My previous blogs have given you some idea of my past blister experiences, if you are a regular reader. If not, read me. An unfortunate fact about my favorite socks is that they no longer make them in my size. What's a girl to do?
I got my perfect setting for a hiking sock experiment in what was also a potential blister disaster: a 6 day hiking trip in the German and Austrian Alps, where our typical hiking day ranged from 6 to 11 hours and the terrain was...well, Alps! There were some feet on that trip that were not for the faint of heart, but not mine, thanks to the strict regimen of very tight socks and slightly tight boots I have followed ever since my nightmarish experience on Cumberland Island in 2008, where every step I took was like walking on razorblades.
A week before the trip I went to the mothership to purchase my socks (a lot of the smaller stores we shop at don't carry children's sizes, which is pretty much where you have to go if you want to wear tight socks on a size 6.5-7.0 woman's foot - I typically go with a children's medium, but I suggest trying them on). I bought three different socks to test in addition to those I already own and like, all of which have corresponding socks in the adult section for those with bigger feet. Two of the three get a thumbs up, I am happy to report!
For days 1 and 2, I went with the Wigwam Hiking/Outdoor Pro Socks. The cost is $9.50 per pair for kids, $12.00 for adults. We hiked for about 5 hours the first day, very much of which was uphill, and 6-7 hours the second day. Both days I did not experience a lot of wetness in my socks, and, more importantly, both days I went completely blister-free! Grade: A.
For day 4, the "long" day (which it certainly was), I went with Smart Wool Hiking Socks, as they are the most expensive which in some circles means the best. These socks are $10.95 for kids, and cost a good bit more in the adult version - $17.95. They stood up to the blister test, I must admit, which is impressive for the length and difficulty of the hike on this day. We even hiked in the rain for two hours, adding an extra degree of challenge. However, though I did not experience significant foot wetness (prior to the rain), it was more than the Wigwams. A- (docking points for price)
On day 6, the easiest day of the trip, I wore my REI Merino Wool Hiking Socks. At $8.00 a pair for kids and $12.50 for adults, it is a more economical option than some brands, and they were also on sale that day. I decided to buy one pair and give them one last chance, cautiously, and only picking the thickest pair in the bunch. I have learned from this experience that I still hate REI socks. I wear them at camp but I will not hike in them. I may have been on the trail 20 minutes before my feet felt wet from sweat. I had a tiny blister on my toe at the end of this day. C-
The winner: Wigwam! While these socks were not substantially better than the SmartWool, they were substantially cheaper, particularly in the adult version, where the markup is astounding on the SmartWool. Truthfully, I would buy either on sale. The real lesson to be learned is one I have repeated over time, which is not to go "store brand" on the socks. They are just too important to your comfort as a hiker.