I am an avid snowboarder and I have noticed that socks made of merino wool are incredibly good at wicking away moisture while keeping my feet warm. However, I was wondering about other textiles that can compare. In particular, I was curious about hemp. I am aware that hemp is very durable, but I am uncertain of its wicking properties. Would hemp be a good alternative to merino wool and are there other textiles that can work? It has been a very cold winter.
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One option is of course polypropylene, it is hydrophobic (unlike most other materials used in clothing) and has a lower thermal conductivity than wool - this does not mean better insulation, but it is a safe bet it can perform fairly well over natural fibres and is fairly cheap.
You may see these as liners to prevent saturated socks from touching your feet by providing a hydrophobic buffer (although film of sweat does stay on the fibres even if not absorbed, such as with nylon blends) or as a bulkier option such as a boot sock.
I would recommend looking to this material as a possible alternative to wool, in terms of performance in cold environment over natural fibres. Nearly all natural fibres such as cotton, hemp, cellulose (bamboo/rayon etc.) perform substandard in the cold and very poorly in the wet. Some silk blends can retain insulation while wet but may end up costing more.
One problem with hemp compared to wool is how it conducts heat when it is wet. Wet hemp conducts heat very well when wet which means your feet could get freezing cold. Wet wool is a poor heat conductor so even if wet they will not be as cold.
I can't recommend Hempsocks, except you use them as second socks to reduce friction. They're very durable but not comfortable to wear.
A good alternative to Merinowool is Bamboo, it's also very smooth and dries very quick.
So in short, hemp is good to protect your socks or reduce friction because it's a very cheap and durable material, doesn't cost much - lasts a life. It's just uncomfortable to wear directly on your skin