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One of the surest, quickest and most painful ways to ruin an outdoor trip is to be plagued by cold, wet, sore or blistered feet. You’re preoccupied with the discomfort and can’t concentrate on the purpose of being out there–to have fun.

Thankfully, today’s footwear is so technologically advanced that it’s unnecessary for anyone to suffer pinched heels or frigid toes, and much of the praise for this can be laid at the feet of modern sock design. In fact, when complaints about outdoor boots are made to footwear retailers, often the culprit isn’t the boots, but poorly made or inappropriately chosen socks.

Socks once were constructed of wool, cotton or silk–or blends thereof. Those natural materials performed well–and still do–under certain circumstances, but new blends of natural and man-made fibers make modern socks a cut above their predecessors of a decade or so ago.

It’s easy nowadays to find socks that, worn singly or in combination with other socks, keep the feet warm and waterproof, wick away moisture from foot surfaces and cushion foot pressure points in order to minimize blisters and neutralize the pain of corns or abrasions.

Cold-Weather Systems

Wear undersocks that store body heat yet wick away moisture; if you’re walking a lot while you’re hunting, your feet can sweat even when it’s below freezing. Various weights of Redhead Outlast undersocks (Bass Pro Shops, 800-227-7776) and Ultimax socks (Cabela’s, 800-237-4444) are available for this purpose.

For oversocks, wool and wool blends in various weights are hard to beat–mainly because they continue to insulate even when wet. Blends such as wool/Thermax, wool/Thermolite, wool/Hollofil and wool/Ultimax are excellent. Polartec is another well-known cold-weather fabric, and oversocks made from it are also good.

Don’t be too concerned about choosing socks of the right “weight” (heavy, medium or light). The insulation quality of your boots takes precedence in the coldest temperatures.

Snow and Wet Weather

Start with undersocks to match the weather. For oversocks, Gore-Tex or SealSkinz (both sold by sportsmen’s catalog outlets) make sense, since they completely waterproof feet, but also wick away perspiration. Even if you’re wearing waterproof boots, you might spring a leak or go into a snowdrift or puddle over the boot tops. Wet feet get colder faster.

If it’s extremely cold, another pair of oversocks made from wool can be put on over the waterproof pair. It’s a good idea to have boots at least one full size larger than usual when using multi-layer sock systems.

In cold weather, with extra-thick or two pairs of outer socks, sometimes boots two sizes larger than normal are needed. Boots too small for multi-sock systems bind feet, reduce circulation and result in blisters, cramping and a miserable time outdoors.