Thinking about the best sock for adventure cycling got us wondering what individual elements make for a killer sock for long days in the saddle. As gravel riding becomes more and more popular its worth a moment to think through all your gear from head to toe. You might be out there for 4+ hours and what you don't want is a weak spot in your wardrobe. Especially something with such a low cost of getting high quality. So...SOCKS are worth a thought.
Mountain biking and gravel riding share plenty of vibes but they also share grit, dirt, water and longer efforts.
Lets break it down:
Out on the trail riding through dirt, gravel, mud, grit and everything in between we've found over the years that a taller sock serves a functional purpose. It keeps more junk from reaching the insides of your feet. Sometimes ankle socks are great if it's really warm, but we tend to grab taller socks for dirty rides. There is nothing worse (ok, probably some stuff is worse) than having to come to a complete stop and ruin your average speed because you have a pebble trapped in your sock that is SO ANNOYING! Our experiences lend itself to believing that taller socks offer slightly more protection than anklets. We manufacture taller socks mainly for this reason. Our shorter socks are great, but for riding - we go long - tan lines be damned!
Dry feet = Comfortable feet!
Gravel rides and mountain biking socks are called upon to perform in all sorts of conditions. Yeah, you can buy some crappy cotton socks from your local hardware store, but honestly, your time spent outdoors doing what you love deserves to have great gear to make that time that much more fun and memorable. We like good gear. We make good gear. We liked really nice socks, but we wondered if there was something better than wool when it came to socks. THERE IS.
Alpaca performs and there is no where that is more evident than when alpaca shines in temperature regulation. Riding in HOT weather or riding in COLD weather, we use the exact same sock. The reason is that alpaca is lighter by volume than other options but provides superior wicking. It's not bundling up your feet or providing venting that makes your feet comfortable. It's absolutely the perceived dryness of your foot that creates the feeling of comfort.
Find a sock that delivers a dry foot and you will have found a sock you can wear in hot weather or cold weather and get a consistent fit and comfortable feel.
Weather - Water & Your Socks
Staying with the subject of a dry, moisture wicking sock can be even more important than just comfort for long days on the trail. Typical gravel rides and races often have cyclists crossing streams and waterways as an added challenge. Now using a nylon based typical cycling sock will really put you in a bad spot for the next hour or two. The reason is those thin nylon socks don't actually wick as much moisture as you would think, so they largely depend on evaporation to end up drying out. The issue there is the sock inside of your foot is not going to be getting much air flow. Using some amount of these synthetic materials is actually preferred vs. 100% natural fibers because too much natural fiber won't stand up to abuse and it won't feel like a sports garment. It ends up feeling more like your grandmother knit you a pair socks and no one wants a pair of quitters, so some is good, too much is bad.
Having a large % of natural fibers allows nature to do the work better than man made materials. Alpacas spend cold nights and hot days in the andes mountains and their evolution has created a suitable fiber for the challenge. Their coats and subsequently your socks, shed water in the first place and wick moisture if they do get soaked at rates up to 3x that of wool. The variance has everything to do with construction techniques so it's hard to say just the fiber itself does the magic, it's a mix of the fiber and the mechanical properties created in the weave itself. Interesting eh!?
Keeping water way from your skin reduces blisters and can actually prevent injuries from those blisters that could keep you off the bike for a week after your event, so spending an extra couple bucks for really great gear seems like a bargain compared to a week off the bike, right? RIGHT!
Materials & Construction Matter:
As our long day in the saddle continues let's spend a minute looking at slightly less important details. First up, the toughness or longevity of the sock. Good quality socks should last and last and last and thankfully ours do. We get VERY few returns for failures and examine each one carefully to see if we can make a better sock (we try to learn from failure every day). Our socks are designed in a sequence. First we focus on performance - regardless of cost we want an incredible, noticeably better sock and we build that into every pair. Second, we look at longevity and in order to hit that metric we use nylon in the heel and toe areas of the sock to improve their life. So far our plan seems to be doing well. We've got thousands of socks on the feet of cyclists, runners, hikers and loungers all over the world and our reviews seem to indicate they are quite happy with a sock that performs well and stands up to abuse.
"You can have a car painted any color you like as long as it is black" - Henry Ford
Our designs are not wacky, fun or exuberant. Remember our socks are designed with performance in mind first, so we keep things REALLY simple with design. Want to perform well in a board meeting at work? Wear your black suit and your Hollow Performance Alpaca socks and you can last through the marathon meetings and happy hours afterwards without getting sweaty feet and not feeling your best. Running a marathon? No problem, just wear something black and our socks will match you fine. Hitting up a marathon mountain biking or gravel ride - sure just use black tires and you'll look fast standing still. HA!
Really in our experience those brightly colored socks look totally rad for about 4 rides and then the colors fade, the performance drops and the threads start unravelling. We want to make socks that look fine, feel fine and last for YEARS (not months)! Keep it classy.