The Sacred Cleanliness of Sleeping Socks

I think it’s safe to say that most hikers carry an extra pair of socks specifically for sleeping in. At the end of the day there is nothing better than taking your shoes and socks off, letting your feet dry out from the sweat or rain, and then slipping them into a pair of nice, fresh, clean socks. I carry a pair of Darn Tough Full Cushion Boot socks made out of Merino wool. They’ve traveled with me now for just shy of 5,000 miles but you’d never know it.

You could probably count the number of times I’ve hiked in them on both hands. I don’t unless I absolutely need to because my other socks are wet or more likely frozen. The only time I wore them on the PCT this year was in the Sierra Mountains. The eight-day stretch from Kearsarge Pass to Mammoth Lakes with its numerous fords and day-after-day spent trudging through the snow made it impossible to stay dry.

After one especially chilly night I didn’t really have too many options as to which socks I would be wearing. The night before I’d crossed a wide ford only to go for a swim about five feet from the other side. Imagine my surprise when I found that it was over my head and the current was moving much faster than it looked. I wish someone would have caught the scene on camera; I imagine it looked hilarious. Here I am doggy paddling with one arm because I had my trekking poles in one hand, my iPhone was in my mouth because I was too lazy to stop and put it in a dry bag in my pack, and the only reason I’m floating is the bear canister in my backpack which may as well have been a life jacket. It only took me about 30 seconds to get out but man was it cold. Did I mention that almost every stream in the Sierra Mountains is fed by snow melt or that this happened around 7:30 p.m. and it was getting dark soon and the temperature was going to plummet?

Luckily the inside of my backpack stayed fairly dry but my three pairs of socks in an outside mesh pocket didn’t fair so well. They were completely and utterly soaked, not that they were all that dry before.

I stepped out of the creek and into a nice campsite with a fire pit that already had a pile of nice dry wood next to it. I had a fire going in under a minute. I’m a firm believer in the fact that the trail provides for you what you need, sometimes even without you knowing it, and at that moment what I needed was a fire, a nice big warm fire. I managed to dry out all of my damp stuff but my socks were a hopeless soggy mess so I set up camp, crawled into my tent, slipped my clean and dry sleeping socks on, crawled into my bag and went to sleep.

When I woke the next day my three soaked pairs of socks I’d left out to dry were frozen solid. They were so stiff that I don’t think I would have been able to put them on even if I tried. That leaves me with two options.

Option A: Go and thaw out my socks in the snow melt stream which works, but is not fun at all.

Option B: Hike in my warm and cozy sleeping socks and contaminate them with hiker funk.

It wasn’t a tough choice. I hiked in my sleeping socks sacrificing their cleanliness for my comfort. I didn’t have a dry pair of socks that night to sleep in but it was worth it.

The next day I made it to town and did laundry and everything was all right…my sleeping socks were clean again.

-Chris “Chance” DePolo

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