I’ve got 99 problems and my feet are two of them.
There’s a reason this site is Max, The Cyclist and not Max, The Ultrarunner or Max, The Backpacker. I was born with a vein defect in my right foot, which hurts with pressure and often swells just to spite me. The medical term is “Cavernous Veinous Malformation,” but colloquially, “My foot is weird, so I can’t do stuff.”
That is, I couldn’t do stuff. I had surgery in 2007, 2012, 2013, 2014, and this past March, and I’ll be doing it for a sixth time in August. My excellent surgeon, Dr. Robert Rosen, is fully credited with saving my life. Because of him, I went for my first hike when I was 22, and the rest is history.
I still have a lot of issues with my feet. I had to build muscle slowly over two years before I could try running, and I’ve tried every trick in the book when it comes to hiking and running shoes, socks, braces, painkillers, and exercise regimens. One of my favorite boosts comes from compression socks. Here’s my review of CEP’s Dynamic+ Outdoor compression socks (I tested the full calf and half-calf models).
Compression Socks? Isn’t that pseudosciency bullshit?
The short answer is yes. Compression socks use 22 – 32 mmHg of pressure on the surface of your skin to increase blood flow. When they reached the athletic world, everyone assumed (and manufacturers reinforced) that the socks, calf sleeves, arm sleeves, and pants were all increasing performance by getting more oxygenated blood to your muscles. As it turns out, many hundreds of studies later have confirmed, without a sliver of doubt, that nobody has a clue whether it works or not.
Some argue that the performance increases experienced by athletes are a placebo effect. Others insist that compression technology is utter B.S. and should be loped into the same category as Vitamin Water, electromagnetic necklaces, and pre-game rituals.
That said, compression does have proven benefits for blood and lymph flow, and an increase in blood and lymph flow aids recovery.
Ultra-long-distance runners swear by compression socks. Most of them use them. The increase in blood and lymph flow reduces muscle soreness over long periods of time, and helps for quicker recovery times during the scant few hours of sleep they allow themselves on multi-day courses. This isn’t the performance enhancing wonder-drug that the manufacturer would have you believe, but it’s a measurable benefit and a big plus for anyone doing long distances in short periods of time.
You know, like me!
Isn’t this a Gear Review?
Since I’ve got a blood malformation in my foot, I often use compression socks to keep swelling at bay, and to reduce pain in the malformation itself. That’s pretty similar to what most people, including ultra-marathoners, use the socks for. The compression keeps me from dealing with pain issues on multi-day hikes and bike trips, and improves the way my feet feel after a long day. Less fatigue, less pain, less soreness. I’m a believer.
CEP hooked me up with these Dynamic+ Outdoor Compression Socks, since I was using Swiftwick and the Walgreens model with questionable durability and a less than ideal fit. These were a welcome upgrade to something I already relied on heavily for long hikes and runs.
The socks have an interesting fabric blend:
- 64% Nylon – for durability.
- 18% Merino Wool – Don’t get me started. Eliminates odor, and keeps feet healthy, clean and happy.
- 10% Spandex – Putting the ‘compression’ in compression socks.
- 8% Silk – Silk used to be a much more prevalent fiber in athletic clothing, but has fallen by the wayside. It’s antibacterial, stronger than wool, and very comfortable.
After eight weeks of near-constant use, the durability on these socks is still A+. The nylon-heavy fabric should last about a billion wears, compared to other socks (like merino dress socks, yuck! Five uses and I’ve got holes).
You can see from the close-ups that the fabric is very tightly woven. It feels like armor. I don’t hesitate to go off-trail with these, as it doesn’t feel at all vulnerable to rips and snags. It’s a rock-solid sock. Since these are the “Outdoor” model, I’d say this is exactly what I needed these socks to excel at, so they lived up to my expectations. I wouldn’t hesitate to pack them for a thru-hike or other long-distance endeavor.
Despite the fact that my feet are slightly different sizes, the sock fits both well. The construction of the sock supports the ankle and envelops all the key muscle groups individually, which is pretty high-tech. Since it has specific panels for your forefoot, ankle, heel, etc, it seems to custom-fit each of my unique feet. I like the way it fits, and it stays put completely even after ten hours of activity or more.
While the jury is still out on any performance increases, compression socks are invaluable for me for reducing pain. If you’re struggling with soreness, a bad ankle, swollen feet, or any other muscle or cardiovascular difficulty, these are worth a try. An Ultrarunner worth their salt wouldn’t carry a shirt tag if they didn’t have to, but these socks consistently make it into their minimalist kit. That’s worth something!