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Vapor Barrier Socks Using Reynolds Oven Bags

Reynolds Oven Bags make excellent vapor barrier socks for very cold winter hiking
Reynolds Oven Bags can be used as vapor barrier socks for cold winter hiking. They prevent foot perspiration from degrading the insulation inside your boots and freezing overnight when winter camping. This is especially valuable if your insulated boots do not have removable liners.

Vapor Barrier Clothing

If you’re not familiar with Vapor Barrier clothing, the basic idea is this:

Wrap your feet, hands, or torso in an impermeable membrane like plastic. The plastic barrier prevents the transmission of moisture from your base layer clothing into your higher insulation layers. This maintains its insulation value longer and is especially valuable over the course of multiple days because you don’t have to dry your layers at night to prevent them from freezing. It also means you’ll stay warmer during the day because your clothing’s insulation value is not degraded by sweat.

The use of vapor barrier clothing can be hard to get your head around because it flies in the face of everything you’ve ever been told about layering and breathable clothing. While you will still want to dress in layers to help regulate your warmth level, they’re not needed to transport moisture from your inner layers to your outer layers anymore. In fact, vapor barrier clothing works because it’s not breathable at all.

Oven Bag over a thin sock liner
Plastic Oven Bag is worn over a thin sock liner

Cold Temperature Use Only

Vapor barrier clothing and liners work best in very cold temperatures, starting at about 10 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Much warmer than that and you’ll sweat too much, which gets uncomfortable. This is why vapor barrier clothing hasn’t gone mainstream and is mainly used by mountaineers and other cold-weather adventure athletes that need to minimize gear weight on multi-day trips.

When I need a vapor barrier sock, I wear an oven bag over a liner sock when using a double-layer insulated boot and under a regular hiking sock when using a single layer boot without a removable liner. Whichever boot type you use, you want to make sure the top of the oven bag is closed around your calf so that all of the water vapor produced by your feet stays in the bag and doesn’t leak into your boot’s insulation and dampen it. It’s not as uncomfortable as it sounds and you’ll appreciate dry boots at the end of the day.

Types of Vapor Barrier Clothing

I’ve tried vapor barrier clothing from a number of manufacturers including Rab and Stephenson’s Warmlite. RBH Designs also makes a full range of vapor clothing including hats, gloves, jackets, vests, and pants.

When purchasing vapor barrier socks, you have to worry about how they’ll affect the fit of your footwear. That’s not an issue if you use Reynolds Oven Bags, because they are so thin. Just make sure you get the large sized Reynolds Oven Bags and not the Turkey-Sized ones. Those are too big, even if they can be used as ultralight stuff sacks.

Disclosure: The author purchased all of the products mentioned in this article with his own funds.

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  1. When on a Sierra five day winter trip using back country skies , I wore a set of vapor barrier socks ,,while all my companions were complaining of cold feet , I was almost thought they were making jokes as my feet felt no clod discomfort of whatsoever.
    Telling my less read friend of the value of vapor barriers he suffered frostbite while in his sleeping bag. , even if he used grocery store bags it would have offered much needed relief at no cost and a almost unmeasurable weight on his winter trip..

    Their value can not be overstated. When out during a back country trip. .The use of trash bags. To advance your degree of warmth in sleeping bags or other clothing. And can be used to protect your outer layer as well when cold wind or rain is stealing your warmth from the different types breathable clothing Try it while just outside in either high wind or rain on short excursions to better understand and learn the adjustment needed.. Do well my friends.

  2. We had these as a kid. Our Moms jammed them in our snow boots in the winter. They were usually made by Wonder or Stroehman bread company. We didnt call them vapor barriers then. They were just called bread bags. Good article tho!

  3. David Michael Harding

    A few bread bags are always in my pack. They also make pretty good trash sacks.

  4. What is meant in saying that you should make sure the top of the oven bag is closed around your calf? Is the bag just to be folded tightly around your calf or should something like a rubber band or strap be used to seal it tight?

    • The top of the bag shouldn’t vent into the boot. That’s not an issue if the bag is higher than the top of the boot. I just keep mine loose.

    • If I find the top of the bag floppy and annoying, I sometimes close it around my lower calf with a ponytail holder. They are stronger and less constricting than ordinary rubber bands. I use them to secure various lightweight gear.

  5. I just tried these for the first time on a low risk winter hike. Both of them developed holes along the seam. Have you had a similar experience?

    I’ve used all of the standard VBL solutions in the past and all of them have flaws unfortunately. It seems like you just have to decide what you’re willing to compromise on, just like everything else.

  6. WhenIi was growing up, we’d use grocery bags between 2 pairs of regular socks and run around in our tennis shoes in the snow. We never had issues with it. I have used the same with my military boots while doing snowy alpine nighttime land navigation in the Sierra Nevadas. It works!

  7. Do you think it is feasible to use a vapor barrier as an alternative to purchasing dedicated winter boots? I currently wear non-WP Topo Athletic Trailventures. My thinking is that a vapor barrier and Darn Tough sock insulation system could overcome the chill of wet boots in the snow, but will the non-WP boots just freeze too easily for it to be practical? Any advice appreciated, thanks!

  8. An important point when using vapor barriers. It is critical to dry out your feet once a day or you can develop trench foot.

    Vapor barriers work well. I’ve used plastic bags from grocery store produce sections. What I found worked for me was to carry a dry pair of sock and thermals with me on a trip. At night I would change out of my wet wear into the dry wear, put the wet thermals and socks into a zip lock bag and put that into my sleeping bag to keep relatively warm.
    The next morning, I would swap out of my dry clothes back into the wet gear since the gear would end up getting wet in short order anyway.

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