Friday, 1 February 2013

Equipment Review - Fourth Element Arctic Socks

I don't suffer from cold hands and feet whilst hillwalking or doing other activities, but have found that whilst sea kayaking in winter conditions my feet end up very cold, often to the point of feeling numb and when I get out of the boat.

My drysuit has latex "feet" which tend to amplify the cold effect; I've tried various combinations of socks underneath with mixed results, but still my feet have ended up colder than I'd like.

The Fourth Element Arctic range includes full base layers in one piece and two piece formats as well as socks, and come highly rated by Douglas amongst others.  My existing base layers have been absolutely fine at keeping me at a good temperature, so I decided to give the socks a try to see if they would make a difference to my cold feet.



The manufacturer's description of the Arctic base layer range highlights the low bulk, thermally protective nature of the materials used.  The outer fabric is a closely woven material with flat seams whilst the inner material is a dense fleece with excellent wicking properties. 

The inner is secured at the ankle cuff but is separate from the outer fabric further down the sock. This means that the inner can be pulled from the body of the sock to improve drying time.  The separated nature seems also to improve the wicking quality of the sock as a whole.

So, do they work?  Worn on a recent very cold paddle on the Moray Firth the socks were a real improvement, my feet were much warmer over the course of a six hour paddle which included a few landings when I was knee deep in the cold water.  On this occasion I wore a very thin liner sock underneath the Arctic Socks, and on future paddles I'll vary this.

The bulk of the socks is no more than a thick pair of woollen socks so there was no issue with getting a fit inside my normal footwear (Lomo Aquaboots).  The fit is less precise than a pair of woolen socks due to the nature of the construction, but was comfortable all day.

 One thing to be aware of if ordering these socks is that the sizing is a bit odd.  The fit may contribute to this, but they do seem to be sized smaller than expected.  I'd noted customer reviews on the supplier website which mentioned this aspect, and accordingly ordered the Large size, which the manufacturer recommends for UK size 9 to 11.  In fact, this was a very snug fit on my UK size 8 feet; the recommendation for a Medium (UK 6 to 8) would have been much too small.

The socks are priced around £20, making them a little more expensive than good quality woolen hillwalking socks.  However, the performance of the socks merits the extra in my view.

Apart from the odd sizing, the Fourth Element Arctic Socks are recommended; if you suffer from cold feet inside a drysuit they are certainly worth considering.  I will post an update to this review at the end of the winter season to assess long term performance and durability.

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