Seriously, Fly Fishing Socks

What if I told you that, for $34.95, you could have a top of the line  piece of fly fishing gear?

It isn’t a fly box. It isn’t a small tool. It certainly isn’t a rod or reel. It is something that is significantly less prestigious, but absolutely necessary. It is a good pair of good socks.

(And, to be clear, you don’t need to spend $34.95 on a pair to get socks that will literally change the way you fish. That was just the most expensive pair of wading socks I could find from major  retailers.)

Why should you care about socks? How can the punchline of gift giving be worth serious consideration? With all of the engineering that goes into fly rods and the sheer volume of entomological knowledge necessary to match the hatch, why should the lowly sock demand any of your busy brain’s energy?

Simple: comfort.

Comfort transcends “it feels good on my feet.” Comfort entails cushion over a long day on your feet, proper circulation, moisture management, and warmth. It doesn’t make much sense to spend hundreds of dollars on waders with ergonomic  booties and nearly as much money on wading boots if you’re wearing just any socks.

Moreover, comfort means you can spend longer periods of time on your feet on the water with greater focus. Good socks, or any other piece of gear, aren’t going to keep you fishing into your later years. The cumulative effect of lots of wise choices, however, can.

Here are four things to consider when it comes to socks for under your waders:

Materials: Cotton is great for work or the gym. Leave it at home when you go fishing or hiking. You want wool when it comes to natural materials. These days, you’ll want some nylon added in there for stretch and strength. Also, we’re at a point where an all-synthetic sock, if made well, isn’t going to feel like plastic.

Thickness: While your wading boot is going to be the most important factor in this area, having cushion matters. Any new pair of socks will provide some cushion. The key to a good pair of socks is durability such that the heel, ball, and big toe don’t get compressed after a few uses.

Construction: You want your socks to stay put. That means they are tight enough around the top cuff and the mid foot so they won’t move around, but not so tight that they’re constricting or uncomfortable. All of the lines and zig-zags do come across as gimmicky, but in a good pair of socks they highlight the unique detail built for each area of the foot.

Height: Ankle socks might be in fashion, and they can stay there. Wading socks need to come up to the calf at least – over the calf is better. This height provides warmth up to the knee. The friction also helps keep your pant leg in place as you put on waders and move around all day.

Here are four pairs of socks worth checking out:

Smartwool PhD Pro Wader Socks  – These are the Cadillac of wader socks. I’ve never had a pair of Smartwool socks I didn’t enjoy. These are built to perform and to last. So although the price is high, they’ll last longer and work better than your average pair of socks. ($34.95)

Duluth Trading Co. 7-Year Midweight Performance Over-the-Calf Socks – Nearly $20 might still sound like a tough pill to swallow for a pair of socks, but a pair like these from Duluth will change your mind. They combine all four criteria outlined above into a durable, comfortable, and still economical offering. ($18.50)

RedHead Lifetime Guarantee All-Purpose Wool Socks – A no-frills wool sock is good to have on hand for cold weather, a moderate hike, or a day in waders. These socks will work just fine, but  they’re also what you’d  want in your gear bag as an adequate and inexpensive backup. ($11.99)

Cabela’s Men’s Midcalf Polypropylene Liner Socks – Want to add some benefits to an ordinary pair of wool hiking socks? These sheer liners are fantastic for  wicking moisture away, keeping your feet warmer in the cold and cooler in the heat. ($11.99 – 2 pairs)