Sunday, April 14, 2013

Smartwool Light Hiker Socks

The Takeaway: If you want really comfortable socks for hiking, check out smartwool light hiker socks – they are comfortable, built-to-last, and made with a hiker in mind

I’m not generally the kind of person who feels that I need to have specialized socks for when I’m going hiking. For years, regular socks have served me well and in colder weather, slightly heavier wool socks worked for me.

However being Christmas and all, I could never look a gift-horse in the mouth, especially with the gift coming from EMS. So it was that I now have a pair of the Smartwool Light Hiking Socks and because of the strangely mild winter we’ve been having so far – I’ve had my fair share of hiking since Christmas time and I’ve had a chance to check out the socks.

Sock Basics

These socks look like your basic crew socks – that is they go about halfway to your knee when they are pulled tight. They are slightly thicker and heavier than the typical ‘white cotton’ crew socks and are somewhat more substantial than those socks.

What’s the trick inside smartwool? They are made up of a wool blend that includes about 70% wool, 29% nylon and 1% elastic. This combination gives you the warmth and comfort of wool, the wicking and evaporation of the nylon and the stretch of the elastic in a single sock.

I’ll be honest, I noticed a difference when I first put them on. They feel comfortable on your feet and they lack that typical ‘wool feel’ that many things that are made out of wool have when you wear it against your skin.

Because the socks are a mix of the wool and the nylon – you get the best of both worlds. The wool will continue to remain warm when it’s damp and with the nylon, that moisture has a chance to wick to the surface and evaporate quickly, helping keep the socks dryer than most other socks.

The sock itself is designed to make hiking more comfortable. The sock is knit in a way to better fit your foot – including knitting to reinforce your foot arch, a reinforced foot-bed to provide more cushioning, a side panel that doesn’t squeeze your leg and a top that holds the sock where you put it – so you won’t be pulling up the socks all the time.

After a few miles of hiking you’ll notice the difference. The thing I liked the best? The reinforced foot-bed – it really does provide some extra cushioning between you and the trail and helps to even out the shocks that you sometimes get.

When you’re done with your hiking, the sock can be washed in a machine and can be dried in a dryer – you don’t have to worry about it shrinking like an article of clothing completely made out of wool would.

If you have boots that are tight with thinner socks – these socks will probably make wearing that boot uncomfortable to impossible. They are somewhat thicker than regular cotton socks and are quite a bit thicker than the liner socks that some people use.

Sock Experiences 

Most of my experiences with this sock have been in temperatures from about 30 up to around 50 and the sock has remained comfortable in all those temperatures. The sock really does keep your feet warm in the colder weather and cool in the hotter weather – by keeping your foot feeling dry and keeping the socks dryer than the average sock.

That’s not to say you can’t get these socks wet and they’ll stay wet – step in a puddle or a stream that’s over your boot and your sock will be soaked. However because it’s wool, you’ll have a better chance of keeping a foot that is at least somewhat warm (wool holds its warmth even when wet unlike cotton which just gets cold). Plus if you take the sock off and wring out that soaking water – the sock will dry itself enough while you’re wearing it to feel dry again.

Yeah – I’ve never been good with stream fording – there’s always that one slippery rock…

I’ve washed the socks several times at this point and I haven’t noticed any shrinkage. It’s great because I can just throw them in with the rest of my laundry, no special needs for these socks.

The socks seem to take wear and tear in stride – I haven’t noticed any degradation of the material, even in the areas that are in the strongest contact with my boot.

Overall Thoughts 

At somewhere between $10 and $11 a pair, I’m unlikely to run out and buy myself more of these socks, but I have to admit as a present for a hiker, they made a great gift to me. I like wearing them, I find them comfortable and I’ll continue to use them, but for me – the price to increased usefulness ratio is just a little too high unless it’s a present or I’m looking to treat myself.

So if you want really comfortable socks for hiking – check out these smartwool light hiker socks – they are comfortable, built-to-last, and made with a hiker in mind. You’ll have warm (or cool) feet and you’ll stay dry 99% of the time.

In the end, it’s probably worth having a least one pair in your hiking stockpile.

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