40% Acrylic, 2% Elastane Weight: 100g (size 9.5-12)
Teko Merino Summit Series Men’s Mid Hiking Sock RRP £13
Chances are, if you head into an outdoor shop looking for a merino sock, you’ll be confronted with racks of Teko socks. I’ve worn various incarnations of Teko midweight socks for many years, and I can’t see myself changing. The combination of merino and nylon has resulted in a yarn that resists both odour and abrasion well, and recovers well after several weeks of hard use on multi-day trips. They aren’t fancy – the terry loop inner face is slightly thicker along the sole and up into the Y-heel ( a construction method that results in a slightly deeper heel pocket to match the anatomy of the foot and prevent slippage) and the toe seam is flat and unnoticeable. The simple turn welt top keeps them up, and they are also well priced and lightweight. If you’re looking for a midweight merino sock these are hard to beat.
Female equivalent? Yup: Teko Merino Summit Series Women’s Mid Hiking Sock
Materials: 74% tekoMERINO Organic Wool, 25% Nylon, 1% Spandex Weight: 89g (XL)
Something a little different
SealSkinz Thick Mid Length Sock RRP £35
I’m OK with wet feet – wearing quick-drying mesh trail shoes I can wade through streams and bogs without having to stop and remove my boots, safe in the knowledge that my body heat will soon dry both my socks and my shoes. But on a long trip with persistent, continual rain my enthusiasm for slipping my feet into wet socks and shoes does start to wane. This is where waterproof breathable socks like SealSkinz can shine. I often carry a pair of these as camp socks – removing my wet socks at camp, slipping these on and putting them into my wet shoes to carry out camp chores. SealSkinz offer several weights – these are the thickest, warmest model lined with a thick terry loop merino and acrylic inner suitable for winter use, followed by the waterproof breathable liner and finished with a durable nylon outer. Despite the saggy appearance in the photo the construction and elasticated arch does keep them snug, with any excess fabric remaining above the footwear. Given the abuse that we put our socks through it’s quite a task to integrate a waterproof breathable liner into one, and inevitably these don’t last forever. The gradual ingress of water into the inner sock is a horrible feeling, with the knowledge that the inner takes an absolute age to dry completely. These are a very useful tool to have available, but their use needs to be carefully considered. Getting water inside these really will ruin your day.
Female equivalent? Nope.
Materials: Inner – 41% Merino Wool, 44% Acrylic, 14% Nylon, 1% Elastane. Outer – 98% Nylon, 2% Elastane Weight: 155g (L)
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