To Be Prepared: An Ultrarunner's Journey with Darn Tough
The Spirit of Adventure
I largely attribute my spirit of adventure to my time in the Boy Scouts. Our Richmond, Vermont troop had some lifelong Vermont hikers, legends in our eyes, who were “generous” enough to bring us out in every possible condition - rain, sleet, wind, snow, hail.
For instance, every winter, on a weekend campout we would spend a day vigorously piling snow into mounds higher than our head and compacting them, so that we could dig out the inside of our Quinzhees. We often fit up to 5 boys in one of these shelters, keeping warm all night even in sub-zero temperatures.
In scouting I pushed my physical and mental limits while acquiring the habits of a responsible outdoorsman. In particular, each winter campout or sopping wet backpacking trek began the same way — a week before, with the Pack Turnout. This tradition is where the scout motto really comes into play: Be Prepared!
The Pack Turnout: "Cotton Kills"
At a weekly troop meeting, every scout carefully lays out their clothing and gear to have it inspected by the more seasoned leaders. Several pieces of fundamental wisdom are passed down time after time at these events. The ten essentials, first aid for different seasons… and of course, “COTTON KILLS!”
Pounded into our noggins from day one, older scouts explain how cotton takes longer to dry, and will never insulate while wet — a nightmare for Vermont hikers. And without fail, at every pack turnout, we learn that the golden standard for wool hiking socks is Darn Tough.
The Long Trail and the Happy Feet
In 2005, I found myself the youngest scout on our annual 50-mile trek through the central VT Long Trail. Scrawny and awkward, I was nicknamed “Chipmunk.” I had many struggles — stomach pains, horrible chafing on my back, and pure physical exhaustion — but one I avoided was blisters.
This was a rare and special superpower, one I didn’t even notice at the time. Since 2005 I have rarely faced pruney feet, cold feet, or blisters in an adventure, and on every outdoor trek for over 17 years, I have worn Darn Tough socks.
Flash forward to 2021. I am through-hiking the Long Trail for my second time. My best friend Owen, who hiked the trail with me in 2010, is the leader of my legendary support crew as I take on the overall speed record for the trail. And we are equipped with a quiver of Darn Tough socks.
There are thicker socks for cold days, thinner socks for hotter days, a pair with calf compression, and more, all meticulously packed and labeled with my other gear, clothing, first aid, and food systems in a van. I had the mother of all Pack Turnouts for this trek… not one single item could be forgotten or misplaced, one possible need unforeseen.
After 4½ days of running and hiking over 60 miles per day, with an average of 20 hours moving on my feet each day, I skidded to a halt at the Massachusetts border, an hour under the previous record. Ankle deep in gritty mud. And when I took off my socks for the last time, my feet looked, and felt… just fine.
A Million Variables
There are so many variables and systems that ultramarathon runners need to consider and practice, as they progress to harder and harder challenges. These take years to experiment and perfect.
Nutrition, rolling and stretching muscles, lubrication (you know where), hydration and electrolytes, breathing techniques, shoes and socks, blister care… just to name a few. To know that any one of these complicated systems will just go right, every time is an ace in the hole. And my socks are on lock, baby.
About the Author
Ben Feinson is a trail runner, carpenter, and educator living in Huntington Vermont. He enjoys climbing rocks and trees, growing vegetables, and fermenting food. His favorite socks are the classic midweight micro crew hikers. Check out Ben’s trip report from the 2021 Long Trail “Fastest Known Time” adventure!