Believe it or not, this can be a very long discussion, but I will sum it up in a short passage since there are numerous systems on the market. We will talk about three different systems: 1) Army-issued wool socks; 2) Synthetics socks; and, 3) Smart Wool socks. The Army issued wool sock is a bit dated but still works if it is the only system available. However, if the Army issued wool sock is used, ensure a two-sock system is implemented to support heavy marching. The inner sock should be a thin “wicking” material made of cool-max or polypropylene to remove moisture from the foot and transport it to the boot. Another option is to wear women’s knee high panty hose as the inner sock. Although you may laugh and think this is a bit feminine, it works!
The second system and much better than the Army wool socks are synthetics. They last longer, provide superior fit and are much better at dealing with moisture than wool. Synthetic socks wick moisture away from your foot after it condenses into a liquid form, resulting in drier feet. Although abrasion and friction is not as noticeable with synthetic socks, spend the extra money to buy the additional liners for the following reasons: 1) Liner socks can cure some “problem fits”, especially those caused by narrow feet; 2) Liner socks are part of a two-layer system, which is an excellent way to deal with lots of moisture; and, 3) Liner socks can also be used on long trips when you want to take along a minimum number of socks. The major difference between the Army wool sock and the synthetic sock is that synthetics dry quicker, last longer and act as a liner against your feet, saving the outer socks from the damage of sweat and oils.
The last system discussed is Smart Wool, made from merino wool fibers that assist in keeping feet warm in the winter and cool in the summer. This is accomplished by forming tiny air pockets that act as a barrier between the cold and heat. The Smart Wool socks differ from the synthetic socks because they transfer the moisture away from the foot in the vapor stage before it becomes a liquid.
Even though I have worn all three systems, and all three systems work, in my opinion, Smart Wool socks are the best on the market. They are a bit expensive, but how much are your feet worth? There will be times when wet conditions exist every day and it may seem as if your feet will never be dry. This becomes a major issue if you choose not to change socks or use foot powder; trench foot can surface very quickly.
In summary, all three systems work fine; however, each and every individual has different preferences and limitations, so try all three and figure out which one works best for you before investing a lot of money into socks. No matter what the cost, take care of your feet because you will be on them for many hours each day.
Leadership Insight 32: Change your socks on a regular basis and use foot powder. When engaging in military training and operations, your feet will become wet, so changing your socks is a must in order to keep the second pair of boots dry once you arrive at the Assembly Area (AA) or Forward Operational Base (FOB).