Cover image: The right sock can make or break your hiking trip. Good views come in a close second. All images: Steve Ruskay.
What started as a cool and breezy arctic morning, quickly turned to dry, scorching hot and calm afternoon. The Arctic sun hung high, and the dried tundra felt crispy underfoot. Sun bleached muskox bones dotted the trail, as we ascended the remnants of a lateral moraine.
The objective of that day hike was to reach the East toe of the Eilson Glacier, at the Southern border of the Northeast Greenland National Park – the largest national park in the world. We stowed our kayaks after a 2-hour paddle, and after a quick trail lunch, started walking. The group I was guiding was quickly rewarded with amazing vistas in one of the most remote fjords in the world.
When you're not worried about your feet, you can walk anywhere!
Although this was a memorable and successful hiking excursion, we diverted from our original plan. This was in part due to slower travel, as a result of the unexpected warm temperatures. An old guiding trick for assessing your group’s energy and well-being, is keeping close tabs on how guests’ feet are. Hot sweaty feet can be the first sign of blister formation.
The single most important defense against blisters on feet while hiking is to wear proper hiking socks. Socks have been used for about 3,000 years. The word sock come from the Latin word ‘soccus’, referring to a light, low-heeled shoe.
The primary role of a modern sock is moisture control.
This is done by absorbing perspiration, then storing and wicking it away from the skin towards areas where it can be evaporated. A very popular material for hiking socks, and arguably the best, is merino wool, with a blend of lycra, and nylon.
Choosing the right sock can make all the difference to your hiking enjoyment. With several factors to consider, and so many options, the decision can be over whelming. Here are four key considerations:
- Activity: What is the length, and intensity of your planned activity?
- The Boot: The fit of your hiking boot will determine the thickness of sock that you should be looking for. A snug fit is important, but thick socks in a tight fitting boot can lead to discomfort. Try on new socks with the intended boot first!
- Environment: Temperature, humidity, dust will affect the socks performance and durability. Colder temperatures require a thicker sock, while hot and high humidity temperatures require more breathability and compression of a thin sock.
- Sock Features: The sock material and composition will usually determine the amount of cushioning and compressions. Socks with greater ratios of merino wool and less lycra will be thicker, have more cushion, and less compression. Cushioning dampens impact in high intensity hiking. Compression can reduce swelling, and increase recovery time during longer excursions. When hiking on dusty, muddy, or wet trails, I like a sock that comes up over the calf. This would be considered a high cut sock. Low cut, or ankle socks are popular for trail running, and hiking on smooth clean terrain.
Generally, I personally prefer a mid-height, mid weight sock, with light cushion, and light compression. This provides a broad range of foot comfort in a variety of activities. I will usually try and pack as many socks types as possible, given the constraints of expedition packing. Comfy feet = comfy guide. The same goes for, well, everyone.
Steve Ruskay is the lead guide for Black Feather – The Wilderness Adventure Company, based in Seguin Ontario. Each summer Steve can be found high above the Arctic circle, guiding multi week expeditions to some of the most remote parts of the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Steve is also a recognised outdoor educator, sea kayak Instructor, moving water instructor, and rescue instructor with Raven Rescue Canada. Follow Steve on his expeditions around the world and view his beautiful photographs @ruskayvision, and www.ruskayvision.com.