'Matter'

MATTER: SealSkinz Waterproof Socks

 

Product: SealSkinz Mid-weight Mid-Length Sock
Price: $60 CAD

My wife says I have a sock problem. She might be talking about a global issue, but I think I’ve landed upon a specific sock solution.

If you want to get your rides and races in regardless of the weather, you have to be equipped with the right gear. Landing on the right items, however, is no easy task, nor is learning the combinations that work in the myriad of conditions one faces on the bike.

Cold feet are not as debilitating as cold hands, but they still suck. My feet, like those of most of my riding friends, get cold pretty easily. They get cold even more easily when they are wet. But when it’s Sunday, or any ride or race day, and the forecast calls for cold, rain, cold rain, and rainy cold, whatcha gonna do? You can wear wool socks, you can try the plastic bag option, you’ve got the booty option, (which never really work that well, do they?), and you’ve got your winter cycling shoe option – in varying degrees of protection. And….you’ve got the ‘F-it, just ride for an hour option. I personally don’t even consider the latter, and when it comes to riding from 1 to 6 hours in the rainy cold, or even simple windy cold, I need serious solutions.

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Photo: Rasputitsa 2015

After experimenting with a pair of Gore-Tex shell socks over the years, both under and over other socks, I recently took the opportunity to try a promising option from SealSkinz, a fifteen year-old British brand I’ve seen primarily used by European mountain bikers since the brand launched in 1999. The go-to option for riders slogging through cold, muddy conditions all winter in the UK in particular, SealSkinz have built quite a loyal following. A sale online in 2014 tempted me to grab two pairs – one medium weight, the other heavy – just in time for late fall base miles on dirt roads, to be followed by winter base miles on dirt roads covered in snow. And fat biking.

These are the socks, and they retail for $60 CAN.

Upon unpacking these socks it was clear I’d never seen anything like them. Feeling more like scuba gear than anything else, I was pleased to find the medium weight socks true to size, the XL fitting my size 46 foot well in volume and length. The heavy, however, was too voluminous, so I put it back in the package, to be sold or returned (if interested, I still have them for sale, $40).

The medium weight socks are a three-layer laminated construction: 35% Merino Wool, 34% Acrylic, 28% Polyester, 2% Elastodiene, 1% Elastane inside, bonded to a hydrophilic membrane, enveloped in a 91% Nylon, 9% Elastane exterior. There are no bulky seams, and the socks are a perfect length, below the calf. Thickness is about the same as a medium weight ski or hiking sock, the sort you’d normally want to wear in the cold.

A year later, I’ve put in countless full rides on the medium-weight SealSkinz. I’ve used them for perhaps 5 cyclocross races – inside my roomier shoes, to accommodate the volume – and the rest of the time inside my Shimano winter shoes. Sometimes I used booties over top, other times none. One ride was quite wet, and about 4 hours long. A number of them were 3-5 hour long. Temperatures ranged from -20 Celcius to +8.

Road riding, compared to mountain biking, is colder, as wind speeds are higher, and exposure greater. I went from doing a ride at -8 for two hours with just Shimano winter shoes, on my fat bike, to +3 on the road with the same set-up on a road ride a day later. On both rides, my feet were equally warm. Not completely toasty the whole time, but fine. Wind speed and effort levels varied, which is why the 11 degree difference ended up yielding the same result. Shimano winter shoes are fairly wind proof, so the heat losses were from entropy – heat bleeding out, probably through the heat sinking sole and cleat – not from wind exposure. So the socks, in this case, were probably equal to a well insulating sock in another material. When it was -20, I experimented with wearing these socks versus other similar weight normal socks with two pairs of booties, and found them to work equally well when wind was pretty much taken out of the picture.

These socks are particularly advantageous when used with a porous shoe, such as the mountain bike shoes I use for a cyclocross race. For cyclocross, and most racing situations, one would rather use a light, ‘race’ shoe over a clunky winter shoe. This is where the SealSkinz prove extremely useful. Their literal impermeability transformed my combo into one that could handle cold, wet conditions comfortably, where a typical set-up would see socks saturated and feet cold in short order. When booties are both ineffective and impractical, the socks step in and get it done. My Giro Empire VR90 mountain bike shoes are particularly nice for use with these socks, since their laces allow them to expand enough to account for the additional volume.

On the colder, drier rides I’ve done, I’ve been surprised to find that the socks do breath well enough to avoid getting swampy. Neat. They can be used to add windproofing to porous shoes.

These socks will really be indespensible for long, wet rides and races, especially those that threaten full immersion of the feet. In some cases, such as 2014’s inaugural Rasputitsa race, and the Hell of the North way back in 2009 being able to run through water can be a competitive advantage. For the Rasputitsa, I used Gore-Tex shell socks under an insulating sock (with the Gore-Tex duct taped to my skin to prevent inundation), which was ok after running though water, but not great, as the insulating sock wasn’t able to insulate a lot once saturated. The SealSkinz will work better for conditions like that. If it’s also raining, I’d tape them too.

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Photo: Rasputitsa 2015

Conclusions – MATTER Rating 8/10

Durability after a year looks good so far. I see no visible wear, and I expect them to hold up well. I wash them inside out when not dirty on the outside to refresh the looped structure inside. One of the cuffs has unraveled a where it is folded over, which I suspect SealSkinz would warranty if I got around to asking.

“Whatever the weather, whatever the activity, our purpose is to enable you to go further, go longer, leave first and return last.” – SealSkinz

All in all, I am very impressed and happy with these socks, and I feel they deliver on their marketing. For those riding in all conditions, I highly recommend them. The heaviest weight option won’t likely fit your typical shoes, but will fit those that you’ve upsized for big socks. For best results, you want to maintain some air space.

My next acquisition from SealSkinz will be the lightweight socks, which might fit into my road shoes for the rainy days around +5. I’ll write about them in that case. I am also very curious about their gloves and booties, specifically, these Ultragrip gloves and oversocks, so I willexperiment with them if I can acquire them. My wife says I have glove problem too…. I’m not sure whether I have a booty problem.

You can order SealSkinz directly here.

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