It’s spring. Puddles turn to ponds, damp feet into itchy, stinky, peeling, cracked and painful appendages.
Waterproof footwear is one answer. But, the best Gore-Tex boots eventually leak — because of seam fatigue or insufficient cuff height. And some folks find Gore-Tex boots a little too warm for full-time use and prefer the breathability of a non-waterproof membrane boot. So what about a more modular approach to footwear that will let one pair of boots take on multiple roles?
Instead of suffering swampfoot from an always-on waterproof membrane, the Arc’teryx Mattock Drysock LT
is an on-demand waterproof layer for your feet. If it looks like a wet times are heading your way, slip them over your socks to keep your dogs from barking. Sure, your boots will get wet, but if it’s warm they will dry out in a few grid squares while your feet stay dry. If it’s cold, then your stuff may not dry out, but your feet will stay dry while post-holing through a snowfield or fording calf-high streams (or sewage canals!)
The Mattock represents an extension of the familiar 3-layer layering system for feet. We’ve seen and tried neoprene socks in the past. They do keep your feet warm, but not dry; they are tough to put on, slow to dry and alter the fit of footwear.
Donning the Mattock LT socks, I wore them between some Merino wool socks and everything from my Keen sandals to Danner Melee boots during the late winter and spring. At first, I had two concerns; both about the fit and comfort. Feet are super sensitive and even the slightest bump or seam underfoot can bring on bouts of Victorian-grade madness during a movement. The second concern I had was bunching. Anything this slick and thin has the potential to slide and bunch, creating uncomfortable ridges and protrusions.
The Gore-Tex fabric is the same bomber material used in their Alpha jackets. The material is durable while being thin enough to fold and conform to the shape of the feet.
After 3 months of non-continuous use with (mostly) Point 6 Merino one one side and Danner Melee’s on the other, I found the Mattock consistently bunched about a 1/2″ into the toe after the first mile on the trail. But then it stopped. The socks sort of reached equilibrium and stayed put. I had to take my boots off a few times to confirm this, but it was happening. The good news is that I didn’t really notice it until I took off my boots to check. Despite the bunching, the material is so thin that it didn’t create any fit or comfort issues.
Fording streams was a non-event. I hiked a trail close to the house that runs along a wide stream that I could easily cross at many points. My boots got heavier and heavier since I never gave them more than a few quarters of a mile before I dunked them back into the stream. But, my feet stayed dry. They did get cold, but that’s a function of conductive cooling and as long as I kept moving they were warm enough that I was still comfortable.
My testing regimen had me wearing the socks for a wet hike the day I cut the tags off the Mattocks, then wearing them around town (“dry wear”) just to get some wear on the seams for a few weeks before subjecting them to the wet hike again. There was no water penetration at all during my initial stream hike, nor was there on the same hike after a about 12 days of normal wear.
I didn’t notice the socks smelling all that much, but I did wash them a couple of times with the rest of my laundry. Warm wash, permanent-press cycle with medium heat in the dryer. I used no special soap and found that water still beaded on them without any re-application of DWR finish after the first wash. After the second, about 10 wear-days later, the finish was not as resilient and sprayed them down with a new DWR coating. This brings up an interesting point. Since the lower part of the sock is always in contact with the shoe, it’s going to wear the DWR finish quickly. I’m not sure how much this affect the sock’s performance inside the shoe, but the beading and keeping dirt away will be important for the continued performance of the upper, exposed portion of the sock.
The colder it was, the dryer my feet stayed. As the temps rose, my feet sweated more and the moisture transport ability of the Gore membrane became hindered by the contact with the inside of the boot and the lower temperature differential. That’s not to say my feet were wet. The Merino did its job moving the moisture away from the skin, but it did tend to build up a little dampness on the outside of the sock that made it feel a little clammy, but nothing I noticed until I took the sock off at the end of the day.
As well as it works as a drysock, the Mattock is also a good gaiter. I managed to get some pebbles and scree in my boot, but it didn’t damage the fabric. I imagine it would excel as a snow gaiter, though I had no opportunity to go post-holing this spring in northern Virginia.
The design maximizes comfort and minimizes routes for water entry by reducing the number of seams on the sock. There are no seams at all underfoot, and what seams there are elsewhere are micro-seamed with 13mm tape to eliminate any bulk and chafe.
As far as sizing, the Mattock comes in size ranges based on small, medium, large, XL and XXL. As a size 9, I wore the medium and found the fit was good. The sock’s cuff is cut to ride on the top of the calf and secures with a single Velcro strap. It’s a simple arrangement, and one that had me worried the sock would fall down. But, the socks stayed put.
Arc’teryx designer Dan Green explains the idea for the socks came from an extended winter trip in the backcountry of southwestern New Mexico. “The Gila canyons have dozens of icy river crossings and sometimes we were doing more than 30 crossings a day with 70L packs so with the shortest daylight hours of the year and -15C at night you can’t walk 10 miles a day with continuously wet, cold and cracking feet.”
The socks worked so well that he returned the next year with a tweaked design and found his group were the only people that made it more than a day from the road thanks to the drysocks.
“After we pushed the final polished design through the development process,” says Greene, “we learned that some of our own CANSOF units were issued similar knee-high Gore-Tex socks for years and used them very successfully.”
Rolled up, the drysocks take up a little more volume than a pair of 1911 magazines. The Mattock will increase the protection afforded by waterproof footwear. As we found, even the best waterproof footwear will eventually succumb to nature’s most perseverant force. Having the Mattock between the suck and your feet could be difference between a victory lap and a trip to the doctor’s office.
The Mattock Drysock LT is available in Croc ($139) and MultiCam ($169).
More Info: leaf.arcteryx.com