Sunday, 11 September 2011

Forty Six & 2 - Evolving footwear systems for Autumn

In my last post I hinted that I am trying out some neoprene socks. This generated quite a few questions and subsequent conversations so I thought I'd write a quick post about how my footwear system is evolving.

I wrote about my 'summer' footwear system last year. To me it seems like a no-brainer to shun supposed 'waterproof' footwear so I'm still surprised when I talk to friends and acquaintances who struggle with the idea of getting their feet wet. Much of their concern is how to keep your feet warm when they are wet. In summer I find it easy to keep my feet warm with the application of good technique during the day (keep hiking!) and those holy sleep socks, stored dry, warm and un-touched in the bottom of my sleeping quilt, ready for the end of the day. The addition of some waterproof socks allow my sodden shoes to be worn in camp when required and with that system I'm good to go for all my backpacking in the 'peak' season from June to September.

Last year I read Dave Chenault's thorough and thought-provoking 'Backcountry footwear for the other three seasons' post which highlighted the use of neoprene socks, a technique also promoted in Mike Clelland's 'Ultralight Backpackin' Tips' book (Tip no: 88) and it got me thinking about how I would cope with cold weather backpacking like sub-Arctic Spring slush and, more topically, late season chill as we head into Autumn. Following Dave's advice I've recently obtained two pairs of NRS neoprene socks, a 2mm pair from a local kayaking store and a 0.5mm Hydroskin pair direct from NRS. I've only used them for a few days of backpacking and day hiking so far but the results are very promising. Wonderfully warm feet despite some cooler and very wet conditions of late. Sticking to the 'you can't keep your feet feet dry in the wilderness' ethos the neoprene socks don't keep the water out, rather they create a warm micro-climate around your feet. This is especially noticeable on higher ground when cold wind can rip through mesh trail runners and chill wet socks (anyone who hiked with us in Vaalaadalen will know what I'm talking about). Those who have struggled with 'wet foot technique' due to circulatory issues, even in the summer, should give them a go. They're comfortable too, thanks to their stretchy, slightly spongy texture, although it should be pointed out that they do require some extra volume in your shoes. I always buy hiking footwear one size bigger than my 'street' shoes so they fit fine. Removing the insole from your current footwear can increase the volume considerably, the slight cushion of the neoprene negating the need for an insole in most footwear.

I'm looking forward to using these weird rubber socks as we  say goodbye to bugs and summer and hello to frosts and Autumn. The 0.5mm versions seem to be the best right now but the 2mm versions will be especially useful next Spring when the whole of Norway (save the few trails closet to Bergen) will be throwing off their winter coat of snow and the land will be awash with icy slush and glacially cold run-off. I'm currently using Coolmax liner socks inside them but as the mercury starts to fall I'll be giving the Smartwool Ultralight Ski socks a try. At around $25 a pair they're also an economical way to boost the insulation value of your footwear without resorting to expensive, clumpy boots.

Evolve. Or get left behind.

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