Most of us don't give a lot of thought to our socks. If they match, we're doing well. But some manufacturers are giving a lot of thought to socks.
According to Karen Deniz, Optimer Performance Fibers, new technology often appears first in socks because they require a relatively small investment by manufacturers and consumers. A Fox River representative explains that "it's all to keep feet dry." He quickly adds that socks also keep feel warm or cool, and provide more or less cushioning in particular areas. Maybe its all about keeping feet comfortable.
Keeping feet dry is certainly one area of interest for sock manufacturers. For some, this means moisture-wicking fibers or fabrics. DeFeet founder Shane Cooper says just including a performance fiber is not enough; how it's used is just as important. Cooper explains that when CoolMax (a polyester fiber with a + cross-section) was first introduced, manufacturers put it on the outside of the sock, where customers could feel the smoothness. Since perspiration comes from inside the sock, the wicking properties are more effective there. Injinji five-toed socks focus even more specifically on managing moisture between the toes.
Fox River uses a blend of Ingeo (corn-based polylactic acid) and polyester fibers to keep feet dry. Dri-Release fabrics also combine natural and man-made elements to absorb moisture, move it away from the foot, and release it.
Brand Manager Dave Seligman says that his company, X-Socks, was "not content to wick moisture to the outer layer of the sock." The challenge was to get it out of the shoe. X-Socks do this with an "air conditioning" chamber in the arch. As the wearer walks, the arch compresses the sock and pumps air out through specially knit channels. When pressure is released, fresh, dry air is pulled in.
Wigwam socks employ several fiber combinations to transport and evaporate perspiration. Hydrophobic (moisture-repelling) nylon or olefin fibers near the foot transport moisture to absorbent fibers that draw it to the outside, or up and out of the shoe, where it can evaporate. Dahlgren Footwear uses the opposite approach. In its zone system, natural fibers in the toe and heel absorb moisture. Synthetic, hydrophobic yarns in the arch, instep, and leg transfer the moisture away from the foot.
For athletic socks in particular, keeping feet warm or cool is important. No one wants frost-bitten toes while hiking or skiing, and running with hot feet is no fun. Accumulated perspiration can affect foot temperature in all the wrong ways, so temperature control begins with the moisture management technology discussed above.
Margaret Chesebro, field marketing manager for Wigwam says that warm socks are especially important for novice athletes. More experienced skiers and snowboarders want a thinner sock that allows them to "feel" their boot.
Andrew Skurka says he has been a proponent of wool socks for a long time, but on a recent trip to Iceland (where he reports it is "cold and wet all the time"); he took DeFeet socks with CoolMax EcoTech. Skurka was pleased that they not only kept his feet comfortable, but dried within an hour, hanging on his backpack.
Of course, plenty of people still consider wool to be the gold standard in cold-weather wear. You can find socks in Merino, Alpaca, and Cashmere. Silk is also considered an "insulating" fiber. Fox River uses a hollow core fiber to trap body heat. A metalized fiber is knitted into X-Socks to reflect body heat back to the wearer. A similar technology is used to conduct heat away from the foot for warm-weather socks and ventilation panels are yet another option for making cooler socks.