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June 25, 2019 3 translation missing: en.blogs.article.read_time

You hear a lot from us about how important it is for runners, hikers and skiers to take care of their feet with the proper footwear. But well-fitting, long-lasting socks aren’t just for athletes and recreational sports — they’re also for firemen.

We recently caught up with Caleb Hicks and learned about his work with the U.S. Forest Service. Hicks is a squad leader on an Interagency Hotshot Crew, described as “the most highly trained, skilled and experienced type of handcrews” working in fire management and incident operations.

“We basically travel coast-to-coast, border-to-border to deal with large fire suppression,” Hicks says. “We work typically in places that are super remote to get to and there’s no road access.”

Hicks and his team of 20 — including a superintendent and assistant foreman — live on large crew carriers for six months of the year, following the season’s fires and hiking to the remote sites. Typically, they do 14 days on an assignment, followed by two days off. “It’s a pretty emotional job,” Hicks says. “You’re with the same folks for two weeks for six months a year, and you can’t really escape it.” Plus, he estimates that most Hotshot Crews will work anywhere from 1,000 to 1,300 hours of over time during a season.

As you can imagine, the physical demands Hicks and his team endure are extreme. “We’re on our feet for at least 16 hours a day,” he says. “I’ve had to do 20 mile hikes in before and our packs typically weigh 50 to 80 pounds.” And when it comes to the physical stress of his job, Hicks says having the right gear is critical — especially for his feet. 

“If your feet are messed up, you can’t do the job,” he says. “You gotta take care of your feet. Anyone who’s been doing it for more than a couple of years understands that.”

In his 12 years on the job, Hicks has tried out a lot of socks, to varying levels of success and disappointment. “Socks are a big personal preference to people [on the Hotshot Crew] and it becomes almost an obsession,” he says. In addition to a sock that is well fitting, he also needs one he can wear for a few days at a time. The socks need to be able to get wet and dry out, without becoming too uncomfortable to wear. 

“Once I put on FITS, it was game over,” he says. “They were my new socks.”

In fact, he’s been an exclusive FITS socks wearer since 2012. “They hold up better than anything,” he says. “I’ve been through the ringer with socks, but FITS last.” Whereas previously, he had to purchase new socks every season, Hicks is now able to get three seasons out of his FITS socks before buying new pairs.

And what style is best for a Hotshot Crew member? “During fire season, I wear the over the calf Rugged. My boots are basically knee height, so I need a taller sock,” Hicks says.

Though this fire season has so far been off to a slow start, the work of Hotshot Crews continues to be necessary for both safety and the preservation of forests. Still, Hicks says that while wild fires can be destructive, they aren’t something that should always be looked at as negative.

“It’s a natural event. Without wild fires, everything would be super overgrown and we wouldn’t be able to go out into the woods and enjoy it,” he says. “It’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping up with it. Wild fires can be super beneficial to the woods.” 

That’s why as long as there are wild fires, the Hotshot Crew will be there to help manage the blaze and maintain the forests. “We go wherever we’re needed,” Hicks says. 

 

Want socks like a Hotshot Crew member? Check out Caleb’s favorites here.


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