A few years back, on the search for lightweight camp-shoes to use while backpacking, Three Points of the Compass came across the European made Skinners. These are stretchy, breathable ‘sock-shoes’, with a waterproof polymer bonded to the bottom and sides. They looked promising.
There are many fans of a ‘barefoot’ walking or running regime, though the jury seems to still be out as to any possible merit. I am not interested in this in the slightest. All I was on the look out for was something to wear at the end of a days backpacking. I did wonder if I might also be able to hike the odd mile or two in ‘sock-shoes’ but had no real intention of doing so. I had also considered wearing sock-shoes for the duration of a zero day on longer trails, meaning town wear, but again, had no fixed intent. It takes a bit of bottle to go out and about wearing nowt but a pair of socks and I am not sure that is me. But as camp wear for just a couple of hours of an evening, where the additional carried weight and bulk were major considerations, I thought that Skinners might be the answer.
The sock-shoes are manufactured by Skinners Technologies s.r.o. Skinners were invented by young law clerk Petr Prochazka in 2014. Within two years he had a business and the most successfully funded footwear in crowdfunding history. The Skinners Kickstarter launch was in June 2016 and they received full backing within six hours. I received my first pair early 2017. These are handmade in a “super secret factory” in the Czech Republic (Cyrilska 508/7, Brno 602 00, CZ). The first generation Skinners 1.0 were made from Italian sourced 45% polypropylene siltex, 22% viscose, 22% cotton and 11% lycra. This material included antibacterial silver to reduce odour but this addition seems to have been abandoned quite early which may account for the frequent complaints from users about the tendency for the sock-shoes to stink quite quickly. The knitted, stretchy, breathable sock had an additional 2mm thick ‘waterproof’ abrasion resistant, phthalate-free, polymer sole which extended slightly up the side of the foot. This protective covering is tiny pieces of tough rubbery material sourced from Sweden bonded to a waterproof compound. There are no seams and no stiff sole.
I took the advice of a couple of reviewers and sized up to a pair of XXL for my initial order (I have feet size 11/11.5 UK), so the ones I ordered were supposed to fit feet size 12-13.5 UK. These weighed 203g. I should have ignored the advice and simply ordered the correct size as the XXL were way too big. I exchanged these for a pair of XL that fitted me just fine. That second pair weighed 183g which was very good compared to just about every other type of camp shoe I had tried on trail. They also roll up so take up very little pack space. They were supplied with a little 20g fabric bag that I originally thought I would not require.
As it was, I often found Skinners too uncomfortable to walk around in for any distance. I could have lived with that to a degree but there were bigger issues. Primarily intended for use around bothies, hostels, hotels and camp, the problem is that early morning and evening grass is frequently wet. Despite the waterproof soles, my feet often got soaked from the sock sides when in long grass. The roughly textured soles also picked up and held far too much debris and mud. While Skinners can simply be flung into a washing machine and come out looking almost like new, there are not many of those on a multi-day hike. I now saw the need for a little bag in which to carry Skinners when not being worn as the grime and damp transfers easily even if stuffed into an outside stretchy pocket of a pack where they never seemed to dry during the day.
Skinners soles are puncture-resistant, but not puncture-proof so pin prick holes can appear in the bottom. I could feel the slightest of small stones on my feet. Pine needles stabbed my soles frequently. There was insufficient space to stuff a pair of insoles for a little more protection. The permeable sides also allowed water, silt and sand to pass through into the footwear. Wearing them as camp shoes on a week long hike I found they did stink a bit toward the end of my trail. This smell was reduced if I wore some merino socks inside but that somewhat defeated the purpose as I was then carrying extra gear just to make another piece of gear work.
Seeing that Skinners were developing a second generation of their sock-shoe, I backed them on Kickstarter and received the 2.0 in spring 2021. With a worldwide pandemic raging, they didn’t see much immediate use on trail, but I did get out with them on occasion. The updates to the sock-shoe were in response to user-feedback and most obviously comprised of a welcome wider toe box and a removable 2mm perforated insole. Less immediately obvious was that the Stretchknit sock material was completely revised. The 2.0 Skinners are made from 45% polyamide, 32% cotton, 20% polyester and 3% elastane. While the 2.0 have better sweat absorption, you can see from the list of materials that these will still hold on to moisture for some time.
The beefing up of Skinners generation 2.0 increased the weight from my first generation’s 183g to 237g, plus a further 26g for the pair of removeable insoles (2.0 XL Skinners total 263g). Even the 2.0 drawstring baggie was both tougher and now waterproof, weighing 28g.
Despite the new generation purported to have “improved resistance to odour“, feet can get hot in these socks, especially in summer and tarmac walking, and they can still stink a bit after a few hours encapsulating sweaty feet. Wearing thin merino socks inside them reduces the smell further. The 2.0 have slightly thicker, 3mm soles. This covering extends further up the sides of the sock than on the 1.0.
Skinners expanded their size range, which was a welcome addition for many as a decent fit is crucial to making these work. A couple of extra colours were also added to the range. It was bad enough wandering around in public just wearing a pair of socks already, so the last thing I wanted was to draw attention to my footwear. As with the 1.0, I went for the most muted colour available- anthracite.
The added insole make the 2.0 Skinners a good deal more comfortable when walking across rough ground. Pinecones, acorns, even twigs and gravel paths that had me wincing before are now slightly more bearable. But I still had to take great care with where I was stepping. Night-time wanders again became fraught with staggered re-steps as feet encountered something pointy. The 2.0 also have just a little more stability and support underfoot, not a great deal, but noticeable against the 1.0. For those with tougher feet or more used to barefoot running, the insoles can simply be removed.
None of the above is to say there is much wrong with Skinners sock-shoes as a product. It is simply that I have failed to comfortably integrate them into my personal backpacking regime. I like the concept of waterproof socks and, despite my flirtation with Skinners, have settled on the ‘system’ that I still use today. More on that in another post. Those with a different approach may be more successful with sock-shoes. Skinners are not a cheap product and this is not the only gear company producing sock-shoes. There are a few others such as Powersocks, Sockwa and the Barefoot Company but I have no experience of them so cannot say how they might compare to Skinners. The company has since added kids sizes and longer ‘compression’ sock shoes to their product range, again, I have no experience of those.
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