Not to beat a dead horse, but if you don't take care of your feet, you could be asking for big trouble - especially on a backcountry hunting or backpacking trip where you've put in thousands and thousands of steps over miles and miles of rugged trail (or no trail) to get away from all the hubbub of the populated world. And if you have sore, blistered or injured feet, those thousands and thousands of steps over miles and miles to get back are going to be:
A. Tortuously painful or B. Painfully tortuous
That's why we put so much emphasis in choosing the right boots specifically for you and your planned activities, making sure the fit is just right and going through the all-important breaking-in process.
We can emphasize boots, boots, boots until we are blue in the face, but one other extremely important item that often gets overlooked is socks. Yes, socks. You may not think much about them but if you have a bad experience with low-quality socks that bunch up or don't cushion or protect your feet; or soak up and hold moisture, well, you won't make that mistake twice. And you're probably wearing high-quality socks right now and carry extras in your pack. If you are planning a week-long or longer backcountry hunt, we recommend carrying two extra pairs of socks to rotate so you always are wearing a dry pair. (Rinse super stinky socks in a stream if time and drying conditions permit; otherwise, just air them out.) This is why we offer a 10% discount on all socks when you buy three or more pairs.
Consider this. Each of your feet have about 125,000 sweat glands (Foot soles have more sweat glands per square centimeter than any other part of your body.) so let's just accept the fact they are going to sweat, to the tune of about a half pint of perspiration from each foot each day. That's a lot of moisture to walk in; moisture that can create another miserable scenario: walking while wearing wet socks that have become soaked from within from sweat or from outside from a dunking or wet conditions you're hiking/hunting/living in. Wet socks are bad news.
But high-quality socks can help manage that moisture; changing into extra socks help you avoid it.
And since once you're deep in the backcountry every ounce in your pack feels like pounds on your back and feet; choosing the best socks is critical. Critical.
Simply put, socks are the all-important link between you and your boots. They play a key role in keeping your feet comfortable and blister-free throughout the trip. Three key factors socks should be able to provide are:
These are the most common fabrics in high-performance socks:
Merino Wool- Harvested from merino sheep, a breed adapted to survive in harsh environments with wide temperature swings form hot to frigid, merino wool is known for its softness, breathability and comfort. This is one of the most popular hiking/hunting sock materials and the one our footwear specialists recommend above all others. Thinner, lighter and softer than regular wool - and it doesn't itch like grandpa's wool coat, merino wool naturally regulates temperature to help keep your feet from getting sweaty. Also, it's hydrophilic, meaning it will draw moisture away from your feet; it can absorb up to 30 percent of its weight without feeling wet, yet is quick drying when you give them a chance to air out. Another plus is that it is naturally antimicrobial, so it tends to retain smells less than synthetic fibers. In top-quality socks, you'll find a blend of wool and synthetic materials, which add durability, fit and faster drying.
Polyester- This is a widely used and popular synthetic fiber that's strong, light and shrink-resistant, making it a good choice to blend with merino wool. (It also makes great liner socks that wick moisture and reduce friction, thereby reducing chances of blisters.)
Nylon- Nylon fibers are made from durable, lightweight, synthetic polymers creating a fabric that is great at wicking moisture from your skin, adding durability and cutting down on bulk and weight.
Spandex, Elastane and Lycra- These stretch materials provide socks with elasticity that helps with fit, comfort and helps keep them in place rather than slipping down your lower leg. It also helps socks hold their shape over time, through wearing and washings. These elastic materials usually make up a small percentage of the overall construction of socks but are important. Small, but important, you could say.
In summary, merino wool blends better handle the demands of trail and off-trail use. We highly recommend merino wool socks.
Low-Performance Fabric WarningCotton- If you wear cotton or cotton-blend socks for hiking or hunting, well, just stop. Put them back in the drawer and save them for casual wear. Cotton is outdated when it comes to high-activity performance wear. It absorbs too much moisture, takes too long to dry, can't regulate temperature and it is a heavy, bulky fabric. This is a key recommendation. Don't wear cotton socks for hunting, hiking or similar activities. Nothing good will come of it. Just don't do it.
To find the right size, it's helpful to know the actual size of your feet rather than just your shoe size because some people size-up in shoes which can lead to buying socks that are too large. If you are between sizes, size down to avoid excess material that can bunch up and cause blister-causing hot spots. If you don't know your foot size, below is our Meindl fitting chart that you can print off to measure your feet correctly.
Some hiking and hunting socks have sewn-in ventilation. The ventilation is usually in the form of "air-vents" where the material is thinner and allows heated air to escape. These can be a good choice for warmer weather hunting or if your feet sweat a lot. Or if your feet naturally don't get cold or you are planning an activity where you will be on the move most of the time. Generally speaking, walking warms feet so if you'll be constantly - or almost constantly - walking, you may want to consider socks with ventilation.Check the seams. Flip both socks completely inside out so you can check how they are made. If the seams stick out and aren't flat, that's not good. It's a recipe for blisters, especially if the toe seam protrudes. Protruding seams are just one more thing that can rub your feet the wrong way. It only takes a second to check the inside of the socks and it might save you discomfort on the trail.
Weight makes a difference, not just because you'll be carrying them but it also affects their performance.
Socks usually come in three weights or thicknesses: 1. Light; 2. Mid-weight; 3. Heavyweight.
Choose accordingly to the climate and what you prefer. Your boots should also play a role in what weight sock you choose. A full-grain leather boot will run warmer than a light hiker made of breathable synthetic material. You might be able to get away with a lighter-weight sock in the full-grain leather boot in cooler temperatures but want to beef up your socks if you'll be wearing light hikers in cold weather.
The physical intensity of your hunt can also determine optimal sock weight. In general, if your hunt is high intensity, you should go with the lightest weight sock that will still offer the three key facts we mentioned at the start of this.
As you would expect, heavier weight socks will be warmer and provide more cushion. They will also take up more room in your boots. If you don't have a lot of extra room in your boots the heavier weight socks might make those boots feel too tight and uncomfortable. On the flip side, your socks can also be used as a tool to fine-tune your boot fit. If you find your boots a bit too roomy, then jump up a level or two in sock weight.
The whole idea is to be comfortable while you're in the field resulting in more time spent hunting and enjoying the experience all the way through, from getting there to getting back.