In normal 3-season conditions, I carry just two pairs of socks on my backpacking trips. In wet climates I carry a “daytime” pair and a “sleeping” pair, whereas in dry climates I carry two “daytime” pairs. But there’s slightly more to it than that.
This is the first of what I hope will become a more regular feature here, especially now that I have this slick new blog feature.
The format is simple: short tips on specific equipment, supplies or skills.
If you’d like me to address a particular subject in the next installment, leave a comment for me. If you’d like to read more content like this, you can find much more in my book, The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide.
My Three-Season Sock Systems
Unless it’s the winter or the deep shoulder season (early Spring or late Fall, for northern states), I carry just two pairs of socks with me.
In dry environments, when my feet rarely (if ever) get wet, I alternate between two identical “daytime” pairs. I wear Pair A for the first half of the day, then swap into Pair B for the second half of the day. After taking off Pair A mid-day, I wash them and loop them through my backpack’s compression straps to dry. They are dry and clean when I pull into camp, at which time I put them back on and sleep in them. Before going to bed or first thing in the morning (depending on nighttime temperatures and water access), I wash Pair B, which are dry and clean when I put them on mid-day.
In wet environments, I have a “daytime” pair and a “sleeping” pair. The daytime pair gets wet and stays wet: I put them on wet in the morning and take them off wet at night. The sleeping pair always stays dry, so that my feet get at least eight hours of dry and warm bliss each night. Without this recovery time, plus a few other tricks, my feet wouldn’t be able to withstand the daily abuse that they do.
Why not carry more than two pairs of socks in wet environments, so that at least occasionally I could hike in dry socks? Because in prolonged wet conditions, I’ve learned that trying to keep my feet dry is futile: water comes in through the ankle opening, drips down my legs, or soaks through “waterproof-breathable” liners; or I simply get wet from the inside, through trapped perspiration. Instead, it’s more productive to focus on my efforts on attainable results: negating the effects of having wet feet. See the sample page, “Tried & True: How to care for your feet,” for that information.