Frost Fighters: The 7 Best Thermal Socks

The onset of winter used to be a cute notion. It promised hours of sipping whiskey, the smell of a roaring fire, and trying to break your neck stringing lights all over your house while some crooner sang about Jack Front nipping at your nose. Well, these days it isn’t all snow forts and throwing elbows on Black Friday. Winter has become a wickedly cold season and Jack Frost is a psychopath looking to harvest any fingers and toes you don’t wrap up. If you hope to get through another year with all your bits intact, you’re going to need some thermal socks.

You might never plan on seeing the Great Outdoors, but that doesn’t mean that the encroaching cold will let you slip by. Just scraping the ice off of your windshield could be enough time to do permanent damage, especially if you live in one of the cities that has suffered from the Polar Vortex in previous years. Socks that protect you are just as important when running down to the corner store as they are when hoping to take down a grizzly with nothing but your folding knife. That means buying one of the 7 best thermal socks out there.

JB Icelandic -30 BELOW XLR

J.B. Icelandic -30 BELOW XLR

Pro: Very warm
Con: Minimal air flow

The Heavy: These socks are one of the best sellers in Canada where they have forgotten more about cold than most of the world will ever know. These are comprised of 70% merino wool with 35% nylon and 5% spandex for a combination of strength, stretch, comfort, and cold protection. Unless you live in a log cabin you built yourself, these are probably much more than you will need for wear around the house. The spandex portion of the body is used in the cuff and is meant to help keep these in place when wearing tall boots. They won’t slip or bunch like lesser socks and will keep you from needing to make adjustments as you trudge through drifts. The merino wool breathes reasonably well, but if you don’t plan to be spending a lot of time in freezing temperatures, expect to overheat. [Purchase: $19+]

Smartwool PhD with ReliaWool

Smartwool PhD with ReliaWool

Pro: Very long lasting
Con: Medium grade padding

Takes a Lickin’: These are the tough older brother of the PhD hiking socks from Smartwool. They bear the same hardy legacy, but these are meant not only for hiking, but for true winter sports enthusiasts. They are reinforced at the ball of the foot and the heel so whether climbing in boots or using snowshoes they won’t go thin or break down on you. The body is fully 86% merino wool with 12% nylon for added insulation and 2% Elastane for more stretch. The knitting on the toe seam is fully flat to help stop stress from bursting it even if you are putting extra pressure on it careening down a mountain on skis. While relatively warm, these are on the lighter end of the thermal sock spectrum so don’t expect much in the way of extra padding or sub-zero survival. Work best when layered. [Purchase: $25]

Darn Tough Vermont X-Wide

Darn Tough Vermont X-Wide

Pro: Tight weave
Con: Tight fit

Pure Sport: Cold and snow are no reason for sports to stop. Green Bay is one of the biggest football towns in the U.S. of A. and they can see their breath in mid-July. Are you going to let a bunch of cheese-eaters show you up? Then get a pair of X-Wide and get back in the game. These are slightly lighter than most thermal socks since they are supposed to be used for running, cycling, skiing, snowboarding, or just kicking ass and taking names. The over-calf style is meant to help keep your calves and feet warm under punishing conditions. The knitting is high density to keep cold out, so you can wear these even with shorts if you are Rugby-fanatic crazy. The make is slimmer to fit into boots and shoes meant for fast action, not slow slogging up a mountain. [Purchase: $17+]

Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Heavy

Smartwool Mountaineering Extra Heavy

Pro: Very heavy
Con: Expensive

Climb Time: When hiking doesn’t do it for you anymore and you want to scale the icy wilderness, then you’re prepared for the warming power of the Smartwool thermal sock for mountaineering. These are meant to hold up to temperatures below zero while staying firmly in place when strapped into mountaineering boots. They aren’t fully knee-high, but rather fit right over the bulk of your calf which works better with most mountain climbing gear. They use an 83% virgin wool body which is more comfortable for a challenging ascent than merino wool, though won’t wick or breathe quite as well. The 1% Elastan keeps the top in place even as you shift around during your climb. These are one of the few thermal socks that work equally well for exertion as they do for waiting at freezing bus stops so you don’t need to be a devoted trekker to enjoy them. [Purchase: $24+]

Wigwam Canada

Wigwam Canada

Pro: Extensive cushioning
Con: Limited life span if used roughly

Lazy Days: These aren’t high exertion, high-impact socks meant for those daft fools who actually go outside in the cold. These are for the indoorsman who knows that snow is nature’s way of telling you to stay inside with Irish coffee and hibernate. Though they aren’t meant for extensive abuse, that isn’t to imply they are weak. The sole is fortified and the standard toe seam can withstand plenty of pressure so walking, shoveling snow, or kicking through heavy drifts isn’t out of the question. The body has a looser weave so that it circulates air if you are wearing these alone or with slippers. The plush cushioning is clearly built with comfort in mind rather than ruggedness. If you’ve blistered your feet hiking in an inferior sock, slipping into these will give you downy soft relief. [Purchase: $10+]

Barneys Cashmere Socks

Barneys Cashmere Socks

Pro: Stylish
Con: Limited warmth

Consummate Pro: Winter is no excuse to let your wardrobe become nothing but puffy coats and knit caps that will leave your hair looking frightful. You have clients to meet with and showing up less than quaffed is grounds for immediate dismissal. You need something that can go with a suit and tie but will still keep frostbite from marring your Aspen getaway. For the man who needs a thermal sock that doesn’t look like it lives in Paul Bunyan’s lodge in the Great White North, Barney’s has some cashmere winter socks that will warm your feet without clashing with your Brook’s Brother’s look. They won’t keep out the cold of a blizzard, but they’re more than enough while you hail a cab or walk a few blocks under the winter sky. [Purchase: $55]

AlphaHeat Heated Sock

AlphaHeat Heated Sock

Pro: Electric
Con: Limited battery life

High-Tech: Forget using padding and wool to keep your feet warm, it’s time to cook with electricity. AlphaHeat’s socks have a rechargeable 3.4V Li-Ion battery that lasts for hours and can get your feet up to 115 degrees for that tropical feel right in your boot. A power pack at the top of each sock interfaces with targeted elements that are intended to hit the calf, sole, and toe to provide maximum warmth right where you need it. With multiple heat settings you are sure to find the right one to work for you. They work best as an internal layer beneath a waterproof sock since too much wetness can destroy them, though they are well protected from standard foot sweat and even some snowy seepage. If you are worried, couple them with a pair of waterproof socks for extra safety. [Purchase: $129]

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