Anecdotal Winter Wool Experiment: Wet Socks or No Socks?

The beaver pond through which I waded was short but deceptively deep, reaching my upper thighs.

While hunting for deer this last fall (we do not buy meat, only eating what we butcher ourselves; hear more about this in Episode 8 of the Low Tech Podcast), I had a little run in with a beaver pond. I had decided to hike a large circuit around the Badfish Creek Wildlife Area one afternoon to stay warm in the high-20°F temperatures. After walking through brush and around abandoned irrigation canals for two hours, I was just about to get back on the main trail when I came up to the edge of a beaver pond. I had a choice: either walk back around the canals and through the brush for another two hours or wade through two or three low-lying parts of a beaver pond for a minute or two. I couldn’t get around to the right because of a large canal nor to the left because the pond had backed up and flooded a field for quite a distance. I chose to wade.

I was wearing thick wool pants, thermal underwear, and two pairs of socks inside my waterproof boots. Unfortunately the boots were only 9 in high and water quickly sloshed into them as I waded. If I were to do it over again, I would have tied the bottom of my pants shut to slow the influx of water.

I should put in a little side-note here on getting wet and/or cold with the caveat that I am not a Zen teacher or proponent. People often get cranky when they are cold and/or wet. The Buddhist view of this is that you’re only upset because you don’t want to be cold and/or wet. The corollary, then, is that you won’t be bothered by being either of these things if you don’t give yourself the expectation of being dry or warm. Of course too much of these conditions can lead to hypothermia or frostbite, and that is something else, but just generally getting wet isn’t a big deal unless you decided that you don’t want to be wet. Once I figured this out, it allowed me to continue working or running happily outside in the rain and cold as long as my tools are protected.

So after wading through the unexpectedly deep beaver pond — it reached my upper thigh — I stopped to drain the water out of my boots so they would squelch less vociferously. I was deciding whether or not to put both of my socks back on when the thought hit me: “This is a perfect opportunity for a small-scale experiment.” Wool is supposed to keep you warm, even when wet, which is why I prefer it in the winter over synthetics or cotton. After making it back to my vehicle and taking off my sodden boots to slip into my emergency winter boots I keep in my truck all winter, I put one wet, woolen sock on one foot and kept the other foot bare. I stepped into the boots and went to sit and watch for deer.

The results were promising: both feet stayed approximately the same temperature for the next two hours. I will say that the dried-off, bare foot in the boot was more comfortable to walk in, as the wet sock chaffed me more while walking, but the thermal regulation did seem about the same. These results are simply anecdotal, but perhaps I’ll do some experimenting this winter with various configurations and report back. I will be doing a post on proper winter clothing soon, as the Swedish saying goes: Det finns inget dåligt väder, bara dåliga kläder, or “There’s no bad weather, just bad clothing.”

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