Sock technology is improving in leaps and bounds, largely thanks to fitness wear becoming acceptable casual wear. The market opened up for brands to further distinguish themselves and, as such, there’s now a whole slew of new fibers, weaves, and material blends that have hit the market. Should you go with natural fibers or are synthetics better suited for your needs? Animal fibers or plant fibers? How much polyester is too much or not enough? There’s a lot of complications below the surface when it comes to choosing tactical boot socks, and I’m here to help sort out some of the finer points of the debate.
It seems that almost every sock company is trying to offer alternatives to the simple cotton sock. Boot socks, athletic socks, dress socks – all of them have polyester, wool, and other alternatives. So, where do cotton socks fit in?
Cotton socks work best in warmer environments when combined with ventilated boots and shoes. Yes, cotton is deservedly called absorbent. It happily soaks up moisture and keeps it against your skin unless it’s blended with other materials made for wicking. Despite that, cotton socks are the best at balancing comfort and balance and are often recommended for those with sensitive skin. They make a great all-purpose sock, but don’t expect them to perform uniquely well in any specific environment (especially in winter, since cotton makes for a poor insulator). Otherwise, don’t hesitate to bring them to nearly any activity if the comfort and price is right for you.
But if you’re looking for specialization, keep on reading.
Wool – The latest craze and the winter winner
I fully admit that I bought right into the merino wool craze whenever I could. Wool shirts, scarves, sweaters, and, yes, even the socks started to dominate parts of my wardrobe. They’re comfortable, warm in the winter without being suffocating, and are easily the most durable material on this list. Oh, and they’re expensive – costing more than double the price of other materials in some cases.
Wool performs best as an everyday sock in temperate climates and during winter. High-quality wool can even work in summer as a boot sock with the right thread counts and weaves. It’s fabulous at wicking perspiration away from your skin, and can even prevent light amounts of moisture from penetrating through a damp boot. This is why it’s a great choice for rucking through marshy terrain. However, wool shines in cold temperatures and when sloshing through slushy snow. A principal feature of wool is that it keeps its heat-retaining qualities even while wet, and it can even help prevent frostbite in frigid conditions.
While I’ll always recommend upgrading to wool in many cases, it quickly starts to rise in price when you start looking at the athletic variants.
Polyester – Made with science
Polyester is a type of plastic that’s flexible, stretchy, and incredibly durable when compared to natural fibers at the same thread size. It’s cheap to produce, and socks are readily available in blends and as well as 100% poly varieties. Unfortunately, it’s also a plastic, meaning its generally more coarse than natural fibers and not suited for those with sensitive feet.
With that said, I wore 100% polyester socks for a long time in the hot, dry Texas and Afghanistan summers. Thin, athletic boot socks are incredibly breathable and moisture wicking when combined with ventilated boots.
However, there is a cost to this comfort: durability. While I swore they protected from blisters better than other socks, the thin summer variants seemed to wear down at the heel fairly quickly (and that, in turn, caused discomfort and blisters). If you’re rucking in the summer or training/deployed in arid environments, I’d recommend giving them a try if you’re willing to replace them more frequently than other types of socks. The long list of benefits might make it worthwhile.
Blends & Layers – The best of both worlds
Finding socks made completely of a single material can be a challenge, and for good reason. Blending materials can mitigate the disadvantages of each while doubling up on the positives. Athletic socks with the comfort of cotton and the moisture wicking flexibility of polyester? Check. Wet, warm weather boot socks that blend a tight fit with the temperature regulating nature of wool? Check. The list of proportions are nearly endless, and sock manufacturers have experimented with countless blends to engineer the perfect sock to match any given task. Look at reviews and experiment; you might find a sock right for you that ignores all the guidelines I’ve posted so far.
Finally, there’s an old practice of layering socks to great effect, especially during long ruck marches. Consider wearing a polyester sock liner under natural fibers such as wool and cotton (for cold and warm weather, respectively). Many soldiers swear by polyester’s ability to reduce hotspots and, when backed up by the comfort of natural fibers, can make or break your feet during a long march.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.