Waterproof socks: A bad idea

I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2003. It was a wet and cold year. I hiked exclusively in Chaco sandals. To keep my feet from getting too cold, I often wore neoprene socks. My neoprene socks were wearing out and all the seams were splitting. In one small town, I tried to replace them at an outfitter. He didn’t have neoprene, but assured me that waterproof socks would work just as well.

I bought the waterproof socks and discarded my worn out neoprene in his trash. It wasn’t long before a horrible odor started emanating from the waterproof socks. After aimg_2556.jpg week or so, the smell was enormous and putrid.

I was meeting up at nights with another hiker. In the mornings, I would start hiking before her and by the end of the day; we would meet up and camp together. One afternoon she said to me, “I knew I was getting close to you; I have been smelling your socks for awhile now.

One night we were camped under a huge open covered area. I placed the socks as far as I could from us without throwing them out in the rain, probably 35 feet or so. Once we laid down, she turned to me and said, “Where are those socks? “Way over there, I pointed. “Well, I still smell them. she scowled.

When we got in town, we visited the Appalachian Trail Society. She felt bad because they didn’t want to take our pictures for the thru-hiker wall and they shooed us out of the hiker box. I said, “Don’t feel bad, I think it’s the socks they don’t like.

She was meeting her husband in town. After we did laundry, where I washed those stinking socks twice, they gave me a ride to my motel. In the car, he said, “What’s that smell? With a voice and face that conveyed the message, “Do you see what I put up with?  she sighed, “It’s Crow’s socks

After a night in the motel, where I kept the socks encased in a plastic bag and still they stunk up the room, I decided I was going to send them back to the manufacturer and ask for a refund. I had to hitch a ride, though, and I had visions of the ride stopping and kicking me out because of the stink, so I threw them away.

To the manufacturer of waterproof socks: You owe me 40 bucks.

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Hermit, long distance hiker, primitive cabin dweller, seeker.

17 thoughts on “Waterproof socks: A bad idea”

  1. Hi Chris,
    I enjoy your site.

    I maintain it was not my feet that stunk but the socks. My feet don’t smell that bad, but those socks were evil.

    Yeah, I have used bag balm a lot and it works great on hands and feet. The problem is in the packaging–it’s not secure enough for backpacking. I would be afraid that it would get too hot and leak out of the can. I might find a way to repackage it in something more secure. Carmex comes in small secure tubes with a screw on lid and you can get it along the way.

  2. As a public service Crow needs to divulge who made the socks that we are to avoid. I have to say though that I’ve never heard of waterproof socks. Personally, I wouldn’t trust a sock to be waterproof. The neoprene socks or booties as we call them work well for keeping your feet warm under water but they aren’t made to for any serious walking.

  3. I don’t remember who made them. I would avoid all waterproof socks.

    I do plenty of serious hiking in neoprene socks. Wouldn’t go on a long hike without them. They were wonderful as I was post holing over Muir Pass last year.

  4. Crow, when you say neoprene are you referring to the same black rubbery material they make wetsuits out of?

    Also, wouldn’t a sock that’s waterproof suffocate your feet? Make them look like big white prunes at the end of the day?

  5. Yeah, the same black rubbery stuff they make wet suits out of. They make great hiking socks when it’s cold and wet out.

    I broke trail through 6 inches of new snow for 12 miles wearing neoprene socks and Chaco sandals. My feet were cold and I was worried, but they were fine.

    I carry other socks too. I don’t just hike in neoprene.

    Possibly the socks had a breathable layer. They cost 40 dollars, you wouldn’t think they would charge you 40 dollars for a plastic bag.

    I don’t care what my feet look like at the end of the day, so long as they get me down the trail and they don’t hurt.

    The smell is what was wrong with the socks.

  6. Wow Crow, I’d never imagine neoprene socks and Chaco’s could make a good combo but that’s one reason I read your blog: to learn something and maybe even get a surprise. I’ll share your story at the next camp fire.

  7. Just wondering, maybe if you wore sock inside the waterproof sock? Did you wash out the waterproof socks? turn them inside out? Maybe a ziplock freezer bag would do just as well? + duck tape, heh

  8. I don’t think I wore socks inside of them. But yeah, it might of helped. I don’t remember if I washed them out or not. But once I got to town, I washed them twice in a washing machine and they still smelled.

    The idea was not to keep my feet dry, I wanted something to keep my feet warm. The outfitter said these socks would work as well as neoprene, they didn’t.

    My feet don’t usually smell, these socks gave off a strong stinky aura that permeated my world. My issue with the socks was the smell.

    I think most gear is thought of while someone lies on their couch. They make a demo, then they go out for a six mile hike with it. If all goes well, it goes into production.

    It looks like they are still selling these socks–probably to people who plan to go on six mile hikes–they are the ones who are most concerned with keeping their feet dry. Long distance hikers except that their feet will get wet.

    I don’t mind wet feet. I try to keep my feet warm, pain free, and not too stinky.

  9. I am going to Zion/Bryce/Grand Canyon in July with my family. I just bought a pair of waterproof hiking shoes and am now thinking about socks. Do all neoprene socks come in black? I really want white socks, but I don’t seem to see any. I’m not a major hiker, but we have some great trails where I live in New Paltz and we will be hiking the Narrows at Zion. Any advice?

  10. I think waterproof shoes are a bad choice because they eventually get wet and then are really slow to dry out.

    I wear Chacos sandals and mesh running shoes when I hike. I expect that my feet will get wet but I also know that they will dry really quickly so it’s not a big deal.

    I would think that backpacking in the Grand Canyon in July would be really hot so I wouldn’t be too concerned about keeping your feet dry. Also I think neoprene socks would be too hot for summer desert wear.

  11. Thanks for the advice. I am more concerned about hiking the Narrows in Zion since the majority of the hike is actually in the water. I suppose I could always wear waterproof shoes with regular socks and have a change of socks for when we get out of the water.

  12. Crow – We’re planning a trip to Alaska this coming summer. Will be hiking in Denali – lot of day hikes, camping but not backpacking – and neoprene socks were recommended. Local outfitter in Ohio suggested Seal Skin waterproof socks instead. From your site, sounds like neoprene is a better idea. I have Vasque Sundowner hiking boots and I’m trying to imagine the best combination for my feet. Smartwool liners/neoprene/Vasque? Or do the neoprene go next to your skin? Are they good in boots? BTW – I love hiking in my Chacos but it gives my husband fits. He’s sure I’m going to lose a toe on a rock or something…

  13. aaaw. there will always be troubles on hiking footwear. but a stinking socks is no excuse. boo to that manufacturer. they should have produced something that is of great quality though.

  14. Do the seal skins work in hiking boots or tennis shoes or are they too bulky? Going hiking in the rain forest!!!

  15. If I was going hiking in the rain forest, I would wear mesh shoes or sandals and just except the fact that my feet would get wet.

    At night I would dry my feet off and sleep barefoot or sleep with completely dry socks on.

    Once you give up your attachment to dry feet, life is easier.

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