Three Points of the Compass uses a pair of camp socks instead of camp shoes while backpacking. Having recently splashed out on a third pair, it is time to take a look at the technology and practicality of Sealskinz waterproof socks.
Founded in 1999 with the stated intention- “to craft the finest waterproof accessories in the world”, Norfolk based Sealskinz developed new technologies and fabrics and have expanded their initial small range of waterproof socks to include gloves, hats and overshoes. I confess to being slightly baffled by their range of socks and the various options on offer. No weights are supplied and year on year ‘improvements’ seem to change models completely. Sealskinz waterproof socks are three-layer. A tough outer layer mostly composed of nylon, a hydrophilic waterproof mid-later (tested to a hydrostatic head of >10,000mm), and a softer inner mixed-fibre layer, that varies according to model.
Note that the waterproof membrane in Sealskinz is also permeable to water vapour. Sealskinz specify a minimum Water Vapour Permeability index of 65%.This works due to a higher temperature and humidity inside the sock compared to the outside. It is less effective for me as I am always attempting to keep my feet as cool as possible. Heat means hot spots, hot spots means blisters.
Many of the latest incarnation of their waterproof socks also now include a 22mm wide band of TPU bonded to the inside. This is what Sealskinz call their Hydrostop technology. This creates a seal between the sock cuff and skin, reducing the amount of water from running down the leg and into the sock. While I have experienced no issues, some users have reported that the TPU can irritate their skin if worn for extended length of time. The 109g XL ‘all-weather’ version of this sock has a 36% Merino Wool content to the inner lining. The rest of the materials are synthetic. I do wish that Sealskinz would use a merino content in their lighter weight socks.
Instead of camp shoes, Three Points of the Compass uses camp socks, and has done so on almost all backpacking trips since 2018. At the end of a days hike I almost always try and wash or wipe my feet clean of salts and grime, then give them a deep massage, working into the plantar fascia with my thumb, at the same time rubbing in some foot balm to replace lost oils. I don’t want this balm then contaminating my quilt or anything else so having done all that, I will either slip on my sleep socks, or my Sealskinz if I still have ‘out of tent’ activity. I remove my trail shoes insoles and this allows them to air and dry a little while giving my feet a little more room to expand inside the shoe. I will usually keep shoes unlaced while pottering around outside the shelter. This method allows my feet to keep separate from the dirty, wet, funky interior of the trail shoe. If worn for any length of time, the heat from my feet will also begin to dry out my shoes if they are wet. If I am visiting a pub for a meal in the evening, the drying synthetic shoes can occasionally start to get noticeably whiffy if they haven’t been rinsed out, but beyond a few people unsuccessfully looking around for the source, I have yet to be asked to leave a premises.
I purchased my first two pairs of Sealskinz in the mid and late-nineties, selected from what appeared to be their lightest range at the time. These have each been used for a few years now but have probably walked less than fifty miles between them, that is not what they are for.
I have no idea on their model names, or even if they had model or type names back then. The first pair was a sloppy fitting size L. These weighed 81g but I always found the length excessive so after a few years bought an ankle length second pair. This XL pair of also-almost-shapeless Sealskinz came in slightly lighter at 70g and I have been using that second pair on almost all my backpacking trails ever since.
I also carry dedicated sleep socks, thin merino for summer, and fluffy possum down socks for the rest of the year. If I exit the tent for a pee during the night, I just slip my Sealskinz over my sleep socks. My oldest Sealskinz socks still seem to be mostly watertight. They may have a pinprick hole or two picked up from pine needles outside the tent but that doesn’t affect me in the slightest and if I ever do claim on their warranty, they have a Lifetime Waterproof Guarantee.
This winter, I saw that Sealskinz had an expanded and smarter looking range, so splashed out on a pair of XL (UK 12-14) Waterproof Warm Weather ankle socks to see if they had anything to offer over my two older pairs. These are the thinnest and lightest socks in the Sealskinz range and includes both a Hydrostop band and a bamboo lining to help keep the wearer cool. This third pair are not as shapeless as earlier models and fit my feet better. However that is not a concern to me as I don’t actually wear them when walking any distance, where fit and comfort may be more of a concern. This most recent purchase waterproof Sealskinz socks, in 2022, cost me £27. A lot lighter and a lot cheaper than most of my ‘camp shoe’ trials over the years.
Needless to say, in common with so many other pieces of gear, generational change has increased their weight. This latest pair of XL ankle length socks weigh 87g. 17g more than my previous pair. I am not sure that this latest purchase has actually provided me with anything particularly advantageous and I shall almost certainly carry on with my earlier pair until they eventually die the death, I shall then swap over to this pair of Waterproof Warm Weather.
Some people will hike in these socks, or use them for river crossings. I prefer not to but they are there should my feet be suffering from maceration in the morning and I need to protect them for the day. Not that this has happened, yet! I wear high merino content Silverlight socks for hiking and, while not actively searching out puddles and streams to stand in, I allow my feet to get wet when unavoidable and dry out though the mesh of my trail shoes. I may even remove shoes and socks during the day to let feet air and dry. Once water is inside a waterproof sock, it mostly stays there, just as once water gets inside an impervious waterproof boot or shoe, it stays there.
My method is nothing new of course. I first came across the use of an impervious layer as footwear over forty years ago. A cheap and fairly effective option then was to simply use a plastic bag. A plastic carrier bag over each foot with an elastic band round the lower leg to hold each in place. The problems were mostly that plastic bags are particularly slippery on wet ground unless worn as a layer within footwear, they are fragile and, certainly in the UK, where every child is apparently looking for ways to suffocate themselves, plastic bags usually have leaky holes punched in them. A pair of waterproof textile socks can be actually used as a pair of socks, they are more comfortable, they control transmission of sweat better and are far more robust. That last point is important. Many items of lightweight outdoors gear do not necessarily come with a ‘fragile’ sticker. Using my Sealskinz in the manner that I do, I doubt I shall need to buy another pair in the next decade.