Why Wear Waterproof Socks for Sailing
Many times in wet or foul sailing weather you desire to keep your feet dry, but don’t want the weight and chunkiness, and sometimes the insulation that comes with donning your sailing boots.
What you may be desiring is your lightweight, easy to move in, deck-gripping sailing shoes; which typically come at the price of wet and cold feet when the weather turns poor. Also, if you are sailing in tropic or summer conditions, you want to wear lighter, cooler gear, but still have dry feet for the occasional inclement day. What to do? Can you leave your sailing boots at home? Thankfully the answer is yes.
Foul Weather Gear for Your Feet
Waterproof sock-shells are similar to foul weather jackets and trousers in that they are waterproof and breathable shells, and have no inherent insulation. Insulation is a factor of wicking layers you wear underneath. So, as with foul weather gear, waterproof socks-shells are designed to keep the water out, and remove perspiration; keeping your feet dry. The thickness of the socks you wear under will determine how warm (or cool) they are for the weather and your activity level.
Some waterproof socks have a knit exterior and interior and are therefore inherently insulated. In these socks, the waterproof membrane will be sandwiched between the inner and outer knit layers and can be very effective, but you will not be able to vary their insulation level like you can with a shelled sock. So all-in-one knit waterproof socks have a limited comfort range.
For sailing, stick to sock-shells. Wear them over your knit socks, and inside of your favorite deck shoes and ta-da: Dry comfortable feet all day. You can literally stand in water and rain all day long, and your feet will remain dry and comfortable.
Wearing a thin sock liner in warm conditions, or a medium weight insulated sock in cool to cold weather inside your waterproof sock-shells is the norm and highly recommended. The sock material should be either a merino wool or a wool blend. This is because breathable sock-shells are not able to move all moisture (sweat) out during times of extreme exertion, and moisture can, at times, build up inside. Synthetic socks do an excellent job of moving moisture away from your foot to the breathable sock-shell, but when moisture temporarily builds up, synthetics cannot absorb it, and your feet feel wet. Merino is able to both transport moisture and temporarily absorb moisture until such time that the waterproof sock can expel it – dry feet at all times.
What about Neoprene Socks?
For dinghy sailing, wearing neoprene socks inside non-breathable rubber or neoprene boots can be an excellent way to add a factor of insulating warmth. As neoprene is closed cell foam and does not breath, it is not the most comfortable to wear with sailing shoes as moisture is trapped inside the sock, leaving feet wet.
Waterproof Sock Materials
Gore-Tex (or similar, high-quality microporous materials) are the absolute best for waterproof sock-shells. The waterproof membrane is sandwiched between thin outer and inner materials to protect it for long life and keep the overall sock thin and comfortable. Because water cannot penetrate the membrane, and only water (sweat) vapor can escape through it, you are guaranteed dry feet. Liquid water will not enter the sock.
Less expensive Hydrophobic coated materials are sometimes used in manufacturing waterproof socks. They transport water molecules through the hydrophilic coating to the outside fairly well, but water under pressure (your body’s weight on the soles of your feet) can reverse the flow of moisture, and leave your feet wet. Not a good material choice for ‘waterproof’ socks.
Sizing & Fit
Gore-Tex socks are sold in whole men’s sizes and should usually be purchased two sizes larger than your normal shoe size. This allows the somewhat form-fitting sock to be put on more easily and allows room for a medium thickness insulated sock in colder weather.
Women sizes are two sizes smaller. For example, a men’s 6 equals a women’s 8. If you are a women’s size 8, and you want to purchase these socks two sizes larger, then purchase a men’s 8.
Donning Waterproof Socks
Gore-Tex socks are lightweight, thin and foot-shaped. The stretch panels built into the front of these socks aid in putting them on, but it can be initially a little bit of work to get them up and over your ankles. Take your time, and evenly pull and slide the sock on. Excessive tugging can eventually overstress the seams and cause the socks to fail. Some staff here at APS have Gore-Tex socks over 10 years old, and still going strong. With Gore-Tex sailing boots topping $300 a pair, and Gore-Tex socks at around $60 a pair, there is real value in quality waterproof socks, if they last you for many years.
Care and Cleaning
For Gore-Tex socks, hand washing in lukewarm or cold water with a mild powdered detergent is recommended. Air dry only. Do not wring.
NOTE: Do not wear Gore-Tex socks (nor any microporous waterproof socks) inside Gore-Tex (or any microporous waterproof boots). Gore-Tex materials require a temperature differential between the inside and outside of the material to move moisture through and out. The warmth of your foot and the relative warmth of the inside of your boot will not generate the needed temperature differential required. This will trap moisture in the waterproof sock, leaving your foot wet. Wear only quality wicking sock inside of breathable boots. These will allow the breathable materials of the boot to be feed and move moisture out.