Whenever I've spoken to anyone in the military, they all seem to agree on one thing: never underestimate the importance of a pair of clean, dry socks. According to more than one former soldier I've spoken to, it's often the single most important item in your pack.
I'd say that a pair of handknit socks is one step better. (Maybe not for soldiers, but for the rest of us.) When you slip on a pair of handknit socks, it's like putting on the coziest, most comfy sweater you own. For your feet.
I first learned to knit socks when I was a college student in Wyoming, and my then-husband had a job that required him to spend long hours outdoors on the cold, snowy, windy plains. His boots were waterproof but not warm, and he was really hard on his socks -- we constantly seemed to be buying new ones because he wore holes in them so quickly.
Knowing that handmade items are often more durable than store-bought ones, I thought I would at least give sock knitting a try in the hopes that I could not only make a more durable sock, but a warmer one, too. I went to the knit shop and picked out a couple of skeins of Cascade 220 -- a basic, workaday wool that you can't go wrong with. Being a poor college student, this was a pretty big expenditure for me. Along with the wool, I picked out a coordinating color of reinforcing nylon thread for the heels and toes, since that was where he was wearing holes most frequently.
I found a pattern and knit up a couple of pairs, and they worked out so well that I ended up knitting some more. They were more durable, and definitely warmer. Over the years I refined my technique, eventually creating my own version of a toe-up sock pattern that didn't need any measuring, only the foot of the wearer nearby to try on the sock as you knit.
To this day I love knitting socks. They're a quick project that results in something cozy and comfortable, and can be done in a huge variety of yarns for fun show-off potential (there are even clear boots and shoes that will let you show off your socks). And now I enjoy an expanded process when making my socks: I handspin the yarn that I use to knit them.
I've created a recipe from Blue-Faced Leicester wool, alpaca, and nylon that combines warmth, durability, and body for sturdy yarns. I dye and blend the fibers myself, then spin them into a 3-ply sock yarn. I love dyeing the wool in its roving form and then combining it to see what colors I'll get.
I've been selling my sock yarn lately, and I decided that the most recent skein I finished was going to be for myself. I dyed some BFL in shades of blue and green and then combined it with some black alpaca fleece from my boy Benz, and nylon for reinforcement. I'm really happy with how the colors and final yarn turned out. I can't wait to knit them up!