Injinji Toe Socks
As I was exploring the radical new design of Vibram’s FiveFinger toe shoes, I stumbled across injinji and the tetrasok which mimmicks the foot-surrounding design but still works with my existing shoes (as well as my FiveFingers). I decided to buy a pair and and give them the complete tour in my work dress shoes, biking shoes, hiking boots and casual skate shoes. What I learned is that toe socks are a bit tricky to get on and off, they drastically change the way shoes feel and perform and they cool my feet off much better than a traditional sock. They don’t however, change the way I walk like FiveFingers do.
I tried the Performance model of injinji socks first which are made with CoolMax and are designed to wick away moisture and help with odor control. These socks are recommended for running, walking, cycling, and general cross training. In terms of thickness they are medium with three ply fabric, and can work well with Vibram’s FiveFinger toe shoes. Alternatively, injinji makes an even thinner “Liner” model of toe socks that would probably be best for the FiveFingers because they’re only two ply. Moving up to the thicker injinji socks, the Outdoor model is made of marino wool (known for being the finest and softest kind of wool) which are great for warm or cold environments as they insulate very well. The Outdoor socks aren’t as good at wicking or drying out but offer a bit more padding. Wool wicks moisture to a middle layer instead of completely wicking it away to the exterior of the fabric, this means they don’t completely dry out as quickly as the Performance or Liner models.
As I dug around and explored the world of shoes and socks with toes, I learned that injinji and Vibram are actually two seperate companies. I wasn’t sure at first because injinji’s tetrasoks are prominently featured on the Vibram FiveFinger website. I actually had to call injinji to confirm this distinction but their customer service is world class amazing outstanding! Two rings and a lovely sounding english speaking woman picks up and chats with me for 10 minutes about socks. Rock on injinji…
Toe socks have been around for years, mostly in the form of cuddly cute warm looking things for girls (and I guess guys who like pink cuddly things?) The funny and ironic thing about “snuggly warm toe socks” is that by separating the toes, no matter what fabric is being used, you cool your feet down because the radient heat from neighboring toes is shut out and moisture wicking properties of fabric on the increased surface area dissipates your body heat. But hey… they are cute!
One of the biggest benefits of the injinji toe socks to me is their ability to cool the foot down. This affect is very noticeable, especially when shoes are removed at the end of a long walk or hike. A whoosh of coolness tingles each toe in a way I’ve never quite felt before.
So how do you care for injinji tetrasok toe socks? Well, for the most part washing them is much like any other CoolMax or wool product. You can machine wash them on warm but don’t use bleach and don’t iron or dry clean them either. The package says to line dry but I just set them out on my bed while the rest of my laundry is in the dryer. They dry fast enough here in Northern California where it’s not too humid. You should avoid drying them with heat in a machine dryer because they can shrink a little bit… This has happened with nearly all of my other synthetic socks at one time or another and unfortunately also happened to my injinjis this past weekend :( My Wigwam and Teko socks shrunk a ton when I put them in the dryer as well. Even though these socks have shrunk, they do stretch out again and it really isn’t the end of the world… they just feel tighter. When comparing my FiveFinger shoes to injinji Tetrasoks one noticeable difference is that my longer toes are completely surrounded by the socks whereas the shoes are more rigid and thus not completely independent feeling. In this sense injinji toe finger socks feel better than toe shoes to me.
Toe socks add an interesting snug feel to shoes but are even more fun without shoes. I found them to be very comfortable, almost unnoticable after a bit of wearing. They wick well and allow your toes to wiggle around and feel “fun”. When I’m typing at the computer or watching a flick I tend to wrap my toes around things like the legs of my desk. Maybe it’s a nervous habbit or something left over from when I was a babby and used to suck on my toes? Even before purchasing toesocks I would squish my toes around table legs and such but would have to stretch the fabric of my regular socks in order to get things between my big and pointer toes. Toe socks eliminated this sock-stretching annoyance and made it super easy. In many ways these toe socks seem to activate my entire foot.
Depending on what shoes you wear the injinji toe socks the experience can be good or bad. Loose shoes feel even looser and the slick synthetic fabric used on the Performance line only increases the feeling of separation and slide. I guess this would happen with normal synthetic socks too but the feeling of openness is increased since toes can wiggle around easier with the tetrasoks. Sure, you can crank your toes down and “grab” the insole with these socks, but somehow they just separate you foot from the shoe more than a traditional sock. This feeling is less present when using a snug shoe or hiking boot that is fit correctly, it was really only noticeable in my dressy shoes and my skate shoes which are relaxed fit. Over time, if you wear injinji socks regularly with your shoes, the sole imprint in the shoe will adjust to your toes and the sloshy feeling will goe away. This is only a minor gripe and is offset by the extra padding and snugness in the toe area that tetrasocks offer. Just note that the synthetic material of the performance line is slippery than cotton socks you might otherwise be using for dress or skate shoes.
So how do the injinji socks in a regular shoe compare to wearing FiveFingers? If you’re hoping to mimmic the feeling of FiveFingers (and save a bit of cash) by purchasing just toe socks, unfortunately it’s not going to take you there. I find that FiveFinger toe shoes completely change the way I walk, the pad of my foot hits first and then coushions down to support my body weight. I also tend to jump and skip around more because my feet are so light and I can feel so much more. Walking becomes more bouncy and fun withe FiveFingers. This may be due to the decreased thickness and complete flexibility they provide vs. a regular shoe with lots of heel padding and no way to “prime” my toes for impact (due to stiff upper and footbed sole). When I’m just wearing toe socks by comparison, in a regular shoe, my heel still hits the ground first and I rely on the support of the shoe to determine how I step. Regular shoes = heel first, toe shoes = toe/footbed first, toe socks + regular shoes = heel first. This isn’t a bad thing, you wouldn’t want to backpack or hike long distances with toe shoes unless you have extremely strong feet and that’s precisely because your footbed can’t support that kind of strain. Our feet just weren’t meant to support 50+ pound packs over long distances and thus, stiffer hiking boots were made to transition that weight to the stronger muscles of our legs which are better equipped. I talk more about hiking boot fit and stiffness here. The good news in all of this that toesocks do provide a better grip in your shoe, hiking boot or not, and they are still the only sock that will really work with toe shoes!
Final verdict? injinji toe socks are a bit expensive when compared with Target brand cotton socks for everyday use. They take longer to put on and take off because of the toe compartments and they can shrink. This is offset by the fun feeling, moisture wicking and heat dissipation properties along with toe independence, increased grip and ability to grab things with your toes easier. Try a pair :)