How to Choose Socks

Whether you’re hiking, skiing, running, or biking, your feet take a beating. Just as important as your other footwear, a good pair of socks will make the difference between comfortable, dry, happy feet, and sweaty, blistered messes. These days, socks are specialized and tailored to exactly what you want to do, so there’s no reason to be uncomfortable in your boots again—If you know what to look for.

Unfortunately, there is no “super sock” and personal preference is a big factor when selecting this kind of undergarment. You’ll want to try a variety to see what works best, and perhaps you’ll land a lucky pair in the process…Just be sure to wash them occasionally.

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Cuff Height

Cuff height, which refers to where the cuff ends on the wearer’s foot or leg, often falls under four categories: no-show, ankle or quarter/half crew, crew, and knee socks. You’ll want to pick a sock that is the same length or a little higher than the profile of the footwear you will be wearing. The higher the cuff height, the greater protection from blisters and abrasions from things like bramble and bike chains, or from kicking your ankles when hiking.

GO: No-Show | Ankle | Crew | Knee

Material

The material or fabric your sock is made from will have a huge impact on comfort, breathability, and moisture management—sweet are sweaty, after all!

Wool is great for moisture, odor, and temperature management. Specifically, merino is one of the most popular choices for high-output activities, like hiking or running, with the expectation that your feet will be sweating a lot or exposed to puddles and rainy conditions. Merino is a finer wool fiber, making for a soft, non-itchy feel. It’s lightweight, resists odor, and won’t retain moisture. Read: Less time for blister-causing friction to occur, or cold feet due to soggy socks, or heavy feet from unexpected puddle jumping.

Cotton is inexpensive and lightweight. It is a natural, plant-based fiber and is best suited for casual wear and low-output activities as it very likely to retain moisture.

Bamboo is another natural and plant-based fiber, safe for vegan lifestyles, yet is more appropriate for high-output activities. The fiber has a hollow structure, which allows for moisture absorption and is far more likely to keep your feet dry and odor-free than cotton.

Blends imply that there are at least two different types of fibers that make up the sock, often to increase durability or wicking properties without adding weight to the sock. Many multi-sport socks will be blends of merino and a synthetic to increase comfort and moisture management without sacrificing durability.

Synthetic socks are made of acrylic, nylon, elastane, polyester, etc. These man-made materials are lightweight and fast drying like merino wool and bamboo, but will often come in at a much lower price, and don’t insulate quite as well when wet.

GO: Wool | Synthetic | Wool/Synthetic Blend | Blend

Courtesy: Smartwool
Courtesy: Smartwool

Cushioning/Weight

The amount of cushioning your sock has can really affect how your shoe fits, and can make a world of difference over the course of a day’s wear. The benefits of cushioning are that it absorbs impact that your footwear does not; Some socks will have padding in certain places—like the toe and heel—specifically for this reason. Padding is not only placed underfoot either; many hiking socks will have cushioning all around the cuff, and ski socks will commonly have padding on the shins.

Cushioning can come into play in other areas as well. If you have a little extra room in your shoe, the extra material can improve the fit. In the colder months and during low-output activities, a heavier weight sock will provide extra insulation. Just be aware that the amount of cushioning will directly correlate with the warmth of your sock—a lot of cushion means a lot of warmth, which may or may not be the best thing, depending on the time of year.

Liner Socks

Liner socks are ultra-thin, typically synthetic socks that are sometimes warn between the skin and the actual sock. For most hikers, they aren’t necessary, but for some they can prevent blisters and allow moisture to pass more easily from the skin to the outer sock.

GO: Sock Liner | Ultralight | Lightweight | Midweight | Heavyweight

Seams

Seams aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but many socks will boast having a “seamless design.” The benefit for this is that there is less material and makes for a smoother fit inside your boot or shoe. If you are prone to hot spots or blisters, finding a seamless sock might help with curbing that problem.

Courtesy: Smartwool
Courtesy: Smartwool

So, Which Socks Should I Get?

Road running or walking: Look for a low cuff height (no-show to ¼ crew), which will cut down on the weight of the socks. A synthetic blend or merino/synthetic blend will wick during high-aerobic activities and stay comfortable and soft. A light or ultra-light weight sock will limit weight and help keep your feet cool, without affecting the fit of low-profile running sneakers.

Trail running: A ¼ height or crew sock will provide better protection from low-lying brush and any small aggregates you may kick up while a merino or merino/synthetic blend will better manage moisture from sweat and puddles. Pick a light-weight sock with padding in the heel and toe. Trails are a little more rugged and you’ll want something to absorb the impact from running over roots and rocks.

Hiking: Find a sock that is at least as high as your boot. Something slightly hier will offer more protection from sticks or thorns scratching your leg if your pant hem rises up. Merino will keep any foot odors in check, and it will also work with varying foot temperatures from alpine starts to mid-day trail blaze. Light to heavy cushion will work for most people. Opt for heavy weight in the winter months, or if you have a lot of trail to cover ahead of you with a heavy pack in tow. Fit your boots to the weight of sock you plan to wear in it regularly.

Ski: Ski boots are high so have a sock that is slightly higher—typically knee-high. Merino will manage moisture but a merino/synthetic blend may feature increased durability and stretch. Ski boots traditionally fit tight, and you do not want to bunch extra material in the toe box, so a lightweight sock is typical. Look for socks that offer cushioning in the front of the shin of the sock, as this will offer more comfort when leaning forward into a stiff boot.

Cycling: While cycling shoes have a very low-profile design, the extra cuff height of a ¼ of full crew sock will protect your ankles from greasy chains and accidentally kicking your ankles into the pedals. Look for comfort and breathability from an ultralight merino or merino/synthetic blend.

GO: Hiking | Running | Ski | Casual

Courtesy: Smartwool
Courtesy: Smartwool

How Important Is Winter Sun Protection?

We all have that friend who says, “Meh, it’s January. I don’t need to worry about sunscreen,”—Or maybe you are that friend. It’s easy to think that the sun is not as strong since the average highs in the the winter months are more like 15 to 20 degrees, instead of 75. But don’t let the low temperatures have you fooled—It takes only one bluebird day on the mountain to get a second degree burn all over your face. If you’re the type that usually wears sunscreen only in the warmer months, take the following into consideration before stepping out of the cabin.

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Why is the sun so potent in the winter?

Here in the Northeast, we are pretty far from the equator, which means that for about six months of the year, we are pretty far from direct solar rays. But regardless of geographical latitude, there are some hidden factors that make winter sun exposure scary.

Elevation increases sun intensity and exposure. The atmosphere is thinner and there is less of it blocking the suns rays from hitting you than when you’re at sea level. With every 3,280 feet you gain from sea level, UV levels increase by about 10 percent.

The other factor increasing your exposure to UV rays in the winter is all that white stuff that we love to romp in. Snow can reflect up to 80 percent of the overhead UV rays, and inevitably increases the angles at which sun will hit you. Meaning, rays will be coming at you from below and the periphery, hitting spots where, normally, “the sun don’t shine.”

What parts of my body should I protect?

Fortunately, most of our skin is already protected from the sun during the winter, because of the clothing we need to stay comfortable outdoors. However, the head and upper torso are still likely to be uncovered, especially during high-exertion activities like nordic skiing and snowshoeing. Prominent facial features like your nose, cheeks, and lips are most susceptible to sun damage from the direct UV rays overhead. The areas often-forgotten are usually hit hardest by the reflected UV rays: think underneath your chin, the bottom of your nose around your nostrils, and your neck. Pay special attention to your peepers this time of year too. The intense sun overhead and reflection off a bright white layer of snow can really do a number on your eyes and lead to snow blindness: a temporary loss of vision due to sunburned corneas.

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How do I prevent sun damage?

There are a handful of options to protect your skin and eyes from harmful solar rays, ranging from skin care and apparel accessories to sunglasses and ski goggles.

Skin Care

Sunscreen is a classic option for protecting skin on your face without physically covering up. Look for a sunscreen with a minimum of SPF 30 and broad-spectrum coverage. A really convenient option is sunscreen that comes in a solid form like Beyond Coastal’s Active Face Stick. These make it easy to apply on the spot without taking off your mittens, and it will fit in your pocket. Whatever form you choose, just don’t forget to re-apply every hour or two.

Apparel Accessories

For days when it is brutally cold or the wind is barreling out of control, physically covering your skin will likely be the best option for sun and weather protection. Balaclavas are a face mask, neck gaiter, and helmet liner all sewn into one accessory. For the best protection, opt for one that offers full face coverage, as it can always be pulled down or rolled up to allow for increased breathability. For days when it’s not frigid, neck gaiters are a versatile piece that will cover just your neck, or can be pulled up and over your cheeks and nose for all-over protection while providing a little bit of insulation.

Eye Protection

Sunglasses will be the most versatile choice for eye protection. In addition to lenses that offer 100 percent UVA and UVB protection, they should have a wrap-around frame or have side shields on the arms to provide lateral protection from the sun’s rays. Glacier sunglasses are super dark and are designed specifically for protection from snow glare and are great for winter trekking and mountaineering. Ski goggles are your eyes best line of defense when skiing or riding. Opt for goggles that feature lenses filtering 100 percent of UV rays.

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The sun doesn’t take a break at any point in the year from emitting UV radiation. Considering this is the number one cause of skin cancer, among other damaging skin conditions, it’s important to take preventative measures to protect your skin during all seasons, even if much of it is spent bundled up from head to toe. You’ll be glad when those rosy cheeks don’t turn into a blistering mess.


10 Reasons to Wear Sandals During Your Next Adventure

The dog days of summer are fast approaching. Historically, August brings some of the warmest, sunniest days of the year to the Northeast, and it’s prime time to enjoy the abundance of its hikes, camping opportunities, and paddles. By now, you’ve peeled your active wardrobe down a few layers to just a T-shirt and shorts, and you’ve traded the beanie out for a ball cap. But, if you haven’t already, now is also the time to swap out the shoes for sandals—and not just for long walks on the beach or the backyard barbecue. If you need convincing, here are 10 reasons you should consider making sandals your first pick for any summertime multi-sport adventure.

1. Greater freedom of movement

Sandals have no barriers to cram your toes. When you’re wearing boots and shoes, this sensation can be especially painful when you’re descending a mountain (hello, black toenails). An open toe box also eliminates those nagging hot spots on your forefoot.

2. They’re lightweight

Less material than a fully enclosed shoe automatically makes sandals a lighter option compared to hiking boots and sneakers. For those who are especially stoked on the fast-and-light mentality, sandals take this to extremes, cutting down on weight while keeping essential aspects there, like traction and support.

3. More room to grow

Many things may cause your feet to temporarily swell, including high temperatures and exercising. Wearing sandals thus gives your midfoot and forefoot more space if comfort is your primary goal.

4. Leave the smelly socks at home

That’s right. You can ditch the socks for the trip and not risk getting athlete’s foot or smelly shoes. By design, sandals are ultra-breathable, so your feet can sweat. In turn, you don’t have to rely on socks to regulate temperature or moisture like you would if you were wearing a boot or hiking shoe.

5. They’re ideal for wet conditions

Do your summer plans have you traversing a river? How about a paddling trip where you’ll be portaging your boat? For these journeys, sandals are often a first choice. You don’t have to wear socks—they’ll inevitably get soggy—and they dry much quicker than a hiking shoe. As well, many active sandals have a lugged or slip-resistant outsole that performs well on slick surfaces.

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6. Barefoot without the danger!

Many people love to go barefoot in the summer, whenever possible. If it weren’t for sharp rocks, glass, and animal scat on the trails, I’d say follow your heart and ditch footwear altogether. However, some of these factors can really ruin your fun and even sideline you for the rest of the season. Sandals provide a solid compromise, offering protection underfoot and still exposing your feet to the elements.

7. They’re easy to take on and off

Put your shoe horns away. Sandals are far less complicated to put on and take off than lace-up shoes. For this reason especially, sandals make excellent approach shoes to the crag or the trailhead before the terrain becomes too gnarly. Most styles utilize a one-handed closure system, making for a fuss-free transition to more sport-specific footwear.

8. They’re packable

Sandals do not have a rigid exterior, thus making them more compressible and easier to fit into your backpack or luggage. Don’t have any space left in the bag? No problem. Just attach the sandals’ straps to your pack’s daisy chains or gear loops. 

9. Skip the laces

As I mentioned earlier, sandals do not utilize a traditional lace-up system. As such, there’s nothing that will eventually fray and break, and need to be replaced. It also means your laces won’t come untied and trip you mid-stride.

10. They’re exceptionally durable and supportive

Multi-sport sandals are constructed with a sturdy rubber outsole and a supportive midsole, while their straps are either made of strong polyester webbing or leather. In short, these aren’t your grade-school jelly shoes, and they’ll reliably last through many journeys.

 

Don’t sell your other shoes to a consignment store just yet, though. The aforementioned reasons are not meant to cloud your better logic. If your activity requires specialty footwear—as with cycling and rock climbing—do not substitute them with sandals. Additionally, if you will be going on a long trek or will be doing some serious bushwhacking, even the sportiest sandals aren’t enough. Your feet and ankles require a greater degree of protection and support.

Sandals have evolved to meet the needs of more than just the beachcombers, and are now a practical option for many of your recreational endeavors. To those with hesitation, I encourage you to take a walk on the wild side this summer, and even out those sock tans.

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Rules are Meant to Be Broken: Why Cotton Will Always Have a Spot on My Gear List

With the development of synthetic materials that boast lighter weights, odor resistance, and moisture-wicking capabilities, cotton has been curb-stomped as a viable option for an active lifestyle. The phrase “cotton kills” is almost as trendy as #vanlife, but it might actually be an unwarranted blanket statement that causes us to second-guess its inclusion in our trip planning. Sure, synthetics are still king. They keep you dry and warm–a key factor when any hike turns into a survival situation. But, what if cotton still has a place in your gear closet?

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1. Sweat and Temperature Management

We are all humans, and we all sweat. Living in the Northeast, we are graced with humid, sunny days, which contribute to frequent perspiration in even moderately active pursuits. That means sweat dripping off the tip of your nose and clammy creases behind the knees. Trying to wipe sweat off my face with a polyester shirt is like trying to mop up a drink spill with plastic wrap. Thus, for the built-in hand and face towel aspect, I prefer to wear a cotton shirt on a hot day at the crag or on a sunny, short hike. It may make my shirt a little heavier, but the sweat becomes a cooling agent on those dog days of summer.

Cotton does cool down your core temperature, especially when wet—perfect for a sweltering day. But, if you’re working up a sweat, and surrounding temperatures drop, a soggy shirt or pair of sweats will take your body heat down with it. If you’ll be doing moderate to high activity in temperatures below 55 degrees, synthetic or merino wool layers are important, as they do not absorb nearly as much moisture. When rain is in the forecast, hot or cold, opt for a water-resistant or waterproof shell instead of a hoodie. And, always think of the worst-case scenario. Even if it’s hot during the day, if a surprise storm rolls in, or if you end up stranded overnight, cotton certainly can kill.

2. Ease of Care

I like the care of my clothing to be as simple as possible. Cotton can be washed in water at any temperature and spin speed. You don’t have to worry about losing a few sizes in the drying stage, as most cotton is pre-shrunk these days. Likewise, you don’t need to worry about melting the material in the dryer.

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3. Campfire Staple

We’ve all been there: hovering around a fire trying to stay warm on a cold night when you’re camping, or you’ve gotten a little too close trying to roast the perfect marshmallow or arrange the optimum log-stacking situation. Out of the belly of the fire, a tiny ember jumps and lands on your favorite puffy, melting a hole in the outer shell. I hope you brought your gear tape.

Next time, wear a flannel shirt. They don’t just look cool when you’re hanging around a fire. They’re also rather favorable when flames come into play. Their cotton cellulose composition withstands exposure to embers and higher heats, when compared to the thermoplastic materials making up your puffy or fleece shirt.

My insulated jackets (yes, I have a variety) keep me warm, happy, and playing outside through all four seasons. But, save those prized investments for when heat sources are not available, when you have to retain all of the remaining body heat you have left, or when weight is a factor, like when you’re summiting a 4,000-footer in late fall or when you’re sleeping in subzero temps. Car camping and bonfire building on a cool summer night? Play it safe with durability.

4. Budget-Friendly

Cotton is a great option for every budget. And, chances are you already have a few T-shirts lying around your room from giveaways at the last ski movie premier. Compared to the other activewear fibers, such as wool and polyester, cotton is the least likely to break the bank and most likely to leave you with an extra $5 or $10 to buy a pizza after your hike.

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5. Post-Adventure Attire

I’m all about comfort at this stage in the adventure cycle. Maybe you went kayaking and took a spill, or kicked up a ton of mud biking through the forest after a rainstorm. Perhaps you’re like me and just sweat a lot when you ski. Nothing feels better than peeling off nasty technical clothes to throw on a dry pair of sweats, especially if you’re looking at a lengthy drive home.

For better or worse, no miracle material suits every adventure. As with any piece of gear, there’s a time and a place for cotton, and sometimes, it merely whittles down to personal preference. While it’s important not to forget the safety value of synthetics, it’s maybe time we remember cotton’s redeeming factors and how it can be a useful staple in everyone’s gear bin.


Top 10 Products with Northeastern Roots for Your Holiday Shopping List

This season, why just give the gift of rad gear, when you can give a gift that also supports your happy camper’s habits and the Northeast’s economy? While Eastern Mountain Sports carries brands from all over the map, consider adding some local flavor to your holiday shopping list. Most of the items mentioned are manufactured at their company’s headquarters, so spending money just got a lot more responsible.

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1. NEMO Wagontop 4P Camping Tent

Based in Dover, NH, Nemo has brought tent innovation to the next level. Nemo combines lightweight materials and strategic design to make shelters that can withstand the elements and won’t weigh your pals down. This Wagontop 4P is an excellent choice for the extended camping trip, with design considerations that keep comfort and space at the forefront. For instance, with its 80-inch ceiling height, everyone can walk in and out with their head held high.

2. Woolrich Sherpa Rough Rider Wool Blanket

Woolrich has a long tradition of keeping its customers warm and dry. Historically, this Woolrich, Penn., company has provided lumber camps, farmers, railroad workers, and even Civil War soldiers with durable outerwear and blankets. The Sherpa Rough Rider, in the brand’s classic Buffalo Check, will be a welcome addition for that friend who’s pursuing the van life.

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3. Good To-Go Weekender: Granola, Smoked Three Bean Chili & Herbed Mushroom Risotto 3-Pack

Based in Kittery, Maine, Good To-Go was created for backpackers by a fellow backpacker—who also happens to be a classically trained chef. The brand makes flavorful, easy-to-prepare dehydrated meals for every camper on your list. This 3-pack offers a breakfast, lunch, and dinner option, with two vegan choices. Just add cold or hot water, and your ravenous pals are “Good To-Go.”

4. Jetboil Flash Personal Cooking System

This Manchester, NH, company has revolutionized the way campers cook in the backcountry. Its line of stoves and cooking systems significantly reduces the amount of fuel needed to boil water. And, the Jetboil Flash is as simple as it gets. Fill the cup with water, push the button, and wait for the heat indicator to change colors. All together, this process takes approximately four minutes for the whole cup. A Jack-of-all-trades, the Flash packs all components into the cooking cup and works with all other Jetboil cooking accessories.

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5. Darn Tough Micro Crew 3/4 Hiking Socks

Tested in the Vermont wilderness and made entirely in Northfield, these socks are industry leaders for comfort in a myriad of conditions. The Micro Crew Hiking Socks (also available in women’s sizes) have cushioning and support where it’s needed most. And, their merino blend will keep the trailblazer’s feet dry and blister-free during those rainy-day hikes and super-sweaty summer treks. As a bonus, Darn Tough boasts that they do absolutely no outsourcing when making this and other products.

Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits
Courtesy: Adventure Medical Kits

6. Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight 0.5 Solo First

Located in Littleton, NH, the heart of the White Mountains, Adventure Medical Kits knows how to efficiently stock a first aid kit for any endeavor. The compact Ultralight 0.5 is ideal for your pals on the fast and light track, or could make a clutch stocking stuffer. Waterproof inner bags keep contents dry in any condition, and it contains enough supplies for up to two days.

7. Sterling Evolution Velocity 9.8 mm x 60 m Standard Climbing Rope

Climbers in the Northeast are familiar with granite and how tough it can be on gear. Considering this, Sterling makes some of the most durable climbing ropes on the market at their home plant in Biddeford, Maine. The Velocity’s smooth sheath allows for easy feeding through belay devices, effortless clipping of gear, and minimizes rope drag. This all-arounder is arguably the best pick for rock and ice climbers alike.

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8. Princeton Tec Sync Headlamp

Headquartered in Pennsauken, NJ, Princeton Tec has spent 40 years paving the way for personal lighting. In this regards, the Sync is easily one of the most versatile gifts, offering something for the late-night reader, the after-dark grill master, the nighttime dog walker, and the outdoor enthusiast. It offers five different beam combinations (that’s more than your smartphone, FYI) and features an easy-to-use dial for changing between them. Include a four-pack of AAA batteries for the ultimate gift combo.

9. Nalgene Bottle Kit, Medium

Nalgene, born in Rochester, NY, debuted its lightweight, leak-proof bottles in the Adirondacks. And, made by the same company that brought you the indestructible wide-mouth water bottle, this kit is ideal for the traveler on your list. Each Bottle Kit container holds 4 fl. oz. or less and offers the globetrotter on your list a convenient solution for taking their favorite shampoo, moisturizer, or whiskey in the carry-on bag.

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10. Flowfold Minimalist Limited Card Holder Wallet

Located on the coast of Maine in Scarborough, Flowfold draws inspiration from the state’s textile and sailing history. Sleek by design, the Minimalist is constructed of ultra-lightweight X-Pac fabric. As a result, it keeps credit cards and cash protected from the rigors of nature…or your sister’s handbag.