How do thermal socks work ?

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After reviewing the best thermal socks out there – we’ve got numerous questions from avid readers asking – ‘How do thermal socks even work ?’

In this article we’ll delve on how thermal socks keep our feet warm and cozy, hopefully answering your questions.

It’s a known fact that picking out the right thermal garments, especially if you intend to spend long periods of time outdoors and in the cold, is essential. Fortunately, there are plenty of styles to choose from—but that doesn’t mean that the process is going to be as easy as simply walking into a store and getting the first item you see.

Different thermal garments serve varying purposes and may even differ when it comes to how efficient and effective they are against the elements. Choosing the right one is important if you want to have a good time and make sure that you’re well protected. This applies to even the smallest of details such as the socks you choose to wear.

How do thermal socks work

So where do you begin? Look at the material. Most thermal socks will be made out of wool or a wool blend. This is because this material, no matter how wet it gets, is still capable of retaining heat. For the outdoors, this is the best choice as it will keep your feet warm even if it rains or snows. However, there are some limitations to this and there are people who are sensitive to wool. Don’t fret, however! There is an alternative, which works just as well and that would be: Merino wool.

Much softer and finer than other types of wool, this particular material is most commonly used for athletic wear. It works efficiently in keeping the body’s temperature at a balanced number. As such, it is often worn as an undergarment. Added as the first layer, it can also draw moisture away from your skin, further adding to the warmth it provides. This is a process that’s referred to as “wicking”. Sounds great, right?

If you’re looking to invest in some solid cold weather wear then this is something you should check out. That said, Merino wool does not come cheap. In fact, it is much costlier than plain wool. However, considering all the benefits, it is worth the extra money you’ll be spending.

Yet another option is the blended synthetic sock. These are pretty popular and are also more affordable than both aforementioned choices. There are several brand names that produce thermal and outdoor socks using this material. They can keep your feet as warm as wool socks with the added bonus of other benefits such as: moisture management systems and even arch support.

The latter being a great addition, especially for mountaineers who plan on hiking for long hours in the cold. What does “blended” mean exactly? Well, do know that blended synthetic socks still contain some percentage of cotton or wool in them. Some may also contain spandex—much like most other athletic socks. Imagine fusing the benefits of both athletic and outdoor socks. This is basically what many of these companies offer: a fusion of both lines.

How Do They Work?

Now, let’s get to the more technical bits. How do thermal socks work? They are quite unlike normal socks, after all, and function very differently. First off, we’ve already discussed how the material is nothing like the usual. Very warm, heat-retaining material is chosen for it. Then they also provide some level of sweat reduction. This is done to help you avoid water loss and temperature loss. Of course, this also helps in lessening discomfort.

Thermal socks are made out of wool

Have you ever hiked while wearing wet socks? It is not the most pleasant experience and certainly makes the challenge even harder. Cushioning is also another important consideration when it comes to the design. Thicker fabrics provide more support to your feet, protecting it from things such as blisters and various other friction injuries.

The key thing, of course, is insulation. These socks work great against the cold because of that particular property. It is capable of trapping the heat your body gives off naturally and uses that to keep your feet warm and toasty. In normal, everyday situations, these socks aren’t the best thing to put on unless you already live somewhere cold. You can wear them during warmer seasons but be prepared for the extra heat.

In the outdoors, especially in more extreme conditions, the insulating properties of thermal socks can help the wearer avoid a number of serious injuries such as frostbite or tissue necrosis. This can lead to the loss of extremities or even death in certain cases. It is often used with other similarly insulating undergarments for utmost protection.

Needless to say, these are best used for the outdoors – for hiking, camping and climbing mountains, especially under extreme conditions. These will be uncomfortable to wear otherwise.

Thermal Wool Socks vs. Regular Cotton Socks

  • Wool Socks

Heat retention is the key here. Because its fibers are more tightly knit together, it has much greater bulk than cotton socks and also allows it to better insulate and retain heat. For colder places, they are commonplace—used as socks or even as house slippers, ensuring utmost comfort regardless of how cold the weather may get. Yes, they can be a little uncomfortable to wear for some, especially if you’re used to something that’s much less bulky, but it does serve its purpose perfectly well.

Another important thing to note about wool socks and the material itself is the fact that it is both hydrophobic (capable of repelling water) and hygroscopic (capable of absorbing and giving off moisture). As a matter of fact, wool fibers can actually absorb about 1/3 of its own weight in moisture before it even starts to feet wet. It is also static resistant. This may not be the biggest selling point for some, but when it comes down to it, knowing that you won’t get a surprise shock should you ever slip on it is nice.

It is also quite low maintenance. You can wear it a fair number of times before it needs washing. This, of course, may seem very unhygienic to some, but keep in mind that it repels moisture; hence, it does not get dirty all that easily. If there is a con to this, however, that will come down to it being quite difficult to wash. This means it requires a particular level of care. They are supposed to be hand-washed in water with very little soap in it.

Keep in mind that soap, heat and friction can easily ruin your wool socks. Allow it to air dry after. Caution: Never machine wash your wool socks. They will get destroyed and that’s money down the drain.

  • Cotton Socks

The most common type of socks. Many people favor this because it can be used daily. It is very breathable and much cooler to wear than wool socks because of that fact. They cannot insulate heat as well as wool socks, but you won’t be wearing these in the outdoors. Hopefully. Unlike wool, this can be machine washed easily so that provides you with one less thing to worry about.


Cotton has a soft texture to it – a natural fiber, which will not itch in the same way a cheap wool would. Keep in mind that Merino wool is fine and will not itch unlike the cheaper ones that you can buy in bulk. Cotton socks are also readily available in most stores. You have more options when it comes to style. Color. Designs. These can get much fancier than wool socks in terms of that. Allergic reactions are also much less likely to happen.

Tips for Choosing the Right Pair

Here are some tips for choosing the right thermal sock pair:

  • Make sure to choose the right thickness for your needs – Note how snugly it fits your feet — getting one that’s too tight can actually block off circulation and make wearing it uncomfortable. Remember, if you’re going on a hike, comfort is key.
  • Check the temperature the socks would be able to provide – This should be around 5 to 25 degrees Fahrenheit, but some can offer much less whilst others can provide more warmth. Again, consider where you may be wearing it so you can make a more informed choice.
  • What about brands? This is mostly a matter of personal preference—but do note that the price of the socks can vary with each one. Look up reviews or visit the store yourself. Sales representative can provide you with all that you need to know and you get a feel for the sock’s texture as well. Be clear with what you’re looking for and where you will be wearing it.
  • These thermal socks do come in varying lengths and the right one is key to your overall comfort. Most outdoorsy people will agree that if you’re wearing it outside, selecting a pair, which long enough to cover your knees is the best. They also make wearing your winter boots a lot more comfortable. If it’s for lounging purposes, shorter ones will do just fine.
  • Lastly, there are varieties with slip-resistant pads underneath. This helps the socks grip better to the surface you’re walking on and is particularly great for older people, making it safer for them to use.

We also recommend going over our review of the best thermal socks currently in market – we’ve used our tips above to derive a solid conclusion and chose the best, most comfy pairs.

So there you have it, the essential things you need to know when it comes to thermal socks and some tips to help you find the right one for your purpose. Good luck!

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