The Science Behind The Socks

Buckeye Farm Beat

Nothing puts a damper on outdoor activity like cold feet. A trial pair of Heat Holder socks may be the solution.

Published on: October 29, 2013

I don’t know where the expression “cold feet” comes from. I know it has to do with chickening out of something. As if your feet got too cold to face up to the situation. I once sent a friend a pair of thick socks before his wedding. Very funny, I know. He thought so. His bride not so much.

Bravery aside, I hate cold feet. If there is one part of my body, other than my head, that I need to keep warm in order to be comfortable, it’s my feet. The coldest I have ever been was sitting at a Cleveland Browns football game in November wearing a pair of tennis shoes and cotton athletic socks. I remember stamping my feet to get some feeling back and not being able to detect any of my toes.

I suspect the same sensation could come from hours in a cabless tractor or an unheated combine – as if there still was such a thing. Hunters who head out to the tree stand in the darkness of the early morning frost and wait motionless all day must experience this kind of discomfort as well.

The solution arrived in my mail the other day in the form of a trial pair of  “Heat Holders” from the Sock Shop. The packaging touts them to be, “The Ultimate Thermal Sock.” It claims, “The advanced construction holds more warm air close to the skin, keeping feet warmer longer.”

There is science behind this too. The company sites “thermal TOG ratings,” which peg the socks as 7 times warmer than the average cotton sock. The “TOG” is a measure of thermal resistance, also known as thermal insulance, It is used in the textile industry. I gather from Wikipedia, that it is often seen quoted on duvets and carpet underlay. The site says the Shirley Institute in Manchester, England, developed the unit in the 1940s.  It notes the name probably comes from “togs” for clothing, which itself was probably derived from the word toga, a not very well insulated, Roman garment made famous by college fraternity parties.

The manufacturer, on the other hand, reports the TOG comes from “Thermal Overall Grade.” “It’s a scientific test that measures the thermal ( heat retaining) capacity of the fabric.”

Until your feet get really cold, you may not think much about the coefficient of insulation. But basically the thermal resistance in TOGs is equal to ten times the temperature difference (in centigrade) between the two surfaces of a material, when the flow of heat is equal to one watt per square metre. British duvets or bed comforters range from  3.0 TOGs for summer use to 13.5 TOGs for winter.

The Heat Holder socks get a TOG rating of 2.34, which may not sound like much in the duvet world, but it compares with 1.50 for the average thermal sock and 0.40 for cotton socks, according to the package. I’m not sure who is doing the math, but the company’s Website claims the sock’s rating is seven times warmer than cotton socks and three times warmer that ordinary thermal socks. They say their extensive testing finds “Heat Holders to be 40% warmer than the warmest sock they have ever tested, which was a heavy sock with 80% wool.”

These babies definitely pass the eye test. First off they are black and just look warm. Secondly, they feel as thick as ten pairs of new socks. On the outside they are cleanly knit and sturdy, but once you turn them inside out you discover the “extra heavy bulk yarn” and “long pile cushioning” that’s advertised on the package. They say an intensive brushing process and modern fibers are what make the things so thick and hairy. It could be a chinchilla or something hiding in there.

Finally, last weekend I had a chance to try them out as the wind whipped up and temperatures dropped for the Ohio State -- Penn State night football game. I was a little worried about fitting them inside my shoes. We usually park on Neil Avenue and stroll 15 blocks or so up to the OSU stadium. But they squeezed down just fine. In fact they made for very comfortable walking. Ohio State crams its customers pretty tight to fit 106,000 people in the Horseshoe, but sitting on metal bleachers and concrete is anything but cozy. I was ready for a frigid evening.

Fortunately the excitement of the game had us up on our feet quite a bit and the temperature barely dipped into the 30s. We left halfway into the third period and the mood was pretty festive. As we walked my feet felt like they were ready for a little basketball or even a couple of sets of tennis. Maybe a half marathon -- or not. The walk back to the car was easy.

Would my tootsies have felt different if we had suffered through a plodding drawn out loss with snow swirling in the air and the temperature in the teens? Maybe. Winter is coming. I’m sure there will be stiffer tests ahead for the Heater Holders.