The importance of choosing good walking socks

In all my years of hiking, I’ve never had a blister. In well over a decade of putting together Slow Travel holidays which involved walking significant distances over consecutive days, no problems with painful, fluid-filled bubbles. I put this down to having the right footwear. I also attribute it to the importance of choosing good walking socks.

We’ve experienced long-distance walking in various countries around Europe, including the pine-strewn paths of Germany’s Black Forest; the volcanic terrain of Tenerife’s Teide National Park; along Crete’s rocky coastline, and on long stretches of foot-unfriendly tarmac on the Camino de Santiago. The old feet have held up in every instance. Andy has only experienced blisters twice, once on the Camino de Santiago and another time walking England’s South West Coast Path. Ill-fitting boots were to blame on the Camino. She dumped those, in true Camino fashion, and bought another pair from an outdoor clothing shop in Pontevedra where, with fortunate timing, we paused for 24 hours as it was the publication day of Andy’s book, The Banana Road. By the time we hit the road again, her feet had recovered enough to continue without any undue pain. The second time was also down to footwear. On this occasion we both misjudged the demands of the coast path around Salcombe and Dartmouth and wore hiking shoes rather than boots. I at least escaped blisters, Andy didn’t.

Discarded Boots on the camino de santiago.

Why good walking socks are important

Apart from that, in numerous diverse destinations, blisters haven’t been an issue. I’m convinced good walking socks play a major part in this. They cushion impact on key areas of the foot, help reduce moisture, and provide support. They’re not cheap, but they are worth every penny. I have a mix of synthetic and wool ones; the lighter synthetic material is useful for warmer and drier climates, whereas the wool walking socks suit cooler environments. The socks currently filling my ‘walking sock chest’ were purchased from specialist shops in Spain, Portugal, and Britain and I trust them all to protect my feet.

In September, while calculating how many pairs I’d need to walk the length of Offa’s Dyke, I made a last-minute decision to boost my collection. I popped into Mountain Warehouse in Taunton and bought two pairs of walking socks. There wasn’t a great selection, but they did stock Isocool Hiker Socks. Although labelled as hiking socks, and costing the same, they didn’t look or feel like my other walking socks. There was no R and L on them (socks ergonomically designed for specific feet are best IMO), and the heels and toes didn’t seem as though they were sufficiently reinforced for long, demanding walks. But, hey, Mountain Warehouse specialise in outdoor gear, so I put my trust in them.

Isocool Hiker Socks – they’re comfortable, but spot the differences between them and my other hiking socks below.

When you choose the wrong socks

About halfway along Offa’s Dyke, I decided to try them out on a section which wasn’t the most challenging of the route. Long before the end of the section I was almost limping, knowing one foot had either blistered or was very close to doing so. First opportunity I got, I applied a blister plaster to the tender area and carried on, hoping I’d caught it in time. Thankfully, I had. It was the only time on a twelve-day route I experienced any problems with my feet. I got away with it, but I wasn’t happy the walking socks had let me down, and was also annoyed with myself for not trusting my instincts that the Mountain Warehouse socks didn’t seem as robustly designed as the rest of my hiking socks. In their defence, they are nice socks, warm and comfortable to wear, especially in cool weather (I’ve got a pair on as I write this). But now I use them only as socks for everyday use. They’re simply not proper walking socks in my opinion, not for long distances anyway. Saying that, there are nearly 300 reviews on the Mountain Warehouse website, where the socks have an overall 5-star rating. People love them but, from the content of some reviews, I’m not convinced the majority of reviewers use them for hiking. There are a handful of telling remarks about them not being thick enough for longer hikes though.

choosing good walking socks - ergonomic hiking socks
Ergonomically designed socks for individual feet with extra cushioning at key points.

However, the Isocool socks did me a favour. They were a reminder of the importance of choosing good walking socks. Never again shall I buy walking socks which don’t have all the attributes of the ones that haven’t let me down in over a decade of long-distance walking.

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