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  • Writer's pictureAJ Milla

Just A Pair of Boots?: The Lowdown on Military Socks

When a citizen raises their right hand and pledges themselves in service of their country, they’re probably not thinking too much about what they’re wearing. Yet while your swearing-in outfit may not make or break your military career, your socks certainly will!

During your first few months of service, you may find yourself referred to as a “boot”–a colloquial term used to identify a fresh recruit. The implication is that you’ve got a lot to learn, and right now you’re nothing but a “pair of boots.”

While this might seem like fraternal teasing, it’s not entirely incorrect. Your feet, after all, are one of your most valuable assets–and though they are often overlooked in the fray of daily operations, they require protection.

Whether refueling aircraft in the scorching desert of Qatar, carrying out top secret operations in Africa, or simply going for a bit of PT–your socks can make or break the comfort and health of your feet.

With this in mind, let’s slip into something a bit more comfortable and lay down some facts. 

Secure Those Toes, Boot!

Now, there’s a lot of merchants who want to sell questionable products to impressionable military members. They know you’re coming home with some extra scratch–and that 25% APR Mustang is calling your name.

But before you make any big splurges, invest in a couple solid pairs of socks to save yourself a lot of frustration and pain. Keep in mind, your feet will take a beating in just about every phase of your service.

Take basic–or “boot camp” (depending on the branch)–for example. During that time, socks are one of the many topics pummeled into our freshly cropped heads. Among many other essential skills, your drill instructor probably had a nice long talk with your fellow trainees about why socks matter.

Accordingly, one of the first things we learn is proper care for our socks. It’s pretty simple: machine wash always, and dry them on a low cycle. And if you’re out in the field, make sure you’re turning your socks inside out and drying them thoroughly before putting them back on.

Granted, the socks issued to us aren’t… amazing, but they got the job done. Typically, issued or purchased clothing items from the BX/NEX are fairly cheap. They’re not the best style, the color is a bit drab (hold for laughter), but if you change them regularly you won’t encounter too many issues.

Things only get more confusing once you realize that you don’t usually need to wear issued uniform socks once you’re operational. Unless you’re really green and your NCOs are overbearing, you can probably get away with buying some nicer ones.

As an E-6 with my own section, I preferred to have my troops wear whatever socks worked best for them. They were on their feet for over twelve hours a day, and we worked in a variety of challenging weather conditions. Keeping sorties moving was our top priority, but I still made sure my troops were equipped with the best socks money can buy.

I simply drafted a memorandum for record, and contacted my government purchase card holder outlining the benefits of good quality hosiery. A month later, I received thirty pairs of high-quality socks for my team.

So check your local regulations, and see how your command feels. Remember: your immediate command has the final say!

With all of that said, what do we want to avoid when selecting socks? And which are the best for PT, rucking, or just working the gate?

The Rub (Or Lack Thereof)

Standard issue socks are constructed from cotton due to their hypoallergenic qualities and low cost. This makes cotton socks ideal for mass fabrication and distribution to troops.

Note, however, that while cotton is comfortable for casual wear, it is notoriously fallible when your default speed is double-time. I can’t even count how many pairs of green cotton socks I wore holes through during my career.

Another problem with cotton is that once it gets wet, it stays wet, creating a perfect environment for complications like athlete's foot, trench foot, secondary infections, and generalized foot pain–all of which are exacerbated by retaining moisture inside a pair of boots. This is especially true of winter weight boots, which can lead to a higher incidence of frostbite from sweaty toes–the kinda stuff will take you right out of the fight in a hurry.

Aside from moisture-wicking properties, thickness and cushion is another important aspect of the sock selection process. We wouldn’t want, for example, to be wearing heavy wool socks in Iraq, and we’d probably be better off leaving our fancy thin running socks behind while visiting Rammstein in the winter.

While cushioning is extremely subjective, depending on your preferred comfort, the general rule of thumb is to consider your needs and environment.

For example: If you prefer tight laced boots with a hard sole, you might benefit from lightly cushioned socks to take the pressure off your feet.

On the flip side, if you have a ruck approaching, a heavily cushioned sock may not provide the snug fit you need. This is important to consider, as ill-fitting socks often lead to blisters and hot spots.

I don’t know about you, but six miles into a thirteen-mile ruck is NOT the time I want to start limping and contemplating quitting. You’ll never live it down.

Finally, we want to consider height. From boot-length to knee-high (if you’re adventurous) and all the way to those little tiny ones your girlfriend wears that seemingly defy logic, socks come in a variety of shapes and sizes.

For our purposes, we want to ensure that our socks are tall enough that the cuff stays above the top of your boot. These socks provide more support for your calves, and can provide extra warmth if needed. Socks that stay above the cuff also assist in moisture wicking, and will prevent chafing during extended periods of wear.

Alright–we’re almost through this safety briefing! Just a couple more things to keep in mind.


So to recap, we are looking for socks that:

  • Wick moisture: This allows for the socks to take moisture away from the bottoms of our feet.

  • Fit: A good fit allows for comfort, total coverage of high-friction areas, and will prevent friction.

  • Have thickness and cushion: As discussed, this depends on personal preference and needs.

And FINALLY–we want to ensure we are selecting a premium material that is effective and comfortable in any wartime environment, or just around the office.

Here, I’ll let you in on a little secret: This do-it-all material is called Merino wool. For the uninitiated, Merino wool is a special type of wool, favored by operators and desk attendants alike for its unmatched comfort and ability to wick moisture. Plus, it's much less itchy and bulky than traditional wool–yet it still preserves all the key advantages.

For example, it maintains warmth when wet, and even has natural antimicrobial properties. This is why TACSOCKS selected Merino wool for their latest pair of military-style boot socks–the 9-Line Ultras.

When speed, mobility, and lives are on the line, 9-Lines are a great pick. This is for a few reasons.

First, the socks are made from a blend of merino wool, spandex, and special synthetic fibers, ensuring comfort and reliability in various situations, from leisurely hikes to intense field operations. 

Additionally, their construction offers excellent moisture-wicking properties, providing warmth in cold environments and reducing discomfort in hot conditions. This means they maintain a balance between being sufficiently warm without being too bulky–an advantage particularly appreciated in winter conditions. 

For these reasons, Army National Guard Master Sergeant James Flowers offers the following endorsement:

“They fit great, they come in standard regulation colors, and they don’t leave my boots stinking like I took them on a ruck. I like using them with my winter weight boots because they’re not too bulky and I never feel my feet sweating like I do with double-pairs of socks or regular wool ones. 

“I’ve tried an awful lot of socks in my day, but these are the truth. I wish I had these during my time in Kuwait–it’s tough holding post in 130°F weather when your feet hurt!” 

Final Thoughts

Listen, we get it. Socks aren’t exactly the most thrilling part of becoming a warrior.

Yet if you’re considering a career in the military, it’s important to give your stockings some careful thought. From fit to thickness and cushioning, there are a lot of factors to mull over.

But perhaps the most crucial thing to remember is this: The right socks are an investment in your comfort, health, and overall effectiveness. Whether you're in training, out on a mission, or just bee-bopping around the base, your feet are your foundation. As such, taking care of them with the right socks can mean the difference between success and a gnarly case of athlete’s foot.

Recognizing this, it’s important to give your sock selection the attention it deserves. Because in the end, your gear is only as good as the care you put into selecting it. This is true for your weapon, your uniform, and yes, even your socks. Don't overlook this seemingly mundane detail–stay on your toes, soldier, and let your feet carry you to success.

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