Tribute to a pair of socks
Spring is in the air. Throughout history the change of seasons has been (and still is) a ritual. Nowadays snowdrops, followed by daffodils and cherry blossom trees, evoke at least a pleasant promise of warmer days that are to come. Winterjackets can be stored away and we start searching for those canvas sneakers – and the flipflops, hiding away somewhere in the deep dark corner of the closet. One of the nice things summer has to offer is that you won’t have to worry much about what to pack. Socks, for instance. Either you won’t need them at all or you’ll find a place to buy a pair or two. That is, when you’re about to leave for a citybreak or a beach holiday. Packing for areas called wilderness is different, one has to think ahead. In regions where shops are scarse, where the weather is unpredictable while your outdoor ambitions run high, this humble servant of the feet cannot be forgotten.
Socks and their subordinate status
We wear socks for protection, comfort and warmth. Giving it a thought, it seems odd that the sock is put behind on the hiking necessities list. In general, of course. In a natural environment a pair of socks may be more important than, for example, a sweater. Furthermore, good boots need and deserve equally good socks. What you put at your feet is at the starting point for a successful hike, it can make it or break it. Socks are the base layer, shoes the outerwear. In between an extra layer can be added, like we layer up our clothing, this proof positive principle works fine for the feet as well.
Walk in red
Egypt – in ancient times the fertile region of the Nile where faraos ruled. And the place of origin of a pair of socks, brilliantly red, large in size, made in the 4th to 5th century. The socks were excavated in the burial grounds of a Greek colony on the westbanks of the Nile in central Egypt, the ancient Oxyrhynchus. This archeological site is considered one of the most important ever discovered.
The technique used for making this socks is nålbinding, also known as knotless netting or single needle knitting. This technique predates knitting as well as crochet and is still in use in Scandinavia and in some Balkan countries. The red sandal socks present us with one of the oldest known samples, meanwhile it seems as if someone has left them there only a few moments ago. They look so ‘ready to put on’ as well as intact and undamaged.
Footwraps or socks?
Footwraps – the rectangular piece of cloth (cotton or flanel) that are worn wrapped around the feet do have a few advantages over socks. They are simpler to make and therefore cheaper. And they are quicker to dry. Soldiers have marched for centuries, wearing footwraps with boots. Not by choice though. It is presumptuous, considering the hardship they had to endure, to presuppose that those pieces of cotton would be as comfortable as a sock that properly fits. In other words, we are the privileged.
You will need your feet when the going gets tough
Never underestimate the importance of wearing the right footwear. Obviously, you should choose a boot or walking shoe that fits well, gives good ankle support and has a good grip in the sole. It goes without saying that you’ll be needing socks as well. Without the proper footwear walking can be nearly impossible and thus you may put yourself in danger. Furthermore, once neglected your feet will try to get even with you by producing warnings and ackward signs of malfunctioning. Reckless or unthoughtfull behaviour makes you an easy target, so avoiding swollen feet, blisters and skin problems would be the best option.
What to do in case you feel the warning of a red spot: apply a strip of moleskine (if this still can be purchased somewhere) or duct tape on this spot, it will diminish the friction. Afterwards, treat the spot as soon as you can.
Clean & fresh & comfortable feet
Shoes or boots must fit, let’s emphasize it once more. In the summer season one can wear lightweight, breathable shoes such as trailrunners when you only have a lightweight backpack to carry. Keep in mind that almost all flexible, lightweight shoes or boots come with mesh panels, which means that dirt and sweat will accumulate more than they do with shoes made from leather. An unwanted condition is that certain smell which can be more than just a side issue. Whether or not it is something of secundary consideration, there are physical differences between men and women. Please act accordingly. Funny detail: mosquitoes are attracted to smelly socks as if they were offered a birthday cake. To find the balance between lightweight, ‘airy’ shoes and heavy, hot or otherwise constricting shoes is a matter of personal preference and common sense.
Treat your feet like royalty. Keep them dry, clean, fresh and comfortable. Whenever possible, take a break and take off your shoes and socks, and dunk your feet in the cold water of a stream. It’s relaxing and it increases circulation, your feet will be refreshed and so will you. An occasional mosquito will join you, be prepared. At the end of the day , take off your shoes and socks, wash your feet and change into a fresh pair of socks.
As I waved them goodbye I knew this was a farewell. They have accompanied me on many walks. Until now they kept their appearance. And recently they showed the kind of wear and tear that’s beyond repair. They were special indeed. I’m talking about the Woolpower liners, knee high. Bought some years ago and worn in several countries, in winter and in summer.
Important: socks must fit
More precisely they must fit like a glove, leaving enough space to wriggle your toes. Don’t consider to buy a size up – your feet do not grow anymore and you’ll only end up with a lump in the front space of your shoe. Cushioned or not, this depends on what will fit in the shoe or boot and if you like the ‘feel’ of a softer area. Socks do have two tricky zones: the toe and the heel. Tear and wear will show here first and with socks that are in use for hiking purposes, darning isn’t always the best option – apart from the fact that mending things isn’t that common anymore.
Which socks will be best for you depends on personal preference (as always), climate and season, and the yes or no answer to the packing light issue. Hiking socks come in different fabrics – wool, cotton and synthetics. Cotton has the advantage of a light and cool fabric but in case it gets wet it will stay that way for a long time. Meaning your feet will get cold. Wool is by far a better option, this fabric has the advantage of breathability, it offers more warmth even when wet. Synthetics are best as an additional fabric, mostly added to retain the shape and fit. Needless to say that a synthetic fabric dries more quickly. Most brands opt fort the best of both worlds and offer socks that are a wool-synthetics blend. Summing it all up, your sock should stay motionless on the foot (no friction, no blisters), wick away moisture, offer enough warmth, insulate while dry and insulate while wet, and have a drying speed that allows you to put on dry socks in the morning.
Socks are not sexy
To be honest, the sock has not created strong bonds with us. Its emotional value is proportional to its public image – on a scale the sock would rank higher on the absence and non-appeal side. Is it because our mind wants to deal with more ‘important’ body parts? In that case a reset is required. Or is it that our feet are at a body’s length down there? Socks are useful but are lacking attractiveness (unlike stockings, these come with allure and charm) and throughout history, they haven’t been a fashion item as much as other garments. Finally, there is perhaps a simple explanation. Adults wearing socks and nothing else appear defenceless. More than that, nobody will feel inclined to the state of weakness. Knitting a sock is the only way to enhance its image.
- Brands that offer great socks are Woolpower, SmartWool, Lundhags and Icebreaker (especially liners)
- Humorous reading material: The history of the lost socks, website Lonely Sock. Equals the Department of Silly Walks.
- Worth to pay a visit: an army surplus store. They sell a wide variety of bargain priced socks, ranging from thermal insulated boot socks and cushion sole socks to black military dress socks.