As I packed my gear for Manaslu, I looked at my pile of socks.
Summit socks, s I need summit socks. Wait you say, are summit socks different than climbing or trekking or any other kind of socks? Glad you asked.
By the time you are ready to go for the summit of a big cold mountain like Aconcagua, Denali, Manaslu or Everest, your body is pretty beat up. The training, trekking and acclimatization has taken a toll, especially on your feet.
There is not much you can do about it at this point other than putting on a good pair of NEW, dry, clean socks.
The key word is new. Each time we wear socks during a climb, they absorb moisture, grit and loose a bit of their padding and bounce. In the end, they don’t quite do the job you need at 8000 meters with crampons attached to your boots in cold snow at 40 below zero in … well you get the idea.
I have used socks from a lot of different companies, all claiming to be the . They promote their mixture of wool, nylon, elastic with extra padding here or there. Some come with individual toes, some come without toes at all. And they all come at a big price, $20 or more for a pair of socks.
Socks are actually a bit complicated. I call it my sock strategy. Two thick pairs, two medium pairs, maybe a liner and a thick sock, maybe just one thick? A lot depends on your boot and also how warm or cold your feet get. I think this is highly individual and deserves a lot of experimenting – before you leave home!
I have tried all the aforementioned strategies and have settled on using one thick pair. As for my summit socks, I use the same style and thickness so after staring at my Manaslu gear for too long, I rallied and went down to REI for a new pair of summit socks – their merino wool expedition socks for $16.50.
Now, sitting in my tent at 7400 meters on Manaslu, I reached into my pack and pulled out my NEW, dry, clean socks. Gently I teased them on – a moment of comfort in a harsh world up high. As I pulled on my 8000 meter boot liners, I could feel the wool against my soles. Once I put the outer boots on and stood up, I could hear my toes laugh out loud in glee. OK, I know this is a bit too much; but seriously they were comfortable and made all the difference in the world and for my mental state.
As I climbed that day, my feet felt good – warm and comfy.
My conclusion: a new pair of good socks and only wear them one time – on the summit push! You’ll never regret it.
One more comment on protecting your toes. I used the Hotronic foot warmer on Everest and Manaslu with mixed results. The good news was when they worked, they were fantastic. The bad news, on both climbs, I had battery issues. Even after leaving home with a full charge, it is difficult to keep the rechargeable batteries topped off during a long expedition and my battery packs ran out after a short time on both climbs.
On Everest, we made a sudden departure from Base Camp and I never had the opportunity to top them off. They lasted a few hours on the medium setting. On Manaslu, one battery pack was inadvertently turned on in my pack and was dead when I tried to use it. The other lasted all day at the lowest setting. If you, unlike me, can manage the battery issues properly, I highly recommend them.
While we are talking about feet, lets quickly cover boots, a subject I detest. People always ask me what boots should I for Aconcagua, Rainier, Everest. My answer – I don’t know!
I have owned more pair of boots than socks – and that is a lot. And I have never been totally happy. I hear fellow climbers sing the praises of their boots – ” ever; my feet never get cold/wet; you HAVE to these: and on and on. Well, I’m happy that you are so happy – NOT!
I struggle with boots. They are too narrow, too wide, too short. I get black toenails, blisters. My feet get hot, my feet get cold. My shins are worn bare. All that said, I do survive.
I have used the older models of Millet, La Sportiva and currently Kayland on my 8000m, Vinson and Denali climbs. I have short, wide feet – like a duck – and wear a 8.5 street shoe and a 9 for climbing boots. I have never had frostbite or suffered too much so these three brands have served me well.
On 8000 meter mountains the standard design are double boots with an integrated knee high gator. In my observation two brands dominate the scene: Millet and La Sportiva. But there are many out there that work just as well.
One of the biggest challenges in finding a pair of 8000 meter boots is that feet swell at altitude. So if they fit in the store, they might not fit on the summit. The advice I can give is to go to a store and try them on with your summit socks :). The rule of thumb is to at least one size larger than your street shoe size. But widths vary greatly so the pair that fits the from that store.
You can them online and save money but if they don’t fit, there is the hassle of returning them. Pay the extra, get expert advice and support your local store. If your local store does not carry these, select your online store carefully.
Just like socks, wear them on a few long days at home to make sure there will be no surprises on the mountain. And, make sure your crampons fit, especially the strap since these boots are big.
This is a quick survey of some of the 8000 meter boots available. Many of these boots have been updated for 2013 or 2014 with better fit and lighter weights (mainly through a new sole) so beware of online stores selling the brand at low prices.