Like many backpackers, I had always knew of Sealskinz but never really knew about them. All I knew was: waterproof socks. I heard some mediocre reviews of how they kept feet dry during events like adventure races; More often I heard terrible reviews along the lines of “expensive, baggy garbage sacks for your feet.”
I am here to tell you the truth, and the truth is that the bad reviews are all dead wrong.
Those people describing bad and mediocre products are probably referring to early generations of the product or cheap knock offs. These socks would probably been worth their weight in gold on expeditions 80 years ago. The new stuff is of the highest caliber: nylon outer, merino wool inner lining, and a waterproof, breathable membrane in the middle that stretches with the sock. You read that correctly: the Sealskinz socks stretch and fit as well as a good merino hiking sock.
I had the chance to test some knee-high Sealskinz socks out while hiking the Paria river, a 38-mile, 5-day trip with about 100 river crossings. I can say with the utmost confidence that they are indeed waterproof, breathable and absolutely amazing.
Waterproof. That’s the most amazing thing I can say about a knee-high sock in a calf-high river of snowmelt. The waterproofness in a river-crossing means no soggy feet, no chafing, no sand in my toes, and no cold current whisking away the warmth in my second favorite extremities. It also means that in between those desert river crossings my cold, wet shoes feel like a million-dollar A/C unit for my normally sweaty feet.
It’s hard to overstate how amazingly comfortable it is to have dry feet during river crossings; you have to try it to believe it. Even during the times the water was well above my knees and the tops of the socks the snug elastic tops kept most of the water out.
Warm. In a pretty thin sock the waterproof layer provides a great deal of comfortable warmth without being sweaty (at least while wet). On the second morning my group hiked up the famous Buckskin Gulch slot canyon where we were going upstream in 33-degree waterflow up to our calfs. After 4 minutes everyone in the group turned back because they were so cold while I was able to explore further up one of the most iconic locations in the southwest.
I wouldn’t recommend the model I was wearing for situations where you would expect sweaty feet. They do breathe, more on that below, but if the exterior isn’t wet the insides of the socks can get pretty toasty in a desert climate.
Fast Drying. Despite submerging the socks completely on thigh-high river crossings I was always able to dry them out overnight. Even soaking the inside and outside I could simply turn the sock inside out, squeeze the water out, hang it up and have a dry (interior) sock by morning.
“Breathable:” This is a minor gripe given the nature of all waterproof products but it should be mentioned. When you put the sock on it puffs out like the garbage sacks the naysayers say it is. However, give it a few seconds and the air escapes and the sock fits like any other.
Waterproof: The problems with waterproof stuff is that it works both ways. I would often have what felt like a gallon of water sloshing around in my sock. In reality it was always more like a few tablespoons since the elastic tops kept most of it out.
Expensive: The model I used, the knee-high, runs for about $58. Even considering how nice they are that is a hard investment to make for a backpacker.
Sealskinz makes socks in all the different heights and weights from no-show up to knee-high with all different levels of insulation, so there are a wide variety of uses. I’ve leard of runners using the no-shows to keep their feet dry when running in wet grass or muddy trails and I’ve seen other hikers in Utah use the crew socks as a warm sock with wetness-insurance when snowshoeing. The best uses are limited to your imagination.
For my specific model, the knee-high, I would recommend them for cases where either a lot of water will be around, as with the trip I took, or where you can’t afford to be wet, as with skiing. Really, they’re like any other nice merino sock but with a waterproof layer.
Sealskinz are completely worth it to keep your feet intact. As a long-distance backpacker, I can’t over-protect my feet from injury or blisters and a pair of waterproof socks is a great tool to do that. I think if you’re considering buying them you should go for it – you won’t regret it.
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If you've been hiking you know the pain and suffering that can come from rocks, sand, and stickers getting into your trail shoes; blisters, chafing, and ruined socks are common maladies. However there are a great number of low-to gaiters known as scree gaiters that are designed to block all that stuff and more, keeping your precious feet intact.