Wool is by far one of the best insulating baselayers. Merino wool products are lightweight, moisture-wicking, extremely warm and naturally resistant to bacterial growth. It seems like every backpacker leans towards merino wool socks, but what if you’re allergic to wool?
Every baselayer seems to use some kind of wool blend. It seems like every pair of hiking socks on the market is some type of wool blend. Thankfully, there are plenty of warm alternatives for people with wool sensitivity.
Most People Aren’t Actually Allergic to Wool
Very few people are actually allergic to wool (less than 1%). If you consistently react to wool head to your doctor to make sure you’re allergic. Most people that think they’re allergic to wool just have very sensitive skin.
The image above shows a few of the most popular sock materials under a microscope. Look at how scratchy wool is when compared to cotton, polyester and alpaca wool. Of course, your socks are going to be itchy.
Try a Two-Sock Combo
You can test if you actually have a wool allergy by wearing a second pair of socks under the wool socks. I really like my Fox River Sock Liners (On Amazon). If you don’t react you probably just have overly sensitive skin. If you do have a wool allergy you will have to find an alternative.
What Else Could Be Causing Your Symptoms?
Since a wool allergy is extremely rare, most people are actually reacting to something in the garment making process. Most of the time your skin is just reacting to the rough texture of wool.
- Rough Wool: How course is the wool? Large course fibers tend to be rougher and more irritating on the skin. If you have a minor skin reaction consider choosing finer wool. Hiking socks labeled as a fine wool blend, alpaca wool, and cashmere might not cause a problem.
- Laundry Detergent: If you’re using a new laundry detergent your skin could be reacting to it. Switch to a product like All Free and Clear(On Amazon).
- Sweat: Wool is extremely warm so you might be developing a heat rash. The sweat could just be causing an irritation which can be cured with Zinc Oxide based products like Desitin(On Amazon).
If you’ve determined that you don’t actually have an allergy to wool, you should try out Alpaca Wool Socks (On Amazon). Smartwool hiking socks (On Amazon) are another great alternative that rarely causes skin irritations.
Hiking Socks For Wool Allergies
Some people are just horribly allergic to wool and there’s nothing they can do about it. What kind of hiking socks can you wear if you’re actually allergic to wool? Do you break out in painful, itchy hives every time wool brushes against your skin?
Alternatives to Wool Hiking Socks
There are quite a few synthetic options out there for people that are allergic to wool. Cotton is a terrible choice since it holds onto moisture and most synthetics don’t offer much insulation.
So what’s the alternative to wool? Acrylic blend socks (80% Acrylic) are very similar to to traditional wool blends. They’re actually more durable than wool, offer plenty of warmth and wick away moisture.
Just try not to let your acrylic socks get wet. Definitely use sock liners(my favorite sock liners On Amazon) if you go with acrylic hiking socks. Sock liners will help prevent blisters and wick moisture away from your feet. They really do seem to help.