PThis guest post by Michael R and entry in our non-fiction writing contest.
Merino wool socks are to a survival wardrobe what a multi-tool is to a bug-out bag. They are easy to care for, have a multitude of possible uses beside covering your foot, and can be had for bargain-basement prices. But why “Merino” wool?
These ain’t your grandfather’s wool socks . . .
Growing up in the warm South, I had no need for wool clothing. Good thing. Soft Merino wool had not appeared on the US clothes market. My first introduction to wool was the itchy socks issued to me in the military. I hated them so much that I decided to wear cotton socks on a long day’s walk covering rough terrain. Bad idea. I learned the meaning of the hiking motto, “cotton kills.” Cotton fibers collapse when wet, losing cushioning and becoming a real blister-maker. I learned to suffer the itch of wool to save my feet.
But wool doesn’t have to itch anymore. Soft Merino wool can be worn next to the most sensitive skin. Merino wool is usually found in high-end athletic products, such as trekking, hiking and ski clothing, hats, and socks. Merino wool comes from the wool of Merino sheep, a breed that originated on the Eurasian continent. Australia is the greatest exporter of Merino wool which has been improved even more by selective breeding of the sheep.
Modern Merino wool excels in the regulation of temperature, summer or winter. Even better, Merino wool socks don’t feel wet even after heavy perspiration. Merino wool fibers attract water molecules on one end and repel them from the other end. This gives them the ability to wick moisture away from the skin far better than cotton or other forms of wool. I have worn Merino wool for 10 hours in 950F of heat and never felt the need for a pair of dry socks. I can have wet areas on my leather boots (indicative of the Merino wool doing a great job) and have foot comfort and cushioning.
And how about performance in the winter? Hypothermia is a real survival concern in temperatures below 600F. Merino wool helps the body retain warmth even when wet. And wool contains lanolin, produced by the oil glands of the sheep, which is comforting to the skin and has antibacterial properties.
Caring for Merino wool socks
Washing Merino wool socks is a cinch and requires very little water, a precious resource in survival mode. If your socks are lighter in weight, fill a cup or mug halfway with water. Push a dirty sock in to get it wet. Then rub with bar soap or add a few drops of shampoo to the water. Heavier socks may require a taller container. Squish the sock into the soapy water repeatedly. Squeeze out the soapy water. Rinse the same way with clear water. Squeeze out and hang to dry.
Socks as a multi-tool
If the performance and properties of Merino wool socks are not enough to sell you, then consider some creative uses they can provide in a survival situation. Don’t throw your worn socks away, as they can be perfect for other uses. When no longer protective of the foot, they have another life.
- Surviving in dry heat? Cool the water in your drinking bottle by stretching a wet wool sock over it and then hanging it in the shade. The evaporation and shade will cool your water and make it much more refreshing. Even better in a breeze.
- Collect food. Some of the best survival foods in my area are acorns, berries and small greens. Large wool socks can make a great bag for them while foraging. Tie full socks on the ends of a short length of paracord and sling to carry..
- Filter water. Wool socks of any fiber make an initial filter for muddy water or for leeching astringent wild foods like acorns or the horse chestnut, or buckeye. These are the most plentiful food in season at my retreat site. Native Indians turned to the buckeye for nourishment when acorns were not plentiful. Buckeyes are mildly poisonous unless properly leeched. Leeching requires repeated rinsing of smashed nuts with fresh water. The Indians used baskets, an item not in my BOB. The wool sock becomes a workable substitute to rinse the crushed nuts without loosing smaller bits of nut meat in the process.1
- Long Merino wool socks can become mittens in cold weather. If long enough, use a safety pin to make a neck scarf for small children or infants.
- Wool socks are great insulators. They can be used around the cooking fire. Wear one or two heavy ones as an oven mitt, or fold and use to grab a hot pot and pan handle.
- Survivalists anticipate shortages of most things, including soap. Those little slivers of soap left at the end of a soap bar’s life can find more life. Insert them into the toe of a sock, and tie closed. Wet and massage the sock until full of suds to wash or bathe. A small bit of soap will go a long way.
- My good socks pay their own rent in my contingency bags. They are great protectors of the more fragile items, and great organizers of small loose items.
- In my gear bag, a pair of heavy socks provides two layers of thick protection to the muzzle of my .22 rifle. Traveling after a TEOTWAWKI incident will likely subject bags to rough handling. Most shooters are more concerned about protecting the finish of the gun, not realizing that the machining at the very end of the barrel is critical to accuracy and that accuracy is critical to feeding yourself. An inch off at fifty yards and I may not enjoy a small rabbit or squirrel for dinner. Perfectionist? Concerning survival eating, yes. Socks on!
9. Caught without a hat to protect your ears in cold weather? Insert paracord through both ends of a long sock and wrap it around the back of your head, over your ears, and tie at the forehead to make a ski wrap. Or wet and squeeze dry, wrap it over you mouth and nose and tie the ends together at the back of your head to make a breathing filter for dust and smoke.
10. Summer survival without shade protection? Over-the-calf length socks are long enough to protect from sunburn up to the elbow. Cut the toe open to cover more of the arm, or the exposed leg of a child in shorts.
Where to buy Merino wool socks cheaply . . .
Merino wool socks are usually expensive. I have found the best prices at Sierra Trading Post, an internet and catalogue discounter of close-outs and seconds. A $20 retail pair of wool socks sells for $12 or less. Get on their email list and receive two or three discount codes each week to get those $20 socks for as low as $6 a pair. If you don’t care about color, some discount codes have gotten me that neon green pair for less than $5. Good brands of Merino wool socks that I prefer include Lorpen, Smartwool, Goodhew, Point 6, and Bridgedale.
A little bit of synthetic fiber helps durability . . .
The first socks I bought had the highest percentage of Merino wool that I could find. If Merino wool is good, then more must be better. I avoided the blends, thinking them inferior. My wife, who studied textiles in college, advised me to buy socks with a blend of wool and synthetic fibers and experiment with durability. I have tried socks with up to 30% synthetic fibers. They do seem last longer. Your mileage may vary.
In summary . . .
Durable, comfortable and so versatile, Merino wool socks are a must in my prepper storage and contingency bags. And to be sure that I am wearing wool socks the first day of TEOTWAWKI, the only socks I now wear are Merino wool socks, although I really don’t like wearing the neon green pair.
1 Fill the sock with finely-smushed nuts and submerge it in a creek or stream. Hold the top down with a heavy rock or hang like a tea bag. When it no longer tastes astringent, squeeze dry in the sock. Spread in the sun to dry. Add to flour as a source of protein, cook like cereal grain, or cook Indian-style patties.
This contest will end on February 16 2013 – prizes include:
- First Place winner will receive Two cases of MRE’s courtesy of Camping Survival, A Wonder Junior Deluxe hand-mill courtesy of Kitchen Kneads, $150 gift certificate for Fiocchi Ammo courtesy of LuckyGunner Ammo, A Big Berkey Water Filter System courtesy of TruPrep Emergency Preparedness and a one year subscription to Personal VPN service courtesy of unspyable.
- Second Place: A $200 gift certificate for any order from their store courtesy of Shepherd Survival and A Doom and Bloom Mini Trauma Bag courtesy of LPC Survival.
- Third Place: A Bar-ricade door bar courtesy of My Locksmith, Inc.