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The Importance of the Simple Sock

Updated on September 18, 2015

A Potted History of the Sock

Everybody takes them for granted, and we wear them without thinking too much about why we do so, or about what purpose they serve.

The sock, though, is an important item of apparel for so many reasons. It is a little known fact, but the human foot can produce anything up to a pint of perspiration each day. Our socks assist in the process of absorbing this sweat and drawing it into areas of the foot from which the air can evaporate it most efficiently.

The word "sock" comes from the Latin soccus - a light, low-heeled shoe or slipper. The earliest known socks were made from animal skins and, in the days before elastication, were tied around the ankles in order to keep them from falling. At one time they were the exclusive preserve of holy men, who wore them as a symbol of their purity. Centuries later they were sported by the rich as an indicator of wealth.

Visitors to London's Victoria and Albert Museum will see the oldest known pair of cloth socks on display. Discovered by the River Nile in Egypt and dated between 500 and 300 years B.C., they have split toes to enable them to be worn with open-toe sandals and bear more than a passing resemblance to pigs' trotters.

When knitting machines were invented in the late sixteenth century socks entered into large-scale production, and today they are a cheap and extremely common item of footwear worn by most, usually beneath the shoe. They can also be made from a whole range of fabrics.

Smartwool - Mountaineering Extra Heavy Crew
Smartwool - Mountaineering Extra Heavy Crew

Specialist Socks for Climbing and Hiking

In conditions of extreme cold socks can be a useful defence against the threat of frostbite. It is for this amongst other reasons that hikers and climbers take a great deal of care when choosing socks to wear prior to an expedition. This is why specialist companies such as Smartwool pay a great deal of attention to design when producing socks and outdoor gear  for running, hiking and climbing.

Of course socks designed for climbing or for hiking have far more detail and feature built into them than socks mass produced to be sold as casual footwear. For example Smartwool's Extra Heavy Crew has a reinforced sole which offers maximum comfort as well as protection against the frost and cold. These additional aspects are essential if the socks are to fulfil their intended purpose under what most would consider to be quite exceptional conditions.

Smartwool Socks Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Smartwool - Women's PhD Outdoor Light CrewSmartwool - Women's Hiking Light CrewSmartwool - Men's PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
Smartwool - Women's PhD Outdoor Light Crew
Smartwool - Women's PhD Outdoor Light Crew
Smartwool - Women's Hiking Light Crew
Smartwool - Women's Hiking Light Crew
Smartwool - Men's PhD Outdoor Medium Crew
Smartwool - Men's PhD Outdoor Medium Crew

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