January 21, 2022
Sealskinz is a UK-based manufacturer of waterproof socks, gloves, overshoes and hats. They have been around for 25 years and are a leader in what they do. After a very well-timed Instagram advertisement hit our feed, we decided to take the plunge and hit the buy now button to find out exactly how well their all-weather, waterproof socks would stand up to a rainy-season rainforest ride.
If there's a place and time on earth that begs for waterproof socks, it's Vancouver Island in the winter. The average rainfall of the south island is almost 4 inches per month. The wet is inescapable while biking in the winter months here. The moss—which literally covers everything—holds the water, and from November to March it feels like you are biking through a wet sponge.
I have mentioned many times on this site that my family and I moved here so I could cycle year round. However naive of me, I wasn't expecting the amount of water (and mud) that winter brings, and it took me a long while to adjust. At first I resisted; because, I suppose, my rational mind would not accept being covered in mud from head to toe after a 40km ride? After two years, my attitude towards cycling in the elements on this island has changed 180 degrees—I now find it quite liberating to be covered in earth juices.
Well, for the most part. The one thing I have never gotten used to was having my feet soaked completely through. Once your feet get wet, you're finished. They will never dry out, the cold gets into your soul and the darkness creeps in from the sidelines. We have all been there. I have finished enough drenched rides screaming at myself to finally do something about it.
My first attempt to dry my feet out was a pair of overshoe booties from an unnamed brand. Like all new gear, there was once again an adjustment period. It turns out that booties are harder to get used to than I expected. Simply getting your feet into them and over your shoes requires the usage of many four-letter words.
Once I managed to get them on and get out riding, the boots still let in water from the top. There was no silicone bead or anything. They acted like funnels into my shoes which quickly filled with water. They were expensive, bulky as hell in the gear drawer, and forget about adjusting any boa dials with them on. There had to be a better way.
After one particularly soppy ride, Instagram's advertising algorithm had me pegged and served up an ad for all-weather waterproof socks from Sealskinz in the UK. Well, I thought, I have to wear socks anyway, they might as well be waterproof. Let's give them a go. Buy Now.
I honestly didn't know what to expect and was mildly surprised when the socks showed up a couple weeks later. My immediate impression likened them to scuba gear rather than socks. They almost felt neoprene to the touch. However, when I put them on I was a little taken aback at how comfy they were. The socks stretched like a normal pair of socks, which I had heard is an issue with some other brands of waterproof goretex socks.
The socks are made up of three layers (more on this in a bit) which adds to a bit of bulk. I was worried about the socks fitting my super narrow Bontrager shoes. But I easily got my shoes on and the thickness of the socks didn't seem to be an issue at all. Rolled up, however, they are quite large, which may take up room in a bag and could be a concern for any space-obsessed bikepacker.
Overall, the socks felt like a quality product and I couldn't wait to get out and test them in the rainforest on my beloved local loop.
As I mentioned above, the socks are constructed in three layers: a lush Merino wool inner layer, a waterproof membrane and a durable outer fabric.
The inner layer of Merino wool keeps things comfy while acting as insulation. Merino is a natural alternative to many of the synthetic high-performance materials that plague the cycling industry. We had a great chat with some friends on Merino in cycling here if you're interested. The key is that Merino is a material with natural temperature balancing and moisture-wicking properties (Merino fibers can absorb up to one third of its own weight in moisture without feeling wet to the touch), and will keep your feet warm (or cool) and dry when you need it.
Sealskinz markets the waterproof membrane in it's sock as “hydrophilic”. I had to look that one up. Hydrophilic plainly means that it is a material that interacts with water in some way. In this case, it's safe to assume that it can pass (and keep out) water at a molecular level. Apparently the water molecules are driven out of the membrane because of the higher temperature and humidity inside the sock. What is amazing about the membrane is that it also allows for great breathability
It's simple really: the Merino feels nice and cozy while wicking the sweat off your feet, which then passes internal moisture to the membrane, which “hydrophilicly” passes the water out of the sock where it dries. For those of you into numbers, the membrane has a minimum W.V.P (Water Vapor Permeability index) of 65% and has been tested to withstand a column of water (hydrostatic head) >10,000mm. So, there.
To make sure it's all wrapped up, nice and snug, Sealskinz has added something they call Hydrostop™. The Hydrostop™ is a non-silicone (silicone-like?) band around the top of the inner sock that prevents water from entering the cuff of the sock. Take that, booties.
To test out the Sealskinz, I went for a ride on my favorite loop here in Victoria. A 40k rip through every type of surface you could imagine from tarmac, to gravel, to singletrack in the wet, wet forest. I had the idea to hit a local puddle that is notorious to cyclists in the winter at a park called Panama Flats. Panama Flats is a marsh that runs alongside the Colquitz River, an important fish habitat. In the winter months, the river regularly floods and the flats act as a flood plain. This flood plain happens to cover a few hundred meters of trail with about 1-1.5 feet of water.
Not only was I going to ride the puddle, I planned on stopping and fully emerging my feet and shoes into it. The puddle is early in my ride so if the socks didn't work I'd have a miserable 30k home.
Standing in a massive puddle at 6 degrees celsius in the rain will definitely get you a few odd looks. No surprise there. However, having your feet fully emerged in close-to-freezing water with waterproof socks plays a massive trick on your mind. You see your feet in the water, you feel the cold temperature and your brain ends up filling the gap with the thought “my feet are wet”. It's a very strange sensation that makes you ask the question: what is the difference between wet and cold? After a few minutes I was able to tell that my feet were in fact dry, and I was more afraid to wreck my new shoes than anything. Amazing.
I hopped back on the bike and took off with freezing cold feet and drenched shoes. After about 10 minutes I could already feel my feet warming up. I know now that the Merino was keeping in the warmth, wicking away sweat and thus heating up my feetsies. After 20 mins, I felt like I had just left the house—my feet were totally toasty and dry. I was truly blown away.
No matter how moist the forest got or how many puddles I splashed through, my feet wouldn't get wet or even that cold, which in turn lightened my mood and helped me hammer the trails.
When I got home, I experienced the harshest part of the socks. A bit of water had seeped into the cuff and made a moisture seal between my leg and the non-silicone/silicone bead. Taking off the socks was a bit like removing duct tape off a cat. I didn't know leg hair could be removed from a leg in such a way. A mistake I'll only make once.
I threw the socks in a muddy heap much to my wife's distress and let them sit there while I took a shower. I then threw them in the washing machine and dryer before having the thought that maybe the membrane wasn't really meant for regular laundry. I thought I killed them on the first go. Alas, this is not an issue, Sealskinz can be washed (and dried) normally alongside the rest of your gear. Whew.
However, you may need to flip them in and out once or twice to fully dry. They are waterproof afterall.
I have now been on a handful of rides with the socks and am totally sold. At $71 CAD the socks are not cheap. But they do come with a lifetime guarantee which seems incredible for an item that sees as much wear as a pair of socks. If these socks in fact last my lifetime, $71 bucks seems like a hell of a deal to me for dry, happy feet in the wet, cold, unforgiving world of winter cycling.
Barry has been cycling and creating digital products around the world for 20+ years. He was a design leader at IDEO, IDEO.org and Nike’s Innovation Lab.