Surprise! I’m a Toe Socks Guy Now.
Backpacker executive editor Adam Roy has fully embraced the eccentric footwear after previously swearing them off. Here’s why.
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For most of my outdoor career, I thought toe socks were a scam. Normal socks worked fine—they did everything they were supposed to, and did it without subjecting you to the indignity of forcing each of your individual toes into their own sweaty little pockets. Like zip-off pants and those little nose covers that clip to your sunglasses, they took a perfectly functional piece of gear and tortured it into a new, unnecessarily complicated form just for the sake of novelty. As far as I was concerned, they were a gateway drug into dad-fashion: Today you’re putting on toe socks, tomorrow you’re trying to tell everyone you meet on the trail about how comfortable hiking in a utilikilt is.
Reader, it brings me no pleasure to tell you that I was wrong. After spending an entire winter using them, I am a Toe Socks Guy now.
It started with a blister—a big one. I had picked up Nordic skiing, hitting up snowed-in dirt roads and hiking trails around the Colorado Rockies with my toddler son riding shotgun in a pulk I pulled behind me. He watched the scenery and laughed out loud during the downhills; I loved the chance to spend a little more time outside, something that can be hard to find when you have a small kid.
The problem: My Nordic boots. They drove my metal-edged backcountry skis well, but they also rubbed the backs of my heels raw. After a long session, my feet would have red, angry hotspots on them. After a couple of days in a row, they’d evolve into full-blown blisters the width of my heel. Just putting on my boots was painful, let alone skiing in them.
I tried every anti-friction trick in my arsenal. I wadded wool into the backs of my socks (it didn’t help), pasted on moleskin (it rubbed off), even layered duct tape on top of my tender skin (ditto). It seemed like the only choices I had left were to drop hundreds of dollars on a new pair of boots that, likely as not, wouldn’t change anything, or to just grit my teeth and push through.
Salvation, as it turned out, was knit and came with toes. In a last-ditch effort, I picked up a pair of Injinji Liner Crews, ultra-thin synthetic toe socks made of a blend of Coolmax, lycra, and nylon. Pulling them on for the first time was as awkward as I remembered; it took me a few tries to fiddle each toe into its own separate pocket. I layered the Injinjis under a pair of thin ski socks and hit my local park for a test lap.
The difference was shocking. After two or three miles, I still had zero skin irritation. The form-fitting socks moved with my foot; thanks to the design, there was no space to slosh around inside it, and the light synthetic material wicked moisture efficiently. When I peeled them off at home, I didn’t see a hint of redness either at my heel or on the edges of my toe, where I’m prone to calluses.
Still, the worst of my blister problems didn’t usually start until after I had logged a few trail days in a row. That weekend, I packed up the car, bundled up my kid, and headed to Mayflower Gulch, a popular winter hike that leads to the ruins of a mining town in the shadow of 13,000-foot Atlantic and Pacific peaks. It was early season, and the trail up was still slick and icy; by the time we reached the cabins at the top, I had sweated my way through my baselayer. But my feet weren’t just un-blistered, they were downright comfortable and dry.
I haven’t totally given up my trail fashion prejudices, but I can’t argue with that kind of success. My toe socks have earned a permanent place in my winter rotation thanks to their blister-banishing track record. You may not see me hiking in a utilikilt soon, but if you meet me on the trail, you’ll know what I’m wearing inside my shoes.