the pros and cons of liner socks

12:58 p.m. on June 23, 2013 (EDT)
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as i sloshed my way through a morning hike (rain gave me a break from oppressive humidity but started to fill my leather boots with water this morning), i considered the internal debate about using liner socks.

i use them sometimes.  two types preferred: one is a thin pair of calf-high merino wool liners, probably smartwool.  i use them a fair bit when it's cold and i'm nordic or downhill skiing or hiking in normal boots.  the other is a thin pair of patagonia capilene liners, which i use primarily in the summer.  

some will say liners aren't necessary.  they used to be vital to protect your feet from itchy/scratchy ragg wool socks 'back in the day,' but the rise of merino wool/blend socks has made wool much easier on the feet.  another argument against liners is that merino wool or blend socks do a fine job wicking moisture away from your feet, so having liners that wick doesn't add much.

i use liners in the summer for a few reasons.  i think having two layers, particularly a thin liner that slides easily against the thicker sock and that does a better job keeping moisture away from your feet than wool, helps limit blistering.    i also tend to go with liners more often than not because that is how i buy and size boots - i wear a liner plus a thicker sock when i try on boots - so the boots generally feel and fit a little better due to the extra volume from the liner.  in winter, liners add volume and help keep your feet warmer....though in really cold weather, when i'm wearing sorels or mountaineering boots, i size the boots a little big  to accommodate two thick pair of socks, so i often dispense with liners for those.    

what do you think?

1:32 p.m. on June 23, 2013 (EDT)
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I wear sock liners some of the time as well... Over the past several years, I have been purchasing thinner socks, and slowly getting away from the Thorlo Trekking socks. This has given me more room in the boot, and I have always found liners transfer friction away from my heel (my only consistent trouble spot). 

Much of my life I have been guilty of really cranking down my boots, partially due to damaging all three major ligaments of one ankle. This has definitely affected how I layer my feet. I have built up ankle strength, used trail runners, light hiking boots, and ultimately returned to high quality full mountain boots with Gore-Tex or eVent liners. I am fortunate to not have super sweaty feet.

I personally like sock liners, however have not purchased new liners in several years... I own one pair of merino wool, and many pair of polypropylene liners. I don't imagine the technology has changed too much recently in sock liner technology. 

I will be heading out to WV for about a week very soon, this calls for a case study  using liners 100% of the trip. Guess my pack will look more like a sock-tree than ever...

2:59 p.m. on June 23, 2013 (EDT)
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i typically only wear liners when I start to feel hotspots. I find hiking without liners much more comfortable so i try to avoid hiking in them if i can. I found that wool liners don't work for me. Yes they wick, but they also dont slide as well on other wool IMO. I prefer a thin dress sock type of sock, i use a thin liner sock sold under the field and stream name at Dick's sporting goods. They work awesome. IMO its a night and day difference between wool liner socks and synthetic liner socks. I like my liner socks to be that smooth slick feeling. I wear my liners with wool socks and feel this is a perfect combo when liners are actually needed.

3:10 p.m. on June 23, 2013 (EDT)
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no liners for me. just smartwools or thorlos, never had a problem with blistering. just duct tape on the occasional hotspot.

12:51 a.m. on June 24, 2013 (EDT)
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I use liners more towards summer. I find I have no hotspots are any difficulty with friction by my toes or heels. I find the light fabric gives me a barrier with my wool socks. i find the moisture is wicked away better.

5:04 p.m. on June 24, 2013 (EDT)
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I've recently stopped wearing liners. Previously, I was using really thin, nylon dress socks as liners. At $1/pair it was a cheap way to go.


I'm THINKING about trying hiking sandals. I've been reading up the pros & cons. I'm just thinking how much faster stream crossings would be if I could just wade in and keep going.

5:08 p.m. on June 24, 2013 (EDT)
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Jeffery Gosnell said:

I'm THINKING about trying hiking sandals. I've been reading up the pros & cons. I'm just thinking how much faster stream crossings would be if I could just wade in and keep going.

 I am thinking about going with hip waders. That way I don't have to worry about gaiters or stream crossings. ;)

1:44 p.m. on June 25, 2013 (EDT)
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I use liners year round.  The types I use are silk or polypropylene.  For me, it is the best way to go. Both types help keep my feet dry and offer the benefit of preventing blisters.  If they do get wet from a stream crossing, i just change them(as well as the outer sock), wipe out my boots with a towel and keep moving.

9:09 p.m. on June 25, 2013 (EDT)
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Best system I've found are poly liners inside Wright double-layer runner's socks. I've also used Injinji toe socks, or just the runner's socks on their own.

I never get blisters.

One retired ACMG guide I know swears by nothing but neoprene socks inside his boots. If he comes to a stream he just wades right through and lets his feet get wet, then he keeps on hiking until everything dries out.

Watch out for the duct tape solution on long trips though. Leave it on too long and it will take a layer of skin with it when you pull it off. 

10:11 p.m. on June 26, 2013 (EDT)
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If making multiple stream crossings, anything without a waterproof liner will greatly improve your conditions. More air makes for drier feet, and unless in the Pacific Northwest, or rainy season in an area, you can get away with this relatively well. As for the socks, natural fibers dry the fastest and breathe the best. Synthetic fibers while wicking moisture away only work until they reach a saturation point, while faster drying than cotton, they still stay damp far longer than most modern wool hosiery. As for the fit, if having to wear multiple layers to fit into a boot, find a better fitting boot would be the best way to go. If there are blisters forming around the sides of the foot, the shoe is possibly to narrow; likewise is the boot is causing blisters on the top of the foot due to too much room there are heel and toe specific risers designed to go under the insert in the shoe. If there are blisters forming due to the boot rubbing on top of the foot due to being to tight, the only solution is moleskin or loosening / relacing to not provide pressure in this specific area. A good shoe store or shoe repair shop should have all the pads needed and has tools necessary to widen boots at specific points as needed. 

11:00 a.m. on June 27, 2013 (EDT)
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I quit using liner socks, they were no help.  Just good Smartwool socks now.  On long trips, I still get a blister on the bottom of my foot, not the socks fault.

Duane

12:11 p.m. on June 27, 2013 (EDT)
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I like them.  I use them.  I've also found wearing them at night helps my feet stay warm.  It isn't so much the added layer, but that they keep my feet dry and as they do their wicking thing.

9:11 p.m. on June 27, 2013 (EDT)
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If making multiple stream crossings, anything without a waterproof liner will greatly improve your conditions. More air makes for drier feet, and unless in the Pacific Northwest, or rainy season in an area, you can get away with this relatively well. As for the socks, natural fibers dry the fastest and breathe the best. Synthetic fibers while wicking moisture away only work until they reach a saturation point, while faster drying than cotton, they still stay damp far longer than most modern wool hosiery.

There are a few logical fallacies here.

First, if I'm translating what you've written properly, you're suggesting that feet (and socks) will stay dryer by being inside a boot without a waterproof liner than one without? Boots that aren't waterproof let water in, so your socks get soaked right away. A boot with a good waterproof/breathable liner means the socks get wet only from sweat. Boots without a liner won't let moisture evaporate much better since there's only nominal air flow. 

Second, synthetic fibers (like any fiber, natural or synthetic) will get wetter until saturated, and will then wick the moisture on to the next later. Since sock liners are very thin, they will always dry faster than a knitted wool sock. 

As for the fit, if having to wear multiple layers to fit into a boot, find a better fitting boot would be the best way to go. 

Duh. If you have boots that fit properly, the rest of it is pretty much a waste of time. If you have to use bandaids to keep hiking, your boots probably don't fit.

 

4:00 a.m. on June 28, 2013 (EDT)
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Peter, the first point. Yes, I am arguing that a boot without a waterproof liner will stay drier in the overall use of the boot vs. one with a waterproof liner. The logic is the same as wearing rain-gear under a fleece and claiming that it will stay drier. Products such as Gore-Tex, Event, whatever the current wonder material by Polar-Tec is; function best when exposed directly to air contact. Stick this waterproof liner inside a boot with multiple layers of leather and synthetic materials, ya it will dry out eventually but not nearly as fast as a boot minus the waterproof liner. Reference several of the "outdry" approaches used by shoe companies. In a more classical approach, taking a full leather boot with a simple, techron or equiv. spray will both breath better than a boot with a waterproof liner and dry out faster than one with a liner. Keep in mind, the waterproof liner of a boot only works as long as the water level stays below the top opening of the shoe, a situation we have all encountered at some time or another. 

And in reference to the socks, if the sock is wet, synthetic, cotton, whatever, it is still wet. As for the liner, it will dry out only as long as the outer sock is drying out. Evaporation on materials works from the outside in. A wool sock alone without a liner, will dry out quicker than a double-layered system combining the wool sock with a synthetic inner. As for a knit-wool sock, I am assuming you are referencing the old thick socks that a grandma has to knit as they are incredibly hard to find. Socks such as those by Darn-Tough or Point6 are arguably more breathable than the equivalent socks in synthetics. 

And as for the socks inside a boot, bandaids and such. I made mention of such as the original hint of the discussion and a few other hints suggested that they had developed blisters, wanted a more roomy boot, etc. A problem more directly related to boot sizing / fit than the socks in use, though socks are still an integral part of the overall system.

9:48 a.m. on June 28, 2013 (EDT)
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For the most part I agree with madmarmot. With my particular physiology, I find Goretex or similarly lined boots do not breathe as well as simple leather alternatives. I have a pair of boots with Goretex liners and at first they seem too hot, then as my feet sweat, they get chilled because the Goretex does not breathe fast enough to help dissipate the moisture. At the end of the day my feet and socks emerge quite damp and smelly. This happens no matter what kind of sock liner combo I wear.

I have found that wearing liner socks do nothing to prevent blistering of my feet and have returned to the old tried and true Wigwam or similar Ragg wool sock in a single layer configuration. My feet, not to mention the rest of my body, need to breathe. Also, standard knit Ragg wool socks are easy to mend in the field.

While canoeing I have worn hiking boots for the long portages and sometimes found myself waiding the canoe through shallows. My boots and socks get wet, but body heat moves the moisture from foot to sock to leather much more efficiently than with a Goretex or synthetic liner which seems to impede the progress.

The only time I wear a liner sock nowadays is during the winter months when I use VBL socks.

10:26 a.m. on June 28, 2013 (EDT)
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We've discussed the Gore-tex boot thing to death.  Most people [here] find Gore-tex boots suck most of the time for most of their activities.  So, many of us who prefer a boot prefer an all-leather, adequately treated (Obenauf's Heavy Duty LP) leather, Gore-texless version of said footwear.  They breathe better, and the handle moisture better for our needs.

Back to our regularly scheduled program...I do find liner socks to both help with warding off blisters and keeping me cool/dry.  In other words, they do what they're designed to do.

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