Spring 2018 Performance Sock Round Up
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Socks are often times one of the last items we think about when we’re hiking, running, riding, etc. We often look to our shoes, boots, packs, jackets, etc. as the gear heroes in our adventures. If socks don’t perform as intended, our adventures can go downhill quickly.
There are lots of choices to choose from when it comes to performance socks and to be honest, it’s hard to go wrong. Every sock company has its own secret sauce, but like many performance brands, the difference between the majority of them is getting slimmer and slimmer.
The price of socks these days isn’t cheap unless you’re buying a 5 pack of socks from Walmart, but I think socks is a category that you get what you pay for. I also coach track and field and cross country for middle school and high school and I often see kids that use cheaper socks that get destroyed in a few months. I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to spend $13-$25 on a pair of socks, but a good pair of socks can last you 10+ years. I still use hiking socks that I received from a sales rep when I worked at REI in 2004 and they are still holding strong.
When finding the right pair of socks for you, the material blend ratio is incredibly important. The majority of socks tested have a blend of merino wool, nylon, and elastane/spandex. The socks that performed the best and felt the most comfortable had a close percentage (roughly 40-60%, give or take a few % points) of merino wool(breathability, oder management, comfort) and nylon(durability). They all have a small percentage of elastane/Spandex to keep the socks from stretching out and moving too much on your feet during activity. Merino wool is usually the most expensive material in a pair of socks due to it being more labor intensive to produce.
Almost all the socks I’ve tested in this session were above the ankle in length as I have started to prefer a longer sock to help limit sun exposure and I find small rocks have a harder time getting into your socks when they’re higher on the leg. I wore short ankle socks for decades because I always thought they looked better, but over time I’ve learned about the importance of protection your skin from the sun and the joys of rocks not getting into your socks.
Sock Marketing – “We have the BEST Socks!”
When doing my research about all the brands tested for this guide, one thing was apparent, all the brands think their socks are the best! Nearly all the websites out their claim that their brand is the best when it comes to socks, which makes it harder to decide what socks are right for you if you’re solely looking at the brand websites. On the flip side of the argument is that not many of them are going to claim that their socks are the 2nd, 3rd, 6th best socks on the market. Aside from all sock brands being the best, I like to support the brands who help out local and national non-profits along with those who help out in their community.
Sock Brands Tested
Smartwool is the biggest player in the game when it comes to performance socks. Based in Steamboat Springs, Smartwool employees are able to test their socks in nearly every weather conditional and activity. Go into an REI or your local outdoor or running shop, Smartwool is likely has the most sock options on the wall.
Darn Tough has slowly been creeping up on all the major sock makers and it’s now known as one of the best sock makers in the USA. Based in Vermont, Darn Tough is well known for making socks that last forever and their guarentee of “If our socks aren’t the most comfortable, durable, and best fitting socks you’ve ever worn, return them for another pair. No strings attached. For Life.”
Wigwam is a heritage sock brand that has been around since 1905. They’ve been flying below the radar for a long time and within the last few years, they’ve resurfaced better than new. While some traditional brands only stick to what they’ve done in the past, it’s refreshing to see Wigwam isn’t resting on their past success.
Founders of Point 6 and previously Smartwool, Peter and Patty Duke know socks. In 2003, Peter and Patty sold Smartwool to VF Corporation and after the non compete expired, they started on their next sock company Point 6 in Steamboat Springs. Point 6 socks speak for themselves, they focus on high quality, performance and they are easy on the eyes.
Starting in the early 1980’s near Belfast, Northern Ireland, Bridgedale socks have grown from a total of 12 to 500 styles. Bridgedale has offering from mountaineering to casual socks with many sporting options in the middle.
Farm to Feet
When I first came across the sock brand Farm to Feet, I initially thought they would be a brand that focuses too much on the sustainability side and not enough on the performance side. To my surprise, Farm to Feet is one of the best performance brands socks on the market! Farm to Feet flies a little below the radar, but they have nailed the important factors of performance and design.
Swiftwick started out with a focus on a super tight weave in their socks, similar to a compression sock. This a relatively new thing in the sock market and I still feel this is a feature that sets Swiftwick apart from other sock makers. I really like their tight knit weave and for performance activities such as running and cycling, these socks have an amazing feel and hold up well. New to the Swiftwick categories include hiking and casual.
Balega socks are specific to running. They know their category and haven’t ventured outside of their so-called four walls. I’ve worn Balega socks over the years and have been happy with the performance. To keep up with the growing needs of consumers, I challenge Balega to venture outside of the traditional road running sock look and up their design game.
Below I’ve covered some of my favorite socks for the activities and categories the socks were tested in. While some socks perform better in certain activities such as cycling, running, hiking, etc., I feel that most socks tested did a great job of crossing over between my activities, which include trail running, mountain biking, hiking, and casual use.
My Favorite Sock Brands Tested
Tier 1 – Highly Recommended
After spending months of testing out dozens of socks and a number of sock brands, I have been able to find a few brands that rise to the top. My criteria for choosing the sock brands that I like the most are comfort, performance and style. The top tier sock brands all had a tight weave/fit which prevents the socks from bunching up for moving around on your foot during activity. After testing the top three out for months, there was almost no sign of wear, which is a great indicator that the socks will last for a very long time. Last, I think that all four sock brands offer fun designs, a welcomed change compared to solid white and black.
Tier 2 – Mostly Recommended
The second tier of socks that I tested were all good in quality, but have not yet earned their mark in the tier 1 in my opinion. What kept each brand out of tier 1 included; Wigwam does have have a tight enough weave and have started to become a little loose around the calve, Balega lacks in the design category as many of their socks are lacking the fun factor, and the hiking socks from Swiftwick got a tiny hole in them after a few wears. All socks in Tier 2 are good socks and even have a number of socks that fit in tier 1, but from an overall brand standpoint, they each had a drawback during testing that keeps them out of the “best” category.
Tier 3 – Somewhat Recommended
The socks in tier 3 don’t come with a raving review. I found the majority of the socks from Bridgedale to be lacking in the quality department as most socks tested were loose around the foot and bunched up. The brand has not innovated in the design category and are less than attractive in my opinion.