Socks cushion and insulate your feet, absorb perspiration, and reduce friction between the boot and the foot. Socks made of wool or synthetic materials can perform all these functions, while those made of cotton cannot. Cotton absorbs too much water, which destroys its insulating qualities and increases friction between the boot and the foot.
Most climbers wear two pairs of socks. Next to the skin, a smooth polyester or polypropylene sock transports perspiration from the foot to the outer sock. Over this goes a heavier, rougher sock made of wool or synthetics.
Of course there are many exceptions. A rock climber wants flexible rock shoes to fit like a glove, and so usually wears only one thin pair of socks. A hiker using trail shoes on a warm day keeps feet cooler by wearing just a single pair of socks, while a winter climber may wear three pairs of socks inside oversized boots. Always keep your toes free enough to wiggle. Three pairs of socks give less protection from the cold than two if the last pair constricts circulation.
Before donning socks, consider putting protective moleskin or tape on your feet at places prone to blisters, such as the back of the heel. Moleskin is especially valuable when breaking in new boots or early in the climbing season before your feet have toughened up. Another blister fighter is foot powder sprinkled on your socks and in your boots.
On expeditions or in cold weather, a vapor-bar-rier sock may be worn between the two main sock layers. Vapor-barrier liners keep moisture next to your foot and prevent perspiration from wetting your thick socks. They also keep your feet warmer by inhibiting the evaporation of sweat. In subfreez-ing temperatures, these socks reduce the danger of frostbite, but over time the moisture that is kept inside can result in trench foot—a serious problem. If you use vapor-barrier socks, dry your feet thoroughly at least once each day.
Insoles added to the inside of your boots provide extra insulation and cushioning. Synthetic insoles are non-absorbent, do not become matted when damp, and have a loose structure that helps ventilate your foot. Insoles made of felt, leather, and lambskin all absorb moisture and must be removed when drying boots. When trying on new boots, be sure to insert the insoles you intend to wear.
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