Winter. The time of the year when the air is nippy and normal people would rather stay inside--preferably sitting near a fireplace while sipping a cup of hot cocoa or coffee. But you're not one of them, and you're the type of person who would rather plan your next adventure on snow or on ice instead of griping about the cold.
There's just one little problem. Although you love to ski or hike or snowboard, you tend to have cold feet even if you've layered your socks. And if you have an expedition in Siberia or Patagonia, there's always the possibility of frostbite. So should you just bring all the socks you have in your drawer just to make sure that your toes are warm all the time?
Of course not. Make some room for extra gear in your luggage or backpack by leaving several pairs of regular socks behind and treating your feet to a pair of heated socks. If this is your first time buying heated socks and you don't know where to start, then read our comprehensive guide about how to choose heated socks.
Heated Socks: An Overview
The first thing you need to know about heated socks is what makes these socks different from your regular ones. When you look at heated socks, they don't look much different from the ones you have in your drawer right now. Some regular and heated socks are made of luxurious merino wool, while others are made synthetic fibers. '
What sets heated socks apart, however, is the presence of a heating element that is integrated anywhere in their soles, heels, or toes. But you can also choose socks with heating elements that cover the whole foot if you're prone to frozen feet or you just want extra protection from frostbite.
This heating element is powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries or regular single cell batteries. You can adjust the temperature with a simple tap on the button of the socks’ battery pack, while some cutting-edge socks offer hassle-free temperature control via an app and Bluetooth technology.
Apart from the socks' heating element, the type of fiber they are made of will determine the warmth and comfort level you'll receive while wearing them.
Cotton. Some heated socks are made of cotton fibers and mixed with other synthetic materials to improve their elasticity. Cotton socks are hypoallergenic, comfortable, inexpensive, and durable. They also provide adequate insulation during colder months. But if you're going to be active during the time you're wearing the socks, keep in mind that your feet are going to sweat and that the cotton fibers will absorb and collect moisture. The combination of heat and moisture is the perfect breeding ground for fungal infections. Cotton also tends to lose its shape pretty quickly.
Merino wool. Soft and luxurious, socks made of merino wool are some of the most expensive on the market today. This type of wool comes from merino, a breed of sheep that is raised mainly in Australia and New Zealand. The wool fibers are fine, soft, and do not itch like regular wool. Whether you're skiing in sub-zero temperatures or driving across a cold desert, your feet will remain comfortable while wearing socks made from merino wool. The fibers also absorb moisture and are thermostatic, so your feet are comfortable no matter the condition. But once the socks are soaked, it would take a long time for them to dry compared to socks made of synthetic fibers. Merino wool socks are also expensive.
Synthetic fibers. Synthetic fibers are known to be warm, durable, soft, and lightweight. Some have moisture-wicking properties, while others are can repel moisture. Some are breathable and have anti-microbial properties. But many synthetic fibers are created especially for colder temperatures and might not be as comfortable during summer months.
Examples of synthetic fibers include:
b. Lycra® spandex
c. Wickspun™ acrylic
e. CoolMax® polyester
g. Isolfil® polypropylene
Silk. Silk socks are known to be lightweight, comfortable, and luxurious. It is often combined with other fibers (such as merino wool, spandex, and nylon) for improved insulation. Silk socks, however, are not as durable as fibers.
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Heated socks are powered by two types of batteries: lithium-ion batteries and your good old single cell batteries. Battery packs are typically stored inside the pockets or attached to straps that are sewn on the side of the sock cuffs.
Lithium-ion batteries. Many heated socks are powered by lithium-ion batteries that last longer between charges than regular single cell batteries. In fact, the best heated socks available on the market today can last up to 8 to 10 hours when set on low. They usually come with their own chargers. Lithium-ion batteries are lightweight and are not cumbersome especially if you're skiing, snowboarding, or lugging around a heavy backpack during a trek. But keep in mind that heated socks with lithium-ion batteries are more expensive than ones with regular batteries.
Single cell batteries. If you'd rather go old school, then heated socks with single cell batteries are for you. Just bring some heavy-duty alkaline AA or AAA batteries, pop them into the battery packs, and you're ready for your adventure.
You can opt for primary cell or rechargeable batteries, but keep in mind that it can be a hassle to change them out if you're in the middle of any activity or when there's a blizzard. Plus, they last way shorter between charges compared to lithium-ion batteries. On the plus side, heated socks with single batteries are cheaper than those powered by lithium-ion batteries.
Imagine that you're in the middle of a climbing expedition and the temperature suddenly drops below zero. You want to set the temperature of your heated socks on high, but you're lugging a very heavy backpack and you can't reach down to adjust the temperature without some effort. The type of temperature control the heated socks have can either make or break your adventure, so choose wisely.
* Temperature control on battery packs only. In some heated socks, the power button and the temperature controls are located only in the battery packs. The battery packs and the buttons can be easily accessed by reaching down to your knees and pressing a button. This setup can be a tad inconvenient if you don't want to let go of the ski poles you're holding or you're wearing a pair of thick pants and gloves that can hamper your movement. Heated socks with this kind of temperature control are usually more reasonably priced.
* Temperature control via a wireless controller. If you want something more convenient, then go for heated socks that come with a handy remote control. Heated socks with this setup allow you to power on the heating elements, turn them off, or adjust the temperature with just a touch of a button. The remote control typically has a lobster claw clasp so you can attach the remote to your keychain or bag and never worry about it falling off somewhere during your hike or while you ski.* Temperature control via an app and Bluetooth technology. There are regular heated socks, and then there are heated socks that are simply revolutionary. If you want something more high-tech and convenient, then choose heated socks with temperature controls that you can access via an app and Bluetooth technology. Just download the sock manufacturer's app, pair your smartphone with the socks via Bluetooth technology, and you're good to go. Yes, it's convenient, but keep in mind that you'll need to pay more for this kind of technology. If you don't mind the cost, then go ahead and splurge.
From Ski slopes and Beyond
Heated socks are a necessity for athletes who engage in winter sports, such as skiing, snowboarding, sledding, ice hockey, dogsled racing, and more. It is also useful for mountain climbers, hikers, campers, and long-distance motorcycle riders.
Planning to conquer the Mont Blanc this summer or see Kazakh hunters with their golden eagles in Mongolia this autumn? Then make sure to bring along a pair of heated socks to make your trip as warm and comfortable as possible for your feet.
But you don't have to be an athlete just so you can wear heated socks. Shoveling your driveway or walking your dog this winter? Make sure that your feet are always warm by wearing heated socks.
This kind of footwear is also perfect for ground crew members, ski lodge employees, rescue personnel, drivers, fishermen, and others who still need to work even when the temperature hit sub-zero. Additionally, if you have poor circulation, arthritis, or Raynaud's disease, you might also benefit from wearing heated socks.
The Burning Question
Do you wash heated socks? The short answer is yes--unless you want your feet to stink or you want a nasty fungal infection.
But, you ask, isn't it dangerous to wash them? Relax, and take a deep breath. Remove the battery packs and any wires attached to the heating element before putting the socks in water.
The majority of heated socks are hand-wash only, but there are a few exceptions wherein you can put the socks inside a wash bag and simply put it inside a washing machine for a gentle cycle. Simply hand the socks in a well-ventilated area to dry, and do not tumble dry or spin.