Too Many Socks and You Freeze

Four pairs of socks with shoes that are comfortable with one pair — or the same shoes with three, two, five, or six pairs — make your feet physically colder, not warmer. Even thick socks with shoes that are comfortable with stockings or thin socks can make your feet colder.

The shoes, especially the sides, don’t expand much. They squeeze the socks. The socks squeeze the skin. The skin squeezes the thin blood vessels. Blood slows down. Blood keeps you warm. Slowing the blood exposes it to cool skin longer. Exposure cools the blood. Your feet get colder.

Sneakers and galoshes are the same way. They don’t expand on the sides, so they have the same problem.

Vapor-barrier socks are usually useless (any other vapor-barrier clothing is usually too much). Silk and olefin, in my experience, wore out too fast, like in a day or two, were pricey even for one pair, and had little benefit and some discomfort. Vapor-barrier footwear is okay in long sloshes in mud and slush in military boots, but you’ll likely have to use antiperspirant and change your socks a few times a day. I’ve let my sneakers soak my socks in puddles and yet it’s just a temporary annoyance, as they dry out soon enough and I’m still warm because my head, neck, and trunk are still warm enough. Gym socks are plenty. If you need black socks for office work, pull black dress socks over over your thick insulating socks.

I used to be convinced that Thanksgiving is the coldest day of the year. It’s not, but I couldn’t shake that impression for many years. A few decades, in fact. It began when I was maybe eight years old, because I wore four pairs of socks, four shirts, and four pairs of pants to stand and watch a parade. My belief lasted for decades after I knew better. But the mistake made sense: If I wearing more than usual and I was still cold, the outside must be the worst possible day. Who knew about circulation? Probably not most parents. And I certainly didn’t. Once in a while, a mistake is passed down through the generations. End of story.

Get bigger shoes or else just one pair of socks, probably thin ones. If your head, neck, and trunk are warm, that’ll be all the socks you likely need.

Don’t wear lots of socks in your usual shoes this winter. You’ll freeze if you do. And you don’t even need them.

Websites of Interest

These websites have some interesting content, although I disagree with some of it:


Hiking organizations:

General retailers of outdoor products:

General information: