For hikers and backpackers, the welfare of our feet is of the utmost importance. Like the tires on our cars, getting anywhere if they’re in anything less than great shape is unlikely. At least not without a lot of pain and struggle.
Many hikers are apt to focus on the importance of boots, and with good reason. But no matter how great your boots are, their benefits will be compromised if the socks you wear under them don’t cut the mustard.
In recent years, socks that fall into the mustard-cutting category for hikers have all had one thing in common…
…they’re made of wool. But despite wool’s recent renaissance, there are still doubters out there who balk at the idea of paying top dollar for underwear.
In case you happen to fall into that group of unbelievers in wool’s genuine goodness, we’re here to convince you with a list of the top seven advantages of woolen socks.
Table of Contents
1. Great Insulator
All forms of clothing, little and large, provide some degree of insulation. But some do it better than others, offering a far superior warmth-to-weight ratio than their peers.
Wool, simply put, is among the best of them.
What makes wool pull ahead of the competition is that its tiny natural fibers crimp together to create more insulating air pockets than coarser wool and other fabrics. These air pockets help to keep your body heat closer to your skin.
Additionally, when other materials get wet, they lose their ability to insulate. With wool, however, this isn’t the case. It continues keeping your feet warm even after rain or groundwater’s given them a good soaking.
2. Natural and Sustainable
Wearing wool is also an ethical and environmentally conscientious choice.
Historically, wool socks came from merino sheep in Australia and New Zealand. These days, however, merino is produced on farms across the globe.
Merino farmers fleece their sheep once or twice a year without harming the animals and, in most cases, the final product is produced without using chemicals or processes requiring hefty CO2 emissions.
3. Soft and Comfortable
Back in the day, wool products were often associated with maddeningly irritating itchiness, something that contributed significantly to the rise of smooth, soft, and cheap synthetics in the latter part of the 20th Century.
Luckily, times have changed. Modern wools—and merino in particular—are much more refined. Single strands of merino wool fibers are only 1/3 the diameter of a human hair, which makes it amazingly soft to the touch and itch-free.
4. Temperature Regulating
Merino wool adapts to your body temperature better than any other fabric out there. It insulates in cool conditions and, in warm conditions, breathes and wicks well enough to keep your feet cool and sweat-free.
In short: evolution. The sheep from which most merino wool is harvested are bred in locations where temps can vary from -15 C to 35 C. Over the ages, these sheep’s pelage primed itself for survival by adapting to deal with the rigors of their environs and varying weather conditions.
Merino wool is composed of amino acids and various natural compounds and is covered with a thin, waxy coating that inhibits bacteria and mold. This makes its ability to resist odors caused by dirt and bacteria virtually peerless.
Merino doesn’t kill bacteria but simply absorbs microbes and contains them. This limits odors and allows the socks you’re wearing to remain fresh even after multiple uses or successive days on the trail.
“Wicking” refers to any fabric’s ability to draw sweat away from the body and allow it to evaporate on its surface. This prevents the fabric from saturating and leaving you with cold, damp feet.
In this respect, wool’s a winner.
Unlike synthetic fibers, which rely on body heat to wick sweat when it’s already in liquid form, merino fibers are porous. This means they wick sweat away from your skin as a vapor, i.e. before it’s had time to saturate the fabric.
Wool sock fibers can bend more than 20,000 times before breaking. For comparison, the fibers in cotton socks can only bend around 3,000 times.
This means that, though pricey, merino socks have a far longer lifespan and therefore provide better value for money overall.
It also means that you’re far less likely to find yourself walking around in a pair of holey socks mid-hike.
Benefits of Wool Socks: Say “Yes” to Yarn!
We hope this article has convinced you that, where the welfare of your feet is concerned, wool is the way to go.
Not only are merino wool socks far better suited to the demands of the trail, but they’re also a more ethical, sustainable choice that will serve you better and far longer than your average synthetic or cotton alternative.
Did you enjoy reading our article? Got any questions about woolen hiking socks? If so, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below. And if you’d like to do your part in converting more hikers to our woolly ways, feel free to share this post with your friends.