Military and public service jobs are often very tough on your feet. Without proper footwear, painful blisters on toes and heels can be outright debilitating. While finding the right pair of police footwear or choosing the right military boots usually gets the most attention, sock selection is equally as important. Blisters are caused by friction and heat on the skin, so the socks you choose will be your first line of defense.
Understanding Sock Materials
There’s a lot to consider when choosing socks, but the biggest factor by far is the material they’re made from. The human foot is one of the sweatiest places on the body. All that moisture can lead to blisters, cracked or chaffed skin, fungal infections and some pretty ripe smells. If you’ve grown up wearing standard cotton tube socks, you will be pleasantly surprised to learn that modern sock technology (materials) can often eliminate (or at least help manage) all these problems.
Cotton is the most commonly used material in sock production because it’s both low cost and comfortable for leisurely activities. However, cotton socks are ill-suited as active wear. Once you have begun to sweat in cotton socks, you’ll find that they quickly become saturated and take a long time to dry. This phenomenon is often so severe you can end up with maceration, also known as "pruning" of your feet. Cotton’s inability to wick moisture away from the foot makes it the most common culprit in those complaining of blisters, regardless of the footwear being worn.
Synthetic socks are made specifically for active wear and marketed with names such as "sports," "performance" or "athletic." They are typically a blend of many materials, combined to create a more durable sock. Common synthetics include nylon, lycra, polyester and polypropylene. Nylon and lycra are stretchy and durable. Polyester and polypropylene are lightweight, fast-drying and moisture-wicking.
The moisture-wicking and fast-drying properties of synthetic socks in comparison to cotton cannot be overstated. That’s not to say they can’t become saturated with enough activity. But even then, they will dry out quickly if taken off and set in the sun.
Unfortunately, synthetic materials tend to develop a stench, especially after more than one day. This can vary by person but is a distinct drawback when you can’t pack extra pairs.
If you want to avoid the stink that often comes with synthetic socks, merino wool is a magical fiber. The difference in the bad smell department really is that noticeable. They are temperature-regulating and moisture-wicking, so your feet stay comfortable in a wide range of conditions. In contrast to the scratchy wool of previous generations, modern wool socks are made from merino wool and are generally itch-free. You will find that wool socks are more expensive than their synthetic counterparts, however. They also require a separate, more delicate detergent and wash cycle for longevity.
Wearing Liner Socks
Liner socks are a thin sock that is typically worn in conjunction with a heavier outer sock. This two-sock system works by wicking moisture from the inner layer up to the second outer sock layer. While this is a popular technique to prevent blisters, it’s not necessarily a surefire solution. Ultimately, having your footwear and socks fit well together is the most important factor in blister prevention.
Sock Thickness and Padding
The thickness of the socks you choose is influenced by many factors. More cushioning and padding are required if you will be carrying heavy loads. However, that thickness will provide additional insulation and warmth which may not be desired. It’s important that your feet do not slide around inside your boots or shoes. Any difference in volume between your feet and boots can be made up for with the appropriate sock thickness. Always try on footwear with the socks you ultimately intend to wear to ensure a proper fit. Socks are typically sold under the names liner, lightweight, midweight and heavyweight.
Liner socks are typically worn as a thin moisture-wicking base layer.
Lightweight socks are ideal for warmer weather.
Midweight socks balance comfort for both warm and cool conditions.
Heavyweight socks provide the most cushioning and warmth.
Both the height of the footwear you wear and department regulations are common reasons to choose a particular cut of sock. For active wear, you typically want the sock to extend beyond the top of your boots or shoes to prevent any chaffing or rubbing on bare skin. Sometimes it just comes down to personal style. Though they are marketed under many names, the four cuts below are the primary options.
Ankle socks sit just below or at ankle height.
Quarter socks have full ankle coverage.
Mid-Crew socks sit below calf height.
Crew socks typically sit at mid-calf height.
Tips for Choosing the Right Socks
Although cotton works well for leisurely activities, you should avoid it for active wear. The improved performance of synthetic or merino socks is well worth the added cost. You will find we offer few to no cotton socks on this site for that reason.
Prioritize the Right Fit
Not every sock brand is the same when it comes to sizing. To determine the correct fit, be sure that the heel of the sock fits exactly where it’s supposed to be. There should be no extra material in the toe or heel area. Extra material can bunch up and lead to friction, which causes blisters. The same goes for socks that are too small — they can slip and lead to blisters from friction.
Consider Your Footwear
Choosing the right socks is highly dependent on the type of boots you are wearing. Get a sense for how your boots fit in conjunction with the socks you will be wearing afield. If you are between sizes, use thicker socks to fill in the space on boots that are slightly too big. Alternatively, consider thinner socks when your boots are too tight. The biggest factor in preventing blisters is having all of your footwear fit properly, socks included.
Since everyone has different feet, choosing the right footwear and socks is a personal decision. What works well for someone else may be ill-suited for others. Start by prioritizing the right fit and choosing materials that are matched to the conditions you’ll most commonly experience. With the perfect pair of socks, you are sure to be comfortable, dry and blister-free.
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