Photo: Elisabeth Sherman

My REI Hiking Socks Are My Security Blanket

Technology + Gear Narrative
by Elisabeth Sherman Apr 15, 2020

I have one central philosophy when it comes to fashion: It needs to be comfortable. Every item of clothing I own follows this guiding principle, down to my intimates. That includes my socks. The humble sock is an unsung hero of a wardrobe; each one is usually thrown haphazardly in the laundry basket or yanked on ceremoniously in the morning before work. Yet the sock is a hard-working item of clothing. A dry, cozy, sweat-free foot is a happy foot. Without a reliable sock, the foot is soggy and dejected. It probably smells, too.

The sock MVP is the REI merino wool hiking sock. I discovered this sock in college, not because I am particularly fond of outdoor adventure but because New York City winters are cold, and I needed to arm myself with every tool available to combat those freezing temperatures. I pulled the first pair of thick socks off the rack I found and, after paying for them, bolted out of the store; I’m out of my depth amongst tents and portable stoves. But when I got home, I discovered that this seemingly innocuous purchase meant to keep me warm in my drafty Brooklyn apartment turned out to be a revelation. The moment I put them on I felt 100 percent more comfortable than when I was barefoot.

Fast forward eight years, and my underwear drawer is 60 percent REI hiking socks. That might be a slight exaggeration, but there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t slip on a pair of those socks — and that is not an exaggeration at all. I wear a pair every day. I’m wearing a pair right now.

This is a powerful garment. As soon you slip them on, you’re transported into a cozy fantasy world. For me it looks like a peaceful cabin with an endless supply of books, maybe snow falling lightly outside, a fire crackling, the tea kettle singing in the kitchen, and my cats curled up on the squishy couch. I’ve probably used them for their intended purpose, to be worn with hiking boots, maybe twice. But this is a versatile sock, too, and it fits in just fine with my lazy lifestyle — at least compared to the sporty people who frequent the aisles of REI.

I own them in blue, tan, brown, and grey. By now most of them are well worn, like a much-beloved t-shirt that should probably be replaced. These socks hit the trifecta of comfort: warm, soft, and sweatproof. I even wear them in summer, when I’m loafing around the house, baking, or cuddled up in bed with a book.

These socks are my adult security blanket, a friendly accompaniment to my day. Even before quarantine, I worked from home and usually only slipped on my wool socks before bed, but these days they’re doing much more heavy lifting. Now that I don’t leave the house except for the occasional walk around the block, I wear them all day. When I pull on my socks in the morning while I’m getting dressed (I use that phrase loosely) for work, I am gesturing at the rituals of a normal life that is, for the moment, on pause.

These are the days when even the smallest luxuries make life in self-isolation bearable: endless cups of hot peppermint tea, wine delivered to my front door, and a pair of warm wool socks that makes me feel safe when I put them on. I haven’t gone more than one hour without feeling anxious, exhausted, or sad since quarantine began, but I can at least physically feel comfortable and secure while I’m pacing my apartment like a caged tiger, slowly succumbing to cabin fever.

A favorite pair of socks is not going to make everything come up roses. But I am choosing to find joy in the seemingly inconsequential things that made up my former life as a person who left the house and could come home, kick off my shoes, and wrap my feet in my wool socks — a signal that it was finally time to relax. Now, all of the time is time to try and relax, even the times that I am sitting at my desk, trying to work, trying to write, trying to think about anything other than the chaos unraveling outside my door.

I need my trusty old socks as a reminder that, even now, there are still a couple of good things left in the world. My neighbors who lean out their windows clapping and banging on pots and pans every evening at seven is one of them. My socks are another. If there is one go-to accessory I could recommend to people who value comfort — in and out of quarantine — as much I do, it would be these perfect socks.

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