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Hiking the Upper Peninsula
with Steve & Sue

 

Comfortably Clothed for the Hike

 

dressed for winter hiking


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The right choice of clothing, from the first layer to the last, from toes to heads, can make a big difference in how comfortable you are on your hikes. Thankfully it isn't difficult nor does it need to be expensive to build your hiking wardrobe.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool natural fabric clothing devotee it took me awhile to embrace synthetic fabrics for anything. Steve had preferred poly t-shirts and button shirts for some time but I didn't like the feel of them and stuck to my cotton. But when we got to hiking more, especially in the colder months, I experienced the difference between layers of uncomfortably moist cotton shirts vs layers of dry wicking materials. I soon came up with my own collection of  appropriate hiking clothes, and both of us continue to fine-tune our wardrobe. And it is not all synthetic fabrics - wool, silk, and cotton all have their special niches.

Layering is the key; many choices the freedom. Your own experience and preferences rule over anyone else's opinions; we're all different and unique. I'll share here some of our findings as we've gathered our collections in the many faceted, and ever-changing, world of Hiking Clothes.   


 Socks - Wool Rules! At least it does in our sock drawers. I'm more passionate about wool socks maybe because I enjoy knitting them, all 100% wool, fancy (many) or plain (mostly Steve's). We've worn hand knitted wool socks for years and they're great. Mostly they are winter-wear but they aren't limited to that. I discovered the comfort of wool for padding and for soaking up sweat when I got into International Folk Dancing. The same attributes serve me well on the trail, too. If you are a knitter (or desire to become one) check out my SOCKS page.

Steve mostly wears wool-nylon socks hiking (or every-day) with the all-wools coming out in winter, with or without silk or synthetic liners. I have yet to come up with my pick for hot weather when I'd rather be barefoot or in sandals. My every-day summer work sock is cotton and for short hikes that suffices for me. Or my wools. I'm still experimenting. But for winter hiking I've gathered a collection of light, medium, and heavier sock liners - synthetic or wool mixes - to wear under my knitted wool socks. I like having a choice depending on how cold it is or whether I'm wearing boots or athletic shoes (my preference). My feet get hot easily and cold easily so I do my best to keep them happy.

For purchased socks the variety of brands and types is downright overwhelming. My only recommendation is to dive in, order a whole bunch of different kinds, different companies, different sizes. Try them on, send back those that don't suit you, wear the ones that do, then if you find one you really like go order more right away because individual models seem to disappear overnight. They all seem to be OK once you find one that feels good on your feet. Except for that CUFF issue...

I have to wonder if sock manufacturers ever look at how a leg is shaped, do they wear their own socks or do they all have very thin vertical legs with minimal calves?? I used to think I was an oddity because I found sock cuffs on purchased synthetic or synthetic-wool or synthetic-cotton blends to be almost universally constrictive and uncomfortably tight, unless they are just ankle height. But then I started reading reviews in my search for hiking sock alternatives and found no, I wasn't alone. It was an oft mentioned frustration. Now, hopefully, some sock manufacturer will get adventurous and start making a comfortable cuffed sock, and athletically oriented folk will hear about it, buy them, then other manufacturers will get on the band-wagon and we'll soon have a raft of good choices. Good cuffs can be done, it's just really rare. But complaining gets one nowhere so...

The CUFFS - My first solution was to simply cut the offending constricting cuff off. This was on a pair of older but unworn Smartwool socks that had been in the "just in case" bag in the car. One day after kayaking I put them on and decided either cut off that cuff or get rid of them. Nothing to lose. When I got home I got the scissors out and the job was done. I zigzagged around the top (though i don't know that it was necessary) and wha-lah! A previously unwearable sock was comfortably wearable. A little short, a little curled at the edge, but wonderfully wearable, just like that. They are now an oft-worn winter base layer sock (the center sock in the photo below).

So this winter, as my collection of OK though not really great hiking socks grew as my wool-nylon socks cuff un-hemmedquest for some good sock liners and possibly all-wool alternative non-winter hiking socks grew, I decided it was time to fix them, one way or another. I was tired of folding the tops down off my calves to the ankle where they wouldn't be so tight. It was winter; I wanted taller socks. So I looked the first pair over and noticed the cuff was a double thickness; a band that was turned down and stitched. Mmmm, I wonder what would happen if I unstitched it? Being in the sewing mode the seam ripper came right to hand. It didn't take long; it was an easy job. As it turned out, this pair and a drawer full of others from various manufacturers and brands, were all done the same way -- a knitted cuff turned in and sewn down with a simple serge stitch of stretchy wooly nylon thread. When I was done I had a big pile of soft stretchy nylon thread and a stack of socks that all breathed a sigh of relief, as did my calves, to be free of that constricting thread. It worked. It wasn't the weave of the cuff that was the issue as I'd thought, but the hem thread, which was somewhat stretchy but not nearly as stretchy as the sock and cuff fabric.

wool-nylon socks unhemmedThe cuffs unfolded make the socks taller but they don't seem to have a tendency to ravel any further. If they do I'll add a loose, stretchy zigzag around the top, or maybe sew on some light weight brushed elastic. And if I decide they are too tall I could ravel off the cuff though in almost all of the socks the cuffs are a bit sturdier than the main sock so I'll probably not. I've found I can simply fold them down to whatever height I want. Without that constricting wooly nylon hem thread they are comfortable and plenty tight enough to stay up (all these socks have some lycra in them). What a great relief, and a simple solution. So until sock manufacturers figure this out and come up with their solutions, a good seam ripper and a few minutes time will make those manufactured hiking socks fit like they should.


Shoes or Boots? -


 


 



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Copyright 2021 by Susan Robishaw and Stephen Schmeck
 



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Have you read  "Frost Dancing - Tips from a Northern Gardener"? A fun short read.

or "Homesteading Adventures"    Creating our backwoods homestead--the first 20 years.

and "Growing Berries for Food and Fun"   A journey you can use in your own garden.
 

updated 10/06/2019

 

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